What You Need To Know: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Raise your hand if you're a college student. Now high-five yourself in advance for reading this post.

I will be the first to admit how difficult it is to grocery shop when you're in college. There are weeks when you will eat home every meal, every day, and then there are weeks (especially if you're busy like me) where you suddenly are eating out for every meal, simply because you don't have time. It is stressful. So I've compiled a few tips and tricks on how to patch up the grocery side of this dilemma - because if you have food you want to eat, you will make time to trek back to your apartment between classes.

  1. Find an empty notebook, a legal pad, a piece of paper - honestly anything that can be written on will work - and make a meal plan. I know you associate those words with the bland food at your school's dining center, but don't. Meal planning is so much more. Write down the days of the week, what you want to eat each day, what you'll need to eat each day and some extra snacks you'll probably want on hand. You'll begin to see how much things overlap - a package of ground turkey suddenly becomes five different meals. 
  2. Shop around for the store you're going to. It sounds silly, but taking an extra train ride or even a cab ride might be worth it if you're saving enough money. Look for your nearest Trader Joe's (sorry, I'm a huge advocate of theirs) or regional discount grocery store.
  3. Steer clear of organic if it's not necessary. Honestly, the difference between organic and non-organic is remarkably nonexistent. I've stared down two bags of lettuce several times and I just couldn't justify spending $3 more on the organic kind. There are some times when the organic produce is obviously better quality, and it's okay to splurge then if you'd like.
  4. Stick to your plan when shopping. Those chocolate-covered cherries are always going to be there, but do you really need them? Bring your meal plan with you and check the items off as you go. If you get home and are really regretting not buying the cherries, put them on your list for next time! 
  5. Stick to your plan when eating. I know, sometimes it can be tough to get off the couch and actually prepare those enchiladas, but you will be so happy you did. There are days when I stray a bit from what I had planned, or unexpectedly eat out. Don't let this deter you from getting back on track. And if you're really straying from your plan, re-think what you'd like to eat the next time you make a list. A fancy meal plan looks pretty, but it can be a lot of work if you're not prepared. 
  6. Have fun with it! Grocery shopping and cooking is one thing that young adults struggle with the most (hello, ramen noodles) and with good reason. As long as you keep it simple, you can throw in the ingredients for that Pinterest recipe you've been waiting to try and it won't seem overwhelming. In a few months, you may even find that you keep enough basics stocked in your fridge and pantry to start experimenting in the culinary arts. Do I sense the next Wolfgang Puck emerging..? 
How do you grocery shop? Any advice for meal-planners like myself? 

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