Cooking on a college budget means planning ahead
Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to eat poorly. The secret? Plan ahead. If you plan purposefully and well, a few dollars can go a long way in the college kitchen!
Planning ahead means creating a budget
First, create an overall budget plan. This plan might include, food, gas, utilities, rent, books, “fun money” (hey, we all go to the movies and hit the mall once in a while), and other college expenses. Create a rough but realistic sketch of how much money you’re spending on each category per week/month.
Second, based on this budget plan, calculate approximately how much you can afford to spend for groceries each week. Not sure how much groceries cost? Make a list of the foods you enjoy, then go to the grocery store and write down the price of each item on your list. This one exercise can save you a lot of time calculating the cost of meals later, and will give you a great idea of food prices in general.
Also, remember: some food items may cost more initially but will last for multiple meals. A bag of apples can be eaten over several days, as can a whole rotisserie chicken. A bottle of mayonnaise can last weeks. One bag of rice may contain enough to feed you for quite a few meals. In other words, you might think that spending $5 at the Taco Bell drive-thru is cheaper than spending $10 at the grocery store — but $5 spent at Taco Bell will feed you once, while $10 spent at the store could potentially feed you five or more meals. See the big picture!
Creating a budget means being intentional
What do I mean by “being intentional?” Simply this: money doesn’t grow on trees, so if you’re serious about cooking for yourself in college on a limited budget, you need to be purposeful about assessing how much you make—and more importantly, how much you are willing to spend. You will need to make decisions. “Can I afford to have this party with my roommates? Should I cut back in another area of spending?”
You might consider eating inexpensively during the week, then splurging on a get-together with friends over the weekend. Or, conversely, you could take the same amount of money and make it spread throughout the week, eating meals in the mid-price range on a consistent basis. Your call. But whatever you decide: be intentional, make your plan, and stick with it.
Being intentional means knowing how to shop
Let’s say you’ve made your budget plan: you’ve calculated your expenses, assessed how much you can afford to spend on food, and determined how to distribute
finances throughout the week (which might involve cutting back in some areas of spending). Now you’re ready to hit the grocery store. To learn how to shop smart, check out the post, “Budgeting Basics: Five Rules of Smart Grocery Shopping.”
Hey, smart shoppers! Want more budgeting tips?
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