Ask the Readers: How Do You Save Money When Dining Out?

By Ashley Jacobs on 10 April 2012 (Updated 17 April 2012) 129 comments
Photo: CB and GK

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Holly, David, and Merlene Ence for winning this week's contest!

If you are like most people, chances are you find yourself dining out with family or friends at least a couple times each month. While it's fun to head to a restaurant to catch up with loved ones, somtimes dining out can be a bit costly. Luckily, there are ways to save when you grab a bite to eat with family or friends!

How do you save money when dining out? Do you share a meal with someone? Only go to Happy Hours? Drink water?

Tell us how you save money when dining out and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We're doing three giveaways — one for random comments, one for random Facebook "Likes", and another one for random tweets.

Mandatory Entry: 

  • Post your answer in the comments below 

For extra entries (1 per action):

  • Go to our Facebook page, "Like" us, and leave a comment on this article telling us you did, or
  • Tweet your answer. You have to be a follower of our @wisebread account. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it. Leave a link to your tweet (click the timestamp for the individual URL) in a separate comment.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, April 16th at 11:59 pm Pacific. Winners will be announced after April 16th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
  • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook.
  • You must be 18 and US resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

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Guest's picture
Linda

Here are some of the things I do to bring down the cost of eating out:

Split meals with my daughter
Eat an appetizer for my dinner
Order water instead of a drink
Order the special (one local restaurant has $5 steak dinners on Sundays)
Take home of the leftovers for another meal or two
Eat a late lunch/early dinner and get the lunch special

Guest's picture
Therese

My husband and I either get one appetizer and one entree and split both, or we bag half of our meals for the next day. We also almost always just drink water with our meal.

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OFG

I sign up for frequent diner cards and similar reward programs. If we frequent the same establishments, (which we tend to do), we can rack up points for free food. Also, a lot of these places offer free food for birthdays and other occasions. It doesn't save a ton of money, but it helps a little.

If we want to try someplace new I often buy groupons and other collective buying discounts. We do this less frequently, but it's a good way to sample a new place without spending a lot of money. Just check out the prices on the menu before buying. Sometimes the cost of the groupon will barely cover drinks and appetizers.

Guest's picture
Chris Sorel

sign up for cooupons from resturants and usually take family if they send us one. Ruby Tuesday sends free meal once a month and kids eat free at chilis many times

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Chris Sorel

like wisebread on facebook

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michelle mosher

Liked your FB page, became a follower on Twitter and retweeted and to save money, we use a lot of coupons & groupons and look for happy hour deals or kids eat free nights!

Guest's picture
Chris Sorel

follow on twitter and tweet https://twitter.com/#!/cjsorel/status/189694384634208257

Guest's picture
Christie

We only dine about about once every two months, but to save money we drink water, order things to share (especially fries at a fast food restaurant -- we order one extra large for the whole family to share) and enjoy the food as well as the company. It helps that we don't drink alcohol, because that will double the cost of your meal in a hurry! I personally like to enjoy the food without anything dulling my taste buds.

Guest's picture

I use coupons and order the specials

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Ernest W

Use Groupon and other pre-paid coupon services, order water instead of flavored water (i.e. soft drinks, ice tea), use credit cards that give you airline miles, sign up for free birthday food at chain restaurant web-sites.

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Mary H

The first way we save is by ONLY going out to eat when we have a coupon. The second is by only getting water with lemon as our beverage. Then, depending on the restaurant, our third way of saving is to order an entree that has a very large serving. That's okay if it costs a buck or two more because we're going to save money by getting a box and immediately put at least half the entree away for another meal at home.

Guest's picture
rm

Daily deals are a great way to save money. Eating local and finding quality restaurants are high on my list. Keep money local!

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Carson

I save tons of money by cooking and eating IN everyday. My girlfriend and I go to a really nice restaurant 4-6 times per year, usually on major holidays or for personal celebrations. Since we go so infrequently, we don't mind hefty tabs and high tips for great food, company, and service.

Guest's picture
Guest Ash

I agree Carson. I too would rather go to a restaurant less frequently but when I do I like to enjoy myself and not see it as a money saving 'chore'. I like to order what I want, not necessarily the cheapest dish and like you if the service is good I like to leave a good tip. I like to go to a good family restaurant and try to stay away from the major chains.

