Saving Money on Food

If you’re living away from home while in college, you’ll have to fend for yourself in the food department. New to the kitchen? Don’t worry; eating healthy on a budget is possible! Here are a few suggestions on how to find the healthiest food for your buck:

Get the most out of your meal plan. Choose the meal plan that’s right for you, and use it purposefully:

  • If you are on an unlimited plan, get your money’s worth. Load up on healthy fruit and other snacks that you can put in your bag for later in the day. This will help prevent you from spending additional money on snacks.
  • If you are on a limited plan, choose filling protein- and fiber-rich foods that won’t leave you hungry an hour later.

And remember, the food on your meal plan is already paid for— don't pay again to eat somewhere else. Opt to catch up with friends at your campus cafeteria instead of the local coffee shop, restaurant, or bar.

  • Drink water. Carry a refillable water bottle with you. Water is a healthy choice that fills you up and costs less than soda or coffee.
  • Substitute and save. What are your favorite high-calorie, high-fat foods? A chocolate doughnut for breakfast? Chips for a study break? These items might taste good, but they usually don’t fill you up for as long, so you’re spending more in the long run. Look for snack substitutes with more fiber such as cereal bars and fresh fruit. This way you can cut calories and costs.
  • Try different stress busters. Many people turn to food—especially the gooey, fatty variety—when stress levels go up. Develop other stress-relieving habits that can work for you with minimal calories and cost, such as a brisk walk, a gym workout, yoga, or tea with a friend.
  • Plan ahead. Does your resolve to eat better weaken when your schedule is hectic? Take healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts with you on busy days. This helps you avoid vending machine and snack bar purchases.
  • Cut back on prepackaged, ready-made food. Single-serve packages of food are more expensive, so buy them sparingly. For example:
    • Flavored oatmeal in individual packets costs more than $3 per pound, while bulk oatmeal costs under $1.
    • Loose popcorn, ready in seconds in an air popper, is a fraction of the cost of microwave popcorn packages or bags of already-popped corn.
    • Frozen dinners cost more than meals made from scratch.
  • Buy daily deals for nights out . Plan for those few special nights out with your significant other or friends by purchasing discounted deals at your favorite local restaurants on daily deal websites.
  • Flash your student ID. Many local restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores offer discounts to college students.
  • Participate in campus activities. Keep an eye out for free campus activities that offer free food. For additional possibilities, check your local paper to see what’s happening in the surrounding community.
  • Clip coupons and check your local circular. Shop for your coming week’s meals and snacks in advance. Check your supermarket’s weekly circular as well as online coupon websites like Coupon Mom and for savings. In addition, download free Smartphone apps like the Coupon Sherpa, Grocery Smarts, Grocery Pal, and SavingStar Grocery. Your local grocery story may even have their own app that syncs with your loyalty card.

Try a few of these suggestions and watch the savings roll in! Seem overwhelming? Start by incorporating just three of these tips into your weekly routine.

(Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by CashCourse or the National Endowment for Financial Education. These courses and related resources may be used only for nonprofit, noncommercial educational purposes. CashCourse makes every effort to keep the information in these courses current, but, over time, new developments as well as legislative and regulatory changes may date this material. If you discover inaccurate information, please contact us.)

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