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How to Eat for Free or Obscenely Cheap Year-Round

Jonathan has been writing since 1995 about various topics, from movie reviews, works of fiction and media commentaries to Bible sermons.

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Every year at certain times articles pop up everywhere about deals associated with a given date or holiday, but did you know that many of these deals are not exclusive to these days, and that there are many other ways to get savings? Let's get the rundown on how you can eat for free or incredibly cheap any time you want to. (Please keep in mind that while everything in this article is true at the time of writing, promotions can change and policies can be retracted at the discretion of the listed restaurants.)

Earning Points

The first thing to take note of is that if you aren't using apps to order your fast food at this point in the twenty-first century, you aren't doing it right. Besides being able to take your time browsing a visual menu without rushing because someone's waiting behind you in line, and besides the convenience of saving your payment method to your account for quick checkout (which ideally should be a cash-back credit card with extra points for restaurants) the vast majority of fast food apps have a points program whereby you earn points for every dollar you spend, adding up to free food. Now that we've got that down, let's look at a few specific chains and their deals.

Dunkin' Donuts

I typically wouldn't recommend going to Dunkin Donuts on a regular basis due to their generally higher prices, but if you do prefer them then keep an eye out for bonuses to their normal points program, which can speed you along the way to free drinks, with no restrictions on size or type. Sometimes the promotion will be double points for a specific purchase, but sometimes you can buy the cheapest item on the menu such as a few munchkins and get enough for a free drink after three visits. It varies by promotion so it's always good to keep an eye on it and buy accordingly, especially if you are a regular customer anyway. Even if you aren't, it doesn't hurt to sign up for an account as you will still receive one free drink a year for your birthday.

Wendy's

The Wendy's app has it's point redemption under the Rewards tab, and right next to it you'll find the Deals section which contains regularly updated coupons that can be used at the window or applied to your in-app order. There are buy one get one free deluxe sandwiches, as well as frequent rotating drinks, nuggets, regular fries and deluxe fries with toppings free with any purchase. That's right, any purchase with no minimum. But the deal gets sweeter. If you get a standard hamburger which is one of the cheapest items on the menu, you can customize the ingredients manually, and Wendy's is currently the only fast food restaurant that let's you add lettuce and tomato at no extra charge (besides an assortment of various sauces). That means you can get what basically is a deluxe sandwich loaded with lettuce and tomato along with a side for a little over a dollar, and if you're a senior, depending on your participating local Wendy's and their definition of senior, you can make it a whole meal by asking for a senior drink, which is a small soda or coffee free of charge. Oh and one more thing: Don't forget to add extra onions to your sandwich if you like them, because they come at no extra charge at all the hamburger chains on this list.

McDonald's

All year round you'll find plenty of buy one get one deals as well as premium items priced at a buck or free with any purchase. Occasionally there will also be seasonal deals such as a holiday calendar that offers different items free with purchase every day. McDonald's also has the cheapest soft drinks of the bunch, offering any size for a dollar. This can be a great item to pair with a "free with any purchase" offer, as well as milk which is also one dollar.

Taco Bell

As many restaurants are in the process of doing, the dollar menu is largely done away with. However there is still a value menu which periodically will get revamped with, if not a dollar, still good value items. In the app you also have the option to change ingredients in your tacos, and while some add to the price, some don't but make it healthier. For instance, selecting fresco style replaces fattening toppings like cheese sauce with diced tomatoes, and ground beef can also be replaced with whole black beans, which are typically only offered in premium menu items. Besides the standard points, there are frequent promotions year-round tied in with sports events or other days that will offer free or sharply discounted premium items with any purchase. Another recent promotion Taco Bell recently offered was with the purchase of gift cards, which can be reloaded right back onto your account as a payment method. The offer gave any free combo with a twenty-five dollar gift card (and combos can cost up to around twelve dollars and include multiple premium items and a drink). When using the gift card through the app points are also earned on top of this, resulting in several free premium tacos such as the Chalupa Supreme, and combined with the original offer almost equaling the original gift card and doubling its' value. While these types of promotions will likely change each time they are offered, it's always good to keep an eye on them to see if they're worth it.

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Burger King

Besides points the Burger King app offers rotating coupons with things such as half priced large combo meals, or even meals for two people with drinks, sandwiches and sides for five or six bucks. Whopper Wednesdays continue to offer the large sandwich for typically two or three dollars, but sometimes only one dollar, and the Whopper Jr. also frequently has a coupon to get it for only a dollar and fifty cents. There are also usually deals associated with new menu items when they become available, as well as frequent availability of large onion rings, fries, cheesy tots and drinks for a dollar.

Subscriptions

Another trend being tried recently are restaurant subscription services. For $8.99 per month, Panera Bread's Panera Plus, which has been renamed to the less-streaming-service-sounding yet quite a mouthful Panera Unlimited Sip Club Subscription, offers daily coffee or hot tea with free refills, but other premium drinks are not included. Not to be outdone, Circle K introduced Sip and Save, which for only $5.99 per month offers not only standard coffee and soda of any size but also frozen drinks, iced drinks, seasonal flavored warm drinks, hot chocolate and coffee beans ground fresh for every cup. If you sign up for their text alerts you'll also be kept up with seasonal events that give free daily or almost daily items during the promotion period. Meanwhile Taco Bell is spearheading the food variant of these plans, offering a daily soft or crunchy taco, even including costlier ones such as the Doritos Locos Supreme, for only ten dollars per month.

conclusion

So if eating out is something you're gonna do anyway, you might as well get with the program and take advantage of the various competing promotions that are out there. Your wallet will thank you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jonathan Sabin

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