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How to save money on food in college

May 23, 2016 No Comments

Food is a big part of college. The “Freshman 15” is a thing for a reason, right? There’s also that pesky “budget” thing you have to keep in mind. Here are a few tips to help you save some money on food while a student.

How to save money food

Free food on campus

It snowed where I went to school and I don’t know what group it was, but some club on campus was frequently out in the cold with a table full of free hot chocolate. I loved that club {whoever they were}. While some morning Swiss Miss isn’t a meal, there was lots of opportunity to get free food on campus. Check your student center/union/whatever your school calls it to see what groups are sponsoring free lunch. It’s not an everyday thing, but if you know you’re going to have a little free time between classes on the same day that the student leadership group is giving out free hot dogs, maybe you want to mosey on over.

Actually cook

You can’t eat out every meal. Well, you can, but that’s gross. Once I had a roommate who never bought groceries. Ever. Not even cereal. She skipped breakfast, ate out for lunch at work, and I honestly have no idea what she did for dinner. Went on dates, most likely. Anywho, eating out that much is not only nasty for your body, it’s bad for your bank account too. If your version of groceries is those microwaveable “healthy” things, you’re spending even more money on garbage. Learn how to cook. First off, it’s way tastier. Second, it’s so, so much cheaper. Check out this 2013 infographic from Forbes:

lunch infographic

A thousand dollars a year just on lunch! It has only gotten more prominent too. Bloomberg reported that Americans are spending more eating out than on groceries for the first time ever. That’s crazy to me. I’m still in my 20’s and remember when going out to eat was for special occasions. I’d like that to be my kids’ memory of eating out too.

Make a grocery list

This is such a no-brainer that tons of people neglect. Things may come up and you might end up having to change plans one night, but that’s ok. Having a menu for the week and a grocery list has saved me a lot of money and time even if things have changed. You spend less at the grocery store and can see beforehand roughly how expensive it’ll be. If you realize you’ve bought steaks for 5 meals in one week…you can alter your dinner plans and not spend a ton of money. In my opinion, this is the easiest and quickest way to save money.

Get some kitchen equipment

This goes hand in hand with actually cooking. Yes, you need some pots and pans, but there are a couple of kitchen tools that are definitely worth it. My husband and I really like to cook and have bought a few specialty tools over the past few years, but it’s the basics for daily use. Below are a few tools I think are worth having in a student kitchen. Most are much cheaper now than even a few years ago, but you can always hit up a thrift store to find these. Or see if your apartment complex rents them out for single uses.

  • Crockpot. Soups, meats, veggies, casseroles, potatoes, desserts–they can make everything.
  • Blender (regular or one of those Ninja-types). Smoothies, soup, dressings/sauces, lots of random little things.
  • Foreman grill. If you can’t have a grill at your place, the Foreman is pretty helpful. Meats obviously, but also sandwiches and veggies cook nice on these.
  • Sharp knives. If you get cut, it’s better to be cut by a sharp knife rather than a dull one. Also, use a butter knife to cut avocados. Trust me, those suckers are slippery. At least the knife was sharp!
  • Hand mixer. You really don’t need a KitchenAid/Bosch in college. Unless you’re super into baking bread.

If you’re parent, a little older, or really like to cook, then of course these will be a little different for you, but I think these are great basics.

Shop around

Hard as it may be to believe, Wal-Mart is not always the cheapest place to shop. My husband and I may or may not have made our decision where to move based on proximity to a WINCO. That’s where we’ve done the majority of our shopping in the 3 states we’ve lived, but in Arizona we would also check the newspapers to see whether Fry’s or Sprouts had cheaper fruit that week. It was worth it to me to take an extra ten minutes to stop at Sprouts on the way home to get cheaper and better blackberries and bell peppers. Even some days of the week are cheaper for certain products. Example: Winco cheese is cheaper on Fridays than it is on Saturdays. Weird, but true. This tip takes a little time to get the hang of, but look around to see which stores have better prices and when they do. If you’re in a smaller town with fewer options or if you only have time to go to one store, choose the one with better overall prices.

Pretty much after any consistent diet of eating out, not just McD’s

Cook with roommates

Or friends. A couple of times during college there were 6 of us to an apartment. That’s a lot of girls with not a lot of fridge space. It’s nice to share meals at times to split up the costs and not let food go to waste. It can be hard to eat leftovers fast enough when you don’t like eating the same thing every day. It could be a couple of times a week or just on Sunday nights. You can each buy something for the meal or have one person in charge of everything for the entire meal and stick within a certain price range.

Learn the deals for eating out

Even though you should definitely eat out less, it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll never eat out. College towns have great food! You can be smart about it, though. Learn when the specials and deals happen! Know when it’s half-night sushi, happy hour, free pie Wednesday (if you’re into Village Inn, I guess), student night, who does free birthday meals, etc. That kind of stuff you don’t need coupons for, just know when they happen. You could also look through your junk mail and clip food coupons. No shame. Not every restaurant has these things, but a ton do, so take advantage of them!

Guys, I love good food. I think heaven will have amazing food. Eating out isn’t always bad and cooking isn’t always fun. It’s all about balance. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy delicious food in either form and also not blow your food budget. Just be smart about it!





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