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Food Spending Guide for College Students

Food is great and is a necessity to keep you healthy but also can put quite the dent in your bank account. Over the last three years I have learned a few tips to help keep food spending to a minimum. This will help prevent credit card debt.

To avoid credit card debt, have a food shopping plan.

To avoid credit card debt, have a food shopping plan.

The first and most important way to save on food spending is by using your meal plan if your school offers one. Meal plans are typically part of your tuition and you should take full advantage of them! I know that the cafeteria is not always up to par and can get repetitive, but again you’re already paying, so make it work. Think of ways to be creative in the cafe, I have learned to make my own wraps and paninis using items from the salad bar and sandwich station in the café, I not only know all the ingredients I am putting into them they also taste much better!

If you live in an apartment with a kitchen, whether it be on or off campus, and are limited to the number of meals you receive through your school, having a meal budget is very important! Keep track of your food spending and try to stay consistent week to week.  I have found that if you are living with roommates there are some foods that you can pool money for and buy communally. My roommates and I each throw in a certain amount of money a week for milk, eggs, butter, and some other basics. Not only does this technique create more room in the fridge but it also will help everyone save some money and keep food from going bad. If everyone isn’t willing to throw money in every week, make a pack to save your bottles and cans and use the money you get from returning them towards some of these basic items.

Before you take a trip to the grocery store, whether its by yourself or with your roommates, take a little time and plan. Make a list and estimate about how much money you’re going to spend based on previous weeks. Keep a list either for yourself or between your roommates of items you enjoy and typically buy and the prices the items cost.  Take a look at coupon books to see the sales for the week. Making lists and only bringing a certain amount of money to the store helps you avoid impulse buying. This is an important piece of debt advice in order to avoid credit card debt. In situations where it makes sense, do not buy the most popular brand name products but instead look for the grocery store brand. In most cases the grocery store brands are cheaper and just as good.  Another important tip while going grocery shopping is never go hungry! When you go to the grocery store hungry you are more apt to impulse and over buy. As you become a more experience grocery shopper these suggestions and techniques will become more natural and spending will reduce.

An excellent way to save money on food spending is to buy in bulk for any products you can. Stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s sell items in bulk and can be a good way to save some money. Ask your roommates if they would be willing to buy a membership with you, most stores like these allow multiple people on a membership. If you all split the membership fee the cost will not be much and you will save in the long run. The best foods to buy at these types of stores would be non-perishables like cereal, granola bars and chips.

Planning is not only important when going to the store, but also when thinking about meals for the week. On Sundays, if I know I have a hectic week ahead of me, I will make a little extra chicken I can keep in the fridge. I also will save any leftovers I have through out the week. One thing I have realized is if you’re in a rush (which is very typical of college students), you tend to go out and spend money on sandwiches or bagels. Spending money on these items every once and a while is inevitable, however if you have something in the fridge you can whip together quickly you will spend less on eating out. Having food in your fridge is important to keep the eating out to a minimum and food spending low. So although it can be a pain, go grocery shopping!

Lastly, if you do eat out, look for deals. In a lot of college towns with the presentation of your ID there are two for one deals or other discounts on food. Look for list or coupon books around your campus of those businesses that offer student discounts, then get a few of your friends together and treat yourself every once and a while!

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today. 


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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