Being an adult means driving past a McDonald's and finally understanding what your Mom meant all those years ago, as you bitterly tell yourself you have food at home.
Realizing you have to pay for food every day for the rest of your life until you die is a bummer, especially when you’re broke. Inflation and the rising cost of living are not helping us out here either.
But fixing your financial health should be a balance of carrot and stick. Just because you’re broke, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a ✨lil treat✨ every so often
There are ~~ways~~ of getting free food without paying a dime
And they don't involve robbery, lying in order to land your server/delivery driver in shit (don’t be this person), or wandering around Costco and eating a meal’s worth of samples (we’re not not endorsing this last one).
From fancy restaurants to free snacks and drinks, from orthodox methods to the more rogue, we’ve listed the top hacks down below.
Let’s start with the one that provides the fanciest results: becoming a mystery diner, a.k.a a secret shopper.
1) How do you become a mystery diner? 🕵️
A mystery diner, or secret shopper, is someone who visits a restaurant - eats the food - and then reports the quality of their experience back to the restaurant. As in, the restaurant will literally pay for you to eat their food and judge it.
It’s a way for big chains to make sure their service is up to scratch.
Often - with agencies such as HGEM, which operates on the East coast - all you need is good written English so that you can write a report after. Other agencies such as Coyle Hospitality Management review more high-end restaurants, so might ask you to prove how selective your taste is 💅
✅ Bonuses of being a secret shopper: free fancy meal.
❌Downsides: you have to have enough money in your bank account to pay for the meal first. Then, if you keep the receipts, you’ll be reimbursed a few weeks later.
Aaaaalways make sure you’re not paying anything extra to work as a mystery diner; there shouldn’t be any cost other than the meal itself, which you’ll be reimbursed for. A good agency will be totally transparent about what they want from you and when you’ll be paid.
2) Use an app like Olio and Too Good to Go 📱
Each year, 40% of all edible food in the US is thrown away. Meanwhile, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans faces food insecurity. Basically, our food system is fucked up.
Apps like Olio and Too Good to Go do the god’s work, grabbing this perfectly good food before it’s thrown in the trash, and getting it to customers for a fraction of the price.
Restaurants and grocery stores sign up to the apps, and at the end of the day give any food over that hasn’t been eaten, but can’t be sold anymore because of things like sell-by dates. The food is still perfectly good, and in some cases, you can get full meals.
✅ Bonuses: you get to fight food waste by eating delicious food.
❌Downsides: you do have to pay some, *but* you get a good chunk of it for free - one user wrote “I've spent perhaps $25 this week and gotten over $100 in delicious food.”
3) Save money with a cheap healthy grocery list
Another way to save money on food is meal planning, and planning your grocery shopping. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there that provide templates for grocery shopping for under $25 a week. (Disclaimer: this is usually on top of a basic pantry of things like seasonings, oil and sugar).
Madeleine Olivia is an English blogger who has a series of budget grocery lists and budget meal plans at stores like Aldi and Lidl (obvi, this is in English prices, but the products are largely the same in the US because Aldi is cheap in every currency)
Stacey Flowers is a Youtuber who, on top of sharing her journey out of debt, also shares a monthly grocery shop for $50 with meal prep included.
Both of these creators share vegan recipes, but if you want tips on saving money on meat-based a diet, Youtuber FitFrugalMom shares hacks for shopping for a family of 6 on a budget by getting meat from the reduced section.
Tips for budget shopping:
- Find your cheapest store. This might be Aldi, or Trader Joe’s. This diagram shows the difference in price between Trader Joe's and Stop n Shop
- Write a grocery list and plan your meals ahead. This means you won’t be tempted to buy all the random sh*t you see in store (bonus tip: never grocery shop hungry)
- Frozen fruit and veggies are the cheapest
- Shop seasonal. For fresh fruit and vegetables, in-season produce is cheaper, because there’s more of it
- Buy snacks. Sounds counterintuitive, but if you factor some cheap snacks into your grocery shop, you’ll be full and less tempted to splash out on UberEats when the urge comes to eat a lil something sweet
These are some of the recipes the bloggers shared. (They’re all vegan, but you can add meat to the non-breakfast meals!)
Oatmeal with frozen berries, or, breakfast smoothie with oats, berries and plant milk (you can add yogurt and protein powder if you want it to be more filling)
These breakfasts require a few base ingredients (oatmeal, milk and fruit) that you can use for a variety of breakfasts.
