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20 Tips To Stretch Your Dining Dollar

11 Feb

ImageNo such thing as a free lunch? Not so fast. I’ve collected the best tips & links to get you great deals on dining out. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE to receive the best tips daily. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

We all have our reasons for dining out, and depending on your motivations and budget, you can save a bundle especially if you combine the tips listed here. But whatever you do, be sure to budget your server’s tip into the bill; being thrifty is acceptable, being cheap is just plain rude.

  1. Time of day
    Lunch is cheaper than dinner. It’s usually a more limited menu & the portions are a bit smaller, but the savings, especially at fine dining establishments, can be significant. You can also go a bit later & take advantage of early bird or happy hour specials.
  2. Day of the week
    Restaurants want to attract diners on low traffic days earlier in the week with attractive specials. Also, many restaurants take deliveries of certain items on specific days of the week, resulting in specials that will give you the best deals & freshest ingredients.
  3. Skip the appetizers
    Depending on where you are dining, items such as soup or salad, is usually included in your meal, which serves as your appetizer. Appetizers at restaurants are often pricy & can actually spoil your appetite unless you split them among diners. If you have your heart set on appetizers, you can pick a restaurant that offers free appetizers with meal purchase. However, this usually can not be combined with any other offer, so the price of the appetizer will be your only savings on the meal. You usually find these with coupon issued for chain restaurants. Another option is to take advantage of free appetizers during happy hours at a neighboring bar or sometimes at the restaurant’s bar. Be sure to use a smartphone app to find the happy hour deal nearest you.
  4.  Skip the drinks
    Beverages have the greatest profit margin for restaurants, even those with free refills, so stick with tap water. If you want alcohol, follow the above suggestion and find a happy hour special near your restaurant. Some restaurants, especially those without a liquor licenses, will allow you bring your own bottle of wine or beer for either free or a small fee.
  5. Skip dessert
    While it’s nice to have a fancy dessert with your dinner, that doesn’t mean you have to have it at the restaurant, especially if you are full from enjoying a nice meal. The mark-up on desserts is ridiculous because they buy them elsewhere. If you want dessert, pick an offer that includes free dessert, or stop at a coffee shop or bakery where you can enjoy a coffee & dessert for far less and the change of venue can spare you the post-meal sleepiness.
  6. Don’t pay for the location
    Remember when you dine at a posh uptown restaurant, you are paying as much for the real estate as you are dinner, since they have higher overhead costs. Modest storefronts, even strip-malls, can house some very fine affordable eats.
  7. Don’t order what you can make at home
    This can be tricky when it comes to dining out with kids, so pick your battles wisely. Chain restaurants tend to use a lot of convenience foods that are the same as what you can buy at the store for far less. However, if you’re kids are picky eaters & the restaurant offers free kids meals, it may be worth it for a family night out.
  8. Order the special
    Restaurants plan their specials around their deliveries, so the special will not only give you the best deal, but also the freshest ingredients.
  9. Order ethnic eats
    True ethnic restaurants, especially in ethnic neighborhoods, tend to have the freshest & most interesting offerings. They are often affiliated with ethnic markets which allow them to buy imported goods for less & they tend to have less overhead, allowing this savings to be passed on to customers. I can get a delicious fresh lunch special at my local ethnic eatery for less than many fast-food value meals!
  10. Pay with the right card
    Many restaurants offer their most generous rewards for paying with their credit card when dining out; use this for more expensive meals, since that will give you the best returns & these restaurants often don’t issue gift cards. Less expensive meals, mainly at chain restaurants, are best paid for with gift cards. As outlined in my post Why You Should Buy Holiday Gift Cards…For Yourself buy your chain restaurant gift cards for as much as 40% off face value.
  11. Coupons & Promo Codes
    Sites like RetailMeNot can help you find the best dining deals near you, however, they are almost exclusively for chain restaurants & often need to be printed out in order to be redeemed, so this not the best method if you are away from home or using a smartphone.
  12. Smartphone apps
    There are a number of smartphone apps that can help you find great deals, especially when you are already out for the evening.
    Scoutmob lets you browse participating restaurants who offer 10% to 50% off, “Return Perk” deals for repeat customers & info on upcoming events in the area.
    Foursquare  lets you “check in” to restaurants in your area via your smartphone to access coupons for the specific merchants nearby.
    Jump Tonight allows you to view upcoming deals a full week in advance.
    Night Out real-time updates about restaurant specials, happy hours, and other promotions in your area with savings of up to 50% off.
    Around Campus enter the name of the school in your area and you’ll instantly see a list of restaurants, bars, and cafes offering vouchers or coupons, for discounts and deals such as free beverages or 50% off on your birthday.
    dealnews browse deals or set up alerts for your deals from your favorite national restaurant coupons as well as aggregated local deals from the likes of Groupon, Living Social, and more.
  13. Group discounts
    Group buying networks such as Groupon and LivingSocial, or even the more traditional help restaurants reach a new audience quickly, which usually means big discounts just to get you in the door.
  14. Membership benefits
    Nearly any group you belong to can be eligible for a group discount, but they need to be negotiated in advance. National organizations like AAA have discounts set up as part of their membership package, while others, like trade unions, often negotiate locally on an as-needed basis. Almost any organization, workplace or club, from fraternal organizations to civic groups, can set up member discounts.
  15. Veteran’s benefits
    Veterans & active service discounts, but best offerings are on Memorial Day & Veteran’s Day.
  16. Show your age
    Birthday Freebies offers vary, some require an accompanying purchase, almost all require advance registration.
    Kids eat free searchable database with locations, maps, and contact info for chain & local restaurants. Usually requires an accompanying adult meal purchase.
    Senior discounts many discounts available to seniors including those as young as age 50.
  17. Mystery shopper
    There are a number of reputable companies such as Bestmark and Goodwin Hospitality , that have diners complete surveys about their meals in exchange for a set fee, which is either equal or greater than the price of the meal.
  18. Write a review
    There are a number of ways to write a review in exchange for dinner, not just blogs or community newspapers, but also customer reviews on apps like Yelp. Receiving a free dinner depends on how you sell your service to the restaurant owners.
  19. Culinary school restaurants
    The best bang-for-your-buck restaurants across the nation are culinary school restaurants. It’s not just nationally know schools like Le Cordon Bleu, but local colleges & even high schools. I can get an entire gourmet meal at my local high school restaurant for less than what I would pay the butcher for the filet mignon.
  20. Package deals
    This is most commonly offered when booking hotels or entertainment via online or local travel agents. Sometimes they are advertised, but if they are not, be sure to ask.

