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Tips for budgeting groceries as a university student

By Julieanne Acosta, September 7 2022

It’s hard to have a good and nutritious diet as a university student when all the food you need costs so much more than you expected. All of a sudden, a quick grocery run for some essentials somehow exceeds your budget when you didn’t even get everything on your grocery list. 

Now personally, I don’t meal prep because I can’t find the time in my weekend to make a weeks worth of food in one go. So I make sure that I’m buying food that is easily accessible for me throughout the week. But if you have time to do the meal prep, I think you should give it a shot. As for general tips when grocery shopping, I have a few to leave you with. 

Take time to look over your expenses 

To properly allot money to pay for groceries you need to be paying attention to what you pay for (ex. rent, netflix, amazon prime, etc). I like to do this with a spreadsheet, but I’ve met people who use online budgeting apps that have also worked for them. Once you know how much money you spend on expenses, look at how much is left and decide on a budget for your groceries. Budget in things that aren’t just food that you would still buy when grocery shopping as well, such as laundry detergent, decorations, etc.

Make a list of essentials for your grocery list

I like to split these into categories such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, cleaning and personal care. In each category, I put how much I would be willing to spend for the one group to help budget the little things. Do not ever grocery shop while hungry, you’ll buy so much more than you actually needed to. 

Record what you buy for groceries

This really helped me when figuring out what I needed. After grocery shopping for the first few weeks, I would sit down and write what I bought and the price. Over time, I could see the average of how much I needed to pay for essentials (such as eggs, milk, bread, etc.), how much of what I bought went to waste and how much of my budget was given to impulse buys. The biggest thing this helped me with was seeing what I didn’t actually need to buy — such as the cereal I never touched or the fruits that went bad. All in all, this method really helped me stop overbuying. 

Costco membership

This is totally a personal choice but I lived most of my life without having a Costco membership and now that I do, I can tell you right now it is worth the money. I cannot stress this enough, if you have roomates and you guys want to split groceries — or even just a group of friends that would be down to grocery shop together — only one of you need a membership for all of you to get into the store as long as you come in together. That’s $60 a year and if you split it with those friends/roomates, the deals in-store make it worth it. 

Think sustainably

Think about what can save you money in the long run, not just in the moment — shop sustainable. Instead of buying one little thing of dish soap every few weeks, buy one in bulk and buy a dispenser that you can refill. Switch out your paper towels for the reusable ones or regular rags. You’ll end up spending more money on that one grocery run, but you’ll save more money over time. 

We’ve all tried a lot of the methods when it comes to getting food in university — meal prepping, eating out, microwavable dinners, you name it. Overall, I found that what works for some people doesn’t always work for others. There is no ultimate guide to grocery shopping on a budget. If a certain method doesn’t work for you, tweak it in every way you can to find a sweet spot — in the end, that’s the only way you’ll perfect grocery shopping on a budget.

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