College is expensive, especially as a freshman. You buy all the books before classes start, you pay for orientation, you are required to live on campus and have a meal plan. As you become an upperclassmen, you’re able to finesse to your way into a cheaper lifestyle. You can move off campus, you know that you can get through the class without the “required” reading, and you get off your meal plan. It’s all great, until you realize you still have to eat.
I got off my meal plan my second semester sophomore year and my only regret was not getting off earlier. I was tired of the food in the dining commons (aka landrum) and I was also making a lot of unhealthy choices. On top of It, I had a kitchen in my apartment and I liked to eat out with my friends on weekends. So not only was I spending 1500+ on a meal plan but I was also spending money on groceries and to eat out. I had to sit down with my parents and make a plan/budget to convince them that getting off the meal plan was the best choice for me. I have learned how to survive without a meal plan and it has definitely taught me some lessons I will be using after college. Get ready to take notes!
Your first semester off the meal plan, get on something else
One mistake I believe a lot of people make is that the first semester off they go completely cold turkey. At Georgia Southern, we have the blue and gold meal plans but we also have Eagle Express (EE) and Budget Bucks (BB). Eagle Express is kind of like having a debit card. All on campus restaurants and a lot of stores and restaurants take them around Statesboro (including Bi-Lo, one of the local grocery stores), they can also be reloaded. Budget Bucks are more like the Dining Dollars that come with the meal plans, they can only be used for on campus restaurants. Both are dollar for dollar amounts but on campus you get discounts when you use them and there are different sized packages ranging from about $400-$900.
The reason I suggest that you spend this extra money is because you have become so used to just having easy access to the cafeteria and it can be a shock once you no longer have it. Having EE or BB gives you the options to still on eat on campus between classes or those days you stay late on campus and don’t have time to cook. If you get through the semester and realize that you have barely touched your EE/BB no worries! You can always just completely get off next semester and they roll over every semester so no money wasted.
This is the most important thing you can do when getting off your meal plan. Like I stated, I had to make a budget in order to convince my parents but if you’re not familiar with grocery shopping it’s a little more difficult to start off because you don’t know the prices of things. Sit down and make a list of things you are going to need to buy weekly (dairy and produce), things you’ll need to buy biweekly (protein, snacks, and grains), and things you buy monthly (frozen items). Set an amount of about how much you are going to spend each visit and stick to that amount. This is much easier when you go to the store with a list in hand. Also try to limit how many times a week/month you eat out. Those 4 for $4s add up. Warning: The first month off your meal plan is the most expensive. You spend a lot of money on things that you forget you have to pay for because they are always just around at your family’s house. Things like seasonings, peanut butter, dishwashing liquid, just kitchen basics. These things are usually kind of expensive because they know everyone needs them but once you but them they last forever. Major Key Alert! (Dj Khaled voice): Don’t be afraid of store brand or frozen instead of fresh veggies! Most things are just as good as the name brand & frozen veggies last way longer than fresh produce.
Shop Around, Coupon, & Steal (from home that is)
This is more of an issue if you’re #NoCarGang like myself but I make it work thanks to my awesome friends. I have the Flipp app and it basically put all the sales papers in one place so I am able to see what is on sale where without having to buy a Sunday paper. Since I am pretty familiar with the prices in Walmart and overall they’re usual the cheapest, I base my comparisons to that store. Sunday papers are good for coupons though. I am not fluent in the coupon language, here’s a link that can steer you in the right direction.
Most of us are from places bigger than Statesboro. A city with at least a Kroger or a Publix, if not both. These places have great sales and because they’re in bigger cities are generally cheaper. When you go home for the weekend, stock up on things that you notice are cheaper and that you can travel with. And when all else fails, raid the refrigerator and pantry at your parents’ house before you head back to Statesboro. You’ll be gone before they notice amd groceries seem to taste better when you aren’t the one paying for them.
Eat with your friends/roommates
This one I don’t have as much experience with, but I know it exist. We’re all struggling college students, sometimes it’s just easier to come together. Talk to your roommate(s) if they want to take turns cooking since you have a busy schedule next week. Ask if they want to go half on groceries this month. Most the time when you cook for just one person you have left overs anyway. Instead of letting it go to waste, everyone has dinner and you get to spend quality with your favorite people!