When stretching your dining dollar, be sure to plan ahead & combine offers whenever possible. If you don’t see any offers, it never hurts to ask, and always, always, always, tip your server. Bon appétit!


What Are The Best Things To Buy In April?

9 Apr


Attention shoppers, it’s time once again for the best deals of the month. Don’t forget to  follow me on Facebook, simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE to receive the best tips daily. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too. Just a quick review before I list this months best buys…

Most bargains follow a predictable pattern:

  • End of the model year (varies depending on product)
  • End of the retail season (ends sooner than calendar season)
  • Holiday sale (usually new, but sometimes older models)
  • Directly after a holiday
  • Off season
  • In season (fresh produce)

The downside includes:

  • Lack of inventory/choices
  • Open box/damage/refurbished
  • Older model/style
  • Unable to use/test until season changes, long past refund date

Brick and mortar stores clear out first since retail space is at a premium, but many online stores will offer competitive pricing even though their inventory will linger longer. The longer you wait, the lower the price, but you could miss out on finding what you need. Remember that a retailer’s season ends much sooner than a calendar season; that’s why you’ll find great deals on winter apparel in January & February, but you will hard pressed to find a winter coat in March when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground. Don’t forget to check out my post 15 Super Tips For Shopping Success to learn how to save even more on online purchases.

