Squirreling Gone Wild #22: Drive-Thru Discount

You can usually get a small discount at the drive-thru. No coupons needed, and nothing needs to be on sale. The discount usually doesn’t apply if you make a purchase inside the restaurant.

How can you get this modest discount?

Well, one of the earlier episodes of the Squirreling Gone Wild series focuses on the extreme frugality of a friend of mine from back in the old days. In this 22nd edition of the series, I share my own dive into the abyss – which was really for fun anyway.

So, in my quest to drop my previously excessive (in my opinion) caffeine habit, I decided to drop the usual suspects in my previous choices: soda and coffee.  To make that transition easier, I switched to one decaf coffee every few days in the month of January.  The strategy worked very well, as I’ll share in a future post. Anyway, I purchased the decaf coffee by making my way to the drive-thru.

The first time I did this, I ordered the coffee at the speaker, and was told the cost would be $1.07. As I pulled up to the window to pay, I noticed something bright and shiny on the ground. Looking closely, it appeared to be a coin!

While I had previously derided such behavior, when presented with the opportunity to pick up a coin, my instincts took over. The car door opened, I reached down to look at the coin, and saw that it was a dime.


I paid the $1.07, kept my shiny new dime, and drove off with my decaf coffee. It occurred to me that effectively, that was a nice little discount!

So, with that in my mind, I searched for change on the ground with purpose on my next trips. As I found change, I thought it would be fun to keep track of how much was picked up on each trip.

There have been 9 drive-thru decaf coffee purchases  in 2010.  Here are the results:

  • Visit 1: $1.07 spent, $0.10 found
  • Visit 2: $1.11 spent, $0.03 found
  • Visit 3: $1.07 spent, $0.01 found
  • Visit 4: $1.11 spent, $0.13 found
  • Visit 5: $1.07 spent, $0.02 found
  • Visit 6: $1.07 spent, $0.05 found
  • Visit 7: $1.07 spent, $0.20 found
  • Visit 8: $1.11 spent, $0.00 found
  • Visit 9: $1.07 spent, $0.12 found

All told, the nine visits for coffee totaled $9.75 in expenses. The total money found totaled $0.66.  That’s a 6.8% discount.

Does this seem like a total cheapskate maneuver? Ok, I agree that it is. I became a real Squirreler here in 2011.

Maybe I enjoy these “arbitrage opportunities” (as a friend once called these) a bit too much. Why did I get a kick out of this gambit? I felt like Costanza on the Seinfeld series, with a scheme like this.

Doesn’t matter, it was all in fun. I felt like the ultimate cheapskate when I tried to pick up coin that was stuck to the ground in front of the drive-thru window on one of those visits. I looked up and saw a disapproving look by the lady taking the money at the window. Felt like I was being scolded by that look at hers.

“What a cheapskate!”, her eyes seemed to say, as I looked back up. I sheepishly handed over my $1.07, got my coffee, and drove off feeling busted.

I actually saw the same coin on a future visit, and opened the car door to grab it a second time, I’m almost ashamed to say. It was stuck to the ground. I wonder if it was there as a joke, like a coin that people glue to the ground so they can laugh at the misers that try to pick it up.

Before you wonder what I would do with that $0.66, here you go: I gave it away. Well, actually I gave away more, as  I walked back in the restaurant and dropped a $1.00 bill in a charity donation box. All the change was picked up at the restaurant’s drive-thru, so I thought I might as well throw the something in the box. Every little bit counts, right – even if donated?

Moral of the story:

It’s not that we should all rush to the drive-thru hunting for coins. Rather, it’s that it goes to show that literally and figuratively, sometimes there really is money just laying around, right there under your feet:)

What is the wackiest thing you have done to either save a few coins, or pick up loose change?


    • Squirrelers says

      @BFS – yes, change is most certainly money too! If someone doesn’t want change, there’s no shortage of people that will gladly accept it.

  1. says

    Terrific. I tried your idea today, Wise Squirrel. Good news: I opened the car door at the drive-thru window and found a quarter! Bad news: I dinged my car door on the dang building wall (probably doing $50 damage in the process).

    By my calculations I’m now $49.75 in the hole.

    Okay, not really. (But wouldn’t that stink if it really happened?) Just be careful. folks, when you open your door! :-)

    (Great post!)

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

  2. says

    Great job Squirrel!

    Once bottles and cans became refundable for a nickel or dime in Michigan, I used to spend my time as a kid picking up tons of nasty beer cans and bottles at the park at the end of my street and drag them down to the store. Of course I didn’t donate my money, I bought candy… :)

    • Squirrelers says

      @everydaytips – when I spent a few months in the Detroit area (Sterling Heights/Troy, actually) in the late 90’s, people talked about those deposits as a part of their youth, just like you did here. Hey, every little bit helps, especially for kids back then.

    • Denise VanDerwarker says

      We not only recycle aluminum cans but the recycling places will pay you for broken washers, dryers, copiers. etc! We just have to load them on the truck and take them!

  3. says

    As Seinfeld claimed about George: “Hmmm. Maybe cheapness is a sixth sense?” Now we just need to figure out how to get a large drink but small fries on the same extra value meal. Chaos will reign the day someone pulls that off successfully.

    • Squirrelers says

      @brokeprofessionals – I felt like George on a few occasions while doing this. By the way, I just got a decaf yesterday, and saw a bright, shiny quarter just sitting there waiting to be picked up. I passed…could have been nearly 25% off:) My back was a bit sore, and I would have had to twist to get it, so I just said forget it. Oh well.

