Save Money on Food in College
As a college student, you’re probably all too familiar with the strain that tuition, housing, textbooks, and other expenses can put on your budget. One of the biggest daily costs that add up is food. While it may be tempting to rely on fast food and packaged snacks between classes or late at night when the dining hall is closed, these convenient options can wreak havoc on your available funds.
Thankfully, with some planning and smart grocery shopping, you can eat well without breaking the bank. In this blog post, we’ll explore tips and strategies to help you save substantial money on food while still eating nutritious, satisfying meals as a college student.
Here are some tips to help you save money on food while in college:
1. Plan Your Meals
Take time each week to plan out your meals and snacks. Sit down on Sunday and map out what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. Make a detailed grocery list based on what you plan to make. Having a roadmap for what you’ll eat will prevent last-minute food choices that can blow your budget.
Sticking to your plan can help reduce those impulse purchases of takeout when you’re too busy or tired to cook. Meal planning also minimizes food waste since you only buy what you know you’ll use up.
2. Cook in Your Dorm
Cooking meals in your dorm is much cheaper than eating out or buying pre-made food every day. Stock up on healthy staple ingredients that you can turn into easy meals. Things like eggs, oats, rice, beans, pasta, and frozen vegetables go a long way. Shop sales and bulk bins for these items to save even more. Look online or ask parents for simple dorm-friendly recipes that use the minimal ingredients you have on hand.
Breakfasts like oatmeal, cereal or egg sandwiches are cheap and filling. Pasta with red sauce or pesto, rice and beans, ramen noodle bowls, and salads are all budget-conscious dorm meals too. Taking a little time to cook basic meals in your dorm kitchen will save you significant money compared to takeout or delivery.
3. Take Advantage of Dining Halls
If your meal plan includes unlimited or block passes to your campus dining halls, take advantage of them as much as possible. Get your money’s worth from the plan you already paid for by eating there multiple times a day. Be strategic at all-you-can-eat dining halls by loading up your plate with foods that can make easy leftovers.
Things like sandwiches, whole fruit, pizza slices, pasta dishes, and salads will keep in your minifridge and can serve as meals later on. Many dining halls even allow you to take food to go. Keep reusable containers on hand so you can take portions of food back to your dorm. Having leftovers from the dining hall can help cut down on late-night food delivery costs when you don’t feel like cooking.
4. Prep Your Own Snacks
Preparing simple snacks yourself will cost just a fraction of what you’d pay for grab-and-go convenience store options. Make your own trail mixes by buying nuts, dried fruit, and seeds in bulk bins. Whip up energy bars and granola bars and store them in your backpack or dorm. Pop your own popcorn on the stovetop instead of buying pricier-bagged microwave popcorn. Roast chickpeas tossed in olive oil and spices for a protein-rich snack.
Look for recipes online to make your own crackers, energy bites, and other munchies you love. Preparing snacks in advance saves money and gives you healthy options when hunger hits between classes or late at night.
5. Buy in Bulk
Splitting bulk grocery items with roommates is a great way to save money in college. Shop sales and scout out bins for rice, pasta, oats, nuts, dried fruit, and other non-perishable foods. Buying these items in larger quantities can cut the per-pound or per-item costs substantially. Split a big bag of trail mix ingredients or nuts with your roommate – divide portions into jars or baggies.
Buy multiple packages of pasta, rice, or quinoa when they are on sale. Splitting a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club with roommates can give you rock-bottom prices on many bulk staples too. Going the bulk route offers big savings that really add up over the course of a semester.
6. Buy Generic Brands
Opt for store-brand or generic labels instead of pricier name-brand items. Generic brands are often made in the same facilities and have similar quality. Things like canned vegetables, pasta, rice, cereal, spices, and other shelf-stable items can all be purchased as generics.
7. Take Advantage of Free Food on Campus
Keep an eye out for free food events, samples, and giveaways on campus. Many clubs, academic departments, and campus organizations will provide free pizza, snacks, or other foods, often just for showing up. Attend academic talks and campus events that advertise free food.
8. Bring Your Own Lunch to Class
Packing your own lunch to bring to campus each day saves a ton compared to eating out. Make simple sandwiches, salads, soups, or other portable items. Bring healthy snacks like yogurt, fruit, and veggies to have on hand between classes.
9. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
Don’t forget to look for student discounts at grocery stores, restaurants and cafes near campus. Many places offer a 10% or more discount when you show a valid student ID. Download apps and look for special student promos.
10. Choose Cheaper Proteins
When shopping for protein-rich foods, choose more budget-friendly options to keep costs down. Chicken is typically cheaper per pound than beef or pork. Eggs are one of the most affordable and versatile protein sources. Cooked in various ways, eggs make a quick protein-packed meal. Canned tuna and salmon are inexpensive sources of protein that are shelf-stable and easily portable as snacks or meal additions.
Lentils, beans, peas and other legumes provide a healthy dose of vegetarian protein for very little money. Purchase dry beans and lentils and cook up a big batch to add to salads, rice bowls, and soups all week long. Going with these more affordable proteins instead of costly red meat can lead to significant savings over time.
11. Shop Farmers Markets
Check out any farmer’s markets offered on or near your college campus. Local farmer’s markets are budget-conscious places to buy fresh, seasonal produce. Fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets are often cheaper than grocery store prices since you are buying directly from the farm source. Farmers’ markets are a great spot to get student discounts or split bulk purchases with roommates or classmates.
For example, buy a bushel of apples or a few pounds of sweet potatoes and divide it up. Look for the best deals on what is currently in season each time you visit the farmers market. Buying local seasonal produce saves money and reduces your environmental impact from long-distance food shipping.
While you’re living in a dorm or sharing an off-campus apartment during your college years, you may not have an ideal kitchen setup for cooking meals from scratch. However, as outlined in this article, there are many ways you can cut costs on food with just a little effort and planning.
Choosing economical ingredients, taking advantage of bulk bins, prepping your own snacks, and leveraging campus meal plans allows you to stick to your budget. With these tips, you can gain confidence that you are being a savvy shopper and consumer. Focus on filling your plates with nutritious, budget-friendly foods. Take control of your food costs so you can make the most of your college experience. Learn here more about saving and budgeting tips.