FARGO – Casey Hillebrand can’t remember the last time he cooked.
“Boy, I should think about it,” Hillebrand said. “August 3, I think? “
If you do the math at home, Hillebrand, 34, of Fargo, says he hasn’t turned on his stove, turned on his oven, opened his microwave, or set his pizazz for over a month.
“My fridge is always empty,” Hillebrand said.
Over the past 30 days, Hillebrand has embarked on an extreme couponing adventure, seeking to find his way to free meals at local restaurants in what is emerging as his own ‘birthday marathon’ tradition. “. For every meal in the marathon, which includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Hillebrand eats out. All for free.
Hillebrand, whose birthday is August 16, does so by strategically taking advantage of special birthday-related promotional offers for local, regional and national restaurants.
Hillebrand says the key to unlocking all free offers is signing up a few weeks in advance for individual restaurant newsletters, email campaigns, or mobile apps. That way when your birthday arrives, says Hillebrand, your name is already in the system and you’ll receive coupons for free items on your birthday.
The Fargo man said the idea started after seeing a page in a local magazine that compiled lists of all the birthday perks offered by Fargo-Moorhead restaurants and bars.
“The reason I started three years ago was, ‘is that possible? ”, Said Hildebrand. “I saw this list of dishes (in the magazine) and thought ‘this looks delicious! “”
Hildebrand said he had his first free meal on August 9. It was a nine inch “Rough Rider” pizza from Uncle Maddio’s Pizza, 1690 45th St. S., Fargo, valued at $ 10. To get the free pizza, Hildebrand said he simply signed up for their online rewards program. Upon registration, Rewards members receive a free nine-inch three-topping pizza along with additional perks on their birthday.
Other free birthday items that Hildebrand took advantage of included a ‘Grand Slam’ breakfast from Denny’s, a ‘Juicy Lucy’ burger meal from The Crooked Pint, near a pound of frozen yogurt from Tutti Frutti, a One Foot Sub from Firehouse Subs, one burrito from Moe’s Southwest Grill, one roast beef sandwich from Arby’s, one deep pizza from Old Chicago, one sub from Jersey Mike’s, one sandwich from Chick-fil-A and Buffalo Wild Wings Chicken Wings, to name a few.
In total, Hildebrand estimates that he cashed in around 38 different free meals at over 36 different restaurants and bars. Some establishments, like Caribou Coffee, for example, offer their rewards members more than one free item depending on the number of points you have accumulated and if it is your birthday.
Hildebrand, who works as a graphic designer for Forum Communications in Fargo, took pictures of each meal and recorded the price of each item on a piece of paper. He estimates that the total cost of the 38 items totaled around $ 323 and, according to Hildebrand, an additional seven pounds of unwanted body fat.
“I have a bit more (body fat),” Hildebrand said. “But that’s fine with me.”
Meanwhile, during that time, Hildebrand says he didn’t spend any money on groceries, so the $ 323 he saved by eating out for free was pure savings, and it ended up being be used wisely.
The money saved from Hildebrand’s birthday challenge allowed him to pay off the balance on one of his student loans.
“Since I saved hundreds of dollars by eating as many free birthday meals as possible, I decided to reward myself even more,” Hildebrand wrote in an Aug. 4 Facebook post. “I took the money I saved in free meals and used my money to pay off a student loan… FULL! “
A $ 275.15 balance on a student loan was gone, and now Hildebrand can focus on paying off the next one, something he says he wants this challenge to inspire others to do too.
“I started doing this in my 30s,” Hildebrand said. “I should have done this in college.”
Hillebrand says he’ll be back next year doing the same, although for now he says he can’t wait to get back to a more normal routine.
Oh yes, and the kitchen.