Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Expensive Eating

This is the second in a series of articles directed towards college students – both graduates and undergraduates. As a PhD student in my 5th year after being an undergraduate for 4 years, you can call me a professional student. Through various experiences, I have learned a few things that can save money and help to reduce expenses. This series is dedicated to these suggestions. In the previous article I looked at textbooks.

After the costs of textbooks are taken off the table, the next area in which spending can easily get out of hand is food. Everyone has to eat, but the question is how you can eat without hurting much in the wallet? Here are a few of the things that I have seen that could help in managing costs of eating.

Attend Cultural Events: Every college campus has an international student organization and as a current (and former) member of several international student organizations I can attest to food being a major item in planned events. Most of these events take place on weekends, during dinner and cost little to no money. So instead of spending money at a Chinese buffet off-campus, support the Chinese Student Organization by attending their cultural event. You get the added bonus of interacting with people of other cultures in addition to eating well. Check your campus newspapers for details on these events and prepare yourself for some delicious dining.

Buy groceries: This is the most common way to save money. Knowing how to cook is an advantage but even if you don’t know how to cook there are easy food packages from Ramen to 5-minute rice to Hamburger Helpers. It’s a guarantee that you will save with a $2 ground beef and $2 hamburger helper package because it costs less than buying a similar food item that’s premade and you will usually have enough left over for a full meal. There are plenty of cheap and easy-to-make food packages ranging from oatmeal to Ramen to 5-minute rice. This is useful whether you live on or off campus. For more on grocery shopping tips, check out an older article from Get Rich Slowly

Cook in bulk: If you’re already buying groceries, take time on the weekend to make 2 – 3 different meals in bulk and refrigerate them for the rest of the week. Cooking more than one meal provides the variety required in a regular diet and reduces the monotony of only eating one meal (Of course if you’re like me and loves eating rice for days on end, there’s nothing wrong with that either). Another way this helps to save money is when it comes to resisting invitations from friends and co-workers who are constantly asking you to go to lunch when you just can’t afford it. Now you can say “I packed my lunch already.”

Make friends: If you don’t have a kitchen on-campus, offer to cook for a friend/classmate that lives off-campus and you both can share the meal. If you do have a kitchen off-campus and can’t cook or don’t have the time to, invite someone who can but doesn’t have a kitchen. This is basically an exercise in trade by barter. It still works even in 2009 (and beyond)!

Organize a Potluck: Although potlucks are usually organized as social events to foster camaraderie and conversation, it can also be another way to cut expenses. Consider that instead of eating out at a restaurant and paying individually, you can have a variety of dishes at a low cost. Although graduate students organize potlucks more frequently than undergraduates, this is a benefit to both parties. Using this idea, potlucks can be organized around themes (Game Night), sporting events (Super Bowl) or even T.V. shows. And if you are unable to cook, you can always offer to provide drinks.

Coupons: Before you skip over this section, remember that using coupons are more of a mental hurdle than anything else. How would it look eating at Applebee’s with a coupon for $5 off? Does $5 really make a dent in a $30 meal? It’s an internal battle, but when you think about it $5 is essentially half of a movie ticket or a haircut or 2 cups of coffee from the campus shop. Websites like campusfood.com and restaurant.com regularly offer deals and coupons to local restaurants. For those living off-campus, there is regular bulk mail delivered featuring pizza coupons and fast-food deals. Although these foods are inherently unhealthy, and minimizing them in your diet is the most beneficial habit, the focus here is not to eliminate bad habits but attempt to reduce their cost.

Brew your own coffee (or tea): From helping you make it through an all-nighter to giving you that extra kick in the early morning, caffeine intake usually increases proportionally with the time spent in college. A cup of coffee can range from $1 – $5 depending on the temperature, flavor and size. Yet this cost can be highly reduced if you make your own beverage from home. A little research using Wal-Mart and Walgreens website provides the following

Item

Cost

Coffee Maker with a Timer

$20

Folger’s Classic Roast (33.5 oz)

$13

French Vanilla Liquid Creamer (For Flavor)

$3

Coffee Mug

$10

Total

$46

Some people don’t consume that much coffee, but if these numbers are way lower than the amount you spend on coffee (Check out these useful tools) it might be time to modify.

Eating well does not have to come at a premium and food doesn’t have to bite into your pocket money if you network with people and make some of the things you pay high prices for. What are some of the other ways in which you have been able to reduce costs? I’ll update this article based on the suggestions I receive.

Coming up next in the series - Money Tips from a Professional Student: On Housing

Image from PhD Comics
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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Who that girl? on October 6, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    This is gonna sound sooo cheap, but when I was an undergrad I worked as an RA. Sometimes we were taken out for lunch to the Olive Garden. We would eat all the breadsticks and salad and then take the actual meal home for dinner. Cheap, I know, but it worked. Happy now?

    Reply

    • Posted by Olu on October 8, 2009 at 11:27 am

      Yes I am. Thanks for sharing.

      Backstory – “Who that girl?” left this comment about this on my facebook and I asked her (nicely of course) to comment here instead so others can gain

      Reply

  2. One guy at my school ran a list-serv that highlighted where to get free food everyday in the Gainesville area. I’m definitely going to check out more cultural events, I don’t know why it never occurred to me before.

    Reply

    • Posted by Olu on October 8, 2009 at 11:28 am

      That’s a pretty cool way of providing a service to people. In other words if the service is not already available, start your own. I wonder how he did it.

      Reply

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