Money is already tight as a student, which makes eating healthy a difficult thing to do. So many other things compete for our money that living on Ramen can seem like the smart thing to do. However, it’s important to consider your health and your body when deciding what choices to make in diet. There are many ways to save money and not compromise health as a result:
Meal planning is one of the most effective ways to save money at the grocery store. The phrase “don’t shop when you’re hungry” is highly used because it’s highly relevant. Even when you’re not hungry, shopping without a plan can result in a cart full of items that may go bad before their used or may remain in your pantry for months along with other items that you may end up throwing away when you move out.
Instead, have a plan on what you want to eat throughout the week. Make a list of what you need for each meal that week, excluding what you already have at home. Find a way that is most convenient to make such a list, adding in regular or irregular grocery items such as milk, snacks, cereal, etc…
Meal planning can lighten the stress on your bank account as well as on the grocery store trip itself because you’ll be more prepared to avoid items you don’t need and know where to go to find the items you do need.
Buy In Bulk
Another great way to save money is to buy items in bulk. Sometimes, it can cost less per unit price to buy a lot at once, especially when it comes to items such as meat or cheese. Make sure to avoid the trap of buying in bulk when it isn’t necessary, however. Many items may look like a deal to buy the larger containers, but that’s not necessarily true. Check the unit price numbers to compare different sizes and prices to ensure you’re getting the best value. Also be careful not to become wasteful when buying in bulk. If it can’t be reasonably used or frozen before it spoils, it’s a waste of money to buy in bulk.
Now that you have bulk items, what do you do with them? One useful and time-saving tip is to create freezer meals. This entails putting all the ingredients for a meal in one or multiple resealable freezer bag (i.e. Ziplock), writing instructions on how to cook the meal (i.e. thaw, oven temperature, time to cook, etc…) and sticking it in the freezer to be pulled out the day of or night before to cook. If you’re cooking for 1 or 2, it may be helpful to divide up the recipes accordingly or plan on eating the leftovers. You can search for many recipes of this variety online.
Crock Pot Meals
Crock Pots are the perfect tool for students leading busy schedules. Crock pots allow you to throw everything into the pot and let it sit for hours while you’re in class, at work, in a meeting, or even while you sleep at night. When you’re done for the day, the meal is ready for you to eat. Another perk of Crock Pot meals is that you can make multiple meals for the week at once, saving you time and money. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like eating the same meal twice, feel free to get creative and spice things up to the leftovers to make it unique. Having a meal already prepared will help you resist the urge to eat out for convenience sake after a long, tiring day.
Make Your Own Servings
Generally speaking, single-serve items such as snacks, freezer meals, and individually packaged items are significantly more expensive than if you were to individually portion them yourself. Taking the time to sort out your snacks into reusable or even ziplock bags can save you lots of money at the store while still providing you with the convenience of grabbing and going in the morning. Not only will it help with cost and convenience, prepackaging your own portions can help you also with limiting your snacking to the appropriate and healthy serving size.
Buy in Season
One of the biggest expenses at the grocery store can come from the produce section. It can be difficult to eat produce before it goes bad, especially when you’re only buying for yourself or for two. On top of this, many produce items vary in their expenses month to month. It’s important to know which produce items are in season when you’re shopping because that’s when you’ll get the best deal on them. The following chart can help you decide which items to plan for your meals depending on what season it is. Try to avoid getting off-season produce because it can be a burden on the bank. Instead, experiment with new fruits and vegetables that are in season.
A simple way to save money without changing much of your habits or taking extra time in the week can be by switching to generic label items. Brand names are more advertised and well-known, but aren’t necessarily much different than the same items made by the grocery store company itself. Switching to Safeway, Kroger, Great Value, or Hyvee brand items will add up over time and over products without you having to change your lifestyle or even take the time it may take when planning meals, doing freezer or crock pot meals, creating your own servings, or buying in season.
And lastly, using coupons can be very helpful, if used properly. At times, using coupons can actually hurt your finances more than help when you find yourself buying items you didn’t need or won’t use in time. However, if coupons are available for items that you were going to buy regardless or even if you specifically meal plan around coupons, it can be a very financially smart thing to do. Many grocery stores have apps with coupons on them. You can also find coupons on the back of receipts and from simple searches online.
There are hundreds of other ways you can save money at the grocery store while avoiding compromising your health. You can learn even more by attending the workshop Eating Healthy on a Budget on Monday, October 26th at 6:00 PM in the Union Flint Hills room. Resources, recipes, and tips will be provided as well as free food to the first 30 attendees.
Peer Counselor III
Powercat Financial Counseling