As a student, watching your spending carefully is a fact of life – and that includes making sure you don’t overspend on food. If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly burn your money and believe me, no one wants to sleep through dinner.
Be smart, thrifty and efficient with your money – It’s your hard-earned money. Here are 10 tips to help you save money on food as a college student:
1. Stick to a budget
This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating.
Having a budget is key to making sure you don’t overspend on food – or anything else for that matter. When creating your budget, be sure to consider all of your necessary expenses, including food. Once you have an idea of how much money you can reasonably spend on food each month, stick to it!
There are several ways to budget your money, so don’t feel locked into one particular way to save money. Here are some suggestions:
- Use technology. Budgeting apps like YNAB or good budget can automate most number calculations for you. The only downside is to make them work best for your lifestyle, you’ll probably have to shell out the cash.
- Envelopes. Your grandma uses it to budget her money, so maybe you should too. The concept is quite simple – at the start of each month, withdraw all the money you can afford to spend that month in hard cash. Then organize the invoices into envelopes by type of expense. One envelope for groceries, one for dining out, etc.
- Zero-Based Budgeting. Basically, have a plan for every penny. Your income minus expenses should equal zero each month. That doesn’t mean spending every dollar, but having a plan for everyone… “Spending” can count as putting money in a savings account or in the stock market.
2. Shop smart
One way to stick to your budget is to shop smart. This means taking advantage of sales and coupons as much as possible. It also means knowing which are the essentials and which ones you can do without (more on that below).
If you want to take full advantage of these coupons, use a shopping app for the grocery store you frequent. Some providers, like Kroger, even let you create your own shopping list, with the app telling you what items are on sale or on sale.
And finally, when shopping, try not to buy too many perishables at once, as they may spoil before you have a chance to eat them all anyway. Use that freezer!
3. Cook more meals at home
Eating out every day quickly becomes expensive – both for your wallet and your waistline!
A great way to save money and eat healthier is to cook more meals at home. More often than not, homemade meals are cheaper and healthier than their restaurant counterparts. Johns Hopkins even published a study showing that cooking at home is a “main ingredient” in a healthier diet.
4. Brown lunch and dinner leftovers
If cooking from scratch seems like too much work, consider making a brown bag lunch or reheating leftovers from dinner instead.
Packing a lunch is usually cheaper than buying one somewhere off campus. And if eating the same thing two days in a row doesn’t sound appealing, there are plenty of ways to spruce up leftover meals so they taste like new again.
5. Get creative with ramen noodles
Ramen noodles aren’t exactly gourmet, but when prepared correctly, they can be surprisingly tasty – plus, they’re super inexpensive.
Often a package of ramen will be the cheapest item in a grocery store. One package only costs a little more than one or two quarters. A box of 12 costs less than $3.50.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out this list of 50 ways to improve your ramen noodles.
6. Take advantage of the dining halls on campus
If your school has a meal plan, take full advantage of it by having as many meals as possible in the dining hall. Not only is it generally cheaper than going off campus, but it’s also more convenient.
Also, leftovers still apply here. Some dining halls allow you to grab a takeout box and take food with you. This way you can save valuable meals while being satisfied with a limited budget.
If you don’t have a meal plan, which most off-campus students probably don’t, consider asking some of your underclass friends to drag you in instead. Most meal plans come with “guest swipes,” so you won’t have to worry about starving your friend to death later in the week by emptying them of their meals.
7. Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated is important. Instead of drinking sugary juices or sodas, opt for good old H2O.
It’s free and much better for you.
In fact, the average An American household spends almost a thousand each year on sodas. Think of all the things you can do with that money instead of giving yourself yellow teeth for temporary satisfaction!
8. Bring snacks with you
When hunger strikes on campus, having snacks on hand can also help ward off temptation and help you spend some cash.
Unnecessarily depositing money at the ATM can quickly become an expensive habit. You can get a lot more for a lot less by bringing snacks with you wherever you go. Here are some ideas:
- Granola bars
- Trail mix
- Peanut Butter Crackers
9. Cut down on alcohol and energy drinks
OK, I know that’s the last thing a student wants to hear.
Spending most of your money on booze is fun…but it will cost you. A good first step is to follow the tips above and start tracking/budgeting where your money is going. Once you see and realize how much you’re spending on alcohol, you’ll probably be inclined to cut back or find cheaper alternatives instead.
Energy drinks are also another college favorite, although they can also quickly drain your funds if you’re not careful. Consider making an upfront investment and buying a coffee maker. It will cost you money in the short term, but the health and financial benefits will show up later when you save money by creating a longer lasting caffeine fix.
10. Join your friends
One way to save big on food costs is to team up with roommates, classmates, or other friends. Create a list, go to the store, and distribute the purchases afterwards.
Splitting the groceries between several people is always cheaper than buying everything yourself, and cooking together can be fun too!
So there you have it – 10 tips to help save money on food as a college student. By following these simple yet powerful suggestions, you can stick to your budget and eat healthier. Win-win!