“Well, looks like it’s ramen night—again.” Sound familiar? It’s the dilemma of every college student—we’re all broke, but we’ve still got to eat. Now, if you’re on a meal plan, you’re golden. For those of us who may not have that option, we’re forced to fend for ourselves and make do with what we can. The only problem is: how do we afford to eat something other than ramen every night? Although bulk packets of ramen may be cheap, it’s not exactly healthy. There’s always the temptation of eating out too—it’s pretty easy when there’s dozens of delicious options to choose from in town. However, these simple hacks will help you to make healthier (and tastier) choices. Oh, and your wallet will thank you too.
1. Cook your own meals
It’s easy to give in and go out with friends or roommates when there’s nothing to eat, but eventually our wallets run dry. To get the most out of your money, eat at home! Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating if you make it yourself.
2. Buy generic
Nearly all grocery stores offer generic store brands that are usually half the price of the name-brands. In almost every case, the ingredients are practically identical, so you won’t have to sacrifice the quality. It may take some getting used to at first (Crispy Oats instead of Cheerios?), but eventually you won’t even notice. What you will notice is how much money you’re saving.
3. Go to farmer’s markets
There are tons of farmer’s markets in the West Chester area, and the produce is cheap! The best time to go is right before the market closes, because usually they’re more willing to sell items at a discount rather than just take back the food that didn’t sell. Either way, farmers markets allow you to get produce for way cheaper than you could at most grocery stores. West Chester Growers Market in town is a great local spot, and Produce Junction in Exton is another good option if you have the transportation.
4. Shop at discount stores
Stores like Aldi and Trader Joe’s offer primarily store-brand options, and have recently been expanding their catalogs. Aldi now has a wide variety of organic and non-GMO products that are half the cost of those that you would find at Giant or Acme. These stores are hidden gems, and you’ll totally start bragging about how much money you save. Just don’t forget a quarter for the cart!
5. Start meal prepping
We all have crazy schedules between school, work, clubs, and other commitments—which is why meal prepping is perfect for college students. Set aside one night a week to prepare meals for the upcoming week. Not a cook? No problem! There are tons of simple and easy-to-follow recipes online, especially because meal prepping is quickly increasing in popularity. It’s also cheaper when buying in bulk, so you’ll save yourself time and money.
6. Buy a rice cooker
Rice is super cheap and allows for a variety of dishes. Just add some veggies, beans, or lean meat and you have a quick and easy meal. You can also use it for things like pasta and potatoes, or even just to steam some vegetables. If you’re a college student who is always on the go, a rice cooker is a lifesaver.
7. Drink water!
It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many college students don’t drink enough water every day. Look around campus, you’ll see everyone with their Starbucks drinks or energy drinks (which is totally understandable, this is college after all). But water is healthy and cheap! If water isn’t your thing, try adding flavor packets or liquid water enhancers to get some flavor, and in some cases, some added vitamins and electrolytes.
8. Get the apps
Most grocery stores now have their own apps and online ads. For example, Target has the Cartwheel app that allows users access to exclusive deals. Check ahead of time to see what’s on sale and where, so you know you’re getting the best deal. A great app for this is Grocery Pal, because it has a list of specials for various stores all in one place. This could take some time, but it’s well worth the money saved.
9. Make a list
Nothing’s worse than getting home from grocery shopping and realizing you forgot to pick up something you really needed. Going along with the app suggestion, Grocery Pal (as well as some other retailers) allows you to make a list right on your phone. If it’s easier to remember, keep a note on the fridge so that you can add whatever you’re running out of. And most importantly, stick to your list!
10. Create a realistic budget
It’s easy to get distracted while grocery shopping—we’ve all been there. But you’ll feel a lot better knowing exactly how much you spend on food each week rather than wondering where all your money went while staring into an empty fridge. Keep a running total as you do your grocery shopping so you can stay on track.
Eating healthy on a college budget is no easy task, but if you can maintain that GPA, then you can do this too. Eating smart and spending your money wisely may not sound glamorous, but if you get in the habit now, it’ll only get easier in the long run. Even if you only follow a few of these tips, you’ll still notice a difference in your health and in your wallet. Remember, you have enough to stress about as it is—you shouldn’t have to worry about food too!