Frugal University 101: The Ultimate Guide to Cheap Grocery Runs in College
Cutting your grocery bills while keeping yourself well-nourished is not something that they teach you in college.
I love college – it’s been the best three years of my life so far. However, I am not completely a fan of all the responsibilities that come with it (I am still learning this whole adulting thing), and I have no taste for grocery shopping.
Wasn’t it great as a kid to come home after basketball practice or your school club to a hot dinner being served, a full fridge, and a pantry always stocked with the best snacks? Yeah – me, too.
Thankfully I didn’t have to grocery shop as an underclassman, since I had a meal plan. I will forever miss being able to get food by just walking around on campus and getting second helpings of food and grabbing whatever was in sight to stash in my backpack.
But becoming an upperclassman who lives off-campus means going grocery shopping.
As the stereotypical broke college student, I’ll help you out and let you in on my tips on how to do the dreaded grocery shopping on a tight budget.
1. Check Out Aldi
Aldi is every college kid’s dream come true – you walk into the store and feel right at home. If you’re like me and have little to no income because you’re trying to focus on your education, then Aldi is the place to go. Everything in the store is cheaper than any other grocery store I’ve ever been to. One carton of eggs is just 70 cents. Bananas? 30 cents. Everything is so inexpensive – I love it!
I have filled my shopping cart to the top, and that monthly grocery bill has come out to a mere $70! Let me reiterate that for you: $70 for a whole month. Most of the time, I don’t even spend that much – I usually end up spending only around $40 or $50! Compare that to my $2,000 meal plan for just one semester during my first year. It’s too late to ask for that money back.
My one disclaimer when it comes to shopping at Aldi is that the store is almost completely stocked with Aldi-brand items. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – after all, this is how they can offer cheaper prices for us frugal shoppers.
However, if you’re a picky eater (like me – I am the princess of picky eaters), certain food items just won’t cut it at Aldi.
For me, I refuse to buy peanut butter or pickles at Aldi.
2. Go to a Super Target Store
Now, for those poor, unfortunate souls who do not have an Aldi nearby, Target is a close second when it comes to grocery shopping. What I don’t buy at Aldi, I buy at Target. Since both stores are close to each other at my school, I try to hit both stores in one trip. Since Target can be more expensive, I make sure to write a list of what I need before I go. This list obviously includes my Jif peanut butter and kosher dill pickles.
The one thing that I love the most about Target is that it stays open late – usually until either 11 p.m. or midnight. Being a college kid, my schedule is all over the place. If you have morning classes or night classes, you can easily choose when to go grocery shopping. Sometimes your nap runs a little longer than you expected and you wake up around 10 p.m. (it only happened once… okay maybe three times), and you can still go grocery shopping!
3. Coupons are your New Best Friend
Save money while spending less with coupons on SavingStar. Link your store cards to a SavingStar account and cash in your savings when you reach a savings goal!
4. Avoid Overspending Completely
Have your housemates chip in for tasty ingredients to be delivered right to your door weekly, on a set budget with HelloFresh, and learn some culinary skills in the process.
A great idea, take it in turns to cook meals within the household. This frees you up for some chill time – or study time – of course!
Here are a few good general tips to keep in mind the next time you go grocery shopping to save you a good chunk of money:
1. Don’t Shop Hungry!
Under no circumstance whatsoever should you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
I learned this the hard way and bought an oversized frozen pizza, a pint of ice cream, a box of chocolate truffles, two boxes of mozzarella sticks, and two packages of cookie dough. Learn from my mistake!
2. Make a List.
Write a list of everything you need before you get to the store. Make sure to check your fridge before you go and see what you do and don’t need to replace. Having a list will help you eliminate overspending on food that you don’t need. There are tons of grocery lists for college students online, especially if you’re following a meal plan.
3. Only Buy Food That You Know You’ll Eat.
This might seem like a silly tip, but it’s important!
Don’t go overboard and buy three containers of strawberries if you aren’t going to eat them before they go bad.
When it comes to fresh produce, buy only what you are going to eat for the next two weeks. Fruits and veggies go bad fast, so don’t waste your money if you’re going to end up throwing all of it out a week later.
4. Your Freezer is Your Best Friend.
If you buy extra fresh produce and know you won’t finish it in time, stick it in the freezer. You can always defrost chicken later that month or use the extra frozen fruit to make smoothies!