Freshman year, it’s normal for most students. Head to the dining hall, class, hang out with friends, dining hall, sleep, rinse, and repeat. When most of us graduated from the meal plan, we had a choice to make – are we going to subsist based on eating out every day or should we buy groceries and make our own food?

I’m in quite a unique situation. My fraternity house provides meals Monday to Thursday lunch and dinner, and just lunch on Friday. By default, I head out on the weekends to get food with friends. It didn’t hurt the finances too badly, and it allowed me to get away from the fraternity house to get food with other people.

And then, summer happens. Our meal plan expired. I still needed to eat daily, and our chef had gone home for the summer. Since we had a chef, that meant I had no real kitchen to cook in – the kitchen in my fraternity house is industrial and all brothers are banned from using it for the fairly likely scenario we’d burn our house down. I used that crutch to avoid the on-campus meal plan and opted to eat out all summer.

Then I checked Mint, a fantastic tool we’ve talked about before and saw that just in the past year, I spent $4,251 on food and dining. That’s over 4 grand on just food. Granted – yes, it’s over a year period, but still – it’s ridiculous. So I decided to stop holding myself back with the no kitchen and shopped for groceries.

Simple things: ready-made salads. Small healthy snacks. Cereal or bagels for breakfast. Peanut butter. Jelly. Bread. Milk. And surprisingly, those were essential in preparing for a week with significantly less food spending. My other excuse was due to working full-time in summer, I had no choice to eat anything but Chick-Fil-A (I know), Starbucks, Einstein’s or Subway because of their 2-minute proximity to my job. Now packing my own lunch allows me a bit more freedom than supporting tasty chicken yet views I don’t support, yet another coffee, sandwich, or bagel.

Also, I’ve found that not doing my own version of Super Size Me allows me to eat healthier. Even if I’m eating Easy Mac nightly, it’s better than my fantastic diet of Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s on a daily basis. Buying from the supermarket (and local markets as well) allow me to control my diet and my spending in ways like never before.

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user Polycart. Licensed under CC BY-2.0.]