Food is one expense nobody can avoid. And yet, too many people fork over too much cash when it comes to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Following are nine ways you can cut your food costs so low that you are essentially eating for free — or close to it.
1. Grow your own food
Your low-cost food journey starts at home: You can trim your food bill simply by trying your hand at gardening.
For more, check out “How to Save Money Growing Great Food in Your Garden.”
2. Sign up for restaurant birthday clubs
Restaurants love to give out free birthday meals — probably because they know you’re not likely to dine alone on your birthday.
Most restaurants require that you join their birthday club or mailing list to get the freebies. My experience has been that the emails offering free food start to arrive in my inbox a couple of weeks before my birthday.
Then, you have a one- to two-week window to use them. I say, sign up for a bunch and live large for those two weeks surrounding your birthday.
For more, check out “23 Restaurant Chains That Offer Free Food for Your Birthday.”
3. Use coupons for grocery store freebies
Continue your quest for free food by hitting up the grocery store for freebies. By combining coupons and sales, it’s not unusual to get at least one or two items a week for free. Sometimes you can even find moneymakers — those great deals in which the store actually pays you to shop.
4. Find samples online and in the store
Hit the stores on sample day. My local grocery store typically has at least a half-dozen sample stations each Saturday, covering everything from snacks to drinks to main dishes.
If I take the kids at lunchtime and they hit every station, it’s usually enough to tide them over until dinner. Using store samples as a substitute for lunch may make me a cheapskate, but I’m OK with that.
The internet is another source of free samples. Coffee, granola bars and cereal seem to be the most frequently offered freebies, but you can find all sorts of food up for grabs. For items that can’t be easily mailed, you may find that manufacturers send out coupons for free full-size items from the store.
5. Embrace being a social butterfly
Maybe you want entire meals instead of samples. In that case, make a point to accept any and all invitations sent your way. Those could be for backyard barbecues with your neighbors, high school open houses or wedding receptions.
For some of those outings, you may be expected to bring a small gift, card or dish. That makes these meals not totally free, but definitely cheaper than if you made them yourself.
6. Never turn down the chance for leftovers
Another way to eat free is to always take leftovers when offered.
Whether it’s a church event or Thanksgiving dinner, it seems as though there is always food left over at the end of a meal. When someone asks if you’d like to take some home, don’t be shy. Say yes!
7. Forage, fish and hunt for your dinner
Getting in touch with your inner hunter-gatherer can also lead to free food. Fishing, foraging and hunting are all possibilities in much of the country.
Make sure you follow your state and local laws and don’t trespass on someone else’s property. Picking nuts from a tree in a local park might be OK; walking onto a farmer’s field and helping yourself to some corn is not.
When it comes to hunting and fishing, make sure you have any necessary licenses and are within the appropriate season. Process your own meat to make your food truly free.
8. Become a mystery shopper
When you mystery shop, you have to work for your food. But it can be a good deal if you’re an observant person and a decent writer.
Mystery shoppers sample everything from fancy steakhouses to fast-food joints. Often you have to remember how you were greeted and what was offered, while timing how long it takes to get your food. Sometimes, you’re required to order certain items or to make specific requests. It isn’t for everyone, but it can be a good way to score free food.
9. Be involved and active in your community
Finally, it pays to be an active part of your community.
The breakfast meet-and-greet with your city council members may be accompanied by a spread of coffee and doughnuts. PTO meetings may be fueled by sandwiches and juice. Lectures at the local historical society may offer crackers and cheese to go along with the food for thought you’ll be receiving from the speaker. Plus, there are volunteer receptions, work group dinners and conferences with sit-down meals to attend.
Where else do you find free food? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.