How to Save Money on Food in College

Especially for commuters!

However, this advice works for anybody who finds themselves going to class and getting one or two meals in town or “eating out” without a meal plan and finds the costs adding up.


This is certainly not a jab at my other half, who five minutes ago said, “All I’ve eaten today is pizza. I know, it sounds like a dream, but it’s terrible. I should have ordered cheese sticks  or something.”

Rather, this is a post culminating from the mistakes I’ve made in the past two semesters. The aforementioned Other 1/2 has a meal plan and thus suffers on breaks because he’s relatively, through no fault of his own, helpless in terms of cooking. He can do basic stuff and I’m right there with him some days on the bigger stuff– why bother when McDonalds can give it to me for five dollars, amiright?

That’s quitter talk. I’m trying to overcome my mistakes and get my shit together, and you should too! Or Nah.

Now that the obligatory prose is manifest upwards of this text, I introduce a three part system to break down my advice. Or, in internet clickbait lingo:

3 Easy Steps to Saving Money on Food in College!

Okay, here we go.

Step 1: For fuck’s sake, pack a lunch

It sounds simple because it is. The best way to save money in college is to budget out some grocery money– much less than you’d spend on fast food, so I actually came to this conclusion out of desperation– and plan some meals. It doesn’t even have to be complicated meals, nor do you have to stick to the schedule. Just make sure you buy enough food for two or three meals a day and some oatmeal for breakfast.

Step 2: profit.

Seriously, before class or the night before, make a sandwhich or put some leftovers in tupperware. Bring something that won’t spoil in your car (if you’re a commuter) or for the Advanced course, have a friend with a dorm fridge who won’t mind your daily use of it.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply for dorm kids. Listen up, dorm kiddies. Here’s what you want to do if you want to avoid eating out or don’t want to use the meal plan that presumably came with your dorm; this also goes out to dorm kiddies who live in apartments and thus have kitchenettes and no meal plan, and dorm kiddies with access to a stove or community little kitchen area.

Oatmeal, grits, etc= microwavable breakfast, super cheap, have some butter in your dorm fridge and some sugar wherever you keep shit like sugar. It’s a warm breakfast, too, which automatically makes your morning less shitty than a muffin or granola bar or some shit on the go, or especially skipping breakfast. If you skip breakfast, you won’t feel alive until first class is over and you stumble out starving with maybe time between classes to spend money at the donut store across the street but definitely not any energy.

Also, grab a jug of Sunny D at wal-mart because it’s like two bucks for a whole gallon and it has a fuckton of sugar + tang to wake you up + you feel kind of healthy because presumably some oranges were hurt in the making of this product. There’s your breakfast, less than ten dollars a week, you may want to spice it up with some other cheap shit. There are other recipes but let’s be real– dorms ban all the shit now. You can’t have a rice cooker or a slow cooker or even a waffle thingy for cinnamon rolls because it’s all banned– and googling recipes for college absolutely advocates the fuck out of that shit.

Moving on. Lunches. Lunches are key. Every college student discovers the magic of buying a loaf of bread and some lunch meat. It’s like the price of a subway sandwich except it makes like ten to twenty sandwiches. What you also probably know is that it gets old FAST. So a) splurge on some chips. Turns the whole thing into what you ate at the lake as a kid. It’s suddenly a meal. Sandwich and cheetos one day, sandwich and doritos another.

If you’re the type to like green shit on your sandwiches, more power to you, but I’m not a fan so I don’t know what’s cheapest. It’s a good way to get green into your diet though. Also! Get the goddamn variety bags of chips. Yes they are expensive. No they are not comparatively expensive. A family sized bag of fluffy cheetos will last me three or so sandwich meals. The variety pack as a) variety and b) a fuck-ton of already portion sized bag that are perfect for the commuters lunch kit, grabbing on the go, or a snack tbh.

Aside from sandwiches for lunch, there’s shit like chef boyardee, pizza rolls, chili + saltines– all shit you can make in the microwave. Even if you only do this most of the time, and still eat out some days, you’ve saved some money. $10 worth of food at a restaurant (or a $9 McDonalds/Whataburger etc. meal, same thing) is one meal and you still have to buy dinner; $10 worth of pizza rolls is like four meals or more, depending on how much you eat.

