Restaurant prices are on the rise — some people have reported buying sandwiches for $18 and french fries for $15! However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a great meal on the cheap. Read on for savvy secrets from money-saving pros (experts and our readers!) on how to find inexpensive meals at restaurants and grocery stores.
Try a ‘surprise’ meal.
“Apps like TooGoodToGo partner with restaurants to sell ‘surprise bags’ with items that the restaurant would otherwise toss (like sandwiches or sushi) for under $5. You choose from restaurants that have extra meals, then pick it up! The other day, I scored a dozen assorted bagels for just $4.99! Nothing was stale, and I even froze some for later.”
— Lynn Barker, grandmother of five, Chicago
Show your age for 15 percent off.
“To find great inexpensive meals, check out senior discount days at local restaurants. Many offer 10 to 15 percent off to folks 55 and older. You can find a list of eateries that offer senior discounts (including restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s) at TheSeniorList.com. To shave even more off your bill, split an entrée and add a few more sides — instead of paying $15 each for two entrées, you’ll get two filling meals for just over $20.”
— Trae Bodge, money-saving expert at TrueTrae.com
Get 30 percent off when ordering online.
“Next time you plan to place a takeout order, do it online rather than over the phone. The reason? If you install a cash-back browser extension like Sidekick from CouponCabin.com on your computer or laptop, you’ll be alerted to available cash-back or coupon offers. Some I’ve seen: $10 cash back or 30 percent off any order when you order through sites like Uber Eats, Grubhub, or Pizza Hut.”
— Trae Bodge
Grill in batches to save.
“Check out big sales in the meat department and stock up. For instance, if you see pork chops on sale for $3 per pound, buy them in bulk. Then look for similar deals in the produce department, take all the food home, and grill it up at once. Not only will you have a fast, full, and delicious meal for less, you can freeze the rest and use it as bases for everything from sandwiches to omelets, or simply defrost and eat as is. Best of all, you’ll only have to cook once or twice a week.”
— Jess Dang, founder of CookSmarts.com
Grab prepared meals here for less.
“Check out supermarket meals for an inexpensive dinner. Our local Hy-Vee [grocery store] offers a special at their Chinese food hot bar: two main dishes, rice or noodles and appetizers — enough for four people — for just $20! Ordering similar dishes at a nearby Chinese restaurant costs twice as much. We also love the Heat And Eat Chicken Taco Kits at Sam’s Club, which include 12 tortillas, chicken, cilantro-lime crema sauce, salsa, coleslaw, and cheese for about $15 — at least $20 less than dinner at our local Mexican joint!”
— Jane Thomas, mom of two, Des Moines, IA
Sign up for these special deals.
“Many restaurants offer ‘subscriptions’ where you pay a small amount to get specific deals —great for places you frequent! For example, Panera Bread offers unlimited fill-ups of 26 beverages (including coffee, tea, lemonade, and fountain drinks) for just $10.99 per month. On the Border will give you a free bowl of queso every day for an entire year if you join the Queso Club for just $1, and Taco Bell recently offered the Taco Lover’s Pass, a limited-time $10 subscription entitling you to one free taco of your choice per day for 30 days.”
— Kelly Moiser, mom of two, Detroit
Toss together a low-cost, high quality board.
“At least one night a week, we make an impromptu charcuterie board. We cut up anything we need to use up, like cheese, fruit, raw veggies, crackers, and deli meat. It’s a great way to clean out the fridge, fun to put together, and delicious. Best yet, you feel like you’re eating a fancy meal out, where boards like this can cost $24 and up!”
— Carolyn Truett, recipe developer at CaramelandCashews.com
Score free food with an app.
“Consider signing up for loyalty clubs and rewards programs, even for restaurants you have never tried or don’t eat at often. You might think it’s not worth the time it takes to sign up, but so many places offer free food just for downloading the app and signing in. For example, California Pizza Kitchen gives you a $5 credit and a choice of a free small plate, and Applebee’s and Texas Roadhouse both give you free appetizers at sign-up. Plus, CPK and Applebee’s also offer a free entrée on your birthday!”
— Joyce Palmer, mom of one, Austin, TX
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.