1. Make a meal planSaving on groceries while in college doesn’t start at the grocery store, it starts in your dorm room. Planning your meals ahead of each grocery shop lets you pick meals with similar ingredients, saving you money. You can also make a grocery budget as part of this process. It’s as simple as setting a budget for your groceries, then sticking to it like glue. Here are a few meal planning tips:
- Plan meals that use cheap or on sale ingredients (see points 6 and 11).
- Find recipes with similar ingredients, so you don’t need to buy as much.
- Use what you already have in your cupboard.
2. Make every Sunday meal prep SundayIf you have a microwave at college and a fridge in your dorm room, cook for multiple meals at once. Not only does this save time, but you’ll waste less food and save money on your power bills. Your extra meals could be tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. Sundays are perfect for meal prep if your shop-cycle is a week, but if can be any day.
3. Make meals from scratchGenerally, cooking food from scratch is much cheaper than processed meal or eating out. Some packet food can be cheap (like baked beans or instant ramen) but it’s normally pretty tasteless and unhealthy. You can save a lot of money on your grocery bill while you’re in college if you take the time to cook your own meals.
4. Don’t waste foodThis is super important. Food wasted is money wasted. Now, this doesn’t always mean finishing what’s on your plate (anyone else having flashbacks?). It does mean only buying what you need. Reduce your food waste and you’ll start saving serious money on groceries. Here are a few tips:
- Plan your meals properly (see point 1).
- Serve up smaller meals. You’re less likely to leave food unfinished if there’s less of it.
- Put what you don’t finish in the fridge and eat it later.
5. Make a shopping list (and stick to it)Before you actually head to the grocery store, make a shopping list of everything you need, and nothing you don’t. When you start shopping, stick to your list! Grocery stores are literally designed so we impulse buy more than we need, thus separating us from our hard-earned cash. Be smart, think ahead, make a list, and you’ll save money when you shop.
6. Learn to love cheap foodSome food goes a lot further than others, and you should try to lean towards recipes that feature cheaper sources of calories. Below are some foods that offer a high calorie-to-dollar ratio. They’re all pretty healthy, but they won’t suit every diet. Cheap groceries with a long shelf life:
- Rice (get brown rice for an extra-healthy option)
- Dried pasta
- Beans (buy them dry or canned)
- Oats (great at breakfast)
- Frozen vegetables (yes, they’re just as healthy as fresh)
- Eggs (even free-range eggs are pretty cheap)
- Spinach (not necessarily cheap per pound, but nutrient-wise it’s great value)
- Most root vegetables (think onion, carrot, potatoes, etc)
7. Learn the price of foodConnected to point 6, you’ll want to get to know the price off food instinctively. Grocery stores might have SALE written on a big yellow label, but if it’s only 5% off, it’s not great value. By knowing what each item normally costs, you’ll know when a price is a genuine bargain. You’ll slowly get a sense of this as you start buying groceries regularly. You’ll get that shopper-sense faster if you make a note of the cost of items on your shopping list, and start hunting down what’s on sale (see point 11).
8. Buy in bulkBuying in bulk saves you money. It’s practically a law of physics. The problem is that you end up wasting food if you buy in bulk and don’t use what you buy (see point 4). Some foods are better than others to buy in bulk. Here’s some of the best food to buy in bulk:
- Meat. If you’ve got a freezer in your dorm, buy meat on special and freeze what you don’t need right away.
- Dried foods. Rice, beans, pasta, oats, and other dried foods can all be bought in bulk and stored in your cupboard for months. Just make sure it’s stored in an airtight container.
- Butter and oil. Butter and oil both keep for a while (oil more so). If you cook with them a lot, buy a bigger packet.
- Nuts. Nuts can be expensive (I’m looking at you, macadamia!) but if you can’t live without them, buying in bulk can save you big time.
9. Shop with friends – but not with kidsShopping with friends can help you stay on track with your frugal grocery shopping habits, like making a list and keeping to it. If you have housemates or live in a dorm, you can even share your meals. There is one group of people you do not want to shop with though – children. If you’re a parent, stay away from shopping with kids altogether. Kids are great, but their impulse control is terrible, and grocery stores are designed to make it easy for kids to coax their parents into buying more.
10. Don’t shop while hungryWhen you’re hungry, your based instincts kick in. And they’re yelling ‘EAT!’ Don’t let your hunger undermine your efforts to save money on groceries. Research consistently shows that we’re more likely to stick to shopping lists if we’re not hungry when we buy groceries, and we’re less likely to buy junk food.
11. Scout out specialsSupermarkets discount items for a few reasons. Sometimes they need to get rid of excess stock, but more often it’s a loss-leader, to get you in the door to buy other items. If you’re smart, you can use this against them. While you’re planning your meals, see what’s on special and make your meals based around what you can get cheap. There are a few ways to find out what’s on special:
- Check the store’s weekly catalogue.
- Hit the store’s website, if they list their specials.
- If they don’t, Google for frugal message boards that list specials.
- Do a walk-through of the grocery store, taking note of what’s cheap.
12. Visit multiple storesFollowing on from point 11, a single grocery store will never have your whole shopping list on sale. However, if you have multiple grocery stores nearby, shop at all of them and you should much more of your shopping list on sale. Repeat step 11 at each of your local grocery stores and mark where you’ll buy each item on your shopping list. Even if an item isn’t on sale anywhere, buy it where it’s cheapest.
Bonus tip: How to save money on groceries in college with couponsCoupon clipping is uncommon in the internet age, but it’s still a great way to save money on groceries. You can find coupons in lots of places, from newspapers to catalogs, to the packets of the products you already own. While physical coupons are still valuable, most coupons are now online. Here are a few modern ways to use coupons to save money on your groceries.
- Join your grocery store’s loyalty program (be careful if there’s a credit card involved)
- Join a couponing website (or three). Use Google to find the sites best suited to your shopping needs.
- Search Google for a coupon. Sometimes all it takes to find a discount voucher is to search the product name and ‘discount voucher’ together.