ScoreCard Research Eva Daniel - The Penny Hoarder

When I was eight months pregnant with my first son, a reporter asked me why on earth I was camped out in front of a Chick-fil-A for its grand opening in single-digit Colorado temperatures.

My response, “Baby loves chicken!”

The real answer? “Mommy loves free food.”

Yes, You Really Can Get a Free Lunch

Although camping out during your third trimester might not be for everyone, restaurant openings are an awesome opportunity to get free food.

I’ve done three Chick-fil-A campouts -- each time being one the first 100 people in the door. The result? A year of free meals: 52 coupons for meal deal #1.

Most recently, my friend Jamie and I camped out for 52 coupons for a free bagel with “shmear” from Einstein Bros. Bagels and a medium roast coffee from Caribou. Other friends of mine have scored free chicken wings for a year from Buffalo Wild Wings and a year’s worth of coffee from Scooter’s Coffee & Yogurt.

Lots of chains and local favorites offer specials or freebies at their grand openings, ranging from a single donut to a whole dinner on the house. Restaurant managers want big crowds on opening day -- it’s good PR, and the news might send a TV or radio crew.  

While I’m sure there are numerous ways to find restaurant openings in your town, I’ve found these the most effective:

Check Chains’ Websites for Openings Near You

If you already know of a chain restaurant that always offers freebies for grand openings (such as those mentioned above) regularly scan their sites for future openings in your area.

Since freebies are usually at the restaurant manager’s discretion, grand openings may or may not offer anything. I’ve also heard of success stories at openings of new Bob Evans, Panda Express, Dutch Brother’s Coffee and Chili’s locations.

Listen for Restaurant-Opening Rumors

If a new restaurant is opening in your town, chances are others are already pumped.

When your friend mentions that they're finally putting in “(blank) restaurant,” it only takes a few minutes to check the company’s website or Facebook page to see if they offer incentives to get you there at the crack of dawn.  

My friends once got me super excited about my local Trader Joe’s opening -- I got up at 4 a.m. to stand in line for a free shopping bag, lei and coffee.

Keep an Eye on New Construction Signs

At any given moment in my city of Colorado Springs, somebody is building something.

When I’m stopped at a traffic signal, I glance over to see what it is -- and then I pop online for more details when I get home.

How to Get Free Food at Grand Openings

I’ll pause and let you check your favorite restaurant’s website. Do they have a grand opening coming up?! Awesome!

Here are some tips to make sure you actually score the freebie.

Get There Early

Chances are, if you love Einstein Bros. and are willing to camp out for bagels, so are 500 other people in your town.

Note what time you can start lining up and seriously consider arriving early.

Some chains, such as Chick-fil-A, are so popular, they do a lottery system. As long as you’re there 24 hours early, you’ll usually be in time to get a raffle ticket to see if you can be one of the first 100 people.

At other restaurants, you might be fine getting there an hour before it opens. If you’ve never done a campout and don’t know what time to arrive, check the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Or, Google “What time should I show up for a Buffalo Wild Wings opening” and get feedback from experienced campers.

Pack for the Weather

Whether it’s going to be 7 degrees or 107, the worst thing is to be camped out on asphalt and unprepared.

If it’s going to be cold, take hand warmers; if it’s going to be hot, take a frozen bottle of water.

Take Snacks

Some restaurants will give you snacks while you wait in line, while others won’t. Take something to munch on while you wait so don’t get “hangry.”

Take a Tent

If you or your camping buddy owns a tent, take it.

As “fun” as sleeping in your lawn chair -- or just sitting on the curb -- sounds, by hour eight you’ll wish you could stretch out or just get away from the crowd.

Take Something to Do

If you really want to make this an economical choice, bring work or some other way to make money while you wait.

Chances are, the company’s Wi-Fi is already set up -- why not take surveys, do some freelance writing, or upload items to Ebay?

Be Ready to Network

At campouts, you’re bound to meet some fascinating people you already have something in common with -- a passion for free food.

Why not make some connections while you’re there?  

Be Aware of the Restroom Situation

This will be just like the road trip you took in ‘09, when your friend refused to stop to let you pee.

