20 Ways To Get Free (Or Nearly Free) Groceries
1 Load Up on Leftovers
Now, when we say that you should load up on leftovers, we’re not talking about the food left over from your meals at home. We’re talking about the excess unopened and/or unused food that restaurants and grocery stores toss out almost every day. Okay, let’s stop right here. We are NOT suggesting that you go dumpster diving for these leftovers. Not only is it dangerous, it’s actually illegal in some places.
Instead, what we are suggesting is that you ask for these leftovers. For example, if you’re friends with someone who works at a restaurant, grocery store, or what have you, and their boss allows them to take unsold food home at the end of the day, you can have your friend bring some of that unsold food to you.
FUN FACT: People who retrieve the food that gets tossed out by grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers call themselves “freegans”.
2 Use Coupons
Couponing is a great way to save money on groceries, and people have been doing it for years. Not only can you score deeply discounted deals, you may even be able to score some freebies as well. This is especially true if you shop at the dollar store, use the coupons to buy food that’s already on sale, or take advantage of those BOGO Free coupons.
The good news is that coupons are plentiful. You can find them inserted in the Sunday paper, or you can get them printed out along with your receipt at Food Lion. Or, if you’re technologically savvy, you can visit a website like Coupons.com. Then, there’s Swagbucks, the fun rewards program that will pay you to print coupons!
And, if you have an email account, you can always sign up for coupon newsletters. Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and Betty Crocker have all been known to send out coupons when you join their email list.
3 Download Receipt Apps
Receipt apps give you cash back on your purchases. There are many of these apps to choose from, but perhaps one of the most popular is Ibotta. It’s a totally free app that you can use on your cell phone or computer to earn cash back on purchases you make online.
Ibotta has partnered with more than 750 online retailers, including Kroger, Food Lion, ShopRite, Fred Meyer, Safeway, Hannaford, Family Dollar, and Dollar General. Here’s how Ibotta works:
- From your cell phone: Download the app, choose the website you want to visit, and shop as you normally would. Next, save your receipt and the app will calculate your savings and add it to your Ibotta earnings.
- From your computer: Download the Ibotta browser extension to Firefox or Chrome. Next, login with your Ibotta email address or create a new account if you don’t already have one. Then, shop as you normally would. When you visit a supported website, the extension will pop up. From there, you need to activate the extension to earn cash back on your purchase.
4 Load Up On Free Samples
If you frequent warehouse clubs such as BJ’s Wholesale, Costco and Sam’s Club, then you already know that they consistently offer free food samples. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these stores, you’re probably thinking that these food samples wouldn’t even add up, so why would anyone even talk about them in an article showing you how to get free groceries? Well, according to an article published on TheMilitaryWallet.com, the free food samples add up quite a bit. In fact, “you can eat an entire meal for free by moving around the sample stations,” the article reads.
Unfortunately, there’s no schedule you can download that will tell you when the samples will be offered, but a Costco employee did reveal on Reddit that Saturdays and Sundays are the days when they have the most samples. It’s also when they’re the busiest. Especially on Sundays, typically after church. But if you want unlimited amounts of samples and no lines, it’s best to go on a Monday or Tuesday. The downside to that is there’s less of a variety to choose from on those days.
5 Join A Survey Panel
Survey panels sometimes give you products to try out at home. I was once given perfume samples to test out and write about in a journal. I got to keep the bottles of perfume after the survey was over. But money and material things aren’t the only items you can get for completing surveys. Oftentimes, survey panels will get participants to sample food at home as well.
Please keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that you’ll be given free food to sample. It all depends on whether you qualify for and complete the survey, and if that particular survey is offering food. It’s worth a try to join a survey panel, though. You never know what opportunities might arise. To get you started, here are some panels that send out free food, in addition to other products:
- Survey Junkie
- Vindale Research
FYI, survey participants can sometimes be rewarded with restaurant gift cards.
6 Become A Mystery Shopper
A mystery shopper is a paid consumer who’s hired to observe a store (e.g. quality of products, customer service, etc.) while shopping and write about the experience. At the end of the job, the shopper is compensated for his or her time. Compensation usually is monetary, but it can sometimes lead to getting free stuff. This is especially true when you go mystery shopping at grocery stores.
The companies who hire you to go mystery shopping will give you a certain amount of money to spend on food. For example, Tom Nathaniel, author at LushDollar.com, once got paid $9 to buy meat from a deli counter. It took him about 15 minutes to complete the job, and not only did he earn $5, he also got enough deli meat to last him an entire week! In some instances, you may be required to pay for the food up front, but you’ll get reimbursed the full cost once the job is complete.
7 Become A Taste Tester
Back in 2015, discount supermarket chain Aldi started a taste tester’s club. The premise behind it was to get people to try out and rate their products as the grocer sought to take market share from Coles and Woolworths. Here’s how it went down: one hundred participants would be sent ten grocery products every three months and rate them at the end. The program was very popular, with more than 17,000 people applying between 2015 and early 2017.
