How to Keep From Eating Through Your College Budget

college food budget tipsEveryone’s got to eat. But if you’re not careful, you can easily find yourself starving your wallet. For example, it doesn’t seem like you’re shelling out a whole lot for a steamy latte at your favorite coffee shop in the morning before that tough chemistry class . . . right?

But those dollars add up over the weeks, and pretty soon, you can wind up low on cash over a few frappachinos. Food expenses tend to be a sore spot for college students. Luckily, there are many ways you can eat well without blowing your budget. Next time you need to eat, try some of these handy tips.

Skip the meal plan
Unless your college has a required meal plan, skip the convenience of having set meals for a chance to do your own grocery shopping. Meal plans can be very expensive, and most will leave you with a number of unused meals that won’t roll over to the following semester. With a planned budget and a shopping cart, you’ll be able to get a better value on your food by managing your own meals.

Even if purchasing a meal plan is mandatory, there are still ways to make certain you’re getting the most out of your dollars. Research your school’s available plans so you know your options. Also, be sure to talk to upperclassmen to find out which meals have the best value. Lastly, if you feel a sudden craving, don’t immediately order out. Take advantage of your plan and consider going for one of those prepaid meals. Who knows? It could even be pizza night at the dining hall.

Keep a spreadsheet
Keeping a record of all your purchases can help you track just how much you’re spending. A virtual or pen and paper spreadsheet is an easy way to keep organized by listing and planning weekly expenses day by day. Soon enough, you may begin to realize that a bulging bag of groceries can be cheaper than a single restaurant dinner and it will certainly last longer!

To save even more on your grocery shopping, take note of dates when items go on sale and buy essential food products in bulk. You could end up saving big.

Grab a cookbook
Frequently eating out is a fast way to bust your budget. Even fast food can add up if you drop by your favorite burger shack for a meal too often. Cooking from scratch is a great way to save on expensive prepackaged meals. You’ll even be doing yourself a favor by avoiding plastic and cardboard boxes that are loaded with salt, fat, and all those special ingredients you can’t pronounce.

And if you’re feeling lonely by the stove, find a night to cook and share a meal with your roommate. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself having fun while saving.

Share your meals
Another great way to connect with your college friends is to share meals. Assign a different friend to cook a meal for the whole group every weekend or get together for a cooking party where everyone chips in. You can even experiment with international recipes for some cultural bonding. On weekdays, meet with some friends during lunch for a potluck feast. Socializing over food is a great way to have fun. And you’ll discover that you won’t just savor the food, you’ll love the savings!

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