Friday, November 4, 2011

Frugal Foodies: How to Save on Dining Out

Enough with the home-cooked meals. It's time to get out of the house and let someone else prepare your food for a change.
In response to tight budgets, frugal advisers have recommended for some time now that we stay at home to save money. But such deprivation grows old fast, so maybe it's time to consider these six tips to help you spread your dining wings without crash landing your budget.
1. FourSquare Deals
Members check-in to various locations on their mobile phones using this service, but did you know you can also receive offers for freebies and discounts simply by letting FourSquare know where you are? Check out a recent segment on FOX & Friends for a "how to" on using the app for restaurant savings.
2. Track Daily Deals
Restaurants are one of the most common frequenters of daily deal offerings, so it pays to keep an eye out for vouchers that can greatly reduce the cost of dining at a new or favored eatery. Just make sure you read the small print and are aware of expiration dates and exclusions. For example, most restaurant vouchers don't include drinks.
3. Get Happy
Eating early isn't just for our elders. Happy hour ad early bird deals have become more common as restaurants try to fill in slow-traffic times. For example, Applebee's Neighborhood Grill offers full-size appetizers for under $5 before 6 p.m., plus $3 drink specials.
4. Split It Up
American restaurants usually overload our plates -- unless they're into nuvo cuisine -- so there's often enough food for two in a single order. You can cut your costs down to around $20 by simply sharing an appetizer, entree and dessert with a friend or date.
5. Gift Yourself
We tend to think of gift cards in terms of what we can offer others, but they're actually very useful for individual purchases. Sites like let you purchase gift cards for several restaurants at a discounted rate, yielding immediate savings of up to 50 percent.
6. MatchPin
If you live in one of nine major cities, you might download the free MatchPin app. Membership brings you offers, rewards, contests and announcements from a variety of local restaurants.

QR Codes on HSN Yet Another Innovation in Mobile Commerce

If you watched the Home Shopping Network (HSN) this weekend, you might have noticed QR codes appearing in the corner of your screen. These codes are the strangely patterned squares -- similar to bar codes -- that provide data on a product or service when you zap it with your smartphone or tablet.
You've seen the codes littered amongst print publications, in shop windows, and even on restaurant menus. Well now, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, the QR codes have come to TV. Scanning the code on your screen brings you to a product page on the network's abbreviated mobile website or to its application, where you can easily link to the checkout page.
QR codes have come a long way since their inception. Major brands like Rachel Zoe and Ralph Lauren have added color and their own logos into the standard black-and-white mix.
The system is very slowly catching on, but other older forms of mobile commerce have become second nature for many shoppers. For example, technology research firm Gartner predicts mobile application downloads will reach 17.7 billion in 2011, up 117 percent from the estimated 8.2 downloads of 2010.

1. Orvis Is On It -The outdoor-adventure retailer is leading the merchandising pack with an upgraded system launched last week for iPhone and Android apps to complement its mobile commerce site. While the apps appear similar to their m-commerce site, complete with an internal search engine, they also include a store locator function that uses smartphone GPS capabilities to identify the closest store.
2. Cashing in With Coupons -Coupons are cool once again, thanks to high prices, low incomes and a certain TLC reality show. One innovative app comes from, which also uses GPS technology, but in this instance to locate nearby coupons. Access is instant and includes bar codes and grocery coupons exclusive to the Coupon Sherpa app. Users can customize coupons based on their favorite stores and products and new coupons are added daily.
3. The Perfect Fit - is taking the pain out of shopping for jeans -- at least for women. In early October, the department store chain began offering digital help to recommend clothing based on the shopper's body type. The "True Fit" platform, found on the retailer's e-commerce site, asks women the brands and sizes of pants they already wear and which ones fit best. The user then describes their body type (curvy, boyish, etc.) and direct them to a "Shop True to You" section for recommendations based on the data.
4. Subway Orders Up Contactless Payments -You'll still have to deal with a human sandwich-master at Subway stores in 7,000 locations, but you'll soon be able to pay by merely tapping a smartphone against a reader. In partnership with MasterCard and Google Wallet, the sub shop will accept the card brand's PayPass contactless payment by March 2012.
5. Text Your Prescription -More than two-million Walgreens' customers now receive text alerts when their prescriptions are ready for pick up, but the pharmaceutical chain now also sends messages letting subscribers know when it's time for a prescription refill, to which they can simply respond "refill." The new service picks up on the momentum built from the original texts, which included 25 percent of all online prescription refills.

Andrea Woroch
  Nationally Recognized Consumer & Money-Saving Expert


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