Money is tight for most college students, and food is one thing that can't be cut from a budget. Many students have never had to buy their own groceries before, so shopping can be especially difficult. The temptation to eat out is also tough to fight, since students are also short on time and cooking skills. Fortunately, it's possible for students to eat well on a low budget by focusing on a few simple tips :
1. If you have a meal plan, take advantage of it
If you're already paying for food through the campus cafeteria, don't waste that money by trying to cook all of your own meals. Instead, use the cafeteria for its strengths and buy groceries to augment it. If you can get a big fresh salad once a day at the campus salad bar, you don't need to buy as many fresh vegetables for your dorm room. Some cafeterias even allow you to pack sack lunches, so you can eat whenever and wherever you'd like. If you don't have a meal plan, you'll need to buy more groceries to compensate.
2. Use the sales circulars to craft your list
Each week, grocery stores send out advertisements with all of the week's deals. These are usually sent on Wednesday, so you should have plenty of time to study it before the weekend. Sit down with the circular and make a list of the best values. You can then put together a meal plan based on the foods that are on sale. For example, if chicken is on sale one week, plan several meals to include chicken. Of course, this only works if you purchase foods that you really enjoy and know you'll eat. Buying food only to throw it away after it has spoiled doesn't do anyone any good.
3. Use coupons
The Sunday newspaper has pages of coupons that can be clipped and used at local stores for discounts on food, cleaning supplies and other goods. For best results, combine coupons with sales to get items at a deep discount. Bear in mind, though, that coupons only save you money if you use them on items you already planned to buy; no matter how good a coupon is, it won't justify buying something you don't need. Online coupons are also a great way to go. Check coupon sites to see if there are deals on foods you love. This can work particularly well for convenience foods like granola bars or pretzels.
4. Focus on whole foods
They'll require more cooking, but whole foods are cheaper and healthier than boxed or processed food. You can save money and trim your waistline by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store: That's where you can buy eggs, milk, cheese, meat, bread and vegetables. By avoiding all the canned, boxed, frozen and processed food, you can cut a lot of junk out of your cart. Only venture into the center aisles for staples like pasta, rice and beans.
5. Recruit your friends
Shopping can be a social event, and bringing a friend along can help both of you stay on course. You can clip coupons with a group of friends and swap out the ones you don't need. If one friend has a kid, you can trade her all of the diaper and formula coupons in exchange for her buy-one-get-one wine coupon. You can also buy items in bulk and divide them with a friend, or agree to cook half of your meals at your friend's place if she cooks the other half at yours.
Once you learn how to save money on groceries in college, you can apply these skills to ensure financial responsibility and healthy eating habits for the rest of your life.