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Eating On a Budget

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Mar. 05, 2015
Photo Credit: Charlotte90T

Ramen noodles are tasty. Hot dogs are beautiful, but these don’t have to be your go-to dinners as a budgeting college student. I still remember when I moved into my apartment this year with my four roommates. Our first shopping trip consisted of 16 boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese, tons of ramen, a freezer full of frozen dinners, and all kinds of fatty delectable that would make a professional chef weep in his kitchen.

My roommates and I quickly learned that it doesn’t have to be this way; you can eat decently on a college budget! Shopping smart, eating out less, and identifying good deals are all it really takes. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way: 

Eating and drinking out? Try finding a balance. College students often drop a lot of money on drinks at bars and dining out, even if they’re responsible. Food costs a LOT more in these establishments than at your home. While I encourage you to have a good time with friends (if you’re responsible and of age, where applicable), keep in mind that you can save money while doing this. I might be weird here, but sometimes if I know I’m eating out in the night, I’ll have some small food items before going out. It satisfies the voraciousness of my hunger so that large appetizers and giant entrees aren’t my go-to at the restaurant.

Stick to your shopping budget, and shop with friends after dinner.  Setting an appropriate grocery budget depends greatly on your hunger needs and the local cost of living. When we moved to our apartment, my roommates and I asked all our older friends how much they spend on groceries per month. This gave us a good idea for a target price (for us, around $15-20 per person weekly). Shopping with roommates or trusted friends reduces this cost. Finally, the age-old trick of our parents is true – always go shopping after lunch or dinner. You tend to buy more food, especially extra snacks, if you shop on an empty stomach. So fill up your tank beforehand to save a few bucks!

College mastery food #1: Tilapia. Don’t like seafood? Tilapia is different – it tastes more like chicken than fish. It cooks super-fast and is easy to flavor. My roommates buy a bag of 15-20 frozen tilapia at a local grocer for roughly $1 per fish (priced by the pound). We also have a spice rack of a few different seasoning combinations (mesquite, steak seasoning, peppery garlic. We buy our favorites pre-mixed.). Just throw the tilapia on a frying pan or oven for a few minutes and season it! Voila! 

College mastery food #2: Rice, Corn and potatoes. What do these three have in common? They’re relatively cheap when you buy decent quantities, and their fiber content will will you up sooner than other foods! You can cook up potatoes and rice and eat them with literally anything in your pantry (especially the tilapia you just fried). Corn cooks quickly in a boiling pot, or you can microwave it for 1-2 minutes (leave it in the husk). 

Other cost-efficient parts of the college diet: Eggs (can be eaten with every meal), bags of salad, and frozen burger patties and chicken breasts. Look up some simple recipes with these main ingredients to spice up your college meals.

These are some of my biggest money savers, showing you don’t have to live a Spartan life to eat cheaply – just be wise about your dollar. Feel free to contribute your own tips in the comments!