Are you tired of feeling guilty after eating fast food? Do you hate the feeling of regret you have whenever swing by a fast food joint to grab something to eat and try to justify it by telling yourself you just don’t have the time to eat like you should?
Its bad enough you aren’t able to eat as healthy as you want to or should, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for spending more than you should when you eat fast food.
Everybody always says it is cheaper to eat at home than it is to eat at a fast food place (and those people aren’t wrong), but there are ways to leave your favorite fast food joint without spending a ton of money. The best part is that not only can you spend a lot less than you are spending now, you can still leave feeling full!
To help you make sure you aren’t spending a penny more than you have to on fast food, I have compiled a list of 16 of my favorite tips and tricks to spend less and get the most bang for your buck when grabbing a quick bite to eat. If you have any that I have missed, please share them in the comments so we can all benefit from them!
16 Ways to save money on fast food:
Perhaps the easiest way to save money is with coupons. Whether you cut them out of the ads from your local newspaper or take them from the websites of your favorite fast food restaurants, you can score some amazing deals with coupons. Many times you can even score free food with coupons which is a great way to get the best bang for your buck.
Subscribe to e-mail newsletters.
Speaking of getting coupons from the websites of your favorite places to grab a quick bite, sign up for their e-mail newsletters too! Many restaurants send out coupons exclusively to their e-mail lists so if you want in on those deals, make sure to sign up! Also, many of the major restaurant chains will send you special deals for your birthday like a free desert, so if you want a free slice of cheesecake or something, that is also a great reason (and my personal favorite) for signing up to restaurant e-mail newsletters. Most places won’t flood your inbox so that shouldn’t be to much of a concern and you can always unsubscribe if they do.
Buy promotional items like calenders and coupon books.
Some companies such as Chick-Fil-A sell special promotional items like calenders that feature coupons for each month which are a great way to save on the things you like to eat. Not only are you getting a calender (which you would probably be buying anyway), but you can score some free food and drinks or at least a discount on the stuff you normally eat. I have also seen some restaurants sell coupon books that are a fantastic deal. For example, my local Little Caesars pizza place sells coupon books for $1 with the proceeds going to the local Crime Stoppers (a program the police around here run to let people give tips on crimes anonymously while still offering them a reward). Not only do I get great deals on their food valued at more than I spent on the coupon booklet, but I am also helping out a very good community initiative designed to help fight crime in my city.
Take surveys to get free food!
When you buy food at a fast food joint and they give you your receipt and ask you to take an online survey, do you do it? Most people don’t and those people are throwing their money away. Not only is it your opportunity to give valuable feedback to the restaurant on how it can better serve you, but many offer free food just to do it! My local Burger King is always asking me to fill out their online survey and as a thank you, I get a coupon for a free Whopper. If you are bored and just surfing the web, why not take a minute and earn yourself some free food? You would be foolish not to!
Take advantage of special offers!
If you watch commercials on TV or check out the in-store displays for your favorite food quickie joints, you will notice that they are often running some sort of limited time special offer. Paying attention to these special offers is a great way to spend less and get some real bang for your buck. For example, I have seen fast food giants like Burger King and Carl’s Jr. do some great buy one get one free specials with some of their sandwiches. I have taken advantage of such a special at Burger King twice in the past week myself! You may not need two sandwiches for yourself but you can always feed a friend, family member or homeless person (they seem to gather around fast food places like flies where I live) with the second one.
Play the promotional games!
Speaking of promotions that can score you some free food (among other prizes), keep an eye out for the times when restaurants have games that can win you stuff when you buy certain items. McDonald’s is perhaps the most well known for this with their annual Monopoly game where you can collect Monopoly properties to win cool prizes or even win some free fries or a drink. It can pay to play!
Eat from the dollar menu!
One of the best ways to fill your tummy on the cheap when you don’t have any coupons with you is with the dollar menu. Sure, you don’t get all of the fancy ingredients on your burger like you do with the burgers that cost $6, but if you don’t mind plain old cheeseburgers and smaller portion sizes, make your eyes wander over to the dollar or value menu. Its a much cheaper way to eat than just ordering one of the big combo meals.
Take a limited amount of cash.
Speaking of spending as little as possible on your food, one of the best ways to do that is to carry small amounts of cash on you. The less you carry on you, the less you have to spend which will force you to buy cheaper items. Of course this trick doesn’t really work if you use plastic for all of your purchases instead of cash but if you are a cash guy like I am, this trick works great! Also, the less you money you have on you, the less the muggers can steal which is an important thing to keep in mind if you live in a bad neighborhood.
