As if dealing with student loans and tuition weren’t enough, college students also have to figure out how they are going to pay for their everyday expenses. Besides lodging, food can be the biggest budget buster for students. But saving money on food in college is a whole different ball game. It can be much trickier since you’re low on time and money and may not even have a stove. But if you use what you have and follow these 11 tips, you can figure out how to save on food in college.
How to Save on Food in College
- Visit the cafeteria. Food in the college cafeteria is most likely going to be cheap since anyone eating there is a student. In many cases, if you live on campus, there is a meal plan included into your tuition. Be sure to use it! I made the mistake of always wanting to order out or go out to dinner when I was away at college. I wound up wasting a lot of my weekly food allowance that I was paying for anyway with my tuition. If the food allowance doesn’t roll over to the next week, stock up on Sunday evening with items you can store so you’re not wasting the money.
- Eat close to campus. If you do want to venture out on occasion, eat near your school. Most places to eat around campus are going to be reasonably priced since like the cafeteria, they are catering to college students. A lot of places may offer deals like lunch combos and happy hour specials. Your campus newspaper is a great place to find coupons or to see what types of deals are being offered.
- Use your student discount. Speaking of deals and discounts, simply being a student can give you discounts on food and drinks. Restaurants, grocery stores, bars, and more may offer a certain percentage off if you show your student ID. Wherever you are, ask if there is a student discount. Be sure to always carry your ID with you just in case.
- Shop smart. You can’t live on fast food alone so you need to learn how to save money grocery shopping. In some cases, when a person goes away to college, it’s their first time shopping for food so you may need to get adjusted. Plan your meals and your food budget for the week. Then look for sales and coupons.
- Drink smart. When I posted an article on saving money on craft beer and wine, many readers commented that the best way to save money is to eliminate alcohol all together. It’s not essential, it can add up, and in some cases, it can lead to health problems. Be that as it may, many college students would not be up for getting rid of it totally. If you can eliminate alcohol, do it. If you aren’t, first, simply limit your intake. Drinking too much is expensive. Second, skip the bar and make drinks at home with friends. Drinking at a friend’s house will cost you a fraction that the bar will.
- Skip getting food delivered. It’s tempting to get food delivered during a long day of class or after a late night of partying, but skip the delivery. You have to pay for a delivery charge plus a tip. This can add up even with a few times a month. Instead, walk or bike to a nearby place.
- Take advantage of free food. When I was in college, I don’t think there was a day that went by that I didn’t see the phrase “free food” printed somewhere. Everyone knows college students love that saying so it is used as a tactic to get you somewhere. Clubs and organizations offer free snacks to get you to come to a meeting. Residence halls love to sponsor activities to promote community involvement and can offer free dinners or snacks. There’s a good chance at any college event there’s going to be some type of free food including student concerts, speakers, art museums, film showings, and more.
- Carry drinks and snacks with you to class. Before you head out to class for the day, stock up. Brew your own coffee or buy it from the cafeteria. Visiting a coffee shop every morning can add up fast. Bring a reusable water bottle, snacks, and your lunch or dinner. Spending money on overpriced vending machines or grabbing fast food is a quick way to waste money.
- Invest in a bigger purchase to save money. If you’re living in a dorm, consider purchasing a small fridge and microwave if it isn’t already included in the room. Being able to have a fridge filled with drinks, food, and being able to store leftovers is a big money saver. A microwave, hot plate, or electric griddle is a great way to be able to cook in your room. Whether you’re in a dorm or apartment, consider making small purchases like durable Tupperware, a coffee thermos, a reusable water bottle, an ice pack, and lunch pack so you’re able to store food better.
- Get a potluck started. Making friends in college is one of the best parts of the entire experience. But there are alternatives to going out to restaurants with them or going out to bars. Try having a potluck to save money. You can do it a few ways. First, you can switch off having one person cook the entire meal. Or you can each bring one ingredient for the meal. For example, if you’re making pizza, one person can bring the dough, one can bring the cheese, one can bring the sauce, and so on.
- Visit the Dollar Store. When you’re moving out for the first time, you most likely have zero cooking supplies. If you have a stove, you should invest in a few basic cooking supplies so you can make your own meals and save money. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be able to buy top of the line pots, expensive mixers, and pricey tools and gadgets, but you will need some basic items. You can find spatulas, spoons, measuring cups, and other great essentials for one dollar at the nearby dollar store. It’s also the perfect place for buying plates, bowls, forks, knives, and other eating utensils. Using reusable plates and silverware is cheaper since you do not constantly need to restock plastic, disposable ones. Plus, it’s better for the environment.
How do you plan on saving money on food in college? What’s the best tip for college students?