Taking on the financial burden of college can be a humbling experience, but learning to live economically can be a source of great confidence. After a month or so of college, it’s no shock to check the bank account and see large outputs of cash labeled “Tuition” or “Housing,” but what sometimes surprises students is the high yet necessary cost of eating. Feeding yourself will always be one of the top-ranking expenses of life, but there are several ways to minimize that number. So, here are some ideas to remember every time you open your mouth (and your wallet) for food.
- [Plan to] Treat Yourself – It is inevitable that some days you are going to be sick of your dining hall or not in the mood to cook. While a diet of only fast food will take a heavy toll on your bank account, the occasional outing will not put you under. To make sure “the occasional” does not morph into “the regular” visit, choose one of these strategies. A monthly dining-out budget will allow you to consciously treat yourself and encourage money-maximizing choices. Or, a dining-out quota will limit the number of times you wander into the café. Additionally, if you set a day of the week for your lunch out, you will have something to look forward to and be less tempted at other times.
- Play the “Student Card” – With the humbling title of “broke college student” comes the ability to proudly display your student ID in hopes of a discount. Be that student. You never know who will throw you a free drink or 10% off. On a similar note, join those rewards programs and save coupons. Sure, your friends may laugh and call you “mom” when you pull out your wad of deals, but guess who will be jealous when you get a free donut with coffee. (And we all know food tastes better when it’s free.)
- Become an Aqua-holic – Sodas are one of the greatest marketing schemes of all time; don’t fall victim. The carbonated corn-syrup-flavored liquids are virtually worthless to restaurants that gouge you $2-4. “But it comes with the combo” you think. However, many food chains will combine their entrees with a side and drink, simply add up the price of each, and advertise it as a “deal.” Don’t order the #3 if you don’t really want that drink, because you’re still paying for it. While it is a sacrifice, substituting the soda for a cup of water can lower the cost of eating out by as much as 25%.
- Drop the Brand Name – Ever been to the grocery store and noticed those boxes next to your favorite foods claiming “Compare to your favorite brand”? This translates to “We think we made this as well as that company and we will give you a discount if you try it!” Quite often, it even is the same product packaged specifically for that store. Admittedly, not all of the store brand foods measure up to the originals, but you can save quite a bit of money by making just a few substitutions.
- DIY – Speaking of brand names, in many cases you can make it yourself better, and cheaper. A prime example of this is coffee (there’s a reason “bucks” is in one company’s name). Now, the idea of DIY may seem intimidating to some. It requires a higher financial investment and a learning curve early on, but with dedication it will pay off. For example, I purchased myself a hot air popcorn maker for $20. A bag of kernels is $3 and makes 26 servings of popcorn, and salt and butter are cheap (~$3) and last through many uses. I’ve gone through 3 bags of kernels now, making the average serving $0.41, and continuing to get cheaper. I’ve now mastered my “popcorn seasoning” technique, and I am proud to serve my friends homemade popcorn!
Being a college student is not a time of wealth in your life, so be proud when you humbly say “no” to expensive options. After all, you are preparing yourself for financial success.
This essay was submitted by Raelene Burke for FTWCCU’s Cash for Class contest. Raelene, a Sophomore at The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, is a Biology major.
*Post has been lightly edited for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.