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How to Eat on a Budget

College life forces several of us to live on extremely tight budgets. This article provides a handful of helpful tips, in and out of the store, to help you shop and eat while strapped for cash!

First, before spending money, you should try to obtain free food whenever possible. Between orientations, recruitment weeks, frat and sorority rushes and just random events, you should be able to grab a decent number of free meals. Catered on-campus events often have large amounts of leftovers they are looking to give out before having to throw away. Each campus is different though, so keep an eye out and develop your specified free-food finding skills.

In terms of buying food, you should first access your budget and prioritize your expenses. You must cope with the fact that filet mignon will not be on the menu daily. Cutting back on your alcohol expense is also advisable, but always not so easily executed. Regardless of what you end up cutting back on, figure out how much money you have a month to spend exclusively on food. Is it possible to live off of $6 of food of month? Yes, but you’ll only be eating 2 $.10 Ramen packets a day.

If your expected budget food is scant, it is highly recommendable that you take a multivitamin once daily with food to help ensure you get your essential intake of vitamins and minerals.

When shopping, you should identify the local discount grocery store. On campus food shops are typically horribly overpriced so leave campus if possible. If it is a long trip for you, just make it there once per week and stock up.

You should also find your local grocery store’s discount food/clearance section, and find out when the store puts items in these sections. There are often great deals on about-to expire products. Buy meat when it is on discount and freeze it until you’re ready to cook it.

Clearance Sale

When at the store, it is time to shop smart. Here is a list of low cost foods to help stretch your budget:

  • Eggs (18 pack) (See Microwaved Scrambled Eggs)
  • Top Ramen (Buy in bulk if possible, avoid spending more than $.50 per package)
  • Day-old discounted bread, bagels, buns, etc. (Keep them in the fridge and they’ll last about a week, be careful of mold though)
  • Peanut butter & jam (The bulkier the cheaper, this will make your bread into a meal)
  • Yogurt (Store brand individual servings and large containers are often super cheap)
  • Bulk Bagged Cereal
  • Whole Chickens
  • Discounted Meat (The clearance section in the meat department often has banging deals. The meat is still good—just eat it or freeze it within 24 hours of buying.)
  • Mac and Cheese (The microwavable packages are more expensive than the good old box but still a cheap meal. Buy the generic brand, it tastes the same.)
  • Soup (1 can is a lot of soup and potentially a couple meals.)
  • Rice (Brown is healthier. The microwavable packages will be more spendy.)
  • Oats/Oatmeal (Flavorless yet economical.)
  • Russet Potatoes
  • Canned Beans (Re-fried, Baked, etc. Beans are caloric, filling and delicious.)
  • Bananas, Apples and Oranges (Find them on sale. They’re delicious and as healthy as you can get.)
  • Pasta (See the Pasta section of the site. There’s a lot you can do with noodles, sauce and veggies at a very low cost.)
  • Carrots, Celery & Onions (The first two are delicious snacks individually, and all are great additions to several dishes, thanks bananapajama)
  • Tofu (Cheap, a great protein source & easy to cook, thanks bananapajama)

Written by Justin Farber

Justin Farber is a long time food-lover and longer time food-eater. The manly type, he often prepares and devours unnecessarily large feasts and washes them down with whiskey or a nice brew.