So here’s where you can save the most in April:

  • athletic shoes
  • small appliances
  • vacuum cleaner (last year’s models)
  • cookware
  • electronics (last year’s models)
  • TV (last year’s models)
  • small gardening tools & supplies

When it comes to food, the best deals are to buy in season since there is a greater supply. Obviously holiday themed food bargains are best directly following the holiday, but do not overlook the perishables; starting January 2nd stores practically give away huge pork roasts that never made it to the New Year’s Day dinner table. One disclaimer on the produce; because there is some controversy regarding what is truly “in season” as the USA has very diverse growing patterns and hothouses are often used, I have placed and asterisk next to the items that are generally agreed upon.

Here are the best food deals in April:

  • Artichoke*
  • Asparagus*
  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli*
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumbers
  • Fava Beans
  • Figs
  • Grapes
  • Lettuce*
  • Mangoes*
  • Pineapples*
  • Quince
  • Rhubarb*
  • Scallions
  • Spring peas*
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini*

Often times you can get first rate products for a bargain prices, it just takes a little planning & patience; but don’t wait too long or you may miss out altogether. Want more posts like this? Let me know!

Bye-Bye Boring Oatmeal! Tips To Make This Childhood Nightmare Your New Breakfast Favorite

3 Dec

ImageThe mention of oatmeal doesn’t exactly conjure up the most pleasant of childhood memories for most people. I had a mother whose idea of cooking consisted of opening a package, then burning or boiling the contents beyond recognition. So when it came to oatmeal, it was those packets that you add hot water to; which was better than when we ran out and she made rolled oats, which was scorched wallpaper paste without the sugar and salt to make it easier to choke down.

The first time I ate real oatmeal was shortly after high school, when I strapped on a backpack and headed overseas for the first time. The family in rural Ireland that took me in the night before, asked me in the morning if I wanted “porridge”. I had no idea what that was, but I always graciously accepted what anyone offered so as not to be rude. It was delicious! Turns out porridge is steel cut oatmeal. Believe me folks, there is world of difference; steel cut oats are chewy, nutty, very tasty, and firm instead of pasty and bland like rolled oats.

I know not everyone is in the same place when it comes to dietary needs and goals. People who are given viable options can always work toward healthier choices without being overwhelmed and quitting. The benefit to flavoring oatmeal yourself is that you control the amount of fat, sugar and salt.

Since most people don’t have time to cook in the morning, I suggest you cook a batch, portion it out, freeze and take out what you need the night before to defrost. You can even cook a batch overnight in your crockpot. Another way to save time is to have your combinations portioned and package ahead of time so you can just add them to your oatmeal in the morning.

To keep from getting bored, we need variety, but it’s not always easy to think up tasty combinations. An easy way is to think of combination in the follow terms:

  • Can you spread it on toast?
  • Can you stir it into or sprinkle it over yogurt?
  • Can you stir it into coffee?
  • Can you use it to top pancakes or ice cream?

Here’s variation of a theme to give you some great ideas:

  • 1 T apple butter + milk
  • Chopped apple + chopped walnuts + vanilla rice milk + drizzle of caramel ice cream topping
  • pat of butter + 2 T apple sauce + drizzle of sugar free butter pecan pancake syrup
  • Dried apples + raisins + fat free non-dairy hazelnut coffee creamer + Cinnamon + brown sugar
  • Cinnamon apples or apple pie filling + soy milk + 1 T almond butter

Now let’s talk about the health benefits. First of all, the less the oat is processed, the more nutritional value it will have. This is especially true when it comes to glycemic index; the more it is processed, the quicker it enters your blood stream, spikes your blood sugar then drops. Think of a whole oat as “time-released energy” that is absorbed slowly over a period of time, giving you sustained energy without being hyper then sleepy.

High In Soluble Fiber. Soluble fiber inhibits the body’s absorption of the bad cholesterol LDL. The fiber also attack carcinogens as well as lower levels of estrogen in the body and this can protect the body from the development of cancer. The fiber helps you lose weight by feeling fuller longer and controlling blood sugar so you eat less, and also cleans out all the poop stuck to your intestinal walls. Oatmeal contains a certain type of fiber called beta-gluten fiber, which helps immune cells fight bacterial infection.

