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The College Student’s Guide to Saving Cash on Food Costs

October 2nd, 2008 admin

No matter how much you love Ramen noodles, I’m willing to bet that you don’t want to eat them every day of your life-or even every day for the next few years.

But food is expensive (and so is college!) so lots of students end up living on Ramen, cold pizza, and chips they found in the common room-not the healthiest diet. Here are some alternatives to the noodles-and-oatmeal diet…

Food Stamps

Did you know that you might be eligible for the U.S. government’s Food Stamp Program? I read an article about students using food banks in USA Today-apparently it’s becoming a trend. If you qualify, you could get funds from the state to help you pay your food bills.  Money is distributed on a card that works kind of like an ATM, and is accepted by most grocery stores.

See eligibility requirements here, or use their pre-screening eligibility tool. Then find out how to apply in your state-if you have questions, you can call your state’s Toll Free Food Stamp Information Hotline.

“Big Box” or 99¢ Shopping

One popular way to save on food at UCSD was to take a group to our local Costco, a bulk-buying store (like Sam’s Club, Smart & Final, etc.).  They sell everything from bulk bags of frozen chicken breasts to 18-count boxes of eggs, as well as fresh fruits and veggies, juices, and even huge boxes of oatmeal.

To keep costs down, simply go with a group who wants to split a majority of foods. Split the cost accordingly and then divvy up your shares of food. For frozen items, get a zipper locking plastic bag and split up the big bag and throw the little ones in the freezer (label them if you’re sharing with a roomie).

As to the 99¢ shopping, did you know that lots of dollar stores sell food?  You might think that’s kind of shady, but just be sure to check expiration dates. One of my friends finds name brand chocolate soy milk there, often for only $1 each. (Plus the 99¢ Chef can teach you how to make yummy dishes with this stuff!)

Free Samples

This isn’t a reliable shopping method, but it can be pretty fun. Search the websites of products you use a lot-from foods to shampoos-for free samples offers.

Try About.com’s Freebies page for a regularly updated list of free samples.

A couple sites I know of that usually offer no-cost goodies are Wal*Mart’s freebie page, and Dove’s free samples page.

Couponing & Rewards Clubs

The other day I saw a girl at the grocery store with a huge pile of coupons. I’ve been trying to use them more lately, but I know I could actually save a lot more if I’d put a little time into it.  If you’re a beginner at coupons, like me, you can start by finding them:

  • In the Sunday newspaper
  • In circulars (ads) that come in your mailbox
  • On the websites of products (not just foods) you use a lot (lots of them have rewards clubs, too!)
  • At coupon websites like RetailMeNot.com

If you’re a little more intense about coupons, you can really save big.  I’ve been fascinated by all the coupon moms that seem to be coming out of the woodworks lately-publicized in newspapers, TV news, and blogs.  These ladies really know how to work the system, sometimes using rewards clubs and coupons together to get lots of free stuff.  Want to know how it works?  Check out the guides and coupon tips at these blogs:

Remember to only use coupons for things you actually need!


I love this article, 15 Great Grocery Shopping Tips, from Get Rich Slowly. It covers all the basics of how to save on food-it’s definitely worth a look!

photo: Vegetables by MFinderup

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Entry Filed under: budget & finances,food & recipes

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cathy @ Chief Family Officer  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks so much for the mention! And while you’re right that you should only spend money on things you need, making the most of coupons often involves buying things you don’t need – it was a concept that I had a hard time understanding at first, but it’s really helped me save money.

  • 2. College Candy » Can&hellip  |  October 23rd, 2008 at 8:57 am

    […] Save money on food (so you have more money for beer). […]

  • 3. Brandon J. Mendelson  |  November 11th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I’m disappointed I didn’t come across this article sooner. This was a very good read.

  • 4. Ashley515  |  December 4th, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Hey Jamie:

    Thanks for all your great tips on saving money! I know it’s such an important time right now for us as college students to be careful what we spend our money on. I know I’m broke! I happened to run into this contest yesterday, http://indebted.mtvu.com/the-challenge/, might help me pay off some of my bills!


  • 5. Ian Smith  |  February 2nd, 2009 at 9:14 am

    That sounds like great advice Jamie. I’d recommend that anyone looking for used student books to go to Liverpool Student Books. I’ve used them before as they are pretty cheap and charge no commission!

    Hope that helps!

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