Keep in mind the new restaurant is not actually open yet, so the bathroom situation can be precarious. You probably don’t want to have to pee in the alley behind the dumpster.

Your Turn: Where have you scored free food? And do you have any campout tips to share?

Eva Daniel is a radio producer, and lives with her husband, two boys and puppy in Colorado Springs Co. She has a passion to save money and loves to scrimp on clothes by shopping at thrift stores so that she splurge on overpriced lattes.

I love to attend parties and BBQs, but potlucks stress me out.

I want to bring a popular item, but when I take a shrimp cocktail or a pre-made fruit tray, I run the risk of breaking my budget.

Instead of overspending or taking a cheap but awkward casserole to this year’s Labor Day BBQ, make one of these delicious and affordable dishes.

The prices below reflect the average cost of name-brand items at my local King Soopers in Colorado Springs, though they might be slightly different at other stores. Save even more money by going generic or couponing!

Here are my favorite potluck options, all of which clock in at less than $8. For recipes, check out Pinterest or this list of awesome snacks.

1. Deviled Eggs

[caption id="attachment_17798" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Deviled Eggs LeeAnnWhite under Creative Commons[/caption]

Cost: $2.29

Every partygoer I’ve ever met loves a good deviled egg.

A dozen eggs costs $2.29, and you probably already have mayo, vinegar and mustard in your fridge.

2. No-Bake Cookies

Cost: $3.71 or less

The likelihood you’ll find these ingredients in your kitchen is pretty high: oats, butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and peanut butter.

If you don’t, they’re pretty cheap. Oats are $0.95 for three cups, butter costs $1 a stick, sugar is $0.62 for two cups, cocoa powder is $o.39 for 2 tablespoons, vanilla is $0.18 per teaspoon and peanut butter costs $0.57 per half cup.

Everyone loves these cookies, and they’re quick and easy to make.

3. Pickles on a Stick  

Cost: $6.89

Unless you’ve recently been to a Renaissance festival, it’s probably been awhile since you’ve had a pickle on a stick.

At my local grocery store, a gallon jar of giant pickles costs $5.89 and a pack of skewers costs $1. There’s something wildly fun about eating something off a stick, and everyone will remember your dill-icious contribution.

4. Infused Lemonade

[caption id="attachment_17799" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Infused Lemonade CreativePhotoCenter under Creative Commons[/caption]

Cost: $1.98 + the cost of fruit (use whatever’s on sale!)

Something about the word “infusion” adds excitement to any treat.  It’s amazing what a handful of fresh limes, strawberries or peaches can do to turn average powdered lemonade into something exciting.

To make it even more exciting, if you have kids, why not set up a free lemonade stand? They’ll love having something to do at the party and grownups will get a kick out of your family’s creativity.

A $1.98 can of Country Time lemonade will make eight gallons of base, then add your chosen (and cheap) fruit and let it soak.

5. S’mores

Cost: $7.28

Does the host have a fire pit? Take the makings for s’mores!

Since Hershey bars can be expensive (unless you have a coupon), bring a jar of Nutella instead. People will love the twist on the classic recipe, and it’s a fun, affordable option.

A box of graham crackers costs $2.50, a bag of marshmallows is $1.29 and a jar of Nutella is $3.49.

6. Bacon

Cost: $5.99

Everyone loves bacon, and it goes with everything. At an average price of $5.99 a pound, why not fry up a package to serve alongside all the other tasty options? (Bacon s’mores, anyone?)

7. Iced Coffee

Cost: $7.28 per gallon

Brew up some coffee (a half-pound of pre-ground Dunkin’ Donuts coffee costs $3.99) and serve a carton of half-and-half on the side (a quart of Land o’ Lakes is $3.29).

This cool caffeinated beverage will make the other guests feel they’ve received a $3 Starbucks treat and cost you very little.

8. A Game

Cost: FREE

If you’re really broke, ask the host if you can bring a game with prizes instead of a food item.  Your friend will likely be glad to pass on some of the party planning to you! Dig out that cornhole, croquet or ladder golf set from the garage.

For prizes, think of a White Elephant game and do a little decluttering around your home. They’ll be great conversation starters with people you don’t know well (where did that Harlequin romance series come from? Why did you own a life-size cardboard chicken?).

