How to eat for free as a student

Person about to take a bit from a burger in a restaurant

This article was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 24 November 2021

Money is often tight when you’re a student, so budgeting for things like food and drink can be tough. But here’s the good news: when funds are low, you don’t have to live off the same cheap meals, day in, day out. Get clever about making the most of deals and freebies and you can eat well no matter your bank balance. Keep reading for some top tips on how to get free food and find handy discounts on shopping and meals out.

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Collect cashback on your grocery shopping

There are some nifty apps out there that allow you to claim cashback on your groceries. While they don’t always lead to completely free food, they often promise access to offers as well as a percentage of your money back.

All you need to do is download one or more of the apps – such as CheckoutSmart and TopCashback – so that you can view the offers, find which supermarkets they’re available in and check how the cashback system works. Usually, it’s just a case of scanning the in-store receipt with your phone or clicking on a link to purchase online. Et voilà – you’ve got your cashback!

Sign up to restaurant reward schemes

Lots of high street restaurants and takeaways have their own loyalty schemes, newsletters and apps. To entice customers to sign up, they use incentives like deals and discounts. Some places will offer you freebies on your birthday too once you’ve given them your details – Krispy Kreme, Greggs and Frankie and Benny’s are just some examples. 

Download the Olio app

Perhaps your neighbour has a glut of veg they won’t be able to get through before it goes limp, accidentally over-ordered on their online shop or loves to bake so much that they can’t eat all of their creations. Olio allows them to list the food on the app for their neighbours to collect.

Think about how often you find food lurking in the back of your cupboard that you forgot to eat or didn’t have time to cook before its use-by date. We all do it. Olio is designed to eliminate food waste by connecting local communities together to share it. 

This isn’t just a great way to get free food, but also to stop wasting perfectly good grub – not to mention finally meet your neighbours!

Get a job in a restaurant

If you’re looking for a part-time job to do alongside your studies, consider roles at restaurants, cafés or takeaways. One of the perks is you’ll get fed at the start or end of your shift and you might be able to take unsold food home with you – so that’s one meal taken care of for every day you have a shift. 

Be a coupon collector

Whether in the newspaper (old school) or online, there are always coupons and vouchers out there to take advantage of for a range of supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways. Sure, one voucher on its own may only save you a couple of quid at a time, but if you really get into the habit of collecting these coupons then you can save a substantial amount of money in the long term. 

Just search for coupons online and flick through any local papers or pay attention to the flyers put through your letterbox.

Become a mystery guest

What if we told you that you can eat out at restaurants for free by supplying your feedback after the meal? That’s what being a mystery diner is all about. 

Restaurant chains often use external companies to audit their branches and make sure their diners are getting good quality food and service. Those companies, in turn, are always on the lookout for diners across the country to visit restaurants and file detailed reports on their experience in return for reimbursement. 

You don’t need to be qualified or experienced in food – these companies aren’t after food critics, just everyday guests – and you’ll be supplied with a form to fill out about your experience. You can snap up as many or as few opportunities for free meals as you like, so you can fit them around your schedule. 

The only downside is that often you have to pay for the meal and then get paid back for it once you submit your receipt and feedback form. Plus you may get all or part of the meal paid for, so check the T&Cs with the company you sign-up with.

You may also like to read 

Highest paying part-time jobs for students

What financial assistance is available to international students?

What to do if you can’t pay your rent