Broke? Hungry? Five Tips for Lowering Grocery Costs
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If you’re away from the comforting arms of a dorm meal plan, it can be hard to figure out how to eat cheaply and healthily. I learned this last week, when my diet of frozen meals managed to net me a $70 grocery bill–and that’s without any meat or dairy. By changing what I was bought, I managed to supply myself with a week’s worth of groceries for $40.
Follow all of the old rules: These are nothing groundbreaking, but they bear repeating–batch cooking and careful meal planning (to avoid food spoilage) will save you time and money. If you’ve never shopped or cooked for yourself before, familiarize yourself with how a good grocery list is assembled. Don’t just go to the store and buy what looks interesting–unite your meals with common ingredients, like Laura did with chicken this summer.
Autopilot your meals: Particularly breakfast. For example, I heat up a frozen biscuit every morning. They’re $5 for a bag of 20. (Check the frozen food aisles.) They don’t go bad, have a low unit cost, and make it so that I don’t have to buy breakfast more than once or twice a month. If you can manage to remove one meal a day from your weekly grocery haul, it saves you buckets compared to buying several boxes of cereal or cooking a different egg dish every morning.
Use budget-conscious cooking sites: Are you a math nerd? Are you broke? Then you will enjoy Budget Bytes as much as I do. The author provides PDF ingredient lists and breaks down the per-recipe and per-serving cost of each of her meals. One recipe usually provides enough food for a week’s worth of dinners. Also good is Big Girls, Small Kitchen, which is targeted at 20-somethings with a limited amount of kitchen space and number of food-prep gadgets. The college-specific cooking site Collegiate Cook also wins points for photography that suggests that the food was prepared in a real human kitchen, not on a Food Network sound stage. Any site targeted at people in our age range is likely to have lower per-meal costs than something intended for middle aged people.
Limit processed foods: I have a sociology professor that likes to yell at students to “avoid the middle aisles.” That’s where processed food lives–it can be stuck in middle aisles because it’s designed not to need to be refrigerated. In addition to being bad for you, processed foods are often much more expensive than their non-packaged counterparts. I realize that individual, microwaveable packs of edamame are cool and all, but you’re in college: you quite likely have a bunch of free time and no money, so go ahead and buy a large bag of frozen or fresh edamame and siphon out individual portions yourself.
Avoid supermarkets: I’m lucky enough to live near Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market, which is a truly delightful store that caters in large part to Atlanta’s immigrant communities–they have all the injera a girl could dream of. The prices are much, much lower than at Kroger or Publix, and the quality is better. If you can find the part of town with the largest immigrant population, you’re likely to find cheaper groceries–the Asian markets and Indo Pak groceries near Emory both have better prices than the nearby grocery stores. If you can find someone who grew up near your college, they’ll likely know what part of town you should be looking in. Farmer’s markets are also a good bet, but they tend to be early in the morning on weekends, so they can be inconvenient if you were out the night before.
Got your own tips for saving cash on groceries? Let us know in the comments!