Grocery Shopping in College

Don’t think about it as malnutrition, think about it as a fun diet where you don’t eat a lot.

By John Miles, Santa Fe College


If you’re an English major like me, your post-graduation lifestyle is doomed to include food stamps for at least a year.

So, you should get used to grocery shopping like you’re on food stamps so that one day, when you have kids of your own, you can yell at them about being grateful for everything they have.

This is the natural cycle of our world, and one of the most important lessons you will learn about microeconomics. If you learn to save money on groceries now, you will be immeasurably better off during the inevitable food stamp years of your life.

The problem with being unemployed, though, is that you still need to eat, and your parents will only let you mooch off them for so long. In addition to having one year under my belt as a college student though, I also have 18 years of experience in unemployment and laziness. By combining my skills, I’ve discovered some invaluable tips for eating (sort of) well for little money.

So without further ado, here are some strategies that I’ve picked up in my first year of college that should help you save money in your weekly grocery store visits.

Avoid snack foods, both for the ensuing weight gain and the cost.

You’re supposed to be shopping cheap, so you can pass on the double-stuffed Oreos for now. If you’re going to eat crappy food, you may as well make it so the crappy food is your main course, not your hourly snack.

Besides, your metabolism can no longer come close to doing what it used to. Remember: The Freshman 15 is not exclusive to freshman year. Your metabolism does not magically return to prominence once you get through your first year of college, so get in the habit of avoiding the snack aisle altogether.

Shop in the cheapest, most redneck and/or ghetto grocery store you can find.

You’re going to have to put off being a vegan until you’re in your 30’s and flush with cash.

Organic food is tempting, but if you want to spend college without a job, you’re going to have to learn to eat the really, really crappy food every now and then.

Learn to cook.

Considering you’ve probably hit the breaking point of times-someone-can-eat-at-McDonald’s-in-a-week, it’s time to grow up and learn to cook. My mother was a great cook, and I expected that this would somehow be transferred to me genetically. Wrong. (She also speaks Spanish, and with that, my expectations were similarly crushed.)

But what if you don’t have time to cook? Step one is realizing that you definitely do have time.

Step two is learning to buy pre-prepared meals from the frozen food section. They’re cheap, extremely easy to make (usually require only dumping something into a skillet and turning on heat), and most importantly, they taste better than anything you could have made on your own.

No need to buy meat, spices, seasoning, pasta or anything else that you used to think was a grocery store staple. You can literally ignore 95 percent of the available merchandise. Cut through the fluff and go straight to the real thing: pre-prepared, processed, frozen meals.

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Buy store-brand food every time you can.

Don’t be afraid to buy the cheap store-brand stuff because it probably tastes exactly the same. Store-brand cereal is just as good as the slightly more expensive cereal, so pinch those pennies.

Just. Drink. Water.

Drop your violent coffee addiction. Of course, I will never follow this advice, but you really ought to.

It’s a great decision all around—your teeth won’t be so yellow, your wallet won’t be so empty and you won’t die of a heart attack at age 60. Also, K-Cups are crazy expensive, and you’re probably single-handedly keeping your local Starbucks in business.

Also, don’t drink so much milk, unless you’re working out a lot. This is something that my gut has had to learn the hard way over the past year. If there’s one gene I wish I’d gotten, it’s whichever one makes you lactose-intolerant.

 Realize that the only time you will ever eat steak throughout college is if you’re sitting at your mother’s table.

A good steak is going to double your weekly grocery bill, so unless you found a twenty-dollar bill on the bathroom floor, walk briskly past the meat section. College is a steak-less place. You must accept this.

No more dessert

Ice cream has no place on your grocery list. If you buy it, you’ll be back at the store in two days to fetch another bucket. And another two days after that. And again, until your trash bin is filled entirely by empty ice cream buckets.

Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that ice cream addiction is not something to joke about.

If you’re able to pace yourself with a small container of Ben and Jerry’s once and a while, then you can make it your weekly Treat-Yo’Self snack, which leads nicely to the next point.

Pick one thing to be a treat each time you do your shopping.

The key thing here is to be reasonable. Maybe it’s the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or maybe it’s a pack of double-stuffed Oreo’s, but I can assure you that it will not be a burgundy tri tip steak.

Choose your splurge wisely, because it’s the only thing separating you from a complete mental breakdown. Your diet of cheap meat, potatoes and water will not seem nearly so dull with a pack of Klondike Bars in the freezer.

Avoid buying food that your roommate is going to steal.

One of my roommates tends to burn through the milk, then likes to claim that he didn’t burn through the milk. It’s the darndest thing!

If the food/drink that they’re stealing happens to be an essential for you, consider installing cameras aimed at the refrigerator to ensure that your food remains safe.

Plan each meal to be two meals.

Plan your meals so that the remainder of your dinner can act as lunch tomorrow. If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, sorry! You won’t have any leftovers.

Leave room for three or four runs to McDonald’s.

Lastly, remember what you are—you’re a lazy, unemployed college student. There is no way in hell that you cook for yourself every meal of the week. Consider putting aside around $15 a week to be used at McDonald’s dollar menu.