How much college students spend on food depends, but you can minimize how much you spend by preparing food for yourself as often as possible.
For example, about $15k of the $80,000 I took out in students loans paid for dining hall meal plans. It was only during my junior and senior year that I had access to a kitchen and began cooking most of my meals in the dorm. If I could go back and do it again, I would’ve found a way to cook for myself a lot more.
How Much Do College Students Spend On Food?
The average American college students spend on food anywhere between $42-$55 per week. This means college students spend, on average, somewhere between $630-$1,260 on food each semester.
Remember, this is just to cover groceries. These numbers exclude the consumption of alcohol, ordering food, or going out to eat.
Here’s a quick projection of those numbers if you drink alcohol or order food once per week:
- If you ate out once per week at $20, your total spending on food would increase to $830-$1,250.
- If you ate out once and partied once (assume $24 for alcohol and $12 for late night drunk snacks), your semester would nearly double, to $1,670-$2,090.
10 Tips To Save Money on Food For College Students
Here are 10 tips you can implement today to decrease the amount of money you spend on food:
1. Decide how much you have to spend on groceries before you shop.
You don’t have to set a specific budget, but go into each week (and each shop) with a rough idea of how much money you have available to spend on food.
If you work a part-time job, pick a percentage of your weekly/monthly income you are comfortable with.
Whether it’s $30 or $100, knowing your number will help you stick to it.
2. Meal prep twice a week.
After 4 years of tinkering, I came up with a meal prep system that is time-efficient and cost-effective.
On Sunday, do one big meal prep. This is also the day to go to the grocery store. During your Sunday prep, make enough for roughly 10 meals: 1 for Sunday evening, and 3 square meals each day to get you through to Wednesday evening.
On Wednesday, pull the rest of your groceries from Sunday out and do a “baby prep”- just enough to get you through to Friday night (approximately 6 meals).
Saturdays are usually a wildcard for me as I’m out and about, so I keep this open.
Aim to do two meal preps per week and keep the whole thing under 2 hours (tip #4 will help you do that).
3. Buy in bulk (and freeze) your protein options.
If you find a sale on meats you like, buy 2 packs instead of one. Cook the first, and put the other in a resealable freezer bag. If you zip it up and remove the air, it will last in the freezer for 3 months.
Cheap protein options include boneless chicken thighs, 85/15 ground turkey, quartered/whole chickens, and bone-in pork chops.
4. Get a crockpot.
If you’ve been around the blog, you probably think I sound like a broken record about crockpots (or that I’m their #1 sponsor).
Even though I’ve graduated, I still use mine all the time. It’s a great tool for decreasing how much college students spend on food.
This crockpot costs $39.99 (as of this writing). In my opinion, it’s the easiest way to make healthy food that tastes good, which is important to me.
5. Eat more eggs, and buy them in bulk.
Eggs are a cheap, versatile, healthy, and high energy food option. They are a college student superfood. I won’t tell you how many to eat. But if you’re trying to save money, try eating eggs for lunch or dinner.
6. Drink less alcohol.
You’re probably spending more than you think when you go out drinking.
A $5 beer may not break the bank, but several beers followed by late night drunk munchies might turn a fun night out into a financial drain.
Try preparing a plate of food or snacks to eat when you get home instead.
7. Download grocery and food savings apps.
According to LendEDU, Americans spend $1,448 per month on living expenses, including groceries.
There are, however, some good apps out there to help you limit how much you spend on food.
8. Ask mom and dad to cover the “bulk” shopping.
Are you fortunate enough to have parents that help out with groceries? Would they help if you asked? If the answer is yes, be strategic with their help.
You don’t have to ask them to do the bulk of your shopping. But you can them just to buy your “bulk” items. This means they cover groceries like produce, meat, and household items. Or they could buy the Costco versions of your favorite snacks and staple foods so there’s plenty to eat around your dorm.
9. Change grocery stores.
If you’re a college student, don’t shop at Whole Foods. Not to pick on Whole Foods, but you might save 10 to 20 percent off your weekly grocery bill simply by swapping grocery stores (or shopping for deals at multiple stores).
Use this list to find the most popular grocery store in your state.
10. Use a refillable water bottle.
Buying bottled water also cost money you could wisely spend elsewhere. Get a refillable Nalgene bottle for $12. If it ever breaks, the company will replace it.
How much should college students spend on food?
That answer really depends on a few variables. But if you are diligent about prepping and shopping for your own food, you can easily reduce your weekly budget by 10 to 10 percent And the less you go out and party, the lower your food bill will be.