Drink free water or take your own!
Another great way to save money when you eat is by just drinking water. If you dine in, just ask for one of their courtesy cups for water rather than buying a giant fountain drink that will set you back a couple bucks and send your sugar levels through the roof. I have known a number of people that have lost significant weight just by cutting the soda fountain out of their diet so if you are looking shed a couple of pounds, this is an easy way to do it. If you don’t go inside, and prefer to use the drive through, bring a bottle of water with you from home so you aren’t tempted to buy one of their drinks or bottles of water.
Know what you want before you get there!
One of the worst things to do when you stop to get food is to not know what you want before you get there. They always say to never go to the grocery store hungry (one of the things I mentioned in my guide to saving money at the grocery store) and to make a list so you don’t buy what you don’t need when you get there. Well, that advice applies pretty well to the fast food joints too. If you get to the cash register or drive though without knowing what you want ahead of time, you will usually end up buying more food than you need and picking more expensive items because they often sound the best. Whether you are looking to save money or just cut back on how much you eat, this is a very important piece of advice!
Buy dinner or desert but never both!
Along the lines of the last point about knowing what you want before you get to the restaurant, one of the things you need to decide is if you are there for dinner or desert. If you do both, you will end up spending more than you wanted to and consume far more calories than you should. Personally, I would just stick with dinner as most restaurant deserts are ridiculously overpriced although there are times when I would gladly skip dinner and go straight to the cheesecake. Just remember, if you don’t want to feel guilty or like you have overeaten when you leave, stick to one or the other.
Always count the calories!
A couple of years ago, I let my weight go as high as 235 lbs. I was terrified that my pants were going to pop a button at the worst possible time and that is when I decided it was time to start paying attention to what I eat (my previous philosophy for watching what I eat was to look at it before I shoved it in my mouth). I still eat fast food almost every day like I did back then, but I was able to lose 25 lbs that year just by eating lower calorie items at those same fast food restaurants. I never did any exorcise or anything, I just found lower calorie items on the menus that I enjoyed and switched to eating them. One of the things I also noticed when I started paying attention to my calorie consumption was that the higher calorie items almost always cost more so not only did I lose weight, I started saving quite a bit of money!
Choose the cheapest item you enjoy!
Along the same lines as the previous point, try to stick with buying the cheapest item you enjoy. It is fine to splurge on occasion and get one of the fancy $7 burgers but but if there are cheaper items you like, stick to those and that will save you a ton of money in the long run. It is also likely to save you from eating a lot more calories than you need too! In addition, there often isn’t a huge difference between the sizes of the meals so stick with a small or medium instead of a large. If you eat inside, most places offer free refills too so you can easily get the value of a large drink by just refilling a medium drink once.
Buy the kids meals even if you are an adult.
It may feel a little awkward buying a kids meal for yourself but it is a cheap way to get a complete meal that would cost you a lot more if you ordered off the adult menu. You may not get as much food but at least it can save you money and score you a toy at the same time! I’d suggest comparing this to the value menu as there might be little if any difference other than the toy (which you can always find a kid to give it to).
Split large orders up family style.
Speaking of kids, another great way to save money is to split up large orders among several people. Whether it is a big bucket of chicken or a pizza, splitting a meal up with others can save you money. Whether you are splitting a pizza or just a large order of fries, it makes sense to just get one order and split it instead of each getting their own and feeling fat from over eating afterwards. We do this often where I work with pizza as it is much cheaper to buy 2 pizzas for 4 people (which works out to around $3.25 per person) than to buy each person their own big order anywhere else and nobody walks away hungry.
Avoid the drive-thru like the plague!
Finally, one if the biggest ways to save money is by not going through the drive-thru. This seems a little odd at first because the menu prices are still the same but this time I am not talking about saving money on the food directly. I am talking about how much you are wasting in gas while you spend what seems like an eternity in the long line for the drive-thru window. I have found myself sitting in drive-thru for 15 minutes for just one car in the line in front of me to move and I am sitting there with my engine idling the entire time. Doing that is a huge waste of gas (it will kill gas mileage your vehicle gets) and it does nasty things to the environment at the same time. However, if you do decide to go through the drive thru for some reason (perhaps the line inside is all the way out the door), don’t be afraid to turn your engine off while waiting for your order or for the cars in front of you. As memory serves, as long as you are sitting there for at least 10 seconds, you will save fuel by turning your engine off.
If you follow these tips, you can easily save thousands of dollars a year on fast food!
If you found these tips and tricks on how to save money and get more bang for your buck at fast food restaurants useful, please share this article with everybody you know who could benefit from it!