Guest's picture
Rob O.

So many restaurants have such large portions, you're not going away hungry even if you split a plate. My wife & I often share a single order or I just order an appetizer and then she shares some of her entree. With the addition of our son, we just modified that strategy slightly and still share, but among the 3 of us instead of just 2.

We also avoid the after-meal up-sells like coffee or desserts. If we really want a cup of coffee after dinner, I'll brew some at home!

Guest's picture
Stacy L.

For us, the main savings comes from treating dining out like a special occasion. We rarely eat out for convenience, since I plan our meals for the week around our schedule - so we went we go out, it's intentional and special. My parents have given us gift cards to a few of our favorite restaurants, so it's especially fun to go out when we can eat for free or very little out-of-pocket!

Guest's picture
Allessio77

Here is how we save when eating out.
1. We drink water
2. we split the entree
3. Skip desert
4. Eat Breakfast or Lunch, not dinner.
5. Look for coupons, offers, etc.

Guest's picture
Luke

Take advantage of certain deals and know what you are ordering...
items like the 2 for 20 at apple-bees are actually a good deal if you know what you are ordering (there chicken salads are HUGE but there steak leaves me wanting more)... although I don't skip the soda, it would shave usually 2.50 off my bill. dinning earlier like lunch specials are a better deal, and healthier, since eating all of those calories before you go to bed cant be good for you. One other huge thing is to find specials where you can. The local casino has birthday month points (I'm not a gambler) and I stop in to cash in the points... when there then active (they take a while to get on the card) I go for the all you can EAT crab leg night... a huge indulgence which then doesn't want me eating out for another couple of months... and the birthday points almost completely cover the cost of the meal

Guest's picture
Jennifer

We eat out very rarely, only for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries. When we do go out, being a vegetarian helps cut down the bill quite a bill! Ordering entrees without meat is a big money saver, as is drinking plain old water.

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Guest

I "liked" Wise Bread on FB.

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Amy Bowser

I pretty much only eat out if I have a coupon, reward, LivingSocial, Groupon, Entertainment Deal, Eversave, etc.

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GuestLeon

I order water instead of soda or drinks at least every other time I dine out.

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Amanda

Skip apps and desserts, drink water, have kids split meals if it's cheaper, check for coupons...it really depends on the restaurant.

Guest's picture
Amanda

Like WB on FB.

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NJJ

To saving money dining out I eat out during happy hour or on Special deal days

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Rachel

We save money when eating out by dining out smart -- we don't generally eat at any chain restaurants. So we wait for Groupons to our favorite local restaurants to come out. :)

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Rachel

And I "like" wisebread on FB! :)

Guest's picture
Tricia K.

Hi
We save money a couple of ways. We eat out when it is 2 for 1, use coupons and drink only water.

Hugs,
Trish

Guest's picture
Jerry

I always check for day-of-the-week specials on the restaurant's web site. Or their window as you pass by. My local Popeye's, for instance, has a deal on a two piece meal Monday and Tuesday. Early bird and happy hour specials can be great deals too, but be careful with those half priced brews! You can sometimes find deals in your local coupon mailer (or their web site) but those tend heavily to two-for-ones. And if you are a regular at a particular place, be sure to ask about loyalty programs. I get a lot of mileage out of Don Pablo's Habenero club.

Guest's picture
Margaret Davis

My husband and I shave costs by a) drinking water which is better for us anyway; b) foregoing an appetizer or dessert unless we are splitting with other people; c) take advantage of any online or newspaper coupons or discounts; d) become members of loyalty clubs or programs for restaurants that we enjoy with several friends since they frequently offer discounts or additional coupons; e) try to schedule meals during off-peak hours so that we can eat less and spend more time with friends and family without jepoardizing the income of the waitstaff; f) treat the waitstaff with respect and tip appropriately (this sounds counter-intuitive to saving money but frequently the staff has been able to help by ringing in the order in the most cost efficient manner or recommending menu items that have the taste and quality without the higher price, etc.).