Woolworths did something similar in 2017, launching an online community called The Bunch that allowed consumers to taste Woolworths’ own brand food products for free. Testers were able to try everything from cakes and cookies to ice cream, cheese, chocolate, chicken nuggets, and everything in between! Unfortunately, membership is currently at capacity, but if you check the website often, you just might be able to find an opening. In the meantime, you can always check with local grocery stores in your area to see if any of them are looking for taste testers.
8 Take Advantage Of Store Rewards
Personal finance writer Brynne Conroy revealed in 2020 that she was getting $50 to $60 worth of free groceries every month, all thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. So, how’d she do it? Well, according to an article Conroy had written for Business Insider, Inc., she took advantage of her local grocery store’s 20% off option. Here’s how it works: when a shopper reaches a certain spending threshold, the grocery store offers them 20% off their entire grocery order. “I load up an extra $60 worth of groceries in my cart (to add to my pantry), then get them for free when the discount is applied,” she wrote.
This isn’t something that Conroy recommends for everyone. According to the article, this technique works for her because of the size of her family. “If I were living on my own, I wouldn’t get nearly as many free groceries—and I certainly wouldn’t be spending enough money to earn them so frequently,” she wrote.
TIP: To get the most out of your rewards points, make sure you use them on products that you’ll actually need in the future.
9 Turn To Social Media
Did you know that you can get lots of free food, among other items, from the Buy Nothing Project group on Facebook? Yep, it’s true! One member of the group got five quarts of yogurt, a gallon of milk, split peas, shredded coconut, flour, pasta, dried beans, vinegar, rice, canned salmon, and a ton of other products. This helped her family save a ton on groceries, especially milk.
According to a blog post she wrote, she makes her own yogurt, and getting five free quarts of it kept her from having to buy milk for several months.
- Created in 2013 by two friends, the idea behind the group is to get people to give away their unwanted stuff to people in their community, as opposed to bartering.
- Sometimes the non-food freebies can lead to free food. For example, one member was gifted a 100-year-old sourdough starter, which inspired others in the neighborhood to learn to bake sourdough bread, which was then gifted to other neighbors.
10 Go Foraging
Foraging is how people got their food centuries ago. Although it’s not nearly as popular today, some people still take advantage of the free food that nature provides. This food includes nuts, berries, nettles, and other plants. And while this food can be found just about anywhere, there are some things you should know before venturing out.
Number one, not all food found outside is safe to eat. That being said, you’ll need to learn how to forage for free food. You can check with local gardeners, horticulturists, and other experts to learn the dos and don’ts of foraging. You may also want to check to see if there are any wild food tours offered in your area. Number two, make sure you don’t venture onto private property. The last thing you want is to get into legal trouble for trespassing, and possibly stealing, if you happen to take nuts and berries from someone else’s property.
11 Go Fishing
Fishing is just as popular today as it has ever been, and you can catch enough fish to feed your family for months. The only cost to you is a fishing license, which can be purchased as an annual license or a lifetime license.
Just keep in mind that when it comes to fishing, there are certain laws and regulations that must be followed, and those laws and regulations vary depending on the type of water you’re fishing in as well as the type of fish you hope to catch. Additionally, those laws and regulations are subject to change at any moment for a variety of reasons, so it’s best to make sure you stay up to date with the local laws and regulations in your area.
TIP: As with any other outdoor activity, you will also need to make sure that you don’t inadvertently wander onto private property when you go fishing.
12 Go Hunting
Although a lot of people are against it, hunting is another way to get free food for your family. For the cost of a gun, ammo and a hunting license, you can get plenty of food for you and/or your family. There’s a limit, however, on just how much food you can get. For example, the daily bag limit for deer in some parts of Virginia is two. Additionally, Virginia hunters can capture no more than six deer a year—and at least half of those need to be antlerless.
Lastly, you will need to pay close attention to any “no trespassing” and “no hunting” signs that will be posted. You don’t want to hunt in an area that’s restricted, nor do you want to hunt on someone else’s property. Not only could you get in trouble for trespassing, but if someone accidentally gets hurt, you could be in a heap of trouble. Even if you don’t see any signs, you should always ask first before heading out.
13 Grow A Garden
For the cost of few seeds, you can grow all the fruits, vegetables and herbs you want. You can plant everything from strawberries and cantaloupes to corn and potatoes. What’s more is that you can grow your own fruits and vegetables even if you live in an urban area. There are a lot of fruits and vegetables that you can grow indoors, including scallions, radishes, herbs, microgreens, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, and strawberries.
Just make sure you find a sunny window to grow your fruits and vegetables, and make sure you water them often enough, too. Just how much water they need depends on the type of seeds you plant. That being said, don’t overdo it.
- Invest in a grow light for dark winter days and a cool mist humidifier for humid summer days.
- Don’t keep your herbs too close to the window during the winter months because the cold air can cause them to wilt.
14 Go Gleaning
Gleaning is the process of picking up leftover crops after the fields have been harvested. Most often, this food is left behind because it likely won’t turn a profit for the farmer/land owner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from it. Please remember that you can’t just walk onto someone’s property and start taking things. But you can ask politely. Not only that, but there are nonprofit groups that have set up websites to show you where you can glean fruits, vegetables and nuts for free.
