Eating Healthy with a College Student Budget

Is eating healthy with not a lot of money difficult? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be! I have just started to experience this stress firsthand. I am a junior in college in Philadelphia, and I just moved into a house off-campus. I’d been stressed about how I’m going to pay for rent, purchase groceries, and maintain some type of social life. I knew I had money saved from working over the summer, but I was worried it wasn’t enough. Here are some tips I’ve found on how to save money and manage a budget that worked for me:

1. Do not order food every time you are hungry! 

This doesn’t mean don’t go out to lunch with your friends on the weekends. I mean don’t order food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner every day. An average meal, depending on where you order from can range from $8-$15+. Doing this two or three times a day adds up quickly. Instead of spending $10 on a single meal, head to the grocery store and pick up some items that will last you awhile. For $10 you could get a box of pasta, a small pack of chicken breasts, a canned sauce of some type, and probably even some type of seasoning – Italian, garlic powder, onion powder, etc. You can get at least 2 meals out of this! This is assuming you have pots and pans to cook the food in. Living with roommates you most likely have some type of pots or pans around. If you don’t, you can get these items for cheap at Walmart or Marshalls, or any type of discount store.

2. Know your budget. 

Map out your expenses and savings. A simple example: Say you have a weekly budget of $100. Of that $100, you need to save $45 for rent/expenses. You’re left with $55. Take $30-35 of your left over money, go to the grocery store with this budget in mind. You have $20-25 left over that you can save or treat yourself with. Having this budget in mind when you go shopping will help you get foods you know you need, and not just items you want. The main idea here is to know your budget.

3. Continuing tip #2’s idea, cancel expenses you don’t need. 

I know so many people who have a gym membership that they don’t use. Most gym memberships range from $10-$50 a month. Most campuses have a free gym on campus for students. You can cut this expense out, and get extra money to save or spend. Cancel any monthly subscription boxes you may have like Ipsy, Fabletics, etc. Unless you feel like you absolutely NEED these subscriptions, cancel them!

4. Get a very basic meal plan. 

Going into my junior year, I knew I did not need the meal plan I had the last two years. Previously I had a meal plan that gave me 15 meals a week to use whenever I wanted. This was mainly because I did not have a kitchen at my convenience. This year I opted for a meal plan that gave me 75 meals a semester. When I added in how many weeks are in a semester (for my university it’s 15, but I counted 14 because of Thanksgiving break (5 days) and our mid-semester holidays we have that give us 2-3 days off) and divided that by 75. I figured this gave me 5 meals to use a week. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but I have to be smart with it! I usually take items with me before I leave like fruit, bagels, cereal, etc. I take items that I know I can eat later or freeze to last longer. Most dining halls allow you to leave with food (within reason). This is also me trying to get my “money’s worth” for my meal plan because meal plans are so expensive!

5. My last big tip is to meal prep!! 

Meal prep helps save time and money. It’s more money up front but it helps in the long run. Pick some of your favorite meals and get enough ingredients to make it last through the week. Buying frozen vegetables helps A LOT, and they are cheap! These are so simple to include in meal preps because most frozen vegetables are made to be steamed in the bag = less dishes – YAY! Choose some veggies, a starch of some type – potatoes, rice, or pasta. Choose some type of protein, the options for this are endless and you can adjust them to your preferences if you are a vegan or vegetarian. I am neither of those, so I usually go for chicken since it is so versatile and relatively inexpensive. It’s also easy to change things up with different sauces or seasonings so you aren’t eating the same meals all the time. I usually prep enough food for 3 days to make sure everything stays fresh and still tastes great. I’ve attached some meal prep images below for some inspo! Pinterest is also great for meal prep ideas. I can usually get $20-$30 worth of food and make it last me about 4-5 days.

Some final tips for saving money when grocery shopping:
  • Buy frozen! Frozen foods seem to have a bad rep because they don’t aren’t seen as “fresh.” Frozen vegetables are almost always cheaper than fresh and you get more for your money.
  • If you eat meats of any kinds, buy them and freeze what you won’t eat right away. Whenever I buy ground turkey or chicken breasts, I divide them up based on my meal prep and freeze what I know I won’t eat for a few days. This helps prevent the food from spoiling and saves you money! I am attaching an easy to read chart for various foods for how long you can freeze them and keep them in a refrigerator.
  • Coupon and price match! Most grocery stores have advertisements when you walk in the store showing you what is on sale, some of them are online as well. Some brands have manufacturer’s coupons on their websites, too. Some chain grocery stores like Walmart and Target have a majority of their products online. You can compare prices online before going into the stores to find the best price. There are also rebate type apps that you can get money back on from your purchases. I use the app Ibotta. They have many stores on their app that you can check out before you head into the stores. They have offers that range from food items, health & wellness items, and even pet items! Once you add the offers to your cart you upload an image of your receipt to the app and it matches the offers to your purchases. The money you saved gets added to your cart and once you hit $20 you can redeem the money to get a gift card or transfer the money to your PayPal!
  • If you have a Trader Joe’s in your area I highly recommend shopping here for produce and other items! Their produce is almost always high quality, but at a cheaper price than most commercial stores. I shop here for a majority of my produce, pasta, and sauces.
The tip I can’t stress enough is know your budget! Go grocery shopping with a plan. Make a list and follow it. Going in without set meals to make often causes you to purchase foods you don’t need. Good luck and happy shopping!

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