Guest's picture
Kelly Sanchez

To save money dining out my husband and I have a few tricks. The first and easiest is to stick with water, soda and alcoholic drinks are marked up and can add 10% to your bill. If we would like to enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail we fall back on tip number two, eat out during happy hour. The selection is limited but the savings is significant. Depending on the restaurant and portion sizes, ordering appetizers rather than an entree, or ordering a salad and then split an entree can keep your tab low as well. Coupons can be printed out, many offer them on their websites usually a buy one get one deal or at least a percent discount.

Guest's picture
Nicholas

I usually do drink water which not only saves money but is healthier also! I tend to not go out for dinner due to the prices. I usually go out to lunch so I regularly order off of the lunch menu's.

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Brenda Faulkner

I always sign up for email club with either reward points or BOGO offers.

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MK

I pretty much always drink water rather than soda or anything else as much for health as for money (I'd rather have delicious calories than empty ones). Depending on how large the appetizers are, I'll order an appetizer as an entree. I'll often share a dessert with a friend or two, but again, it's as much for the calories as it is for the $.
Happy hour menus can be truly wonderful. Five Napkin Burger has a great one - I think the sliders are 2 or 3 dollars each (and quite filling) and the wings are 50 cents each. Since I'm not really into alcohol much, I can easily spend under $10 for a filling meal.

Guest's picture

I always drink water.

Guest's picture

I just usually share a meal with someone, or we just share appetizers while catching up!

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Liked you on FB!

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https://twitter.com/#!/missluckybreaks/status/189753299006791680

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chinni yalamanchili

I order only when needed, avoid having beverages and may be use coupons if available

Guest's picture
Elena

Me and my husband save money by usually splitting a dish, usually restaurants serve way too much and we usualy fill with just one plate. We also try to use coupons when possible.

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Elena

I Like Wise Bread on Facebook.

Guest's picture
Monica

I save money by not buying a drink, water is free!

Guest's picture
katrina

I save money by:
-drinking water
-buying one drink, but sharing with the boyfriend
-buying gift certificates from restaurant.com
-buying deals from groupon/living social
-using my entertainment book
-using restaurant gift cards received as presents
-eat during happy hour/days with specials
-skipping out on appetizers/desserts
-and lastly, but my most favorite, eating family style

Guest's picture
Nicholas

I have wisebread liked on facebook.

Guest's picture

I don't buy beer or mixed drinks or wine with my meal. I use any and all coupons I can find. I steer away from the most expensive items unless I am going to share or take home at least half. I stay away from appetizers unless I plan to take almost all of my entre home.same with desserts.

Guest's picture
Ryan McGillen

Often, when we decide to go out to dinner but can't decide where to go, we use the Groupon Now app on my iPhone. It locks in on my GPS and offers me all kinds of Groupons I can use immediately right from my phone.

Guest's picture
Tyler Patrick

Here is how I save on eating out:
I almost always order water for a drink.
I sign up for deal emails from various restaurants so I almost always have a deal or coupon.
I will sometimes order an appetizer for my meal.
I fill up on free chips and bread so that I can make two meals out of one.
I also always use my credit card to reap rewards.

Guest's picture
Stockmonkeymom

We love Panda Express and have one close to our home. About 2 yrs. ago, they had a promotion to buy a take-out reusable cloth bag and receive 10% off your to-go order. The bag was $1.59 and for our family of 3, our usual order comes to $18.59. So in the first transaction alone, we saved .25 and every time thereafter, we save $1.85. We go just about once a week, so over the course of 2 years, that amounts to $192.40! The bag stays in my car!

Guest's picture
Edward

All these miserly people drinking water in a nice restaurant makes me want to cry. ...And pee. The wait staff must *love* you, big spenders!

Simply put: "How do I save money when dining out?" I don't. The two things are mutually exclusive as far as I'm concerned.

I "liked" WB... But I don't like these responses.

Guest's picture

Go out for lunch instead of dinner.
Use a groupon for additional savings.
Ask for AAA, Military, School, or other available discounts.
Scout out the restaurants where your kids can eat free on certain days.
Split an entree because portions are large!

Guest's picture
Christie

I also "liked" and left a comment on the Facebook page! :)

Guest's picture

split an entree and don't order alcohol

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Happy Love

We don't eat out very often (once or twice a month), but when we do we usually use Restaurants.com, Groupon, or other coupons. We also like to go out for lunch or an early dinner to avoid the full dinner prices.