Full of Antioxidants. Contains avenanthramide which fights off free radicals that attack good cholesterol  HDL and keeps LDL cholesterol from oxidizing copper, which reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These antioxidants suppress the production of molecules that allow monocytes to adhere to the walls of the arteries causing hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure.

There is no limit to the creative combinations you can concoct. These combinations work great for brown rice too; I like mine with almond milk, nutmeg and cardamom. So as the temperature drops, treat yourself to something warm, filling, tasty and never ever boring!

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

Because You Can’t Make A Martini With Febreze®

25 Nov

Image…but you can clean and deodorize with vodka! This multitasking spirit is both tasty beverage and an inexpensive, eco-friendly cleaning product. And while you might not be too concerned about the environment, let me remind you that YOU are part of the ecosystem and are especially vulnerable to the toxins of commercial produced cleaning products if you have allergies or other health problems, are elderly, not to mention your kids, pets, even houseplants.

In some cases you can use it at full strength, while other situations call for a solution of 1 part vodka, 2 parts water. Always use a new spray bottle; NEVER reuse a spray bottle that had been used for anything else. Test the vodka in a small inconspicuous area first, allow to dry, and check for damage before continue using. Generally use the solution for porous items like clothing, and full strength on non-porous surfaces like glass.

Here’s how vodka can save your holiday season…

  1. Décor Deodorizer. Get your home ready for company by cleaning and freshening air and surfaces. Spraying vodka solutions works because the alcohol kills the critters that cause odor, such as mold, mildew, and bacteria. Because vodka acts as an insecticide as well as a herbicide, it also kills dust mites that affect allergies. Use the diluted solution for porous surfaces including drapery, upholstery, carpeting and bedding. Besides cleaning and deodorizing, vodka shines hard surfaces like porcelain, mirrors and chrome. Not only does it remove mildew stains, but also hairspray residue and soap scum.
  2. Get Pretty. Use it as a mouthwash to kill odor causing bacteria; you can flavor it by adding a cinnamon stick to 1 cup and let it soak for 2 wks then dilute with water. For dandruff, wet your hair with vodka then air dry; but if you just want healthier hair, add 1oz of vodka to 12oz of shampoo to remove toxins from your scalp. Use undiluted vodka on a swab as a facial astringent to close pores and kill blemish causing bacteria. It will also dry out blemishes and cold sores. Spritz or swab stinky feet and armpits to kill the odor causing bacteria. You can keep combs, toothbrushes & razorblades clean by soaking in vodka, but not all together of course.
  3. Jewelry cleaner. Show off your jewelry by soaking them in vodka and air drying, using a toothbrush if really dirty. Only use on faceted stones, never pearls or softer gems; held in by prongs rather than glued, since the alcohol dissolves adhesives. This also work for cleaning crystal décor; you can clean a chandelier without taking it down by simply spraying it and allowing to air dry.
  4. Adhesive remover. Got those new shoes for your holiday party, but can’t remove that pesky price tag? Soak a cloth in vodka and rub it over the area; the sticker and adhesive, will come right off. Also works great for removing bandages from your skin or bumper stickers from your car.
  5. Dry cleaning & stain removal. Let’s face it ladies, we buy an expensive holiday dress then tuck the tag in with the intention of returning it to the store when the party is over, but that’s hard to do if it reeks of cigarette smoke, sweat, and heaven knows what else. Vodka to the rescue! Even if you own the dress, it’s expensive to dry clean it between each party, especially if it is beaded or sequenced. By spraying the garment with the diluted vodka solution and hanging to dry, it can be fresh as a daisy in no time by killing the bacteria that causes the odor. Love that hat in the vintage store, but not the musty smell and possible critters? Just spray and air dry to turn back the hands of time. Spray and blot vodka (scrub with a soft brush if needed) to remove stains from clothing, carpeting or upholstery. It works best on organic stains like wine. And ladies, if you’re not going to change your bra everyday, at least spray and air dry overnight.
  6. First aid. In the course of your revelry, there are bound to be a few injuries. Applied topically, vodka is a disinfectant and pain reliever. Aside from the usually cuts, bites, blisters, stings and skin irritations, it can also be used to banish earaches and toothaches. A washcloth drenched in vodka and applied to the skin can reduce fever and reduce pain by allowing the alcohol to be absorbed directly through the skin.

