Back to School: Grocery Shopping Tips

How to Make a Grocery Budget for 1

College is a time for experimentation, for growth and for change. Whether you’re a freshman eager and anxious to move into your first dorm room or a seasoned senior who has their eye on graduation day, it’s always smart to stash some cash. There’s no better way to save than to grocery shop and cook for yourself. The extra wiggle room you create in your budget here can prepare you for those financial curveballs life throws at all of us.

Grocery shopping and cooking are great cost saving strategies for college students, but that’s not the only benefit. College dining halls are notorious for serving delicious but decidedly not nutritious foods. While your friends are snacking on fries and pizza for the third time this week, you can feast on more wholesome fare that will feed your mind and body. Since studies have shown there is a direct connection between the kinds of foods we eat and how we perform academically, you owe it to yourself to eat healthily.

Strategies for Success

Grocery shopping can be overly consuming. The sheer number of products to choose from can be overwhelming, as can the sales, coupons and discounts for which you may be eligible. Trying to figure out exactly how much to buy so that you’re not wasting food that spoils before you can eat it is difficult, too. That’s why it’s important to be strategic. Rather than meandering through the aisles aimlessly, create a menu for the week ahead and stick to the list of ingredients you’ll need.

Consider a few questions before you sit down and make your list. How many meals do you honestly foresee yourself making this week? If you’ve got a late class or plans with friends on a Friday, you might not have the time to cook a full meal. By looking ahead at what your schedule is like, you can map out which meals are easiest to make and save them for that night. You can also schedule in some meals out with friends, since it’s unlikely you’ll be cooking 100 percent of what you eat.

While you’re checking out your schedule, also consider your budget. How much can you honestly afford to spend on food for the week? Will you be getting paid from your work study job at some point in the near future? Do you have any money left over from grants and scholarships that you can put towards living expenses? By understanding your big financial picture, you can arm yourself with knowledge when budgeting for groceries.

Before You Shop

College-bound readers, take heed: never grocery shop hungry. This sounds obvious, but too many people make the mistake of going shopping on an empty stomach. Upon entering the store with a grumbling stomach, you’ll find yourself reaching for anything and everything that looks good. Since products are marketed to be as irresistible as possible, it will be difficult to pass up the junk food and soda that looks so enticing when you’re hungry. Instead, eat before you hit the store; you’ll be more inclined to stick to your list.

Speaking of your list, be sure to make one before you shop. Again, while this may seem like common sense, it’s important that you actually take time to plan your meals and look into your pantry to see what you already have to work with before you go out and shop. Making a list ahead of time can also help you spot any holes in your diet. If your list is made up primarily of breads and pastas, go back to the meal planning drawing board and ensure you’re adding enough vegetables and fruits to your diet, too. Doing so might seem like a pain, but it’s just one of the many ways you can ensure you’re adequately prepared for your classes. After all, the better your diet, the more likely you’ll see academic success.

Budgeting for Groceries

When you’re working with a relatively small budget, every cent counts. It’s so important to stick to your list when grocery shopping. It’s also important not to buy more than you need to avoid food spoiling. Plan on shopping a few times a month rather than one monthly bulk buy. After you’ve got your list together, flip through your local grocery store’s advertisements. They often come in the Sunday paper with valuable coupons. A dollar spent on the paper can save you tons more on groceries. Apps like ShopKick, Yowza, CardStar and Grocery IQ can also help you supplement the coupons you find in the paper.

Once you’re in the store, pay attention to sales. In many cases, seasonal fruits and veggies will be on sale, since they’re the foods in greatest abundance. Be careful when taking advantage of such deals, though; these foods are also some of the quickest to spoil. If you’ve got a plan for how you’ll use the ingredients soon, go for it! Also, unless you’re especially picky about brands, always opt for the cheapest version of a product. In most cases, the store brand pasta sauce is nearly identical to the name brand version sitting on the shelf next to it.

In addition to the coupons you’ve clipped, take advantage of store loyalty cards and memberships. Usually free to take advantage of, these cards offer shoppers additional discounts on sale items. In some cases, you’ll need a loyalty card to take advantage of any of the deals, so do your research before you check out.

Final Thoughts

Remember, if you’re on your own for the first time, you might be used to shopping for an entire family. While buying the family sized box of cereal might be a better value, if the cereal is stale by the time you get to the bottom, you’ll find yourself wasting more than you normally might. Shopping for yourself can be a luxury, though, so embrace the solo life. If cooking and meal prepping for just one person is a challenge, consider asking a roommate or friend to join you for dinner a few times a week, or save leftovers for lunch the next day. Trial and error is part of the college experience, so don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things!

No matter how you plan to eat, save or spend in college, Reality Changers is here to be your guide. A three-stage college readiness program, we’re committed to supporting our students on their journeys to college, career and beyond. We help students use their life experiences as inspiration for the next chapter in their lives. If you’d like to learn more about our offerings, visit our website.

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