In Q&A #5, we look at how much the average college students spend on food, as well as 10 easy-to-implement tips students can use to decrease their grocery bill.
How Much Do College Students Spend on Food?
The answer, like most questions, depends on your situation.
College students who primarily eat at the dining hall may have no up-front food costs.
But chances are, their student loans will be much higher in the long run.
For example, about $15k of the $80k in loans I took out for undergrad went to meal plans.
It was only during my junior and senior year that I was able to prepare most of my meals and limit my time in the dining hall.
If I could go back and do it again, I would’ve cooked for myself a lot more.
The bottom line: How much a college student spends on food depends, but you can minimize how much you spend by preparing food for yourself as often as possible.
Below, I’ve broken down the average weekly costs of food for college students.
Beneath that, you’ll find 10 tips you can implement today to spend less on food.
Not Here To Read; Just Give Me The Resources
- Best Healthy Meal Prep for College Students (2hrs/week)
- 6-quart stainless steel Crockpot
- 32oz refillable Nalgene water bottle
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Grocery Store Finder: Aldi, WinCo, Sprouts, Walmart, Target
- The most popular grocery store in every state
- College Savings Newsletter
Take a look at this post from Quora about how much college students spend on food:
According to this chart- we’ll assume few students are on the “moderate” or “liberal” plan- the average American college students spend on food anywhere between $42-$55 per week.
Another survey estimates that the average adult spends between $10-12 per day on food, which comes out to about $70-84 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.
For fun, 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 “snacks”), your semester would nearly double, to $1,670-$2,090.
Am I saying don’t go out? Don’t drink? No. I’m not.
Just keep these numbers in mind as you budget your money and be mindful of your spending habits.
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.
As Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.”
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.
It worked for me after college and will reduce how much college students spend on food.
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.
Adjust to your circumstances- but aim to do 2 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).
No, I just use mine all the time. It’s a great tool for decreasing how much college students spend on food.
They cost ~$30, are the most time efficient meal prep device at your disposal, and generally result in healthy food that tastes good.
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 “super food”.
If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid to eat a dozen or more of them per week.
6. Drink less alcohol.
When you drink, you’re probably spending more than you think.
A $5 beer may tax your budget enough, but several beers followed by late night drunk munchies might turn a fun night out into a financial drain.
Seriously, prepare a plate of food or snacks to eat when you get home. And maybe buy 1-2 fewer beers.
7. Download grocery and food savings apps.
There are a number of great apps available to help limit how much college students spend on food. Here are 2:
- Favado Grocery Sales– Price comparing app for groceries. They advertise savings up to 70% on grocery deals in your area. Available on Android and iPhone.
- College Foodz– If you’re going to eat out, this app will show you where local deals are near your campus. Download on iPhone.
And for a small investment, the College Savings Newsletter is also a good option for college students looking to save money.
8. Ask mom and dad to cover the “bulk” shopping.
Are you fortunate enough to have parents that help out with groceries? Might they help if you asked?
If the answer is yes, be grateful you have cool parents. But also be strategic with their help.
Don’t ask them to do the bulk of your shopping, but ask them just to cover your “bulk” items.
That means you cover groceries like produce, meat, and household items and they buy the Costco versions of your favorite snacks and staple foods to have around the dorm.
9. Change grocery stores.
If you’re a college student, don’t shop at Whole Foods.
Actually, don’t shop there at all. It’s overpriced and overrated.
Not to pick on Whole Foods, but you might save 10-20% off your weekly grocery bill simply by swapping grocery stores (or hitting 2 every time you shop).
Use this list to find the most popular grocery store in your state.
10. Use a refillable water bottle.
I know what you’re thinking. Are people still buying bottled water?
Unfortunately, yes. Besides ruining the planet, bottled water also cost money you could wisely spend elsewhere.
This refillable Nalgene bottle holds up and is backed by warranty if it ever breaks.
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 10-30%. And the less you go out and party, the lower your food bill will be.
If you’d like to receive a free copy of last week’s College Savings Newsletter with $99+ in discounts on college life “necessities” like food, textbooks, and clothing, click here.
For more “Q&A” posts, where I answer questions asked frequently by college students, click here.
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