Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Alexandra Markin
We all know grocery shopping and meal prepping is the most effective way to save money on food, but let’s be honest – at times that just isn’t doable. This post gives you 11 easy ways to save money eating out as a student.
Sometimes our schedules take us out of the house 15+ hours a day, especially those of us holding down full-time work as well. Even if you’re an online student studying at home on nights and weekends, there will be times you just don’t have the time or energy left for cooking.
I hear you. We all need a break sometimes, but that usually comes at the expense of our bank account. Thankfully, it doesn’t always have to.
This post is the third segment of a three-part series to help you save money on food as a student:
- Part one: Smart Ways to Save Money on Food as a Student
- Part two: Ways to Save Money on Groceries in College
Scroll on or use the table of contents below immediately start saving money when eating out!
- How to Save Money Eating Out as a Student
- 1. Eat at Restaurants Offering Student Discounts
- 2. Download Restaurant Apps to Accumulate Rewards Points
- 3. Eat Out at the Grocery Store
- 4. Watch for Inexpensive Places to Eat in Your City
- 5. Hit Up Happy Hour
- 6. Get a Student Discount Card
- 7. Watch Your Mailbox for Coupons
- 8. Sign Up for Restaurant Newsletters
- 9. Eat for Free on Your Birthday
- 10. Drink Water
- 11. Seek Out Free Food on Campus
- Eating Out – Wrap Up
How to Save Money Eating Out as a Student
1. Eat at Restaurants Offering Student Discounts
Many fast-food restaurants offer student discounts, such as 10% off your entire meal or a free drink with purchase. Arby’s, Burger King and Taco Bell are just a few examples.
However, keep in mind that a lot of restaurants are franchises (like Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s) so they’re able to offer different discounts across all their locations (or sometimes no discount at all). Discounts can also change at any time.
Before you place an order, you’ll need to get comfortable asking if they offer student discounts, so alway have your student ID on hand.
2. Download Restaurant Apps to Accumulate Rewards Points
Plenty of restaurants now offer rewards points for every dollar spent. Simply download their app and start accumulating points towards free food!
With MyMcDonald’s Rewards, you get 100 rewards points for every dollar spent, and can start redeeming at 1500 points. That means you’ll only need to spend $15 to get something free!
This is a great way to save money eating out as a student if your favourite restaurant offers rewards.
TIP: Keep an eye on your rewards points. They may expire after a certain amount of time, so make sure no valuable points go to waste.
3. Eat Out at the Grocery Store
One of the cheapest ways to eat out is at the grocery store’s pre-made foods counter.
Pre-made sandwiches and salads are often cheaper than a fast-food meal, and much healthier. Chilled beverages are also often on sale, such as 2 for $6 for specialty drinks like Rise Kombucha.
I think Whole Foods does the best job with this. On first though you may think they’re more expensive, but they have some great daily and weekly deals that shouldn’t be overlooked.
You can get the chef’s meal deal daily which includes an entree + two sides for $13 (vegan or vegetarian, poultry, pork or meatloaf) or $15 (seafood or beef).
They also have a different daily deal every day of the week. For example:
- Monday: 20% off chef’s meal deal
- Tuesday: 20% off packaged wraps
- Wednesday: 20% off packaged shrimp tempura rolls
- Thursday: Buy 1, get 1 50% off packaged leafy green entree salads
- Friday: $15 each hot 18″ cheese pizza
- Saturday: Buy 1, get 1 20% off packaged soup
- Sunday: 20% off in-house sliced deli meat & cheese
TIP: Most Whole Foods locations have a large and comfortable seating area with free Wi-Fi, so get some studying done alongside your inexpensive meal.
Costco also offers famously cheap fast food, and many locations don’t require a membership to eat at their food court.
4. Watch for Inexpensive Places to Eat in Your City
Lots of restaurants offer deals not advertised in mainstream media that can only be found by walking by their signboard on the sidewalk or physically going in to look at their menu.
For example, I’ve seen Subway offering a $3.99 breakfast sandwich and a cute café with ample seating offering a $14.95 lunch special for an entree and a drink.
Prices are different everywhere so do your research and always be on the lookout!
5. Hit Up Happy Hour
If you’re planning to go to a sit down restaurant, make sure to only go during happy hour and order off that menu only.
Happy hour varies at each restaurant but are generally held mid-afternoon (2-5pm) and late night (9pm – close).
Not every restaurant offers this type of deal and some restaurants only offer it Monday-Friday, so you’ll need to pay attention.
6. Get a Student Discount Card
Student discount cards offer hundreds of discounts on everything from food to fashion to travel by paying one low annual fee to access unlimited deals all year.
Student Price Card (SPC) is the most popular membership for Canadian Students, and totally worth it!
7. Watch Your Mailbox for Coupons
Believe it or not, lots of restaurants still send out printed coupons via snail mail. Check your mailbox daily and keep these coupons in your backpack to never miss a savings opportunity.
As a compromise between eating out and cooking at home, meal-prep companies such as Chef’s Plate or Hello Fresh often send out promotions in the mail, so keep your eyes peeled for these as well.
8. Sign Up for Restaurant Newsletters
Restaurant newsletters often contain deals or upcoming promotions.
Even just signing up for a newsletter could grant you a discount (for example, 10% your first order). These restaurants frequently email out discounts for loyal subscribers (like you), so watch your inbox.
9. Eat for Free on Your Birthday
Many coffee shops and restaurants give a free item on your birthday if you’re signed up for their newsletter or rewards program.
For example, if you’re signed up for the Starbucks Rewards program through the app, they’ll give you a free beverage of choice every year.
Every dollar helps!
10. Drink Water
Bring your own water bottle instead of ordering a beverage to save money on your total bill.
TIP: If you don’t have a bottle with you, ask for tap water. They’ll usually give it to you for free.
11. Seek Out Free Food on Campus
Many colleges and universities host community dinners which are free for anyone to partake in. They are run by student volunteers supervised by the college’s food and beverage department.
You’re usually required to bring your own bowl and utensils (to save on dishes), so bring a large reusable container with a lid because there is often enough food for everyone to pack leftovers!
These community dinners are always delicious, and offer some of the best free meals for college students.
Eating Out – Wrap Up
Finding the best deals near you will take some time, but once you put these tips in action and learn where to look for more inexpensive options you’ll see a change in your bank account.
To learn more about how you can save money as a student, visit the post Ways to Save Money as an Online Student.
If you found this post helpful, sign up for my email list below and follow me on Instagram to join our online student community – you don’t have to go through your study journey alone!