I eat out a lot. Partly because I’m lazy and don’t wake up early enough to cook dinner but mainly because I hate cooking. I would rather clean the kitchen after than cook, which really says something since I hate cleaning too. Over the years I’ve discovered ways to save money on fast food and I’d like to share those ways with all of you. Money is tight but we still need to eat, right? So read on to make your budget stretch to include a few extra meals a month.
1. Happy Hour Our local Sonic offers a happy hour each weekday where you can get a large drink for only $1.00, compared to the regular price of $2.50ish. The Sonic in my hometown offers this from 6-10 am while the one in the next town over offers half price drinks from 2-4 pm each weekday. While this doesn’t seem to save a lot when you realize you can get that same drink from McDonald’s at any time of the day for just $1, some people prefer Sonic. My family is picky when it comes to sugar-laden drinks and want Sonic while I’m perfectly happy saving the dough and drinking sweet tea from McDonald’s. Look around and read the signs as you drive around. You may just find yourself catching an advertisement for a great deal.
2. Weekly Specials Our Sonic (are you sensing a trend yet? I live in a small town with few options) offers half-priced burgers every Tuesday night from 6-9, and during the summer they advertise half-priced cones. If you know you want to eat burgers once a week, watch those places.
Pizza? They sometimes offer cheaper prices during non-busy times that you can pick up and take home to re-heat later. During football season several places around town give discounts right after game time to get the crowds in. It happens every week during a home game. Even if you don’t care about watching your local team you could get there right when the discounts start to take advantage before the hoards of sweaty players smell the place up. You can also check to see if any of your local pizza chains offer a cheaper pizza pie with plainer toppings – like Little Caesar’s Hot ‘N Ready $5 pepperoni pizza or their newer $8 Hot ‘N Ready with pepperoni bacon, and sausage for $8, the 3 Meat Treat. If your local pizzeria offers such a deal, you can come out ahead of even the cheapest supermarket pizza because you still have to crank up the oven and use time and electricity or gas to bake the boxed option!
3. Check Your receipt A Lot of fast food companies have started rewarding their customer with offers on the receipt. The premise is simple. You take a survey and at the end of it you get a code to write in the blank provided. Sonic gives you a free Route 44 drink after survey, Arbys is for a free sandwich, Wendy’s is for a frosty… Not every restaurant does this and it isn’t on every receipt you get but it does pay for you to check. alternately, PetSmart offers you money off your next purchase. Just thought you should know that so you check receipts from everywhere. Pay attention to the small print though, they do come with expiration dates.
4. Couponing It Up McDonald’s is big on sending out coupons in the mail. They arrive with our weekly salespapers every few months containing offers like free small coffee, buy 1 premium burger get 1 free, and other tasty treats for your budget. Their coupons have specific dates on them so make sure to use the ones for that time period first. I recently went through my boyfriends wallet to grab a coupon for an iced mocha (he told me to look for it, I swear!) only to find it had expired the previous day. Pizza Inn also sends us coupons in the mail that are good for an entire month, often scoring us free drinks or bread sticks with purchase or cheaper dine-in meals.
5. More Stops En Route By making multiple stops you can save a few dollars. Don’t feel like you have to get your entire meal all at one place. If somewhere else offers part of what you want cheaper then grab it there. On my way home in the mornings I’ll stop at as many as three different places depending on what I want. At 7 am it’s 4 pm for me (ahh working nights. It messes with you every time.) so I don’t want breakfast. Most places are only serving breakfast or aren’t open yet. So what do I do? I hit up Sonic for a Chicken Strip Sandwich and add the veggies. Veggies are free to add and the sandwich comes with two chicken strips. That means I just got what amounts to a three dollar sandwich for only a buck because I chose the cheaper route of chicken strips instead of a chicken patty. Then I’ll go across the street to McDonald’s and get a sweet tea for a dollar and an order of cookies for another dollar. That means I just got a chicken sandwich, three cookies, and a large drink for only $3.00 plus tax. Not bad for an entire meal. To get a drink, dessert, and a burger all at Sonic it would have cost around $10. It does use more in gas though, so if the line is long just go somewhere else to avoid idling for long periods of time.
6. Birthday and Email Savings Many places give you something free for signing up online. Sonic sends you your choice of a small shake, fries, or a drink I belive just for giving them your email. Wendy’s will send you coupons via email near your birthday and by signing up with Dairy Queen you can get discounts for your birthday as well as coupons mailed to your throughout the year. Ihop gives you free breakfast both when you sign up and on your birthday. Don’t forget to patrol their websites. I just went to ihop.com and saw an offer for a free shortstack on Feb. 5th. Its past that date now, but it just shows that free food exists.
7. Save Those Extras This doesn’t really save you money at the fast food joint, but it will at home. The McDonald’s in the town I work in is notorious for putting a straw in the bag and handing you one with your drink. When you order chicken nuggets you may not use all of the sauces. Ordering fries will usually get you more ketchup than you need. Restaurants put more napkins that you use in your take out bag. Save it. Save it all. You’ll save money at home by not having to buy those things. Be responsible about it though. Don’t abuse the system by asking for extra or grabbing it yourself if you ordered inside. That’s just rude and pretty soon the companies will stop giving all of us as much. It only takes one bad apple to spoil everything, ya know?
8. Plink It Each time you eat out and purchase your meal with a registered debit card, Plink gives you rewards. You then take those rewards and trade them in for gift cards to places like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Facebook. I’ve heard a lot of good things about them and virtually nothing negative but check it out for yourself. After all, you are giving them your bank info so they can track what you spend on eating out. I don’t personally use Plink because I only use pre-paid debit cards like BlueBird from American Express or Money Card from Wal-Mart so I could never link up with them. I did sign up though, because I didn’t realize until afterwards that I couldn’t use it. Wait to link your bank information for a couple of weeks. They offer a bonus when you do and a week after I signed up they upped it from $5 to $10 instantly if I linked up. Two weeks after that I got an email for $20 bonus. It pays to procrastinate.
9. Jingit This doesn’t save you money but it does deserve a mention. Jingit is a website that pays you to watch videos and scan bar codes while in the store with their app. You can easily make enough per month to buy a meal with the debit card they send you. The concept is easy. They show you an item to find in the store, you take a picture of the bar code with the in-app camera, they give you money. Then you answer a few quick questions about the product like Have you ever heard of this? Do you buy this already? Do you plan to buy it today? If you answer yes to the last one, they’ll send you an extra chance to make money by taking a picture of it at home. They rely on GPS to track which store you are in so they’ll know if you lied about buying it. You can’t say you did and then try to take another picture while still in the store. You don’t get rich with Jingit, but it is an easy way to make a bit of extra cash to spend on fast food. As an added bonus, you can hand your phone to your kiddos and have them do it while you shop.
10. The Common Ways If you do a search online, all the websites offer you the same suggestions. Don’t eat out as often, choose from the dollar menu, don’t add extras like bacon and cheese… They deserve a quick mention because they are ways to save you money, but they are also common sense so I’m lumping them all into one. Really though, I’m trying to show you how to save money by eating out, not telling you to stop doing it. I usually roll my eyes when I see suggestions like these. They aren’t what I’m looking for and I doubt you were either.
I really hope this helps you in your quest to spend less during Frugal February and beyond yond yond. Hmm. I wonder where that echo came from?
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