By Emily McLaughlin
Summer 2011 marks my first summer living away from home. This is also my first time being completely, financially independent. During the school year, I am on my own when it comes to food, minus the padding I get from a meal plan. There has been no help from a meal plan this summer, so I have been finding ways to eat on a budget. My biggest struggle? Eating right.
It is harder to eat healthily when you are strapped for cash. The cheapest things on food market shelves are also some of the worst things for you. So what do we do? Eat well and have no money to spare, or sacrifice our health for a thicker wallet?
Without access to the pantry, fruit basket and refrigerator that my mother keeps stocked, I have been forced to find ways to afford those things with my biweekly paycheck.
Here is a step-by-step plan for grocery shopping on a budget:
1. Pick a store: Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop and Target are my favorite stores. Each store is relatively inexpensive and convenient for me since they are all located right down the street. My most frequently visited store is Stop & Shop because of the rewards I receive with my card (hello, gas points!). Based on your research in the next few steps, you might decide that you want to buy essentials (pasta, bread, milk) at one store, produce (fruits, vegetables) at another and meats at a third. In Amherst this is easy, because there are a number of stores along the same strip.
2. Check the circular: Every week my apartment receives the weekly circulars for a number of stores. You can also view these circulars online. Each one tends to start on a Friday and end the following Thursday. If not, they might start on Sunday. Because of this, I try to go shopping over the weekend when items are fresh and in stock.
3. Make a list: Before or after gazing at the circular, make a list of things you may want or need for the week. After you have a concrete list, go through the circular and find the best deals. This is where you find trouble if you pledge loyalty to any certain brands. Stay open minded to trying different brands of food. You may also find that some things on your list are not on sale, so if they are not a necessity, don’t buy them.
4. Plan ahead: Simultaneously while making lists and looking at the circular, plan your meals for the week. Get a general idea of what you might want for breakfast, lunch and dinner on each day. You don’t have to be too meticulous, just plan how you can get a variety of meals out of the food you are buying.
*Need an example? Think protein. This week, Stop & Shop chicken was on sale, as was Oscar Meyer Turkey Bacon. On Tuesday, I cooked half of the chicken with salt and pepper and refrigerated it. The same afternoon, I fried the bacon to refrigerate it. From these two products, I planned to produce a number of meals: BLTs, pasta with chicken, egg sandwich with bacon, chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad… the possibilities were endless.
5. Coupon: I am a couponer–and I am not ashamed to say it. Between store savings and coupon savings, I tend to save $20.00+ in a trip. Saving money is HUGE in college, and there are millions of coupons out there to help you trim pennies off your grocery bill.
How does one coupon? All you need is a Sunday paper, Google and some links that I have here for you. The Sunday paper is the one with the coupon inserts. Subscribe to your local paper or pick one up on Sundays and clip.
From Google, type in “(Store Name) coupon match-ups (The Date).” There are websites and blogs that have done all of the work for you. They match up the store’s deals, with the coupons available.
Want to do even less work? Click on these links:
If you want to know more about couponing, The Krazy Coupon Lady is your girl. Also, remember to check your store’s coupon policy (some places double coupons, or don’t accept certain ones).
Want to know more about eating on a budget, read Eating healthy, on a college budget!