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A Budget-Friendly Grocery List For College Kids

Updated on January 10, 2016

College Life

Paying for your education itself can be a monumental task. With tuition, loans, housing, and transportation, most people pursuing a higher education can expect to be eating a lot of Ramen Noodles and fast food. This can hurt you in the long run, physically, mentally, and financially. It is important to eat enough, especially breakfast, in order to get through classes, study, and prep for finals. More importantly, you want to consume foods that will nourish your body instead of causing harm.

You also don't want to burn a hole in your pocket eating fast food and Hot Pockets every single day. Every penny you earn should be saved, after school you will eventually have to go out into the real world and start your new life. Make sure you have some savings in case things go wrong, especially if you have big loans to pay off.

The great thing about my College Grocery List is you don't have to be a chef to cook these simple recipes, and the ingredients are very simple. Here are your most essential groceries, and a few tips on how to cook them!

LOTS of Canned Food (prices vary)

I wouldn't suggest eating canned foods as a meal, but in times when food is scarce, you can always count on them to get you through the week. At the time of purchase, your canned goods should last for up to two years, depending on where you purchase them. I like to get mine from the Dollar Store. The quality is just the same as buying it from a Walmart or any major grocery store, but the price is much cheaper.

My Suggestions:

  • Vienna Sausages (Not the healthiest choice, but it is always a quick fix when you are running low on groceries. Fry them and eat them with rice or bread, but try not to make it a daily meal. The sausages have a high salt content.)
  • Fruits and Vegetables (Pears, diced tomato, potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, olives,etc. can be added to any meal.)
  • Broths for soups (Broths are especially good for when you're sick. They're also very filling and keep your body hydrated. Broths are also useful when you're short on dog and cat food. If you're like me, you'll do anything to keep your pets fed. I usually add some white rice and a little chicken or veggie broth warmed up, then add regular dog/cat food to the mix. It keeps them satisfied and will hold you until you can buy regular food for them again.)
  • Refried Beans (Beans are a rich source of protein, easy to make for breakfast, wrapped in a tortilla, or with some veggies and rice for dinner.)
  • Condensed Milk (Good for home baking.)

Pasta and Pasta Sauces

If there is one thing that has gotten me through many hard times, its Spaghetti. Its filling, filled with carbohydrates, easy to make, and VERY cheap. Since it comes in many flavors, shapes, and colors, you have a good variety of possibilities in the kitchen. You can cook up some Bow-Tie Pasta and put it in a salad, or make a simple spaghetti and add some lemon, garlic, and pepper for some spice.

If you get sick of Spaghetti, which you will, you can always make a tofu stir fry with added veggies, oyster sauce, and a little soy sauce, you've got takeout right there at home.

You can't go wrong with pasta.

White Rice (Prices Vary)

Rice is extremely useful in times of hardship. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it can also be used in many recipes for cooking. For myself, I just like to cook some up as a side dish. For breakfast, its eggs, rice, and a banana. Lunch, meat or tofu, a vegetable, and rice. Dinner, any variation of what I've had for lunch.

It keeps your stomach full and provides you with carbohydrates to give you energy throughout the day. Rice can be quite expensive when sold in small bags at a regular grocery store. My suggestion would be to find a store that specializes in Asian foods specifically, or go to your local China Town. You can find rice bags between 20 to 40 pounds for $15-$25.

Quinoa and brown rice are much healthier grains, but they can also be much more costly. I like to get the smaller bags of quinoa and mix it in with my white rice.

Eggs or Egg Substitutes

Eggs are a perfect staple for your grocery list, mainly because you can make ANYTHING with them, and I do mean anything.

Just to name a few, eggs can be:

  • Mixed in with fried rice
  • Mixed with vegetables to make an omelette
  • Used to make friend chicken
  • Used a base for any of your baking needs

Eggs are a good source of protein and excellent for college athletes.

Cereal (About $2 per box)

Cereal is a quick and easy meal to make in the morning, or when you are in a hurry. Brands like Special K and Smart Start are a couple that I enjoy. They have fiber, protein, and less sugar than your average kids cereals. You can also chop up fruits such as strawberries, bananas or mandarin oranges and add them to your cereal and eat them on the side.

I like to make an occasional trail mix out of my cereal. 1/2 a cup of your choice cereal, 1/2 cup of nuts, and 1/2 a cup of dried fruits can make for a yummy trail mix. You can also increase the portion size and keep it in a zip-lock bag or jar.

Whole Grain Bread ($1-$2 a Loaf)

Obviously, bread is a good choice for anyone's list. I like to buy at least 2 loaves when I go to the store, simply because its cheap, healthy, and you can do pretty much anything with a piece of bread. Other than sandwiches, you can also make french toast, garlic bread, and add it to soups.

Fry up some eggs in Olive Oil and make an egg sandwich.

If you get tired of bread, I like Tortillas every now and then. You can usually get flour tortillas in a 12 pack for around $2.00.

Cooking Oil and a Frying Pan

Eventually you are going to get tired of eating cold meals, to remedy this you will need two Kitchen Essentials, cooking oil and a frying pan. With these you can make eggs, french toast, Vienna sausages, grilled cheese, and fried rice. How much you end up spending will depend on what type of oil you purchase and where you purchase it.


