Living on Budget: Grad Student Eats for $2.75 a Year

Taking student budgeting to a whole new level.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

Living on Budget: Grad Student Eats for $2.75 a Year

Student life is nearly synonymous with the word “budget.” Whether it’s clothing, cars or food, most students are just barely getting by – even with a little help from mom and dad on occasion. One graduate student, though, is taking his student budget to the extreme.

William Reid is a current graduate student at American University, and during an interview with USA Today College, he revealed that nearly all of his food comes from local dumpsters. That’s right…dumpsters. However, literally foraging for his food has saved him big in that he has only spent $5.50 total on groceries in the last two years.

Reid told USA Today College that his “dumpster diving” began as a social experiment. He had previously volunteered with an organization, Food Not Bombs, which takes donated food and provides meals for different groups of people like the homeless, disaster victims and protestors. Through working with this organization, he realized how much food actually goes unused and ends up in a landfill.

Once he saw what people were giving away, he decided to check out what people were actually throwing away. Thus began his exploration of food waste.

Dumpster diving has changed Reid’s life in more ways than one. In addition to saving money, he told USA Today College that it has become the subject of his thesis. USA Today College states that, “This practice [food waste] leaves an estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption lost or wasted in the world each year — and is part of what Reid is fighting against. So much so that Reid’s graduate thesis is a documentary on the complexity of food waste as well as his experience trying to avoid it.”

If Reid’s philosophy on food waste isn’t enough to tempt you to dumpster dive, there are other ways to save on groceries in order to accommodate your student budget.

At the grocery store. First, it’s never too early to learn to never go to the grocery store hungry. You are more likely to buy more than you need as well as make impulse purchases. Go after a big meal, create a list and look for sales or store brands in order to spend less. If you live with roommates or have a good group of friends that also grocery shop, consider going in on meals and cooking together.

Out on the town. As a college student, it’s extremely tempting to eat out several times a week – or every night. At the end of the day, you’re tired, stressed and short on time. But you have to exercise discipline when it comes to takeout on a student budget. Limit your nights out to once a month or once a week, depending on your budget. Use your Sunday afternoon to prep meals ahead of time so that weeknight meals are a little easier. When you do go out to eat, try to eat at restaurants that offer student discounts.

Campus meal plans. Dining in the campus cafeteria night after night, meal after meal may not be a glamorous way to live, but being a college student is definitely not glamorous. You’re supposed to “rough it.” Consider getting a campus meal plan, and don’t splurge on the most decadent option. Get what you need, and eat all of your meals on campus. Given that it’s part of room and board costs, you can use financial aid or merit scholarships to help cover the cost. This will help to keep your food expenditures low.

Make your own coffee. It’s a fact that most college students run on coffee. Instead of making daily trips to Starbucks, though, make your own. Invest in a coffee maker, pick up fun flavors and creamers at the grocery store and brew in your room. You can splurge on a fancy cup once a week.

It’s up to you which student budget you choose – dumpster diving or watching your grocery money closely. Whatever the case, it’s clear now that either scenario can work – and can help you save big money.

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