The Ultimate Guide to Grocery Shopping as a College Student

How to master the art of grocery shopping once and for all!
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The ultimate guide to grocery shopping for college students: College grocery shopping guide to help you save money, eat well, and plan your meals ahead

When starting out in college, there are a lot of “adulting” things you have to figure out in the process. You will definitely make mistakes when it comes to doing your own laundry, performing car maintenance, using credit, and several other things you got by without doing until now.

Grocery shopping and cooking is the one thing that still gives me horrible flashbacks of my sophomore year. That year, I decided to skip my school’s dining plan to save money, but quickly found that sandwiches and waffles every day got real old, real quick.

I also had a grocery shopping problem! I’d go to my local market and stock up on groceries like I was preparing to feed a family of six. 

Pop tarts - yum! Bag of apples - why not? Quinoa - I’ve heard this is healthy so in the cart it goes.

Once I’ve made it past the register, to my sad surprised I just spent $110 for a week's worth of groceries. (I was supposed to save money, remember!)

Although buying groceries seems like a simple task, in reality, it’s a skill to master. It’s taken me a couple years but I found the perfect formula for buying groceries and reducing food waste.

Here is my guide to grocery shopping in college!

Shop At Least Once a Week

Be prepared to go grocery shopping at least once a week and make that twice a week if you eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Things like bell peppers, green onions, and berries seem to go bad within a few days, so plan to buy just a few at a time and eat these asap!

Do Your Research on Stores

Look for a food market that offers lower prices, or rewards programs. My store of choice is Sprouts since their produce is typically cheaper and they have bulk bins that allow me to purchase just the right amount of dry goods.

Really Examine How Much You Typically Eat in a Week

Do you eat three large meals in a day or several small meals? Are you a snacker? Do you eat a lot of fruit? We normally buy groceries without even considering if we’ll ever get around to eating them.

For example, I’d used to buy big bags of oranges, apples, and grapes that ended up rotting by the end of the week. I noticed that this was happening and changed my strategy. Now I buy just a few fruits for the week that I’m sure I’m going to use.

Planning is the Key to Success

Spend twenty minutes and plan out your meals for the week. Take into account any events where you will be receiving free food or days you plan to eat out with friends. (This means you don’t have to buy as many groceries, woohoo!)

Look up quick and easy recipes you like (sites like Budget Bytes are amazing for this) and bookmark them. (Bonus points if your recipes use similar ingredients!) Make a list of all the ingredients you need for these meals, planned snacks, and staples you need to restock. Do not stray from this list, however tempting it might be!

Stock Up on Frozen Meals for Emergencies

Things happen like exams, last minute intramural games, or you simply just feel lazy. It’s nice to know that you have a frozen pizza that you can just pop in the oven at these moments.

Purchase Food That is on SALE

You know those flyers that you get in the mail? They really are useful for something other than fire starters. To really save money, don't be picky. Plan your meals around items that are discounted.

Stock Up on Staples When They Go On Sale

Staples are items with a long shelf life and are used frequently. They can really start to add up on the bill so, when things like chicken broth, pizza sauce or cans of black beans go on sale, pile them in your cart!

Coupons are Très Awesome

When you think of coupons, you imagine spending your precious time clipping ads out of newspapers, but in actuality, there are all sorts of apps that can help you save money on your weekly trips to the store.

With apps like Flipp and Ibotta, just a tap on the screen of your phone gives you rebates on groceries you already planned on buying. Some grocery stores have apps as well -- Shaws and Target for example have great store apps that include deals.

Split Groceries With Your Roommates or Friends

Typically, food is packaged with more servings than one person can eat in a week. (I’m talking about you, celery!) Every time I buy celery, I seriously question how someone can eat through the entire pack before it goes bad. 

Include your roomie in on your grocery planning and use Sunday to take a field trip to the store. You don’t have to split everything, but make an effort to split up groceries you both plan on using. 

Don’t Fill Your Fridge

Unless you have one of those micro-dorm fridges, there is absolutely no reason your fridge should be stocked so full you have to shuffle things around until you get what you want.

This leads to forgetting about those strawberries you bought two weeks ago and finding a moldy mess behind a milk carton.

Clean Out Your Fridge Once a Week

At the end of the week, scan over your fridge and take note of items that are out. Also, compost or throw away anything that looks like it’s going bad. Keeping rotten food in your fridge will cause the new groceries to sour faster. Also, the smell -- just no.

Use Your Receipt to Give Back

After I've done all my grocery shopping, I like to use the app Shoparoo to earn points that turn into cash for local schools! All you have to do is take a picture of your receipt using the app and the school of your choice gets money in return.

As a charter school teacher recently told me, small contributions add up and really makes a difference for the students.

Now that you know how to shop for groceries like a boss, apply these tips to your next trip! 

What Do You Think?

Let us know if this guide to grocery shopping for one has helped you! If you’re already pro, what are your tips for making a trip to the store more efficient? We love hearing from our readers, so comment below :) 

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