So save a ton of money by using just one item for cleaning, deodorizing, disinfecting, and healing…oh, and makes a tasty cocktail too!

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

Is Bacon the New Ketchup?

28 Sep

ImageTwitter was all abuzz lately with rumors of a projected Aporkalypse. The summer drought has caused little piggies to go to market well before their optimum porkaliciousness, yielding less meat now and creating a paucity of pending porkers until next season. In light of this looming crisis, perhaps it’s an opportunity to rethink our relationship with the little oinkers, rather than just whine about the lack of swine.

Let’s face it, bacon isn’t exactly health food, nor did it ever claim to be so. I’m not a big meat eater, especially when it comes to pork, but not even I can resist the siren’s song of those tasty little pig strips better known as bacon. Unless you have been a sleep for the last decade, you know that most of our pork products come from horrific factory farms full of filth, disease, antibiotics, artificial hormones, pesticide & GMO livestock feed, animal cruelty and corporate greed; in short, you’d be better off eating roadkill.

What to buy.

If you are going to eat pork, eat the good stuff; I say this for a number of reasons. First of all, you want to avoid all the pollutants that come in factory farm pork. Never buy prepackaged meats; if it comes in shrink-wrap, it is definitely from a factory farm. It also means that they use a cheaper curing method that causes you to lose most of your purchase in the drip tray because what you really paid for is meat plumped up with water. When you buy meat from a reputable butcher the curing process is very different, you get to eat most of what you paid for since it does not cook off, not to mention that the taste and texture is far superior.

Let me break it down for you. The cheapest bacon in my area is Aldi’s for around $4/lb. After cooking it yields only about 1/2 to 1/3 of my original purchase. If I want it soft, it is way too fatty, and if I want to cook off more of the fat, the flesh becomes like a cinder. Yuck! For about the same price per pound (surprise surprise) I can buy nicely marbled Amish raised pork from a butcher at The Westside Market with very little lost in cooking. I go even cheaper and buy the bacon ends for only $1.50/lb., which are the irregular shaped ends of the bacon slab that could not fit through the slicer. So after cooking I get about 14oz of really tasty and healthier bacon for $1.50, OR for $4 get 6oz of crappy tasting and texture bacon full of harmful chemicals. You can clearly see which one gives you better value for your money, but don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

How to cook it.

Another way to get the most out of your bacon is to cook it in the oven in a broiler pan. In this day and age there is no reason to cook your bacon on the stovetop in a frying pan; you are not a cowboy out on the lone prairie cooking your victuals in a black cast-iron skillet over a campfire. When you cook in the oven, you don’t have to watch and turn it constantly, you don’t have the safety risks of grease fire or burns from hot grease, there’s virtually no mess, and the bacon cooks more evenly, whether you like your bacon crisp or soft. If you are not using a broiler pan, you are essentially deep frying your meat which creates that unappetizing greasy cindered result.

Bacon as a condiment.

The recommended amount of meat per meal is about the size of that person’s hand. I like to feel like I got the most out of my portion and bacon is a great way to do that; because it is so flavorful, a little goes a long way. Rather than use bacon as my meat, I use it as a condiment, like ketchup. You can enhance the flavor of a dish by adding only an ounce or less. Crumbled bacon is great on salads, baked potatoes, roasted vegetables, omelets, even as a garnish to top your soup or other meats. You get your biggest bang for your buck with legumes; a cheap form of protein, vitamins, minerals and cholesterol lowering fiber. Not only are legumes very filling, but they take on the flavor of whatever you mix in, and that’s were bacon can come in very handy. Since legumes are best slow-cooked (I use a crockpot), I dice my bacon ends, instead of crumble or shave, to preserve the texture; otherwise, it just melts away. If you are new to legumes, start with something simple, like BBQ Baked Beans or Split Pea Soup.

