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More Than Ramen: How To Survive Groceries on A College Budget


It's a pretty common joke, and something we all like to talk about; college students don't have a lot of spare money to buy organic free range chicken and red bell peppers (those are the expensive ones, I would know).

But all joking aside, it really is hard to maintain a diverse diet on a budget that allows for maybe $40 a week on groceries or so. And while some of us have meal plans and get a copious amount of food for that, not everyone has or chooses that option.

So what do we do to survive eating on a college budget without consuming strictly ramen and peanut butter and jelly?

My roommate and I both have become experts at this, and here are some of my tips from our many conversations about this topic.

1) Have A Smartphone? USE IT

There are a TON of coupon and cash back apps available on both iPhone and Android, so if you happen to have a smartphone, you've got a resource for saving money and getting money back for your groceries. That's right, groceries. A few examples are Ibotta and Checkout51, which give you cash back incentives for certain products, Target's Cartwheel, which gives you an extra percentage off on certain products, and Shopkick, which gives you "kicks" for walking in to certain stores, which can be reeemed for gift cards.

2) Make A List

A lot of people tell me they just go to the grocery with a vague idea what they need and grab stuff off the shelves. It makes me feel panicky, because it leaves entirely too much room for impulse buys. Instead, plan out what you're going to need for the week. I usually plan some meals, snacks, and desserts, and get all the ingredients I need for those. That way, I only buy what's on the list, and have already planned out how much I can spend. That's not to say I don't occasionally grab an extra package of cookies or chocolate, of course--you only live one, after all.

3) Sales Sales Sales

Sales and specials are your friends. Sign up for your grocery's weekly ad email and stock up on things while they're on sale (Gina and I, for instance, watch Target's Diet Pepsi prices like hawks). Additional tip: combine store sales with coupons or cash back offers.

4) Take Your Time

Comparing prices and quality of products in the store takes a little extra time, but sometimes it's worth it. The store brands are often--but NOT ALWAYS--cheaper, and often they're just as good as the products you lean towards out of familiarity. Plus, sometimes a certain brand is on sale at the store and has a coupon, like mentioned above, so you can get extra savings that way as well.

5) But Go Easy On Yourself

Do you really, really love artisan bread? Or cupcakes from an actual bakery? Leave a little wiggle room to spend an extra buck or two on something you really like, even if it's not the chepeast option. Treating yourself will make your budget seem less depressing and awful, and thereby make it easier to stick to it.

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