This is How to Tailgate Like a Hall of Famer — Even if You’re on a Budget

Group Of Sports Fans Tailgating In Stadium Car Parking lot
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At long last, football season is back, and you know what that means.

It’s time for some tailgating.

Time to throw down in the stadium parking lot. Time to play some sweet tunes and grill some meats. Time to enjoy an adult beverage or two. Or three. Or six. Hey, we don’t judge.

Now, it would be nice to tailgate like a king. Grill up some T-bone steaks and lobster tails and wash it all down with Dom Pérignon, barrel-aged bourbon or some Belgian craft beer that’s brewed with truffles and juniper berries.

But we’re not going to do that. Because we’re broke.

This is The Penny Hoarder, so we’re going to tailgate on a budget.

Through extensive and exhaustive research in the field — going to many, many tailgates — we’ve learned how to do it without breaking the bank. Yes, these are the kinds of sacrifices we make for our beloved readers.

Tailgating Like a Cheapskate — But in Style

Our secret strategy is this: Make sure to get cash back when you buy food and alcohol.

Use the cash-back app Ibotta to earn rebates on groceries. Search the app for rebates as you make your shopping list, then use the app to scan your receipt once you get home with the goods. The average user earns $30 per month, according to the company.

With tailgating, where Ibotta really comes in handy is with alcohol. The app has a ton of rebate offers for beer, wine and liquor, ranging from $5 back on a case of Bud Light to $3 back on a bottle of Jim Beam.

Here are a few other tips we learned from asking an expert, Joe Cahn, who bills himself as “The Commissioner of Tailgating.”

  • One key to keeping tailgating costs reasonable is to invite your friends, then get them to chip in.  
  • Pro tip: Park one car at the stadium and have everyone else in your group park farther away, where it’s free. Then carpool, walk or take the bus or a game-day shuttle.
  • This list of tailgating recipes that will cost you less than $1 per serving includes tasty black bean dip for chips and veggies, and caramel popcorn with peanuts.
  • If you’ve got an 11 a.m. kickoff, head to the grocery store that morning and check out the day-old bread and pastry section. Most stores drop the prices of breakfast favorites like donuts and muffins — your friends won’t be able to taste the difference.
  • Skip Starbucks and brew your own coffee at home, then bring it with you in a thermos.

Your Big-Ticket Item: The Grill

Sure, slow cookers are nice. But in order to tailgate like a real live red-blooded American, you need a grill. How else are you going to grill meat, I ask you?

Even if you buy a relatively affordable grill, it’s still a significant purchase. And like any significant purchase, you should figure out how to get the best possible deal.

Here’s something to try. Step by step:

  1. Go look at grills at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Check ‘em out.
  2. Join Swagbucks, a site that pays you to take surveys, watch TV and shop online. It can get you cash back on purchases. You get $5 just for signing up.
  3. Once you’re in, shop online for the grill you want at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Swagbucks has partnerships with both. You’ll earn one Swagbuck for every dollar you spend.
  4. On a significant purchase like a grill, that can add up to a lot of Swagbucks. The average propane gas grill costs $100-$400, with higher-end stainless steel ones going for $500-$1,500.
  5. You can exchange Swagbucks for gift cards. For context, 2,500 Swagbucks will get you a $25 PayPal gift card. Basically, you’re earning 1% cash back on your new grill.

We’ll leave you with more words of wisdom from Joe Cahn, the Commissioner of Tailgating:

Ultimately, tailgating is not about the food. It’s about the people, the atmosphere and the experience.

“Food tastes better with friends no matter what food it is,” he said. “Sharing hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with friends is a far better time than a 10-course meal with people you really don’t like.”

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He likes to tailgate before attending a game because his favorite football team is so incredibly aggravating.