  4. says

    First, kudos to you for kicking your caffein habit. I wish I could do the same. I stayed off caffein for one year for health reasons and that was it. After a year I went back to coffee and yes, it can be an expensive habit. Second, I loved the story! I need to start checking the ground more often. :-)

  5. says

    This story reminded me of my grandfather! He would walk from his store to the McDonalds that was down the street a bit. He always would find change (once he even found a $20.00 bill).

    I would sometime do on the trip with him, but I never saw any money unless he told me to look down… He had great eyes for that activity. It was fun!

    • Squirrelers says

      @moneyreasons – I like your story. Seems like fun memories for you. Also, maybe it’s a matter of some people having a special knack for finding money….

  6. says

    I remember I tried this technique many, many years ago and was scolded by the teenager in the drive thru who refused to give me my vittles unless I put the change back. He likened it to stealing. Can you believe that?! My spirit has been broken ever since.

    • Squirrelers says

      Swawanda – don’t let that teenager from years back impact what you do today:) He was wrong for acting how he did!

  7. says

    Money is hanging around… both literally and figuratively. Well Squirrelers, you are definitely being pretty fierce this year, and I love your tenacity. I think the bigger picture of what you are discussing is a BIG DEAL: now that you are looking for money and discounts, you’ll find them more!

    • Squirrelers says

      Shawn – you’re on to the bigger picture here! And yes, this was probably a tenacious approach – didn’t think of it that way until now, but I think you have a good observation here.

  8. says

    Hahah! I actually laughed out loud when I was reading your Squirrelers gone wild post. So cute- you are a squirrel. It’s as if the coins are nuts fallen off a tree. I’m going to look to see if there are coins lying around next time I’m at the drive through- I’m surprised there are so many.

    • Squirrelers says

      @youngandthrifty – Well, I laughed at your comment here (in a good way). I’m a squirrel, and coins are nuts fallen off a tree :) Funny stuff! Yes, it is surprising that so many coins are there.

  9. says

    Squirrel – Loved the post! Nice to know that there is someone else out there that does that too! DH always chuckles when I pick up loose change from the ground. I always say ‘a penny found is a penny earned!’ Abundance is all around us if we are open to seeing it! Nice that you donated it too!

    • Squirrelers says

      Deidre – glad you liked the post. I think you really get the bigger picture point here – abundance is all around us if we are open to seeing it. Well said!

  10. says

    My Dad’s friend taught me to always ask for a discount especially if it’s someplace your a regular. I don’t have the guts to do it often but I recently did when buying tires. I use his line, “So what do you think you could do for me on that price?” I’ve bought tires from these guys for over 10yrs. Just for asking they gave me an additional 10% off.

    • Squirrelers says

      Molly – it generally doesn’t hurt to ask, if the person you’re dealing with is reasonable. You never know!

  11. says

    I absolutely love this entire series. It’s probably one of the most hilarious group of posts anywhere. I’ve been known to pick up coins as well. For a discount I take my coffee cup to Starbucks and 7-Eleven for the $0.05 – $0.10 discount on a cup of coffee. It adds ups. :)

    • Squirrelers says

      Sandy – I’m glad you like the series. I’ve been checking out your blog more lately, and have enjoyed it as well. Also – as you can imagine, I can get the concept of refilling using your own cup to get a nickel or dime discount :)

  12. Schlauefrau says

    I love this series, too! I just discovered it and have read all the postings. My favorite “squirreling gone wild” story:
    When I was little, my grandfather would take me and my 3 siblings to the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. The big treat was the soda machine out front, which cost only a quarter for a “store-brand” soda. However, my grandfather was a squirreler gone wild, so he carried a yardstick in his ancient Chevy Suburban. He would pull up to the front of the store, and send us kids to the machine with the yardstick – to fish out any coins that had rolled underneath! (Of course, we checked the change return as well.) I guess since it was a bunch of kids (I was maybe 10 and I’m the oldest), no one ever said anything, and we often found enough change to pay for a couple sodas! It was a lesson well learned, and although I no longer get on my knees to fish coins from under vending machines, I do still check the change returns… :)

    • Squirrelers says

      Schlauefrau – What a neat story! It made me smile as I read it, picturing using a yardstick to get the money. I haven’t head of that approach before!

  13. Lorraine Clayton says

    I pulled up to a Pennsylvania Turnpike toll booth recently with my car over heating and my window was stuck and wouldn’t go all the way down. I was late for work and frantically searching for toll money when the booth attendant saw my handfull of pennies told me to just go. He didn’t want to deal with the pennies and just said it was my lucky day. I’m guessing my POS car saved me about $3.60 in tolls that morning.

  14. says

    Oh I’m actually laughing out loud right now.

    I admit that my boyfriend does this at the Toll Plaza, but with quarters. Each day, going both to and from work, he tosses in a 50 cent toll ($1 roundtrip). But many, many people “miss” when they’re tossing quarters into the basket, so the ground is littered with quarters. He usually “re-coups” 50% of his cost by picking quarters off the ground while his car is idling at the toll basket.

  15. Denise VanDerwarker says

    I started picking up lose change when I started walking at the High school. It was amazing how much money they dropped! Over the course of about months, I made over $5. It also was a challenge to keep me walking during the nice months. When I returned after walking 30-45 minutes, 3-4 times per week, my husband would ask, “How much did you get today?”

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