Ways to Afford Groceries in College

  • Self-Reliance in the Kitchen
  • Make a List with Priorities
  • Don't Fear the Produce Section
  • Shop the Sales, Clip the Coupons
  • High-Cost Items Are Cheaper in Bulk

Attending college is an exciting time, but it often entails operating on a limited budget, which can leave students wondering how to afford groceries in college. While not all college bound individuals are green when it comes to managing their household purse, many are. In fact, the issue has drawn significant scrutiny from major press outlets as students struggle with mounting costs for tuition and housing. The first, and often most dangerous, choice they make is to purchase less food. Because no one should study hungry, we've put together a short list of some easy ways to ensure low costs and high nutrition.

1. Self-Reliance in the Kitchen

If you don't know how to cook, don't panic. The Internet is filled with recipes, many of which have been road tested and rated. What is crucial is that any student be capable of cooking for her or himself. It doesn't have to be fancy, just edible and reasonably nutritious. When you know your way around the galley, you'll be better able to shop for and prepare affordable meals, which is the first step to keeping a low profile in the grocery aisles. Once you have an idea of the foods you most enjoy making and eating, stock the basic dry ingredients—flour, sugar, salt and spices, oats or grits, rice, and pasta. These are cheap, have a long shelf life, and come into play in most recipes.

2. Make a List with Priorities

If your funds allow, set aside a certain amount of money for groceries each week. When you make your grocery list, consider what you have and what you will soon require, putting a priority on each item. Stay away from prepackaged meals and convenience foods whenever possible, since these are both unhealthy and expensive. Instead, figure out what you need to create your favorite dishes in your own kitchen.

3. Don't Fear the Produce Section

This food group is usually the first to fall by the wayside in a college kitchen. However, with the return of scurvy to college campuses in the last decade or so, fresh fruits and vegetables are as important as ever. If you're shy about buying your own fruits and vegetables, take an hour or two over several weeks to visit with the leafy denizens of this region of the grocery store nearest you. Don't forget that canned or frozen items are as or nearly as good as fresh produce in many cases.

4. Shop the Sales, Clip the Coupons

So, it may seem like something uncool to do, but it will save you loads of cash, which is always good. Most grocery store chains have weekly and seasonal sale cycles. Learn those of your preferred store and keep a sharp eye out for deals when you shop. Then, there are the "surprise" events—we quote that because they're not actually surprises, but are advertised in advance. Go there. Get groceries. Buy four participating items and save some money. Coupons—both those sent to you by grocery chains or available on their websites and what can be found in the Sunday Paper languishing at the coffee shop on the corner—can also save you money at your convenience. Clip them or print them, keep track of their expiration dates, and buy the items when you need them.

5. High-Cost Items Are Cheaper in Bulk

You don't have to be a member of a wholesale club in order to save by buying in bulk. If you live on your own, this usually means items like meat or dairy. Yes, you can freeze both milk and cheese, but be smart about it. Liquids, such as milk, need a bit of room to expand as they chill. Buy family portions of chicken, ground meats, and sausages. Then, wrap individual portions and freeze them. If you're squeamish about touching raw meat, purchase some latex gloves or ask a friend to help. When stores offer a low price per pound for poultry, beef, pork, and lamb, it's a great time to buy whatever you can afford.

Eating well should not be a battle for college students. While this may require some additional skills and knowledge to understand basic nutrition, cuisine, and what foods fit their lifestyle, it's not an impossible task. Students can more easily learn how to feed themselves and how to afford groceries in college if they stay away from expensive packaged foods and convenience items and get back to basics.

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