As a college student, it’s dawned on me that as much as I knew about finance before coming to school, there were so much about managing finances in school that I learned along the way. This column is devised to help college students like myself get an edge on the financial challenges of school.
Another one of the biggest costs in college life is food. The other side of the coin is that this is also one of the easiest ways that you can cut back on expenses.
If You Go for a Meal Plan, Go for the Block
Different colleges offer different sorts of meal plans. More and more schools are giving students the option to purchase a block (lump sum) of meals, a certain amount of meals per a week, or an unlimited amount of meals (either for a week or a semester). Unless you plan on eating 95% of your caloric energy from dining halls, I highly recommend picking up a block plan. It gives you the restraints of a finite number of meals, while also giving you the flexibility you need to make meals work around you. Both restraints and flexibility are important, especially when it comes to…
Budgeting is absolutely essential for making it through college and life in general. On the shallower end of the complexity curve, you can get by with setting spending limits for a bi-weekly period and then making subdivisions within it. For instance, “Over the next two weeks I have $100 to spend. Out of that, I will only spend $50 on food.” If you’re looking to make a more complex budget, I recommend checking out apps like Mint or Expense IQ. Feel free to make use of your school’s financial aid office, your peers, and your family to help put together the best budget for you.
Cook Your Own Food
One of the most obvious ways to save money is to cook your own food. Of course, the trade-off is another valuable resource: time. In order to save time when cooking meals, try cooking in bulk. For instance, plan on cooking a giant nutritious pasta and veggie dish every Sunday night. You can keep half of it in the fridge, and freeze the other half. Boom. Meals for a week.
Also, think about how you can simplify your meals. It’s very fun to cook a fancy teriyaki salmon fillet or roasted chicken with lemon-butter sauce, but it’s not exactly easy on your wallet. Grains, lentils, beans, and veggies offer cheap (and tasty!) ways of staying full. As you get a better idea of your budget, you’ll be able to better judge what sort of fancy meals your wallet can stomach.
Vegetables, vegetables, vegetales
As mentioned above, grains, lentils, beans, and veggies are all very cheap ways of staying healthy and full. When it comes to veggies, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Potatoes – they’re starchy, versatile, filling and cheap. Make the most of them.
- Carrots – Crunchy with just a hint of sweetness. Carrots make an awesome cheap and healthy snack. You can often find carrots for $.60 to $1.20 a pound. That’s a pound of healthy nutrition for around a buck.
- Greens – Salads make for a wonderful canvas for a variety of leftovers. If you plan to buy greens, avoid the packaged options. They might be pre-washed, but they’re also a lot more pricey than the looseleaf stuff.
Buy in Bulk
Wholesale stores like Sam’s Club, CostCo and BJ’s will go a long way in reducing the money you spend on food and other household good. If you’re living with a roommate, see if they’d be interested in splitting a membership. If that’s not an option, check with your friends to see if they’d be interested in going in on one.
Even when not shopping at wholesale stores, opt for the bigger quantities when you can. It might seem crazy to buy a 2 1/2 pound bag of brown rice. But if you use rice a lot, or even once every couple of weeks, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of money in the long run. The same goes for toiletries like paper towels, napkins, and soap.
If you have the option, by the likes of nuts, spices, beans, lentils, and grains in bulk. They’re not likely to expire anytime soon.
Learn to Love Generic Brands
You might have only had Horizon Organic milk or Land O’ Lakes Butter when you were younger, but when it comes to cutting cost, cutting out name-brand labels will go a long way. Most big grocery stores will offer their own brands at a reduced cost.
Become a Sales Hawk
Be on the look out for sales. I’m not going to go the limits of recommending coupon-clipping (though you can definitely do that), but I will say be vigilant when you’re at the store. Buying $16 bottle of Olive Oil and then seeing that you could have bought even better bottle of olive oil for cheaper because of a sale is a terrible feeling.
Ration When You Eat Out
Quite simply, don’t do this often. Eating out is a privilege. It’s a reward. It’s a treat. Sure, fast food options might not throw your budget that off track, but once you introduce any spot that involves waiters or bartenders, you’ll start seeing your precious ducats disappear real quick. If you’re looking for a healthy, cheap option, you can’t go wrong with Subway.
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