Smart SpendingSmart Spending

9 ways to eat free

Here are nine ways to help you fill your belly without emptying your wallet.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 9, 2014 12:04PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyGetting 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.

To help you find relief from rising prices, we've put together some tips to help you find free food.

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:

2. Find samples online and in the store

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.

These are some of the websites to watch for food freebies:

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 the chance for 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.

For more information on foraging and foraging sites in your area, try these websites:

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. Click here to learn more about how to make your garden grow.

 Family at diner © IT Stock Free/SuperStock7. 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

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.

Where else do you find free food?

More from Money Talks News

Jul 9, 2014 1:10PM

Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this Republic has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Purchases by food stamps should be (if not already) restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and non sweetened juices. The following should always be banned, and processes need to be in place where not already, to restrict: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, sweetened juices, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food, or any food that is mail ordered or shipped anywhere. If these rules would be followed, and recipients would learn how to shop and properly eat, no one would be hungry and we the taxpayers would save billions.

            Tobacco and alcohol should be banned from purchase by welfare funds. No cash should be allowed to be pulled off of any assistance cards except at banks and should be limited to a very low percentage of funds.

Jul 9, 2014 3:17PM
Do like all these illegal aliens flooding our country looking for a free handout from our country while the American taxpayer foots the bill. It is getting harder and harder for our own people to get help here. Obviously, the word is out south of the boarder that our government is willing to take care of everyone else instead of their own people. Plus, they don't have to contribute to it.
Jul 9, 2014 4:51PM
Hang around the back door of any military mess hall.  I couldn't believe the amount of good food that gets tossed in a dumpster after every meal.  I pulled KP for three days and was sickened by the amount of untouched food that we tossed.  That food could have went to meal sites for the elderly or meals on wheels.  Government waste at its finest.
Jul 9, 2014 2:20PM
Jul 9, 2014 3:37PM
Why do any of this when you can just get a government credit card and eat for free.  Someone else will pay for it.
Jul 9, 2014 2:37PM
churches usually have ladies aids and potluck things. "atleast in the Midwest we do..."
Jul 9, 2014 1:04PM
13. Eat garbage.  People throw away dinners fit for kings!
Jul 10, 2014 9:10AM
Jul 9, 2014 8:03PM
This sounds like more trouble than working and paying for food! I pass....
Jul 9, 2014 9:46PM

Dumpster diving in downtown Obamaville since 2009.  mmm, mmm, mmm!

Jul 10, 2014 10:24AM
Hunting & fishing isn't eating for free...not when you take into consideration the license fees and equipment costs. And if you don't have your own land (or know someone who does), a lease ain't cheap. You can always roll the dice and poach, I reckon.
Jul 9, 2014 6:04PM
Some posters need to get out more among the hood rats. Hit the local grocery store and use food stamps to stock up on candy bars. Ride around on public buses and have the kids sell the candy. There's your bad habits and party cash and you don't have to give half to some third world store owner. The kids need a birthday cake and why bake 'em. Order one at the grocery store, pay for the cake with food stamps and then bring back half the sheet. Swear kids got sicks or it didn't taste right, receive cash back from the store and again, have walk around money
Jul 9, 2014 1:17PM
Become a cheating Democrat - the IRS will intentionally look the other way.  More money for food.
Jul 9, 2014 4:08PM
#11 ("Nageling")- Take $500k in bribes and pay back $84k when sentenced.

Leaves $416k for food (after your three hots & a cot).

Jul 9, 2014 9:56PM

My son is a college student with a true love of learning. His university has quest speakers with sit down meals all the time - he goes to these average twice a week for excellent FREE food. (these events are free for honors students and usually sell tickets to public.

how I got free food in college - worked in pizza place - got (1) free  meal per shift and all the burnt pizza you could eat!

Jul 10, 2014 2:09PM
Our country is feeding all the illegal aliens flooding our country with free food and healthcare here at the expense of our hard earned tax dollars. Allow food stamps to dead beats living off the system while on drugs and alcohol or breeding dozens of crumb snatchers...We work and they live off of us as dependents. The IRS should allow us to claim some of these dependents as deductions. Right?
Jul 10, 2014 7:33AM
i'm on a seafood diet.i eat everything i see.
Jul 9, 2014 10:17PM
Jul 9, 2014 4:53PM
If allowed in your neighborhood raise chickens - sell or trade the extra eggs for vegetables. 
Jul 10, 2014 12:07PM
In other words be a cheapskate, free loading pain in the **** that everyone hates.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.