Also, take note. Instead of buying ramen, buy potatoes. Baked potatoes are the shit and pretty healthy. Butter should be a staple in your fridge to go with it, maybe some cheese– a dollar/two dollar pack of butter will last you two weeks or more of oatmeal and several baked potatoes, plus other shit.

Bananas are also hella cheap, go in oatmeal if you’re into that, and work as breakast on their own. Just saying. Yum, potassium.

Okay, dinner: Same shit, different time of day. Rice is your friend. There’s a reason it’s a staple in asian countries. It’s like dinner rolls here. Goes with everything, is filling and not a main part of the meal so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating only rice.

I’ll spare you my ghetto chicken nugget/fried rice combo as you need a stove to make it, but my lads/ladies/genderqueer babies, rice is useful and goes a long way.

And here are some vegi-pack things that you pop in the microwave. Way better than the canned stuff (although for that matter, $1 canned corn or carrots instantly transforms a sad entree into a meal, just throw it in a bowl and microwave). We had the corn steamed pack thing with family meals for years growing up. The bomb dot com.

I have an oven where I commute from, so I usually add ‘twelve tostinos pizzas’ to my shopping list to last for a month. You can microwave them but it’s shittier that way.

Buy a bag of chicken nuggets and throw them in your fridge’s freezer. Make your own lunch. Pack a lunch.

Specifically, if you commute, get a lunch box and bring a meal with you. Either make it insulated and with ice to make it last until lunch, or find someone’s fridge to beg to use, but it’s so so worth it. Almost all colleges– and almost all college buildings– have microwaves to heat up your lunch if it’s leftovers that need it.

As a final note, as an “I forgot a lunch/didn’t have time/etc” last resort, there are those hungry man type kid kuisine things that you pop in the microwave with a full meal. I make it a habit to leave a clean bowl/plate/etc kit in my trunk in case I want to buy some food and heat it up because my house is thirty-plus minutes away, not counting the return trip, and I’ve got class in an hour.

Step 2: If you at all can afford it, make some make-ahead snacks.

Like, yoooo. This is where I messed up last year. I’ve yet to do it, but the semester starts in nine days and I’ve got plans, you guys. Plans. 

So, backstory: I always buy ‘snacks’ when I need to study to reward myself and make sure I don’t leave out of hunger midway through. I also study on campus because if I drive home my brain goes “We’re here so we must be done” and “Bed= sleep”, but moving on.

don’t give myself snacks throughout the day, which is problematic. I usually have time to kill between class and meals and it’s almost never productively spent. Aforementioned Other Half has a dorm-room, it has a bed, I take naps. They’re good for my mental state, bad for my study habits.

I need to be stricter with myself. I need to be healthier. Study and work out and eat cutesy little snacks that make me feel like I have my life together like my little sister, also in college, twice as independent as me, a quarter as pathetic.

Having snacks with you throughout the day boosts productivity, lets you do stuff without worrying about buying food or whether or not your hungry enough to justify a meal or buying food. It makes you feel like you’ve got your shit together to be able to whip out a snack or little homemade treat that’s not a bag of chips or something ‘unhealthy’ that makes you feel super weighed down and lazy (i.e. fries).

So, plans. Snacks. My tastebuds are twats because I don’t like celery or peanut butter or any other things people do on the internet. Cute study snack idea, rife with peanut butter and nuts, etc. I don’t do that. Fuck peanut butter, fuck nuts, I hate the taste and texture and everything.

You can fin a myriad of uber healthy snacks if you google. They also say “GUILT FREE” which is another rant entirely (I know it’s thirty year old women trying to advertise things that don’t count as cheating on your diet; I know; I still lose my shit and Hulk Out via logic and long-winded rants about the idea of making anyone in any situation ever feel like eating food should carry any amount of guilt).

Here are MY contributions to this shit.

Okay, granola bars. They usually have nuts or peanut butter or raisins or some shit. Did you know you could make your own? And it’s not real expensive either. I add chocolate chips to that shit, but you don’t have to, and there’s tons of recipes depending on what you like. Essentially you mix some quick oats with some honey and cinnamon and whatever shit, smooth it out in a glass/metal whatever square cake pan, and pop that bitch in the fridge until it sets, then cut into bars. Seriously, the number of recipes is unending.

If you don’t add chocolate chips, that chocolate drizzle is what kills it. And while you’ve bought baker’s chocolate bars– about the same price as chocolate chips tbh, under $5, lasts a while– you can make other snacks.

