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If you’re anything like me, eating out is a staple of your social routine. Who doesn’t like to decompress after a long day with a nice meal, glass of wine and a night out with friends? But when you’re living on a tight budget, going out for food and drinks can easily become an unaffordable luxury.
Well, I’ve got some good news. It doesn’t have to be! You can still live within your means and eat out. Here are my favorite hacks to eat for free (or almost for free) at your favorite restaurants.
1. Eat Entirely For Free With Gift Cards
While store membership and rewards cards will get you minor discounts every once in a while, you can earn money towards a meal at your favorite food spots every time you walk into a store when you download Shopkick.
Earn reward points, which the app calls “kicks,” just by visiting select retailers through the app, uploading shopping receipts, scanning the barcodes of certain items with the app’s scanner, shopping online at certain retailers through the app, and making in-person purchases using a credit or debit card linked to Shopkick. It’s that easy.
In between shopping trips, you can also score kicks by watching in-app videos for new deals and products.
It won’t take long once you’ve been doing these simple things to earn gift cards to places like:
- The Cheese Cake Factory
- Papa John’s
- Whole Foods
2. Spend And Earn At The Same Time
When you can afford to splurge a little, figuring out where best to use that money can be a battle. Should you sleep in and take an Uber to work or treat yourself to an avocado toast at your favorite cafe? Thanks to Drop, you can do both and eat for free!
When you sign up for the app, you get to select five stores to be your favorites. Connect a debit or credit card and the app will track your spending and automatically add points to your account every time you spend at any of those five stores. When your earnings reach a certain threshold, you can redeem your points as gift cards to whatever retailer is listed in the app, even if it’s not one of your top five.
So take that Uber and get yourself a breakfast sandwich. You’ll be racking up points that you can turn around and use to eat out for free at places like:
- Blue Bottle Coffee
- Dunkin Donuts
Spend guilt free at certain stores with the help of Drop — you’ll be earning points every time while you start to eat for free.
3. Come Up With Extra $$$ For Your Eating Out Budget
A super convenient and fast way to fund your food outings is doing paid surveys in your spare time. There a ton of options you can turn too, but InboxDollars and Swagbucks are two of the best out there.
Pro tip: Neither pay that much alone, but do them both at the same time and you’ll be earning a good amount in no time.
Earn points towards gift cards and cash via Paypal for taking surveys with Swagbucks, too, with the added bonus of earning points for simply using the app’s Yahoo! powered search engine to search the web. Joining Swagbucks is free. Join now and get a $10 bonus!
4. Eat Healthy Dining Out And Win Money
Have you ever noticed that some of the most expensive things on a restaurant menu are also the healthiest? It can be hard to stomach paying $15 for a salad or $25 for salmon, but sign-up for HealthyWage and you’ll actually have a cash incentive.
The app essentially encourages you to bet on yourself and your wellness goals. When you register, you set a weight loss goal, time frame for achieving said goal and then you place a wager on yourself. If, at the end of your challenge, you have met or surpassed your goal, the app will award you money for your success. HealthyWages’s top prize is a whopping $10,000!
If you’re worried you’ll lose more money than you’ll gain, don’t be. On average, people earn more than $1,000 for successfully completing this challenge.
With money like that, picking nutritious food options from the restaurant menu will actually pay off.
5. Find Major Savings On All The Food You Buy
Sometimes eating at home really is the cheapest option. Considering you still have to buy what you cook, you might as well save as much as humanly possible at the grocery store. Ibotta is the best trick to do just that.
Ibotta supplies you with deals at stores and e-commerce brands like:
- Blue Apron
- Hello Fresh
- Whole Foods
- Stop & Shop
Shop directly with the app at one of these grocery stores or upload receipts to the app after the fact to see what available deals can be applied.
You’ll pay full price at checkout and once your cash back rewards have been totaled, the money gets credited to your account. When you’ve earned up to $20, you can cash out via PayPal or Venmo. You also have the option of receiving your money through gift cards once you have a balance of $25 or more. It really starts to add up!
6. There’s An Easy Way To Save On Every Takeout Order
Sometimes takeout binges are unavoidable when a busy week at work leaves you with too little time to cook. The only problem is that this will get expensive quickly. We have a trick for that: Use Rakuten — formally known as Ebates — to find offers that give you cash back on all of those delivery orders from DoorDash and Caviar.
When you’re logged into Rakuten and you see an offer you like (like 2% cash back on Caviar), select it and link a credit or debit card to it. Once you’ve done this, the offer is instantly available. Head to where you are ordering takeout via Rakuten and then order food like you normally would. Voila, cash back!
It’s going to make your takeout order a lot more affordable.
Feature Image: Twenty20
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