For example, Food Forward is a clearinghouse for gleaning organizations in the United States and Canada. By the way, it doesn’t have to be leftover crops in a field. You can also ask your neighbors for any apples, cherries, etc. that may have fallen from the trees in their yard. Lastly, if you happen to stumble upon fruits, vegetables and nuts in public places, for example in city parks, make sure you check your local ordinances first before gleaning those goodies.
15 Scour The Classifieds
People list all sorts of things in the “free stuff” section on Craigslist, and that includes food. In fact, a quick search on the website will turn up ads offering all kinds of freebies, like canned goods, beans, tomato sauce, vegetables, and a ton of other stuff.
One post a couple of years ago offered two weeks’ worth of diet entrees to the first taker. Another ad offered a bunch of generic cereal that didn’t taste quite as good as the brand name stuff. Still, another ad was from a senior who had received too much food from a food pantry and was looking for someone to give some of it to. There were also postings for infant cereal, milk, salt, flour, sweet potatoes, and mayo.
TIP: Your furry friends are part of your family, too. Look for ads giving away pet food. You’re bound to find plenty of them. In fact, one poster was trying to give away dozens of cans of cat food that their feline friend wouldn’t eat. Another poster had 40 pounds of kibble to give away after their dog died.
16 Attend An Estate Sale
Did you know that anybody can attend an estate sale? Yep, it’s true. All you have to do is find out when and where it’s taking place, and show up. And finding them is quite easy. Just head over to an aggregate website like EstateSales.NET.
What does all of this have to do with free groceries, you ask? Sometimes estate sales want to get rid of everything, including the groceries, and the best part about it is oftentimes you can get these groceries for free! Fortunately, sales officials are more willing to give the food away than they are to dispose of it themselves. And, if you’re lucky, you can really rack up.
For instance, one gentleman brought home several plastic totes full of nonperishable goods, including dried beans, rice, canned milk, soup, pickles, jellies, relish, and two years’ worth of vanilla extract—which we’re sure came in quite handy around the holidays.
17 Visit A Food Bank/Pantry
You probably already know that food banks provide a way for struggling families and individuals to get free groceries. This can include items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, canned goods, baked goods, and frozen meats. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of food banks in the world. In fact, there are more than 60,000 food banks in the U.S. alone! What’s more is that you can visit multiple pantries each month to help meet your needs.
Keep in mind that some food banks will require you to meet certain criteria. For example, your income may need to fall below a specified level in order to receive free food. Fortunately, most food banks don’t require you to meet such requirements.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some public libraries partner with food banks to set up food bank distribution from library branches in order to provide alternate service locations. To find a Little Free Food Pantry in your area, visit LittleFreePantry.org or TheLittleFreePantries.org.
18 Apply For Emergency Food Stamps
Another viable option for getting free groceries is to apply for emergency food stamps. Emergency, or Expedited, SNAP Benefits are benefits that are available to you within five days or less of the date which you applied for them. Like with everything else administered by the government, though, you will need to meet certain criteria to receive the emergency food stamps.
The requirements are as follows:
- Your monthly income, cash and bank accounts must be less than your rent or mortgage, plus your utility costs, OR
- Your monthly income must be less than $150 and your cash and bank accounts are not more than $100, OR
- At least one person in your household is a migrant farm worker, and your cash and bank accounts are not more than $100
- You must have valid identification (preferably a photo ID)
You can apply in person or online through your state’s Department of Human Services website. Once approved, your benefits can be used to buy eligible food items from authorized retailers.
Believe it or not, bartering has made a comeback, and it’s a great way to get some free groceries. You can offer just about any kind of goods and services in exchange for a free meal or two. Not only has bartering made a comeback, it’s become easier to do. There are lots of food sharing apps out there that link people up with others who are looking to give away free stuff.
OLIO, for example, is an app that lets users “give and get free stuff, borrow and lend household items, and shop homemade—all directly from your community.” According to the website, the app lets you fight waste, help your neighbors, save the planet, and feel good, all at the same time. And that’s not all! According to an article published by LendUp.com, these apps are also a great way to get some delicious goodies from local chefs and restaurants.
20 Enter Sweepstakes
Okay, so it may be a long shot, but it’s actually worth a shot. We’re talking about entering the sweepstakes. If you’re a lucky winner, you could win enough cash to buy groceries, and what’s great about it is you don’t have to purchase a thing in order to receive an entry or to win. You just have to enter. It’s as simple as that.
But here’s something you may not have known: not only could you win cash, you could also win free groceries! Mission Foods recently held a sweepstakes to win free groceries for a year. Five individuals were to be chosen as winners and awarded a $3,600 Kroger gift card each. Meanwhile, a woman revealed to The Hustle a couple of years ago that in her twenty years of sweepstaking, she had once won a year’s supply of free ice cream.
There is an art to sweepstaking, though, but once you learn it, you’re bound to become a winner!