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Eat for Cheap. Here’s How.

Save money on dinner with six simple tips.

Bridget Kulla

April 21, 2009

Eat for Cheap. Here’s How.

Save money anywhere you can. College is expensive enough; cooking a healthy meal shouldn’t be. Use these tips to fill your pantry for less.

Spend Extra Time Planning Your First Trip to the Grocery Store

You’ve unpacked your boxes in your new place, now it’s time to pack the pantry with groceries. Your grocery bill will be the most expensive when you first move in. All the basics you usually have on hand, like olive oil, salt, sugar and toilet paper, need to be stocked in your new place. Adjust your budget to spend $20 to $40 more during your first trip to the grocery store.

Grocery shopping won’t always be as expensive as when you first stock your new place.

Shop at Different Stores:

Sure, it’s convenient to get all your shopping done at one store, but extra time stopping at a few stores could save you money. Flip through the advertisements each store sends to compare prices. You may find that the little mom-and-pop store has cheaper—and better quality—produce than the big chain grocery store. Does one store have specials for students or double coupon day? Remember, just because a store calls itself a “discount store” doesn’t mean they always have the lowest prices. Shop around.

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Don’t buy things like contact lens solution, aspirin, school supplies and other non-grocery items at the grocery store. Likewise, avoid purchasing grocery items at convenience stores where they usually have high mark-ups.

Share Food:

Splitting your grocery expenses with roommates lowers your overall costs. Larger sizes of items, like milk, tend to cost less per ounce than smaller sizes. You probably can’t drink an entire gallon of milk by yourself, but sharing it with roommates saves everyone money. You’ll spend more if you live alone, but find a few friends to grocery shop with and offer to split large items with them. Wholesale stores, like Costco, have cheaper prices on some things, but don’t assume all items are good deals. Bring a calculator with you. To figure out if a case of cereal actually has a lower unit price than an individual box, divide the cost by the number of ounces.

Make a List (and Stick to It):

Tossing that box of cookies into your cart might seem like a good idea when you’re shopping after skipping lunch, but your food costs add up as a result. Plan what you want to eat for the week and make a list. Stick to what you need instead of falling for the impulse buys at the end of the aisle (supermarkets know this, by the way—things featured at the end of aisles typically have the highest mark-up and are the most tempting). Shopping for a week’s worth of groceries at once will also cost less than shopping for each night’s dinner separately when you’re more likely to buy impulsively.

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Buy Generic:

Most of the time generic and store brands are exactly the same as name brands but at a much lower price. Stores stock the highest-priced items on the shelves at chest level. Look around to find the generic version that can be less than half of the name-brand price. Household products like toilet paper and dish soap are also areas where you can get a good deal with generic brands. Even if you have a coupon for a name-brand product, the generic item will often still cost less.

Use Coupons:

Look in the Sunday newspaper, at in-store displays and on the back of items you’ve already purchased for coupons. Web sites like, and have coupons you can print. Keep in mind that a coupon may save you a lot, but just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean something’s a good deal. Don’t buy 10 bottles of ketchup just because you have a coupon for it. Use coupons only on items you usually buy. If your local grocery has a preferred customer program, like shopper cards that give you special discounts, sign up for it. Check your receipt before you leave to make sure your coupons were deducted.

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