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Julie

Order an appetizer instead of an actual dinner entree. Often times, the appetizer will be large enough to serve as a dinner!

Or alternatively, order off the kids menu! ;)

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Lauren

I look at the menu ahead of time and plan what I'm going to eat or split with a friend!

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J Marie

We will go out for lunch instead of dinner, drink water instead of wine, and skip dessert. We also belong to rewards programs (like tgi friday's stripes program).

Guest's picture
Melissa Hansson

We always do one or more of the following:

* use a coupon or voucher
* hit happy hour
* go for a prixe fixe or dinner special
* eat out in the middle of the day and then snack later
* buy entrees that will re-heat well for a second lunch or dinner

Guest's picture

I save money when eating out by only buying what I really need, not what my eyes want. Also, I don't eat out that much - when I do, it's specifically a social occasion, not just because i don't feel like cooking.

Guest's picture

I tweeted! https://twitter.com/#!/junethomemaker/status/189794570270289921

Guest's picture

I like WB on FB!

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KarenJ

I use Restaurant.com, Groupon, Living Social and Deal Chicken. We hardly EVER go out without a coupon. I sign up for my favorite restaurant's loyalty program if they have one, so I get a steady stream of coupons that way also. We order water, and have our cocktails at home. We usually forego the apps and salads (I eat salad every day for lunch) for the main course and maybe dessert, but only if it's something special. But my biggest tip for eating out is "EAT LESS!" I always eat half my meal and save the other half for a lunch or dinner during the week. The portions are always at least twice what anyone should be eating anyway.

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Melissa Hansson

You are "liked" on Facebook. Thanks!

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Lisa D

We rarely dine out so when we do, it's an "occasion". So I don't attempt to cut corners in this department.

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Michelle Peterson

Here in Albuquerque, there is an awesome website called 999dine.com (this website also serves a few other cities in New Mexico and I believe one or two in Colorado). It's a discounted gift certificate website, where you can purchase, say, a $20 gift certificate to a restaurant for only ten dollars, or something like that. They have great restaurants and great deals -- best way to save!

Guest's picture
Raina

One thing I've been doing lately is this: Grand Lux Cafe gives a survey with every receipt that gives an automatic $10 git card back to Grand Lux. Then I can get a free meal that that gift card and receive another survey for a $10 gift card. It's an endless cycle of free food.

Guest's picture
Raina

I like WiseBread on Facebook.

Guest's picture
Les

To save money on drinks, in particular wine during dinner, my friends and I will bring our own wine (unopened) to a restaurant that doesn't charge a corkage fee (they do exist!). Not only does it save money on wine, we also get to enjoy a bottle we either bought on the cheap, like from Trader Joe's, and we get to share a good wine with friends. (P.S. I also "liked" the post on fb)

Guest's picture

I try to only order water for my drink. Other than that, it's going to dinner during happy hour with friends, getting a bunch of half priced appetizers and splitting the bill. We can get a nice meal and have some leftovers for under $10/person.

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Linda

We use coupons, like Groupon or Living Social deals! We have also used Restaurant.com gift certificates. They often come with caveats and are lesser known places, but we've enjoyed trying some new places we wouldn't normally go to...for less!

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Holly

In addition to drinking only water, we are not drinking as much alcohol at restaurants and instead are choosing to have a nightcap when we get home. I find I appreciate the food more this way. Same goes for the nightcap. You really savor both individually. Plus, the cost of alcoholic drinks really adds up quickly. (But I do miss my cocktails from time to time!)

Already like you on Facebook!

Guest's picture
Rose

We usually eat a late lunch; somewhat smaller portion and lower price. Most of the time we drink water with a slice of lemon; however, we only do this when we have radio certificates, which we buy at 40-50% off; i.e. a $10.00 certificate bought for $6.00.

Guest's picture
DeeDee

Save enough of my meal for lunch the next day, use a coupon and drink water.

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TrishB

I can't afford to eat out very often, but if I want to go to lunch with a friend and don't have much to spend I'll just have something like onion rings or a side salad.

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Lynda

restaurant dot com gift certificates; get the full portion but split half to go for next meal

Guest's picture
Lynda

tweeted https://twitter.com/#!/oshkoshbgosh123/status/189883242156007426

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Lynda

i like wisebread on fb

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Ally

Liked on FB

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Ally

We sign up for diner's clubs, frequent diners (free meals on birthdays usually), and go during happy hours.

