On a college budget? Here’s how to save money at the grocery store

Susan S. Johnson

It can be hard to stay on a proper budget during college, especially when it comes to food. As important as buying good groceries is, it can be all too tempting to just spend your grocery budget on going out to a restaurant for lunch … and dinner. When you find your grocery store budget shrinking, there are lots of ways to make a little money go a long way, without eating top ramen for every meal. This guide will help you think a little more frugally and save some money on your groceries, while still enjoying quality food.

Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk is often cheaper than buying small amounts of food, especially for items that you can save for months in your freezer or grains that will stay fresh in your cabinet. Buying in bulk doesn’t mean spending $20 on a giant bag of rice at Costco. It can just mean buying the bigger size when given the option between a larger and smaller container of something that isn’t perishable. And if you are interested in Costco-sized bulk but don’t have a Costco card, you can look up local bulk stores in your area that don’t require memberships. That can be a great option if you want to buy in bulk and then split the cost with housemates.

Invest in canned food

Canned foods such as beans and soups can be a super cheap option to bulk up your meals. Adding a can of beans into a stir fry or a soup not only helps you eat protein but also adds some more texture and flavor. Canned food lasts a really long time and also can be bought in bulk, so in weeks where you’ve used more of your budget than normal, some cans can help get you through.

Be strategic about veggies

Going to the farmer’s market and getting fresh, beautiful vegetables can be a lot of fun, but it’s usually pretty expensive. Especially if you’re cooking for yourself, it’s easy to let entire bunches of carrots and heads of lettuce go bad when you forget about them in the back of your fridge (or just get sick them). Frozen vegetables are a great way to save money long term because you won’t be throwing out moldy food, even if some frozen veggies are more expensive than the bunches in the fridge section. If you’re set on buying fresh, try to learn which vegetables usually go bad first, and focus on using those up before you move on to hardier things. 

Avoid prepared food or microwavable food

Though it’s tempting to buy preprepared microwavable food, it’s not always the cheapest or healthiest option. Often, you can easily recreate meals such as a frozen stir fry mix or individually packaged salads by buying all the required ingredients and making larger amounts yourself. It definitely isn’t as easy, but avoiding prepared foods or meal kits is a good way to make sure you’re buying larger quantities and getting more food for your money.

Shop for healthy grains

Though eating pasta every night might be cheap, it’s not super nutritious. A great way to make your meals filling while still eating a variety of healthy foods is to stock up on healthy grains. Foods such as quinoa, brown rice, noodles and couscous can be a great source of carbohydrates. That’s not to say that you need to avoid bread and pasta altogether. But these other grains can add nutrition to your diet and let you get more creative as you stretch your food budget. Some of these grains can go a long way and feel way healthier than just filling up on bread. 

Find cheap protein — less meat, more beans, eggs and tofu

Cutting out meat can really help your food budget. Though you still need protein, eating chicken and beef isn’t the only option. Check out tofu, eggs and various kinds of beans to increase your protein intake while spending less money. Though some specialized vegetarian protein options can be just as expensive as real meat, others can be much cheaper. Exploring protein options can be a great way to spend less on food, and the ethical and environmental implications of eating less meat are a bonus.

There are lots of ways to be frugal at the grocery store and get the most out of your food budget. Learn what foods you like the most, what foods are healthy and what you can cook quickly. Everyone’s eating style is different, but these tips can help you save on your next trip to the store.

Contact Elysa Dombro at [email protected].

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