Frugal IdeasJobs & Money

How My Wife & I Order Food From Restaurants Virtually For Free

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By Joshua

My wife, Jeanine, and I have been eliminating debt while following the advice of popular financial guru Dave Ramsey over the last couple of years.

His debt-elimination strategies — which largely focus on getting rid of debt through cutting extraneous expenditures and budgeting every dollar you earn — have been extremely helpful for us.

Jeanine paid off nearly $60,000 in student loans using these methods, and now we’re working hard to pay the mortgage off many years early.

However, among all the slaying of debt, we don’t leave much room in our budget for spending money on going out to eat at restaurants

But let’s face it, as much as we have come to enjoy cooking meals at home (and saving money doing so), we still enjoy breaking bread without having to do the dishes afterward.

Thankfully, we’ve found ways to still enjoy meals out every once and a while being frugal and paying off our mortgage early.

As my wife will explain in her own words below (because she’s a real coupon clipper if I’ve ever seen one), it’s possible to enjoy a date night with food we order from restaurants for less than $5 to $8 out of pocket.

How do we do this?

Let me bring Jeanine in…

Jeanine’s Tips For Saving Money At Restaurants

My husband and I ate dinner for $5 plus tax just the other night…

As many couples experience, we had a busy day, so we weren’t in the mood to cook. Equipped with my fast-food apps in hand (or, rather on phone – ha ha), I went out for some errands. I had two goals:

  1. Finish my errands (including grocery shopping).
  2. Bring home dinner without breaking the bank.

Now, for me, enjoying life while saving money isn’t a sacrifice. I grew up in a family of 9 children (and I am the middle child!), so I grew up learning how to spot a great deal and have fun while saving.

At the grocery store, I searched for brands that were on sale and could be bought using digital coupons. After taking advantage of some awesome BOGO deals (because what good coupon clipper can pass up on great two-fer deals — like Buy-One-Get-One offers?), I was zonked. It was getting close to supper time, but I wasn’t in the mood to cook. And Joshua was too busy working on his next article to cook, either.

After I finished my grocery-store run, I mulled out dinner options. McDonald’s or Burger King? Would I “have it my way” or would I be “lovin’ it”?

I decided to go to Burger King — because of the two options, my coupons for the king seemed to offer a better value. Now, mind you, fast food for us is only an occasional treat. But I was determined to get a good deal on dinner!

As I pulled into Burger King’s parking lot, I was daunted by how many cars were in the drive-through line.

Should I turn back? No, we needed dinner… I wasn’t in the mood to cook. Neither was my husband. With determination and decision, I waited in line. Several minutes went by and it was my turn at the squawk box.

There was silence. So, of course, I said “hello” in one of my funny voices (trying to break the ice with the employee on the other side). A few seconds passed. The voice came from the box… I was hopeful for my turn to order. “Hi, can you wait for a moment?”

Drats, I had to wait.

This is when I decided it may take a while… So, I called my husband and asked him what he wanted.

A Whopper Jr. with small fries and a small drink was $8.99 with a coupon.

Maybe the menu by the squawk box menu could offer some more ideas. Joshua and I spoke briefly about the menu.

That’s when I noticed something that got me so excited I said, “Okay, I got to go!” I hung up.

I saw a deal for 2 Whopper Jrs. or chicken wraps for $5. (You could also mix and match.) What? How cool!

I checked my BK app and found a free fries coupon — any size. SCORE!

I rolled down my window and awkwardly said hello again. Within seconds, several questions and thoughts ran through my head, including, “Could I use a coupon with a promotional deal? Could we eat for $5 and change? Did we need soda? Chicken wraps or a Whopper Jr.? Would the employee respond?”

He did! They took the coupon with a promotion. We were going to eat for $5 and I didn’t have to cook! I was so excited. I even double-checked that the coupon came off of the total before paying and took a picture of the receipt. Now that was “my way!”

Here it is days later, and I am still excited about that deal. This is one of many that I come upon regularly.

Joshua’s Tips For Saving Money When Eating Out

Like Jeanine, I enjoy clipping coupons and I’m an avid user of app-based reward programs for my favorite go-to spots like Wawa and Dunkin.

And you know what? I’m saving a bundle of money this way, too.

I think one of the most lucrative things she and I have done is take advantage of a special deal with Outback Steakhouse over the holidays — when we bought $450 in Outback Steakhouse gift cards for our family members.

You know what that netted us?

A total of 18 coupons worth $10 each — with no minimum on how much we had to spend to use them. The only catch? They were valid for certain months in the year and we could use just one per table.

So, guess what we did…

Jeanine and I ordered a lot of low-cost dinners that we took home from Outback Steakhouse!

I’d order a wedge salad for $5.99 (that thing is delicious and like a meal in itself). Jeanine would order the same – or maybe just get a potato (because that’s all she wanted). And our meal even came with a free loaf of their delectable Outback Steakhouse bread. We enjoyed a nice little Outback Steakhouse dinner for literally less than $2 out of pocket using our $10 coupon!

And we got to do this 18 times – on top of buying our family some fun holiday gift cards for Outback.

Oh, and the kicker? We are earning Outback Steakhouse rewards while spending these coupons!

We’ve earned almost $40 (in $5 increments of spendable rewards) just from the meals we’ve purchased with these 18 coupons. We’ll be able to use the $40 in rewards in a lump sum at any of the restaurants affiliated with Outback Steakhouse — which currently includes Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, and Bonefish Grill.

We’re going to enjoy a nice date-night supper together sometime soon!

Of course, the discount Outback gift card special deal I’m talking about here might have been a one-time thing. But the point is if you know how to look for good deals at restaurants, you can come out ahead when you’re already spending money to begin with.

And this is why I’m all for using restaurant apps and reward programs.

If I’m going to spend $3 on a Dunkin coffee a couple of times a week anyway, I might as well download the app and rack up the points to earn free coffee and other perks (pun intended) while buying my cups o’ Joe!

Dunkin recently ran a special allowing me to earn 500 bonus points just by making 4 additional visits for the month over the course of a week.

As of this writing, 500 points nets a free Dunkin coffee (up to a size large). If I’m already visiting Dunkin 2 or 3 times in a week, why not go once more for a fourth coffee? Buying that 1 extra coffee is essentially like buying a Dunkin coffee half off — because it’s helping me earn that “free” coffee for the next visit if I redeem those bonus points that I earned.

Don’t forget what else these special restaurant apps can help you enjoy — along with free items during special promotions:

  • Free doughnuts at places like Dunkin and Krispy Kreme on National Doughnut Day
  • Free coffee at Wawa, Cumberland, Dunkin, and more
  • Free pancakes at IHOP on National Pancake Day

…and more.

And those are just the deals Jeanine and I use regularly. There are surely many others you could use, too!