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7 Ways to Save Money on Fast Food

7 Ways to Save on Fast Food | Money Saving Tips | Food Savings | Smart Money Tips | Fast Food Hacks

This is a guest post from Kalyn Brooke of Creative Savings

As much as we may try, all the meal planning in the world can’t compete with the unexpected.

You might have an incredibly busy day at work, or a tiring afternoon chasing kiddos around the house. Or maybe you’re out running errands and have a sporting event or church activity right around 6pm. It’s exhausting to even think about dinner at that point, let alone prepare it!

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Common sense tells us that fast food isn’t ideal for a tight budget (or your waistline), but let’s be honest — it can also be a life saver in the middle of the most energy-draining moments. It sure beats an expensive sit-down meal at a fancy restaurant, plus you don’t have to hassle with bulky coolers, hungry kids, or making sure nobody spills their juice in the car when you try and pack your own.

That still doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind whenever you pull into your favorite drive-thru lane. It pays to be smart, and these 7 tips are essential to making the most of your meal. They’ll also save you a few bucks along the way!

7 Ways to Save on Fast Food | Money Saving Tips | Food Savings | Smart Money Tips | Fast Food Hacks

1. Order Water

Water might be boring, but it’s also free–not to mention SO much better for you than soda! That makes it the perfect beverage option whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or not. Eating fast food can be unhealthy enough as it is–there’s no need to make it even worse by adding hundreds of completely empty calories to the meal.  Besides, when you realize how much of a markup soda is at these restaurants, it makes you even more disgusted at the thought of paying for it.  If you just can’t do plain water, ask for a lemon to give you extra flavor, or split a big drink with your spouse and family.

(As an FYI, splitting drinks and then getting free refills is frowned upon in any establishment, and can get you into some pretty big trouble. Refills should be per person only.)

7 Ways to Save on Fast Food | Money Saving Tips | Food Savings | Smart Money Tips | Fast Food Hacks

2. Know Where Kids Eat Free

It’s really surprising how many restaurants offer free or almost free meals for kids. Whether it’s a certain day of the week or a certain time of day, you’re bound to find at least one fast food joint that will cut you a deal.

For the most extensive list, be sure to check out Money Saving Mom’s roundup. And remember that each offer varies by state and region, so always call ahead to your local chain to find out.  You definitely don’t want to arrive with a van full of hungry kiddos only to find out that one franchise is the exception!

3. Check Receipts for Surveys

How often do you throw away your receipts along with the tray and leftover food wrappers? I used to do this all the time! Now I always make sure to take a peek at the bottom of the receipt before tossing. Sometimes there is a survey offer that will give you a free soda, burger, or a Buy One Get One deal just for taking 5 minutes to answer a few questions.

The only catch is each coupon code you are given does come with an expiration date, so it may or may not be worth it depending on how often you eat at that particular chain.

7 Ways to Save on Fast Food | Money Saving Tips | Food Savings | Smart Money Tips | Fast Food Hacks

4. Split Your Fries

I don’t know about you, but I can never finish an entire box of fries {nor should I with all those fat-inducing calories found in there!} However, if you’re eating with your family, spouse, or significant other, one of you should order the large value meal and then equally split the fries. The large box of fries is usually more than enough, and it’s also much cheaper than everyone getting their own {smaller} meal.

You also might want to consider ordering just a sandwich and fries separately with a water, rather than the whole value meal, but the price comparison and potential discount will differ from restaurant to restaurant.

7 Ways to Save Money on Fast Food 5

5. Don’t Waste Extras

If you have ketchup or sauce packets leftover from your meal, don’t throw them away. These are the perfect size to throw in work lunches, or to extend the life of your condiments at home. I do the same thing with napkins and keep a hefty stash in the glove compartment of my car for emergency spills. And if we have a large enough collection in the car, I’ll add them to our pile of paper napkins at home.

However, this doesn’t mean you “take extra” just for the purpose of bringing them home. That’s considered stealing, and again, you could get in big trouble with the restaurant!

7 Ways to Save on Fast Food | Money Saving Tips | Food Savings | Smart Money Tips | Fast Food Hacks

6. Get Creative With Sandwich Orders

Just because a specialty sandwich is on the menu, doesn’t mean you have to order it that way. Here are just a few ideas to create your own “sandwich hacks” that save money over big value meals:

  • At Subway, split a footlong sub meal rather than buying two 6-inch ones.
  • At McDonalds, order a McDouble without ketchup and mustard, and ask if they can put on some cheese and Mac sauce. This is a poor-man’s Big Mac, but still tastes the same.
  • At Arby’s, order two Junior roast beef sandwiches rather than a regular classic. You’ll get the same amount of meat for less!

Some restaurants may charge you extra for items like cheese and bacon, but other condiments are generally interchangeable. The idea is to look for dollar menu items that can be substituted for a larger $4-$5 specialty sandwich.

7. Use Coupons

Restaurant coupons are plentiful enough — you just have to know where to look. Check your Sunday paper, comb through ads that look like junk in your mailbox, and sign up for your favorite fast food email lists for coupons each month and free stuff around your birthday. You can even sign up for a City Savings or Entertainment book for more savings.

We personally try to limit our restaurant selections to those we have a coupon for, which decreases the temptation to eat out all the time. The food might not be exactly what we are craving, but it does save us money!

As you try some of these tips at your favorite fast food restaurants, remember that being frugal isn’t always about being miserly or “cheap”. It’s definitely not ethical to cheat companies out of their money by playing the system.

However, as I’ve described above, you can save money in the right and ethical way, and still get a great deal from your local chain. Just make sure you don’t end up visiting them too often. You want to build up that savings account too!

 

Kalyn Brooke is a full-time writer and blogger at CreativeSavingsBlog.com, where she gives a fresh perspective on frugal Kalyn Brooke of CreativeSavingsBlog.comliving, and the kick-in-the-pants you need to create a budget from scratch. She lives in beautiful Southwest Florida with her news-photographer husband. She loves making to-do-lists, reading good books, eating chocolate peanut butter ice cream, and pursuing big big dreams…all carefully planned out, of course.

  7 Ways to Save on Fast Food | Money Saving Tips | Food Savings | Smart Money Tips | Fast Food Hacks

9 Comments

  1. Great tips! I just had my second baby which means we are doing take out more than ever. I love being able to eat out without spending a fortune.

  2. May 15 at 05:29PM

    Love these tips! I do most of these things when we eat out. I also carry a bottle of my favorite water flavoring in my purse because I don’t like plain or lemon water.

  3. May 18 at 07:50PM

    We don’t eat out much but when we do we follow most of these tips. We rarely order bigger sandwiches or burgers, opting for the smaller ones and getting two if needed, it does really work out to be less. We also purchase on big order of fries and split them. Very rarely do we need more. I also love the surveys for free food on the back of the receipts. I once did a survey and must have answered well because I got invited to a focus group and was paid $50 too. That was definitely worth the few minutes of time it took to fill out the survey.

  4. May 23 at 12:25PM

    Great tips, Kalyn. We almost always order water. Another tip that we use for “fancier” fast food restaurants is to always do the surveys that are offered on the receipt. For example, at Qdoba we buy one regular meal for the two of us to split, and we always get a free chips and salsa because of filling out a survey from the week before. Subway offers a free cookie for filling out the survey, and many other restaurants offer goodies too.

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