May 30th, 2011 Jamie
I don’t care how prepared you think you are, living on your own is no walk in the park. If balancing your school-life (or brand new career) and social life isn’t hard enough, add to that all the mundane tasks that keep your world afloat (laundry, grocery shopping, remembering to buy gas before your car stops in an intersection or something). Oh, yeah–and you have to manage your finances on top of that.
I’ve been on my own for a few years now, and while I’m still no expert at being a “grown-up,” I’ve definitely lived and learned. This little series–a combo of helpful tips and links about life on your own–should give you the benefit of my experience without the headaches of learning it the hard way! Yay!
Today we’re going to talk about one of my personal favorite topics: food. ♥
You Don’t Have to Eat Ramen.
Ramen noodles as a dinner entrée is a college cliché for a reason–after all, its not only cheap but also easy to cook. But guess what? You don’t have to eat Ramen. You can eat real food. Grown up food. Food that doesn’t have half your daily recommended value of sodium in one bowl!
So, you don’t have to eat Ramen. But you do have to do a little legwork. Read on to find out how to get good food for less.
One of the best ways to save money at the grocery store is to plan ahead. If you wander aimlessly through the aisles picking up what you think you might want/need, you will probably end up with a cart full of odds and ends you don’t need, and you might forget the things you do. Here’s how to start:
- Step 1: Make a Meal Plan. This is step one, and it is easy. Plan out the meals you want to eat for a week. You can keep it simple–cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and simple meals for dinner. Then make a grocery list based on the ingredients you need for those 7 days, and only buy those things at the grocery store.
- Step 2: Shop Sales. Once you’ve got the meal planning thing down, you can move on to step 2! Most grocery stores have their weekly sales fliers online, so once you’ve got the hang of meal planning (and give yourself some time if its tricky) start checking the sales fliers before you write out your dining schedule. Cooking based on in season produce and other sale items will really help reduce your food budget.
- Step 3: Add Coupons. Once upon a time you had to spend hours clipping coupons–not something most college students want to do. Now there are tons of blogs that tell you exactly which coupons you need (you can clip them or even print them off–so easy) and which sale items to use them on so that you can get things for cheap (or sometimes even free!). Here are some great sites to start with (I recommend just choosing one store to use coupons at, though, or it will be way too overwhelming):
- Don’t Shop Hungry. Seriously. Have a snack before you head to the grocery store. Shopping hungry leads to impulse buys (because everything looks delicious when you’re starving) and that means spending money you weren’t planning to spend. Curb your appetite, spare your wallet.
- Stick to the List. Remember that list you made when you were making up your meal plan? Don’t buy anything that isn’t on that list!
One more thing that is college-student specific: you can split stuff with your roommates. This is awesome if you find something cheaper in bulk, as long as you can be sure the sharing is even. To keep the peace, I’d recommend only splitting things that come in finite amounts (like veggies or prepackaged items) so nobody gets their nose out of joint when you polish off the last of the milk.