Guest's picture
Guest

We use two fabulous tricks: 1. We order one big meal and split it. and 2. We never order sodas. Restaurants grossly overcharge for soda, often up to $2.50 with endless refills -- this is their trick of padding up the bill. So we just order ice water, or maybe iced tea or coffee. But not sodas. The sodas tend to be way too big: I call them Bladder Busters. Who needs it? Using this strategy, we often save up to $15 that would have cost us easily $30. Remember, every price on a restaurant menu is carefully worked out to make you pay way more than you ought to. Splitting meals not only saves money but also keeps your weight under control. Restaurant meals tend to be much too large. And don't get me started on all the hidden salt, sugar and fat in these meals!

Guest's picture
Diane

We share a salad or an appetizer ~ sometimes we even share the entree. We use coupons, if available. We sign up for frequent diner clubs at restaurants we frequent regularly. Generally we don't order dessert, but if we do, it's always shared.

Guest's picture
David

Stick to the entrees (no appetizers, drinks, or desserts). Bring it home if there's leftovers. But tip well! And bring good company.

Guest's picture
Diane

I like Wisebread on facebook!

Guest's picture
Lika

I use a calendar to write down how much I spend eating out. After writing it down and tallying it up I noticed a dramatic decrease in spending. When I do eat out I order only water as the beverage and order an appetizer as the meal.

Guest's picture
gail grooms

If it is a new restaurant, I ask if they have a Birthday Club. If they do, I sign up while there. I always check out their website before leaving the house to go eat to see if they have any coupons I could download. I also skip the beverages and dessert because that is usually so high in restaurants.

Guest's picture
SR

BYOBs
Groupon (groupon now) and Living Social
Also interested in trying Savored.com

Guest's picture
Silence

I have tried all the tricks out there like eating early, happy hour, splitting meals and restaurant.com coupons.......but what I really enjoy is choosing quality over quantity. I eat out maybe once a month, so I enjoy it and have what I want. That's kinda the point of eating out to me. If I wanted to eat cheaply, I would rather stay home.

Guest's picture
Merlene Ence

We drink tap water instead of ordering drinks.

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Tanya Whitner

We go to local Mom and pop type restaurants where the food is really fresh and inexpensive. Our favorite is a Pho restaurant. A large bowl of vegetarian Pho plus a plate of fresh cilantro, lime, jalepenos and bean sprouts is only $7.50. We share the order and it is more than enough to fill us both us.

Guest's picture
Francesca

I try to save money when I dine out by: 1) ordering water instead of soda or juice, which also helps limit calories; 2) going during happy hour if I feel like having a drink; 3) checking in on Foursquare for any free appetizer deals; and 4) checking Restaurant.com to see if they offer any certificates for a certain place.

I could also check Scoutmob and Yelp but it never occurs to me at that time and place. :P

Guest's picture
Nancypdx

Happy Hour! Also, take advantage of Groupon & other deal sites.

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Patrick

I drink water, eat vegetarian entrees, which are usually a few dollars cheaper (I'm a vegetarian), and only order what I'm hungry enough to finish, often an appetizer or a small salad.

Guest's picture
KelR1

I use coupons whenever possible and sign up for membership programs if a restaurant/chain offers them.

Guest's picture
KelR1

Like you on FB.

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KelR1

Tweeted answer:

https://twitter.com/#!/KelRo1/status/190127304180105217

Guest's picture
Pollyanna

We're a lot like Therese --- portions are so big that we stop half-way and bring balance home for lunch or for another dinner, also always drink water. We also use coupons if they're available.

Guest's picture
Naomi

My husband has been drinking more water instead of buying soda at a restaurant. We also typically divide our meals immediately and plan to bring home the extras for another meal. Our kids are small enough that they can easily split a kids meal as well, saving us the cost of buying two meals for them.

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Naomi

I also "like" WiseBread on Facebook.

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Aaron L

I often use Groupon or its several clones to snag a deal. Either to get something I like or to try something new. Also, get water, and avoid ordering dishes that have pictures.

Guest's picture
Aaron L

I follow you on facebook.

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Aaron L

https://twitter.com/#!/linjiunhan/status/190173662933032960