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How to Grocery Shop on a College Budget

Posted Apr 5 2012 - 11:36pm

You enjoy finally getting a place with a kitchen to cook in and not having to rely on dormitory food. But then, reality sets in. Your cabinets still look empty, you only have about a week’s worth of food, and the amount you spent on groceries could have gotten you a ticket to a concert. With the right tools and mindset, you can learn how to become a grocery budgeting queen so the money you save can go to other important (more fun) things in your life.
 

“The Grocery List of a Budgeter”

As tedious as it may seem, making a grocery list is the first and most important step in saving money. At the top of the list you should write down your spending goal. If you only want to spend $45 then write $45 at the top of your list. Each time you check your list at the market, you are reminded of your goal. This will also help in avoiding impulse buying. Other ways to stay on target with your spending goal is to include the approximate pricing of each item on your grocery list, as well as include how many meals you can make out of each item. So for example, if you plan to buy a pack of chicken breast, which may range from $6-8 dollars, indicate that you can make 3 meals with this item by adding it to rice and having leftovers for a sandwich and maybe a Caesar’s salad.
 

Pick Items That Will Stretch Your Budget

Bananas for example are about .20 cents each at our local Trader Joe’s. For just $2 you can have a banana every day for 10 days.  Buy a few that are still green so by the end of the week, they will not over ripened. You can also do this with other fruit. As for vegetables, broccoli, spinach, and carrots are very cheap, yet healthy items. Sometimes buying vegetables fresh and freezing them yourself can save you an extra buck or two. For your protein intake, buy eggs. Not only are they under $2 a dozen, the expiration date is about 2 weeks after purchase. With eggs you can scramble for breakfast, make an omelet for lunch and boil to add to a dinner salad. Turkey meat, also high in protein, makes a great healthy and inexpensive alternative to beef. Buying a pack of meat and then dividing it into individual portions to freeze is a huge money saver. Let’s not forget dairy. If you really want to save, try buying coconut milk also at our local Trader Joes for under $2. Coconut milk has calcium, vitamin D, iron, and has a slightly sweeter taste than regular milk. In addition, it takes longer to expire than regular milk.
 
Try to Double -Up the Use of Each Item

Whole wheat bread is inexpensive and can be used in a variety of ways. So go ahead, buy two loaves! You can freeze one loaf for toast in the morning and use the other loaf to make sandwiches, a breadcrumb coating, toasted mini pizzas (just add cheese, pasta sauce and place in oven), or mini tarts (mix fruit, sugar, and butter to spread on a bread slice, and place in oven). Other great double-up items to put on that list are pasta and pasta sauce.  Both are very cheap costing about $1 for a pack of pasta (that serves up to 4) and $3 for sauce that can be used all month. Pasta sauces such as a chunky tomato or artichoke-basil can be placed on crackers or Triscuits for great afternoon snack. If you haven’t noticed yet, your $3 pasta sauce now has three uses: mini pizzas, a cracker topping, and a pasta topping.
 
Satisfy Your Taste Buds

The key to successful budgeting is creating a grocery list that satisfies both your taste buds and your wallet. It’s easy to feel like you’re eating the same thing over and over, so be creative! If you bought a bag of spaghetti try cooking half of the pack for one meal with Italian flavors and cook the other half with Asian flavors by stir frying in soy sauce and veggies. If you need more inspiration, there are great recipes online. Just type in what you have in your cabinet and you will be surprised at the recipes that pop up.
 
Now that you have the tools and mindset needed for creating a grocery list on a college student’s budget, go out there and shop!
 
For any other budgeting tips or suggestions comment below

Photos by Corrina Gonzalez

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