Stacey Flowers swears by a nourish bowl with rice, roasted sweet potatoes, black beans and a spinach salad for her lunch, daily. You can buy all the ingredients in bulk, prep everything but the salad in advance, and season to your heart’s content.
Madeleine Olivia provides the recipe for a super simple vegetable stir fry. The ingredients are garlic, onions, chili, ginger, frozen veggies, and egg noodles. And she makes the sauce out of peanut butter and soy sauce.
4) How do you get free fast food? Use Coupons, Memberships and Surveys
You basically want to become best friends with your fave fast food joint.
🍔 How to get free food from DoorDash? Sign up to commercial emails
DoorDash, and many other individual fast food chains, will share offers on their commercial emails. These are sometimes centred around national holidays. Check out this calendar so you don’t miss the next National Pizza Day deals.
While you’re there, you can also get free food from DoorDash by calling up any friends who have been living under a rock and inviting them to join, in return for free food credit for both of you.
🍔 Take surveys
Keep your receipts 💅 fast-food chains such as Dunkin Donuts will sometimes give you the opportunity to take a customer survey by following a code on your receipt. They reward you with a free donut with your next coffee.
🍔 Download the app to earn points
Many fast-food joints and grocery stores have loyalty rewards schemes. If you’re a regular at places like Chick-Fil-A and 7/11, download their app and earn points every time you buy from them.
These add up to free stuff, and they even occasionally even offer free items. Keep your eyes out on your birthday 👀
🍔 Use Coupons sites
If you’re thinking of ordering food or eating out, check out a coupon site before you order. They have deals from 25% off to buy one get one free.
If you have kids, many restaurants have deals where kids eat free on certain days of the week.
Check out this article for a comprehensive list. And if your kid is 13 years old - they’re not. They’re 12 now.
❌ Downsides: coupons, surveys, and membership deals are often cleverly thought-out marketing techniques to get people to spend more. Be careful of spending extra just because you’re saving some.
✅ Bonuses: If you were already going to eat out, or if you regularly eat at a certain place anyway, then they’re worth it. They take a bit of management but can save you money in the long run.
Onto the more rogue options. These options involve more of a long game for getting free food. But still… free food.
5) Hacks for College Students
🎓 There are plenty of opportunities for free food as a college student. You just have to lean into them.
Make the most of recruitment drives, go to those corporate dinner thingies, and dine on the law firm's dime.
🎓 On top of regular coupons and deals, there are often deals specific to students. The app Student Beans puts them all in one place for you.
❌Downsides: You may have to shmooze for your food.
✅Bonuses: Free food, and a job opportunity might even come out of it.
6) Become a food blogger 🤳
Ok, this isn’t exactly a quick fix. But if you’re really passionate about free food, why not make it your lifestyle? If you already have a lot of followers on Instagram or TikTok, reach out to brands and try to work out a deal.
❌Downsides: perhaps not the best option if filming yourself eating in public would feel weird.
✅ Bonuses: if you love being in front of the camera, it’s a win-win 💅 just remember to bring your ring light.
7) Forage or grow your food 🌱
There is plenty of food available in the natural world around us if you know where to look.
Alexis Nikole - a.k.a @theblackforager on Instagram and @alexisnikole on TikTok - makes content showing you exactly where to find it.
❌ Downsides: Firstly, obvi be careful foraging for random food. Alexis gives clear instructions for avoiding poisonous plants - follow them.
Secondly, we know that being money poor often means being time poor, too. If you’re working two jobs, you might not have time to forage for food that may not even equate to a full meal.
✅ Bonuses: If you do have some free time, it’s a fun thing to do without having to spend any money.
Plus, Alexis is literally the most adorable person on the planet. In the very least check out her videos if you want your heart to be warmed.
While we’re on the topic, if you need someone to roast you for your uncontrolled takeout habit, or hype you for curbing it - Cleo is the app for you.
(Soz, we couldn't end the article without a shameless plug) <3
Now go and quite literally get that bread, baby! Food always tastes better when it’s free 🙃
Enjoy this post? Def give it a share or send it along to a friend. You never know, it could make a big difference. And of course, if you want to try the best money app in the world for free, just hit this link right here.
Big love. Cleo 💙