A question I often get from people is “how can you afford to eat so well on a college budget?” Honestly, this past summer was the first time where I actually had to pay for my own groceries and it was an eye-opening experience for me. Throughout these last few months, I’ve found ways to eat well but also save money. Everyone chooses to spend money on the things they value, and I value good food. Here’s how I make the most of every dollar and afford to eat so well on a college budget.
1. Quit buying dumb stuff.
One time, I bought myself this silicone keyboard cover for my laptop that I totally didn’t need, but thought it would be cool. Turns out, it actually sucks, and it ended up getting thrown out when I moved out of my dorm for the summer. I think about that keyboard cover a lot, actually. I use it as a reminder to not buy anything you don’t truly need. I mean, we’re in college, we really don’t need that much. Think your purchases out.
2. Check deals on meat.
This has been huge for me this summer. I usually plan my meals around my protein source, which tends to be some sort of meat. Before I plan my meals (more on that later), I check the deals on meat at the grocery store I plan on going to. Meat tends to be the most expensive thing on my grocery list, so saving a few dollars every time definitely adds up.
3. Be smart about free stuff.
I understand that not everyone has this opportunity, but for me, I’m saving a lot of money working as an RA in the dorms. Having a meal plan and rent that is paid for allows me to save money to spend on other things, like the occasional non-dining-hall dinners. Be smart and take advantage of free stuff. You don’t have to find a job where everything’s paid for, but at least reap the benefits of the free things you do get, like office bagels and coffee.
4. Plan your meals.
I cannot emphasize this enough. You don’t have to plan every single meal of every day, but make sure that you know what you’re making for the week and how much food you need for it. That way, you’re not buying too much and being wasteful or buying too little and making another trip to the grocery store. Also, a lot of ingredients can be used in different things, so try to plan meals with similar ingredients during the same week.
5. Make your own meals.
I try to aim for one meal out per week, but it varies depending on my schedule. Even on the days where I won’t be home for certain meals, I either pack something to go or take a ton of snacks. I promise you it’s really not that hard to cook for yourself– plus it’s so much cheaper.
6. Freeze produce.
When I realize that produce is about to go bad, I cut it up and freeze it. I use the frozen fruit in smoothies and the frozen vegetables for dinners. This way, you’re not wasting any of the produce, just saving it for later.
7. Generic brand is fine.
A play on one of my favorite internet memes, generic brand is totally fine. Try to buy generic brand when you can– most things don’t really differ from the name-brand version anyways.
8. Discount grocery stores are your friend.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I used to always look down on Aldi. But let me tell you, this place is a gold mine. You definitely can’t do all your grocery shopping there, but there’s a ton of things (think: pesto, veggies, cheese) that are so much cheaper at Aldi but still of good quality.
Eating well on a college budget can be difficult, but hopefully these tips help you make wiser choices when it comes to filling your belly with the good stuff.