Your Turn: What popular, but cheap items have you taken to a potluck party? What will you take to your Labor Day picnic?

Eva Daniel is a radio producer who lives with her husband, two boys and puppy in Colorado Springs. She has a passion for saving money and loves to scrimp on clothes by shopping at thrift stores so she can splurge on overpriced lattes.

I recently sold an awkward picnic backpack I received as a wedding gift five years ago.

I only made $11, but it got me thinking… what else could I sell for cold, hard cash?

Initially, I didn’t think I had anything worth selling. Then I realized I might as well open an eBay store for the amount of stuff lurking in my house and garage.

Here are eight items I’m thinking of selling. If you have any of these lying around your house, why not sell your stuff online and enjoy a little extra money?

1. Wedding Gifts You’ll Never Use

In pre-marital bliss, you couldn’t imagine life without a trifle bowl and cake stand.

Now, 11 years into your marriage, you’ve never used the trifle bowl (what are they even for?) and you haven’t baked a cake in a decade.

It’s time to sell those babies and buy a slice of cake with the profits.

2. Clothes That Don’t Fit

Someday you’re going to fit in those size 6 pre-pregnancy jeans, you think. Or maybe you worry you’ll pack on 10 pounds this holiday season drinking a gallon of Aunt Hilda’s egg nog and have to bust out your biggest jeans.

But do you really need to save 14 pairs of jeans you can’t wear now? Keep one size up and one size down, if you must, and sell the rest.

3. Sports Equipment You Don’t Use Regularly

Someday you really will get back to golf, skiing or belly dancing. But for now those clubs, skis and cymbals are just sitting in your garage, waiting for their new owners.  

4. Furniture That Doesn’t Work in Your New Space

You moved to a new place and your beloved Papasan chair from college doesn’t fit the space or the décor. Neither does the bookshelf, end table or corner lamp.

Unless you plan to move again soon, it’s time to say goodbye to ill-fitting furniture.

5. Seasonal Items You Don’t Enjoy

One day, you’ll bust out that Zoot suit Halloween costume and it’s going to be epic.

One day, you’ll ditch the real tree and set up that fake white one that lives in the attic.

One day, maybe your kids will have kids and you’ll get to use those Easter baskets again.  

Unused seasonal items not only take up space but also cost you the cash that could be in your wallet. Sell them to someone who will put them to use.

6. Presents From Your Ex

You love that framed Beatles poster your ex-girlfriend gave you when you were 22, but now it doesn’t fit your wall -- or your life.

Unless you plan to make that man cave a reality, it’s time to let go of lost love and sell that collectible on eBay. The same goes for jewelry, records and CDs.  

You broke up for a reason, right? Stop looking at reminders.

7. Redundant Appliances

Do you really need an oven, a toaster oven, a toaster and a microwave? How often do you really use that rice cooker and electric wok? Why own the George Foreman if you have a grill right outside your patio door?

Appliances are convenient, but often waste precious counter space while you rarely use them. It’s time to turn those babies into moolah.

8. Big Toys

You bought a camper because you couldn’t wait to hit the mountains every weekend. This summer, you went camping once.  

You had visions of riding that ATV with mud slinging behind the tires and your hair blowing in the wind. Instead, you stayed home and drank beer while having a Netflix marathon.  

Instead of paying for licenses, insurance and storage, rent big toys once or twice a year when you actually need them.

Once you’ve determined what you should sell, consider the best place to market your items.

  • Facebook garage sale groups: If these are popular in your area, they’re a great way to sell a variety of items in different price ranges. One reader made more than $600!
  • Craigslist: The site is a great option for those bigger ticket items, like furniture and big toys.
  • eBay: The auction site is your go-to for collectable or hard-to-find items, especially those you can easily ship.
  • Garage sale: This good, old-fashioned option is a quick and easy way to sell lots of items in a single weekend.

Your Turn: What other items would you add to this list?

Eva Daniel is a radio producer and lives with her husband, two boys and puppy in Colorado Springs. She has a passion for saving money and loves to scrimp on clothes by shopping at thrift stores so that she can splurge on overpriced lattes.