Tag Archives: food

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 restaurant.com 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!

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What Are The Best Things To Buy In May?

5 May

ImageAttention 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 May:
Refrigerator
Clothing
Vacuum cleaner
Picnic/bbq supplies (additional savings with coupons from newspapers & websites)
Condiments (additional savings with coupons from newspapers & websites)
Cookware
Antiperspirant (additional savings with coupons from newspapers & websites)
Mattress & box springs

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 May:
Apricots*
Artichokes
Asparagus
Blueberries
Broccoli*
Cherries
Collard greens
Cucumber
Leeks
Lettuce
Melon
Nectarines
Okra*
Peas*
Peaches
Pineapples
Plums
Potatoes
Rhubarb
Spinach
Strawberries
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!

What Are The Best Things To Buy In February?

1 Feb

ImageGood 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. Now back to the blog…

With the inevitable Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day sales looming large on the horizon, it got me to wondering if there is really a best time to buy something or if the sales are all hype; turns out, there is. In this post I’m going to give you a few general tips, then list the specifics for this month.

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. You’ll notice diamonds/jewelry are not on the list; this is because men notoriously wait till the last minute and do not comparison shop, so the retail industry is poised to cash in on this.

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

  • TV & home theater (Super Bowl sales)
  • Cell phone (Valentine’s Day Sale, usually BOGO)
  • Winter coat/boots/clothing
  • Camera
  • Computer
  • Video games (Xmas releases)
  • Valentine theme food, products & gifts (day after)
  • Calendars
  • House/condo
  • Motorcycle
  • Boat
  • Broadway theater tickets

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. In February you want to check out the Super Bowl themed foods that never made it to the party, as well as Surf & Turf the morning after Valentine’s Day. 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 February:

  • Tangelo
  • Grapefruit*
  • Orange*
  • Papaya*
  • Lemon*
  • Broccoli*
  • Cauliflower*
  • Cabbage
  • Peas
  • Chicory
  • Celeriac
  • Asparagus
  • Rhubarb
  • Holiday theme candy & snacks (day after)
  • Super Bowl theme perishables (day after)
  • Surf & Turf (day after Valentine’s Day)

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.

Does Size Really Matter? Understanding Product Downsizing & Unit Pricing

29 Dec

ImageDoes size really matter? Yes, yes it does. Rather than raise prices, or raise them too much, manufactures have been downsizing products. I never remember this being so obvious as it has been since the economic downturn began in 2008. The most clumsy example is toilet paper. Manufacturers claim it is now thicker, and true the girth has increased, but did they not think we would notice the 2 inches they lopped off the width now exposing our unattractive toilet paper spindle for the world to see? Here’s a link to more of the most commonly downsized products.

Remember back in the 1970’s when the US government tried to switch us over from English Standard Measure to the Metric System like the rest of the world, citizens were up in arms fearing they would get cheated in their purchases and it would in turn decrease sales? The only ones who embraced it were the gun manufactures and drug dealers (including the pharmaceutical industry), yeah, really put them out of business, didn’t it?

So how do you spot a downsized product?

  • New & improved. New size for sure, improved profit for them, but any benefit to the consumer is negligible. Remember the “thicker” (but shorter) toilet paper example?
  • New package design. On the surface it just may seem they just want to update their image, au contraire mon frere! It is just a way to camouflage the size change by distracting you with shiny new toys. You can get great deals on products in the older packaging at deep discount stores because not only are they priced less, you get the larger size.
  • Sold at a dollar store. Believe it or not, manufactures create different size packages for different stores, the dollar store is just the most obvious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you understand you are being charged less for less. Empty nesters, students, and anyone who has limit space or needs a small amount, welcome the idea of smaller sizes that save space and limit waste of unused portions.
  • Snack size. If you buy a box of individually bagged Cheetos, guess what? You are paying for your own laziness and extra packaging. If you can’t take the time to portion out food, whether it’s for kids lunches or your new diet, you are going to pay for the privilege of someone doing it for you and giving you less in the process.

More stealthy tactics to beware.

  • Unit price. While unit price info available at the store is a good place to start, it is better if YOU choose the unit you want to measure. Why? Not all states have mandate unit price, only grocery stores are required to post not other stores that sell food, the unit chosen for a product varies depending on the store. Depending on the store or the items, the same product may be priced by liquid measure, dry measure, English Standard, Metric, or the number of individual items in package. The size of the unit used for comparison is arbitrary as well. I find it easiest to convert to the smallest size available, usually an ounce, and let that be my unit price for comparison. Click this link to learn more about unit pricing.
  • Size shaving. It used to be that we used standardized containers, many of them reused continuously, now we have disposable packaging. Remember how the milkman used to deliver and pick up the glass milk bottles? Now imagine if the dairy was constantly changing the sizes of their containers, it would cost them a small fortune, that’s why they had the standard gallon, quart, and pint. Disposable packaging makes it very easy to deceive the consumer. Without standard one-pound containers, consumers don’t notice when they downsize from 15oz to 14oz or 10.9oz, because there was no real point of reference to begin with.
  • Same size package, less content. This one irked me the most. The package size is the same, but there’s less stuff: same size package of plastic wrap, but less on the roll; same size box of cereal, but more air and less cereal. Sometimes they add more packaging as filler like increasing the girth of the toilet paper tube to make it look like its still the same thickness, or stick deodorant that decreased the size product chamber inside the tube.
  • Changing package shape. If you lop off the corners, you’re going to get less, that’s just a fact. And while some of these new slick packages may be pretty, getting cheated out of your hard earned cash is not. Another way they do this is to keep the size of “the face” and decrease what lies beneath. You see this a lot with box products; the front of the package has the same width so it seems the same when you see it on the grocery store shelf, but when you grab the box you notice it’s skinnier.

So what did we learn today class? Disposable packaging makes it easier to cheat consumers, the Metric System would make it easier to comparison shop, only pre-packaged food is affected, and some tips to use to protect you as a consumer since the first two issues are not changing any time soon.

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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