  • Canola Oil and Vegetable Oil are usually very cheap, $1.50-$2.00 where I purchase mine for a 24 oz. bottle. However, the fats in these oils are not healthy for you, they also don't cook things as well as Olive Oil, I find the cheaper oils cause more sticking, burning and popping.
  • Olive Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil are the best to use in my opinion. They are healthier, have good fats, and cook the food much more easily without having to use quite as much as Canola or Vegetable Oil, and tastes better. The only downside is a 34 oz. bottle could cost you anywhere between $8.99-$12.50, also keeping in my where you purchase it. I realize it may sound pretty expensive when you add it to a $50 grocery list, but it does save money in the long run to have good quality cooking oil.
  • Coconut Oil is something I have most recently tried. I am not sure of the price, but I purchased mine at Wal-Mart for less than 10$. Initially I had bought it as an ingredient to one of my DIY skin care products, but I ran out of cooking oil and decided to try it. It actually cooks the food really well and it doesn't taste like coconut as I thought it would. I would highly recommend Coconut Oil for many different uses.
  • Some oils come mixed together, for example 1 part Olive oil and 3 parts Canola. The food stuck to the pan and did not work well, so I have not used any type of mixture since.

Nuts and Nut Butters

Nuts are high in fiber and protein, essential nutrients for the human body. Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, and Nutella are also quick solutions for an on-the-go meal. You can make a sandwich with a thinly sliced banana, a tasty and delicious treat for the morning.

You can also add any of the above to celery, a delicious and healthy snack between classes.

Dried Beans

I like to purchase a variety of beans in bulk because of the high protein content, the cheap prices, and the convenience of making them for just about any meal.

  • Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans can be used to make Hummus
  • Black Beans can be used in soups and salads
  • Lentils are great for soups
  • Try the Variety Packs, there will usually be different varieties of mixed bean soup at any grocery store you go to. Even if you don't eat them all the time, its a great backup plan for those weeks when your paychecks are short.

Lots of Fruit

Fruit is extremely important to your health. Fruits such as bananas, grapes, oranges, mangoes, blueberries, and strawberries are all full of vitamins and antioxidants. Freeze them to keep them fresher longer or add them to smoothies. Add some Mandarin Oranges and grapes to your salad or slice some strawberries up and throw them into your cereal along with some blueberries. Grapes are also easy to store when you're on the go.

Buy a Coffee Mug

Skip the Starbucks and save more by purchasing a mug or thermos, you can get one at any Dollar Store and they work just as well. One coffee a day from Starbucks at $4.25, three times a week is $12.75. Multiply that by four weeks and you've spent $51 already! That's a whole weeks worth of groceries you could have bought, or paid a bill.

I usually purchase Nescafe Instant Coffee. A 7 oz. bottle is about $6 and you can find it pretty much anywhere you go. You can sometimes find miniature travel bottles so you can bring it with you.

Tips on How To Save More

  • Avoid Frozen and Pre-Packaged Foods...they are often the most expensive and least healthy thing you can purchase at the store. I'm not saying give up your Pop Tarts or Nuggets, just try to eat them when you're in a hurry as opposed to every meal.

Some Frozen things are good, like...

  1. Frozen Fruit
  2. Frozen Vegetables
  3. Garlic Bread ($1.38 where I shop)
  4. Rice and Veggie mixes (just add a little of your own to increase portions)

But Try To Avoid These...

  1. TV Dinners (loaded with salt, leaves you hungry later)
  2. Frozen Burritos/Burgers/etc. (Also loaded with salt, and does not satisfy appetite. Buy your own ingredients, save money, and be healthy.)

  • Some Items should be bought monthly, some weekly. Obviously a 20lb bag of rice is not going to spoil (unless you cook it all at once.) However, buying too much fruits and vegetables and not eating them quickly enough can cause you to waste a lot of money. Try to purchase 5-7 days worth at a time of perishable items.
  • Try to find Asian food marts in your area. I find that the local Viet Hoa in my area sells fruits, vegetables, rice, and fish at MUCH better prices, and the produce is always very fresh and lasts longer.

Try To Grow Some Things At Home.

I have saved a ton of money on vegetables and herbs by purchasing seedlings or matured plants from the gardening stores near my home. If you are unable, its easy to grow specific things, all you have to do is give them a pot, dirt, and remember to water.

Some of my plants:

  • Onion Chives
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Aloe Vera
  • Mint Leaves
  • Tomatoes

All of these things can be grown in a dorm or apartment if kept cared for and cleaned. Take the money that you spend purchasing these items every week and add it up to a year, you'll see the difference.

Learning To Budget Is Important

Budgeting is a skill that you will have to learn to use throughout your lifetime. You will use it to pay off your student loans, pay your rent, make a car note, and when you are ready, to start a family. Hone this skill now through simple things like groceries, and you will be successful in your life and accomplishing your goals.

Good luck!

Cast your vote for College Grocery Budgeting

© 2014 clovisj

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