Cutting back on pork will improve your health, keep more money in your wallet, and put less strain on the environment. So you don’t have to break-up with pork, just rethink your relationship a little.

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

How To Survive The Impending Milk Apocalypse

25 Aug

ImageRight about now mothers all over the USA are fretting about the likely price hike and shortage of milk in the near future due to the current drought. The International Dairy Federation estimates the average American consumes about 23 gallons of liquid milk per year, and that does not include the abundance of products that contain milk.

The average cow drinks about 50 gallons of water a day and produces about 6 gallons of milk. But what about all the water needed to produce the 100 pounds of feed a cow eats each day, not to mention water used for sanitation and procession of milk and milk products? In all, it takes a whopping 2,000 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of milk. Does that sound like a great return on investment to you?

Rather than being paralyzed by the impending milk Apocalypse, now is a great opportunity to break dependence on milk consumption. But wait, the TV says “milk does a body good” so it must be true, right? That message is brought to you by Madison Avenue, the same people who told you cigarettes were not only not dangerous, but that they were actually good for you and that doctors recommended smoking! For generations people bought that crap hook, line and sinker and for generations we have paid the price both financially and in human suffering.

If you are “lactose intolerant”, congratulations; you are actually normal. Yup, no animal was designed to drink another animal’s milk nor drink milk beyond infancy when babies loose their “baby teeth”, and humans are no exception.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or still believe the world is flat, you know most milk does not come from picturesque farms where happy cows graze lazily on lush hillsides, but from inhumane, filthy, factory farms were abused, stressed, and often diseased animals are pumped full antibiotics and synthetic hormones; not to mention a whole host of pollutants from pesticides to diesel fuel. Yum-yum! You, in turn, are feeding this to your precious babies. Dairy product consumption has been linked to numerous illnesses and diseases such as diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, various allergies and Crohn’s disease.

So what do you do about it?

Back in the 1970’s when there was a milk shortage, we poured cold water over our cereal or just ate it right out of the box; it wasn’t a big deal. Today great milk alternatives like rice, soy, and almond, are chock full of nutrition with out the harmful chemicals. The protein and calcium that you get from milk you can easily get from other sources. Click on this link for a handy nutrition chart of great alternatives.

With no shortage of online recipe sites, it’s never been easier to incorporate good nutrition into your daily meals. Children imitate their parents so you will have to set the example by eating your vegetables, but you’re all big boys and girls now so I have no doubt you can handle it. You’re going to do great!

Fun & Yummy Recipes For Farmer’s Market Finds

16 Aug

ImageFarmer’s Markets are a great way to support the local economy while incorporating the freshest produce into your summer menus. But you might be reluctant to take advantage of some of the greatest bargains because you can’t quite visualize what form they would take on your dinner plate. Well, wonder no more; here are some fun and yummy recipes at the ready!

Carrots: Don’t try to tell your kids carrot fries are the same as French Fries or it will be an epic fail. Instead just let them enjoy it as a tasty and fun way to eat carrots.

Turnips: Ditto. Don’t even tell them these fries are turnips.

Beets: Mmm, crunchy chips!

Loose leaf lettuce: Crunchy and light alternative to flour wraps.

Yellow squash: Everything is tastier off the grill!

Zucchini: Great as bread or muffin for breakfast, snacks or dessert.

Cabbage: Crispy and refreshing salad.

Tomatoes: These are great paired with broiled fish!

For 45 million Americans who rely on food stamps to make ends meet, most Farmers Markets now accept EBT/SNAP cards (which only makes sense since food stamps is a USDA program designed to help subsidize farmers by making food surplus available to the poor). So, in the words of the late great Julia Child, “bon appetite”!

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