Personal Finance

9 Ways to Eat for Free

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Getting your vitamin C is going to cost a little more this year. National Geographic reports that the price of Florida citrus is expected to rise nearly 23 percent from what it was last May. You’ll probably pay more for pork, beef, and for other fruits and vegetables, too.

With rising prices putting a bigger strain on your grocery budget, here are a few ideas to help you eat for free.

1. Use Coupons for Grocery Store Freebies

Start 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.

I use the Enlightened Shopping service at SavingsAngel to find the freebies and other great deals in my area. It’s a subscription service, but I find the convenience, as well as the bells and whistles offered by the site, to be worth the price. However, SavingsAngel mainly covers grocers in the Midwest and South. A similar service operating nationwide is The Grocery Game.

In addition, plenty of free websites and blogs provide coupon matchups and deal alerts for freebies. Here are some of the most popular sites:

  • Coupon Mom
  • The Krazy Coupon Lady
  • Southern Savers
  • Jill Cataldo

2. Find Samples

Then, when it’s time to go shopping, be sure to 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.

Another source of free samples is the Internet. Coffee, granola bars and cereal seem to be the most frequently offered freebies I find, but you can find all sorts of free 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.

3. Embrace Being a Social Butterfly

Maybe you want entire meals instead of samples. In that case, you need to 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 to pass. That makes these meals not totally free but definitely cheaper than if you made them yourself.

Of course, you want to be a gracious guest, and sending a thank-you note is always appropriate. You may also want to consider hosting your friends at least once a year or finding some other way to reciprocate their generosity.

4. Never Turn Down 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!

5. 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, are within the appropriate season and, in the case of hunting, have taken a safety class. Process your own meat to make your food truly free.

6. Grow Your Own Food

Not everyone wants to travel far and wide to find food or spill blood in order to get a free meal. In that case, you should try your hand at gardening.

Fortunately for the black thumbs in the crowd, we have an entire article dedicated to growing your own food.

7. Sign Up for Restaurant Birthday Clubs

Restaurants love to give out free birthday meals – probably because they know you’re not likely to be dining 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 your inbox a couple of weeks before your 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.

Brad’s Deals has a big list of more than 110 restaurants offering free birthday food or discounts.

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 are sent everywhere 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.

Unfortunately, most mystery shopping companies don’t advertise their client names, so your best bet is to keep applying to companies until you find the ones with restaurant clients in your area. My favorite list of legitimate mystery shopping firms can be found at Volition.com.

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.

I wouldn’t say you should be involved simply for the sake of food (that could be a disappointment), but it’s definitely a perk of rolling up your sleeves and volunteering.

This post originally appeared on MoneyTalksNews.

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