The next time you want a well-priced meal, consider getting your hands dirty to save some extra bucks.
Sometimes, getting a good deal on food requires a little more effort than hunting for coupons or scouring the Internet for deals. In fact, a number of businesses in the food industry offer better pricing in exchange for an investment of time or a financial commitment:
Foodies who want to help a fledgling restaurant, food truck or gourmet baker get off the ground can contribute to funding campaigns on Kickstarter, Indiegogo.com or Credibles.
At Kickstarter and Indiegogo, businesses offer rewards at various contribution levels. For example, a $10 contribution to a fund for “Honey Badger Hot Sauce” is enough to get you a free bottle.
Credibles turns your contribution into a credit that can be spent with the business down the line, plus a bonus for giving above a certain threshold.
Savings per pound at a U-pick farm can approach 50% off supermarket pricing with just a small investment: a short drive in the car and some time in the fields picking as much as you’d like to buy.
Frugal Foodie made a trip to a U-pick strawberry farm this spring, and scored the pricey fruit for just $1.50 per pound. Her local supermarket usually charges $5 for a 16-ounce container and the lowest they go on sale is for $2.50 a carton.
Getting regular deliveries of produce from a farm-share, or CSA, can be a smart way to reduce your produce bill. Some farms require a few volunteer hours moving shipments or harvesting food to participate at all.
For example, the Brooklyn Central CSA asks for just four hours of volunteer time and prices for 22 weeks of delivery range from $65 to $515, depending on income level and share size.
Other farms offer better pricing to volunteers vs. regular members. Lindenmeier Farm in Colorado sends volunteers home with extra produce, and Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, lets members bank time during early spring to redeem for free shares later in the season.
Food co-ops use the collective buying power of their members to get better prices and selection of foods. Joining often requires taking on a few work shifts and/or making a financial investment in exchange for preferential pricing.
The Park Slope Co-op in Brooklyn charges a one-time $25 membership fee and a refundable investment of $100, as well as two hours and 45 minutes of work time every four weeks.
The Davis Food Co-op in Davis, CA, offers an extra 5% off to members who work two hours a month and “superwork” families that contribute four hours a week get a whopping 16.5% off.
A friend of Frugal Foodie’s got a free Thanksgiving turkey last year in exchange for a few hours spent on a local farm assisting in the processing of turkeys for other customer orders.
Working a farm in exchange for food is not uncommon; a number of farms make similar deals, provided that you’re available for a training session or two first.
Flexible restaurant pricing.
A few restaurants offer diners the opportunity to offset their bills with volunteer hours.
Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, NJ, doesn’t have prices on its menu–diners are encouraged to pay what they can or volunteer to help serve people in need to supplement the price of their meal. Mustard Seed Café in El Paso, TX, also has a similar set-up.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.