By Candace Davison
Nothing can make you crave a home-cooked meal faster than your first grocery bill (except for maybe your first kitchen disaster, but with the student-tested recipes on Collegiatecook.com, that shouldn’t be an issue). You may have a ramen budget, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat it every night. In fact, dining on a dime just comes down to four easy rules:
1. Split the cost of certain items with your roommate
After your first trip to the supermarket, it may be tempting to share the cost of groceries with your roommate. While that’s a great idea, around week 3, when you’re paying for a fourth box of Pop Tarts you’ve never touched, that share-and-share-alike mentality starts to sour faster than the milkshake your sweet roomie left on the counter for a week.
Instead, offer to split the cost of items you’ll both need but will use fairly evenly, like spices, oils, milk, eggs, and paper towels. (Dairy and produce, which typically have a short shelf life, are great to share.) Define each of your must-haves – items you eat all the time – and agree to buy those separately, so no one gets upset about buying endless jars of peanut butter, or whatever your vice may be.
2. Shop savvy without becoming a coupon hoarder
Clipping coupons not for you? You’re not alone. However, scoring major discounts doesn’t mean devoting your weekends to scouring the newspaper. Sites like Redplum.com and Coupons.com offer tons of manufacturer’s coupons, which can be used almost anywhere, and apps like Shopkick actually pay you for every visit to your favorite stores. The more you (window) shop, the more money you have for that fancy steak dinner!
On that note, take note of which day of the week new sales start at your local grocery store. That way you’re most likely to get the goods while they’re still in stock. Target, for example, features new deals every Sunday, and you can pull up their app to see what’s available.
3. Plan your week, then your meals
Set aside 30 minutes on Sunday for something other than studying, Downton Abbey marathons or pranking your roommate. Map out your week ahead – do you have a night class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so you’ll have to pack something so you don’t have another vending machine dinner? Are you going out of town on Friday, so you’ll need to clear the perishables out of your fridge before the weekend (or they’ll go bad)?
Once you’ve determined what meals you’ll need, take a look at what’s in your kitchen (or, ahem, mini-fridge). Any potential entrees, like chicken or potatoes? Take that main ingredient and Google it: chicken recipes, potato recipes, etc. (Shameless plug: Or do the same search on Collegiatecook.com!) Find the recipes that appeal to you – bonus points if it has the fewest ingredients possible – and read them closely to make sure they don’t require kitchen gadgets you don’t own or have access to.
Invest in a few reusable containers so you can cook every few days, portion the food into containers, and have a meal ready to go within minutes. That way you’re less tempted to splurge at the drive-thru when you’re running late for class.
4. Shop the dining hall for extras
If you have any kind of campus dining plan, take full advantage of it, even in those instances when you’d rather cook your own meal. Every Sunday, after you’ve planned what you want to cook for the week, make a separate shopping list of ingredients you could get right from the dining hall. On your next trip to the cafeteria, grab a to-go box and start “shopping.” Head to the salad bar for fresh produce, shredded cheese, or precooked meats, or the breakfast area for a glass of milk or some cereal (FYI: corn flakes make an excellent breading for chicken). White or brown rice can be great to have on hand for a mid-week stir fry, and you don’t have to worry about cooking it either.
How do you save money on groceries?
Candace Davison is the founder of Collegiatecook.com, a website that arms students with recipes, cooking tutorials, and other ways for making campus life a little sweeter. Visit her GoEnnounce Student Page to learn more about her!
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