Food costs are another stone on the pile of living expenses that burden the average college student throughout his or her college life. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that students can take to cut down on their food costs, so long as they are willing to put in a bit of work and to find accommodations that come with access to a kitchen.
Eating out It might seem excessive, but not eating out is one of the best methods possible for saving on your monthly food costs. If you head out to eat, you're paying not only for the ingredients that go into your food but also the labor used to prepare that food and in some cases, the atmosphere of the setting where you eat your food. Those costs can add up quickly if you make a regular routine of eating out, particularly if you make the effort to eat at healthier restaurants instead of simply settling for fast food. Instead, take the time to purchase ingredients and then prepare your food by yourself at home. Not only is this a cheaper and healthier alternative to eating out, so long as you buy the right ingredients, but it can also make for a cozier atmosphere if you are planning to eat with others. Unfortunately, having routine access to a fridge and kitchen is not always possible for students. You can still save money by not eating out, but you'll need to subscribe to a meal plan to pick up the slack.
Shopping right Shopping at the right places and for the right things is key to saving money while still eating nutritious food. Get a general idea of the meals that you're going to cook for your meals so that you have an idea of what kind of items that you can buy in bulk. Make sure to purchase the un-branded versions of base products such as salt, rice, and flour since these will be cheaper without compromising their quality. Similarly, make sure that you buy fruits and vegetables that are in season since these are cheaper from having incurred fewer costs in being brought to store shelves. If possible, try shopping at farmers' markets for the same reasons because the lack of a middleman cuts down on their prices. Alternatively, go for larger supermarkets instead of smaller convenience stores for the same reason.
Avoiding waste Plan your meals ahead of time so that you know exactly what you have to buy and when you'll eat it by. This way, you can avoid throwing away items that have expired because they haven't been eaten yet. Always have a list of necessary items on hand when you go shopping and try to avoid the temptation of impulse buying.
Choosing the right roommates If you are a student, a lot of these tips for saving money on your food costs depend on your ability to get along with your roommates. Don't be afraid to draw the line and set boundaries with your roommates if you are having problems, although you should always take care to be polite and respectful. Listen to their concerns and opinions while remembering that compromise is the key to successfully sharing a residence with others. Always clean up after yourself once you've finished using the kitchen to prepare your meals.
Alan Li is a business graduate who spent his first couple of years eating enormous quantities of instant noodles. He regrets the experience and wishes that he had been better prepared for the realities of college dining.