One of the toughest aspects of the transition from the dorms to an apartment or house is the fact that you can no longer rely on a meal plan to keep you alive. It’s true that most students eventually become borderline hostile towards eating dining hall food, but after moving off campus, any meal you don’t have to cook yourself can be appealing. Cooking for yourself is no easy task, and possibly the most difficult part of the process is the actual purchasing of the groceries.
When grocery shopping, it’s easy to overspend, especially if you’ve never had to do it on your own before. A common grocery store sighting is the thoroughly freaked-out face of a shopper anxiously eyeing the register as the number on the screen slides into triple digits. Avoiding this scenario should be a top priority for students on a strict budget or even students who just want to be smart about their finances.
This may seem easier said than done, so to prove that it is possible, I decided to buy enough groceries for three relatively healthy and nutritious meals for an entire week while spending $50 or less.
Before I even stepped into the grocery store, I made a list of everything I wanted to buy and what meal each item would be for. (Let’s be honest, if I was released into a grocery store without a plan, I’d probably come out the other end with nothing but chocolate and the ingredients for guacamole)
When doing the actual shopping, I stuck to three ground rules:
- Stay focused on what you actually NEED to buy: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, fancy cheeses and fresh baked goods are just a few of the temptations one will be faced with when entering a grocery store. Try breaking your list into sections based on where things are in the grocery store. This way you won’t find yourself wandering into aisles that could encourage over-indulgence.
- Always buy the brand of whatever grocery store you find yourself in: while Publix toasted oats may not have the ring to it that General Mills Cheerios has, they taste exactly the same and even have the same nutrition facts.
- Look at signs and prices: every grocery store has deals to help you save. Watching out for these postings is a simple way to make sure you’re not missing out on any of those deals.
After staying true to these three rules, here’s what I ended up with:
- For Breakfast: one carton of Blue Diamond Almond Breeze vanilla almond milk (I’m not usually an almond milk drinker but it was much cheaper than cow’s milk), one box of Publix Toasted Oats and one container of Publix Quick Cook oats.
- For lunch: one small container of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, one bag of Cascadian Farm Chocolate Lover’s granola and one container of Publix fat free vanilla yogurt.
- For dinner: one yellow squash, one zucchini, one box of Publix whole grain penne, one bag of Publix frozen corn and four vine tomatoes
- For snacks: four bananas, one bag of green grapes, one loaf of Publix whole wheat bread, six Nature Valley Almond Crunch bars and two small jars of JIFF peanut butter.
All of this food came out to a grand total of $44.25, $5.75 under budget.
It wasn’t the most exciting week in terms of the variety of food I ate (I had basically the same meals every day) but it was good food and it felt nice to have some extra money in my bank account. My 50-buck-budget also helped me to stay healthy throughout the week by forcing me to be more mindful of what I was eating and when I was eating it since I had a limited supply of food.
I can’t say I’ll always want to eat this way for the rest of my life, but it was definitely a good lesson in learning how to budget for the things I need rather than impulses I want.
Rachel Cox-Rosen is a Broadcast Journalism and International Studies double major. She hopes to some day be a reporter on sports or international news and politics.
words & photos_rachel cox-rosen