Let’s be real: college meal plans are the worst. My first year, my school forced me to purchase a $5,000 meal plan which included three meals a day. Did I use it? Of course not. Yes, it was useful for lunches on campus, and brunch on the weekends (when I wasn’t working), but it ended up costing me more money than it saved. Not to mention the food was nothing to write home about.
As soon as I moved off campus I had the option to choose between having a modified mealplan, or to go without altogether. I chose the latter. It sounded great! I was going to be in control of my own meals? No more crappy dining hall food? What could be better? It only took me about a week and one very expensive trip to the grocery store to figure out this wasn’t going to be easy. First of all: groceries are expensive! I mean, really expensive! I was spending over 150$ each trip I made! What’s worse is I realized I had no idea how to grocery shop for myself. But, I wasn’t going to just cave in and get a meal plan the next semester, no way! I persevered, researched, and discovered how to survive without a meal plan.
Don’t eat out all the time
I made this mistake, and I bet if you’re in college you have too. It’s too easy to just go to your favorite taco shop or pizza joint and grab a meal after class. But these quick meals add up fast, and they can be really expensive compared to cooking your own meals. Not to mention, eating out is really expensive! I know when I start feeling like I want to eat out that it’s time to make another grocery trip. When I know I have a full day of classes and I’ll be temped to eat out, I’ll pack a lunch or snack that I look forward to. Mix it up, don’t just bring sandwhiches everyday. Search pinterest for unique lunch ideas if you’re stuck on what to bring.
Create a food budget
When I first moved off campus I didn’t know to include food in my monthly budgets. This was a big mistake, because I often found I was too stretched for cash which is important when it comes to eating. Allotting myself a certain amount of money for food helped me feel more secure and responsible. I only allow myself to eat out once or twice a week, and this limitation helps me keep expenses in check. When I go to the grocery store every two weeks, I have a maximum budget. I keep in mind what I am purchasing and keep my numbers reasonable. I aim to spend no more than $110 each trip, and so far that has worked for me.
Make a grocery list
The grocery store can be a dangerous place for someone without a list! And never go grocery shopping hungry! Go when you feel comfortable and you have a decent number of things to purchase. I always create a list on my phone beforehand and mark things off electronically. Veggies and meats make up the largest percentage of purchases, whereas if I have anything left over I will use those funds on snacks. If I encounter something not on my list, I will force myself to think about whether I really need it. If it wasn’t on my list, odds are I don’t, but I do occasionally find unexpected deals too good to pass up. Avoid the urge to walk through all aisles, stick to your list and get in and get out.
Don’t live on pizza
It’s really, really hard to eat healthy in college, I know that more than anyone. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat junk food. Try to balance the junk with health foods as well. I know junk food are generally cheaper and easier, but there’s a lot of healthy foods which are quick and affordable as well! Frozen veggies, for example, are really quick and cheap. They take less than five minutes and can be prepared in the microwave. Click here for more ideas on healthy eating in college!
Learn to cook
Don’t worry if you’ve never cooked for yourself before, the kitchen is nothing to be afraid of. Even if you’re still living in a dorm room there’s so many things that can be prepared in the microwave all you need is a little creativity. You don’t need to be a chef to make good food. There’s so many recipes available online, there’s no excuse anymore! Keep your ingredients simple and just play around with it!
Being a college student isn’t easy! I’m here to share with you all my tips, one post at a time. Stay tuned for more college know-how.