Grocery Shopping on a Budget: A Guide for College Students

college student food budget
grocery shopping on a budget
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Grocery Shopping on a Budget: A Guide for College Students

A majority of college students nowadays are concerned about their finances because of several fees, including tuition, dorm, class projects, subsistence, etc. Many of these costs need prioritization. It’s the reason why they need to spend their money wisely, and it includes a prudent food budgeting.

As a student, well-planned grocery shopping on a budget is essential. After all, lessons would be hard to understand, and tests would become more difficult if your stomach is empty and growling. But effective grocery budgeting doesn’t end in buying cheap merchandise. It also involves identifying healthy food your money can buy. Surviving on instant noodles and Hot Pockets is a tempting idea, but it is not a good way to sustain your physical and mental health needs.

Most college students have a strict budget for buying food each month. And though some just throw their hands up and buy a bunch of Ramen noodles and bottles of water, there are better and healthier ways to get nutritional food at a cheaper price. Let’s take a look at some strategies for effective grocery shopping for college students on a budget. (8)

grocery shopping on a budget

1. Coupons, coupons, coupons

You’d be surprised how much you can shave off your grocery bill using coupons! Be sure to check different places like print circulars, websites, and mobile apps.


Percentage of consumers who regularly use coupons(1)


The average value of a coupon(1)

Internet coupon usage has grown by 263% since 2009. (1)

2. Plan ahead and make a list

Don’t go in thinking you can just remember what you need. This always leads to picking up items you don’t need. So make a list and stick to it.


Percentage of shoppers who say they refer to grocery lists they’ve made on their mobile phones (2)


Percentage of shoppers who say they make a list online and print it out (2)

A grocery list is your ultimate helpmate to get what you want to buy at the grocery store. Making a list allows you to plan what to buy to stay within the budget and save time and money.

Without a list, you’ll be tempted to buy unnecessary things, forget items you need, and spend beyond budget. These unexpected things can happen, which you might regret. It’s always good to know what to buy before shopping, especially if you are on a budget.

3. Use discount cards/student discounts.

Being a student can be a source of privileges because business establishments, including restaurants, retailers, and most brands, offer student discounts. 

Always check to see if your local grocery store gives student discounts. If not, most of them have discount cards to help lower the price.

Only 17% of students shopping online say they took advantage of a student discount. (3)

4. Check weekly ads.

It’s always better to shop when a store is running a promotion.


Percentage of grocery shoppers who read circulars and printed weekly ads(4)


Percentage of younger grocery shoppers who use mobile coupons while grocery shopping (4)

grocery shopping on a budget

5. Buy store brands.

Usually, there is little to no difference between brand-name goods and generics. Well, except for the price.

Buying store or generic brands over name-brand goods saves a consumer an average of 30%. This adds up to $1,500 per year if you spend $100/per week on groceries. (5)

Store brands have become the “in thing” in grocery shopping, especially during the pandemic and beyond. A May 2020 survey conducted by StoreBrands said 60% of consumers would likely continue buying store brands after the pandemic.

While buying store brands is cost-effective, it would be prudent for you to read the nutrition facts before buying a food item. Checking the nutrition facts will ensure that you are getting quality, value, and savings simultaneously. Isn’t it rewarding on your part?

Most store brands are major brands that are similar in content; the main difference between these two are price and packaging. That said, it would safe to say that buying store brands is more beneficial to students buying groceries on a budget because it can give extra savings that you can use to buy other items.

6. Don’t buy more than you need.

It’s trendy right now to buy in bulk. And there are advantages to it: it can save you money, and it’s better for the environment. But getting more than you need of anything takes up space in your dorm or apartment—not to mention you’re more likely to throw out spoiled food you never got the chance to eat.

$162 billion

The total annual cost of food wasted by consumers in the U.S. This is about $1,300 to $2,300 per family each year. (6)

7. Eat before you shop.

This is a given. Shopping on an empty stomach means trouble.

In multiple studies, it’s been shown that being hungry while shopping will increase the likelihood that consumers will buy high-calorie foods. (7)

It has been scientifically proven that hunger and shopping can’t go together. According to a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), unsatisfied hunger is related to a desire to purchase non-food items. It can lead you to buy what you don’t want. (9)

grocery shopping on a budget

Bonus Tips:

1. Vegetables and fruits that are in season are cheaper

It’s not difficult to know what fruits or vegetables are in season because of their abundance in the market, and they are always cheaper. As a student on a tight grocery shopping budget, be on the lookout for fruits and veggies that are at their cheapest. 

If you want to eat fruits and vegetables that are not in season, buy them frozen. They may not be very cheap, but they’re not as pricey as their fresh counterparts.

2. Prepare your own breakfast and snacks

Instead of buying ready-made breakfast, snacks, or coffee from the canteen, buy these items from the grocery store and prepare them yourself for your own consumption. This will save you some money and tickle your desire for cooking. 

grocery shopping on a budget


Additional Resources:

Malcolm Peralty
Chief Editor