My sister had a variety pack of chips while she was in for a week or two this summer and said “Yo, Helmslady, you want like ten small bags of pretzels?”

“Wtf, why do you have those lol.”

“They come in the variety chip pack but I don’t want ’em/eat ’em.”

“So much yes, hand them here.”

Boom, I’ve inherited several bags. I ate two of them casually while browsing the internet before it occurred to me how good a snack they are. Also, y’all know the concept of frito pie in bags? If you’ve ever attended a high school sports game in Texas, y’all do.

Long story short they’re already in those little bags so I’m going to pop them open, drize in some melted chocolate, profit. Chocolate covered (drizzled!) pretzels are a semi-healthy snack option and I’m so down for it when the semester starts.

There’s other things you can pack with your lunch– not to eat with the lunch, but snacks kept with it packed for snack times throughout the day– like bananas, cheese sticks (the plastic wrapped cheese, not the Pizza Hut kind my boyfriend admires from afar), apples (according to the discourse on tumblr, Red Delicious were inbred into clone-status of ‘very red, no deliciousness’ and some kind called ‘Pink Lady’ apples taste super awesome; I am not an apple fan in general, I wouldn’t know), etc.

You can have celery to dip in peanut butter like my mom; they have those little peanut butter cups or you could buy a big thing of peanut butter and ration some out for the lunch day, probs, for cheaper. Idk.

Speaking of things my mom does, if you’re a salad person and want to make ahead lunches like Step 1 says, put the salad in mason jars AFTER you’ve put the salad dressing in the bottom of the jar. Keep refrigerated, when it’s time to eat it, turn it upside down then shake it up. Apparently it doesn’t get soggy/stays fresh/gives you that ‘tossed’ salad feel or some such.We have labeled mason jars in my fridge.

Salads also make a good snack, I suppose.

Moving right along. You guys. You guys. Make your own rice crispy treats if you’re ever tempted to buy them. It’s cheaper. Idk how you’d go about it with a microwave, but can’t be too hard. Make fruity pebble cereal bars the same way. Both of these require the same ‘pour sticky mess into pan to refrigerate’ strategy as granola bars, except you mix them with melted marshmallows, recipes on google.

Crunchy non-granola and granola Bar snacks just seem so healthy and nice. Fruit and veggie snacks, as aforementioned, work nice too. Also cheese sticks. Keep those brain juices flowing.

Recipes (that I found on google and haven’t tried, fair warning, but it’s not like they’re that much different that what I do at my house):

Apply Cinnamon Granola Bars

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars

Nature Valley Honey and Oats Knockoff

Chewy Cinnamon Roll Granola Bars

Step 3: Share. No, seriously, if you have to eat out, order food like pizza and split the bill with buddies/roommates, etc, or take turns buying.

Okay so if you’re going to buy a pizza, you’re not going to eat the whole pizza. And cold pizza does have benefits, but it’s better hot.

A large pizza is usually enough for two people. If not, Pizza Hut’s pick two for five menu lets you order two medium, one-topping pizzas for $5 each.

Both of you get a pizza to yourselves for $5. That’s not bad.

My Other Half and his roommate get the hot-and-ready deals at I think Little Caesar’s and that’s a pizza for $5 even. Two fifty for a meal. It’s hard to beat that for eating out.

Same thing for McDonalds. Pick 2 for $5 deal, two medium fries for $3. Don’t buy their drinks, keep drinks in your minifridge. For serious. A dollar for a drink is silly when you can pay $7 (if you don’t coupon or take advantage of sales) for 24 drinks– that’s a dollar for three and a half drinks, if you were wondering.

It’s almost always better to wait for you store’s montly deal– cvs, dollar store, walmart price matches both of them, etc– of 4 twelve-packs for twelve dollars or better. That gets you up to one dollar for four drinks or better. Anyway, it’s ridiculous to buy fountain drinks and I have to tell myself that often.

McDonalds also has the five dollar 20 piece which can fill two people. One buys the nuggets, another the fries, drinks at the house– or even buy drinks. Whatever.

Step 3 is to be smart about it, I suppose. Buy with a buddy to lessen the cost of things, split pizza prices, etc. And buy cokes instead of fountain drinks, and take advantages of sales if you can, and if you have a grandma who coupons, cherish her. Cherish her and accept her gifts of free, surplus toothbrushes, toothpaste, make up and shower soap/shampoos, etc.



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