Groceries on a College Budget
I remember being a college student well since I spent a long eight years getting a two year, then a four year degree with a completed minor. During this time I had to learn the hard way how to keep a strict rein on my pocketbook. (Ok, I couldn't exactly afford a pocketbook, I had a little handwoven Guatemalan coin purse but I digress...)
The most important thing for your survival is food, so this will be my main focus with this Hub. When the 99 Cents Store was invented, I was in Heaven! WOW! Budgeting under those circumstances was made easy. It wasn't until later that I realized that not everything was a great deal, so I am hoping I can shed some light on a few things to make your college experience easier.
When shopping for groceries, the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a warehouse store where the aisles are brightly lit with hideous florescent lights. I am not talking about Costco where you can buy a vat of Cinnamon so huge that your grandkids will still be cooking with it and enjoying it long after you are dead. I mean the warehouse stores like Winco or FoodMaxx. These stores are usually your best bet for things like bacon, cheese, canned pineapples, olives, and even sometimes produce.
Also coffee tends to be less expensive in these stores when you buy in bulk. In fact, buying in bulk is a great idea. At my local Winco, I can buy everything in bulk from ten kinds of granola for cereal and snacks to herbal tea and even the orange cheesy powder from Macaroni and Cheese. Not to mention the 50 kinds of pasta noodles available to put that cheese powder on. :) Even candy is a great deal when you buy in bulk. Other great deals can be found in the bulk aisle on: beans, rice, soup mixes, herbs, spices, dried fruit, yogurt pretzels, blueberry muffin mix, cornbread mix, pancake mix, nuts, and much more!
I will be honest here and say that I love the deals in this store and I can walk out of there with 20 bags of groceries for under $150 dollars but man, I really hate shopping there! The people are so crazy into the deals that they will literally bump you out of the way with their carts! Plus the place is so huge, it is the size of several football fields and feels like a workout just getting through the maze of it all. I try to keep this shopping trip down to once per month. If you go with a couple friends you can make this trip more fun.
Don't scrimp on everything!
Things You Dont' Know You Need Until You Don't Have Them...
The dollar stores (98 & 99 cents stores too) can be a great deal for some things. If you are really desperate, toilet paper and paper towels are a great deal there and tend to be the best deal overall. But I do find that you can get for only a dollar more, higher quality toilet paper in bulk at the regular grocery store, or warehouse store. Like my best friend says, "There are just some things you don't want to skimp on!" When you look at canned foods, you can actually get them cheaper at the warehouse store and it is not worth your time. Things like deodorant, shampoo and soap can be a great deal at the Dollar Tree. I have been using scent free oxygen boosting laundry soap for years from the Dollar Tree and it works just as well as the 6 dollar soap for the same amount. You can get the exact same quality in off brands for things like Febreze, Lysol, dishwashing liquid and handsoap. However, (and this is a HUGE "however"): do not under any circumstances trust the dishwasher detergent. You will have to handwash all your dishes anyway and this will cut your precious time that you need to spend studying. Not to mention adding to your water and energy bills.
Are dollar stores really worth it?
When I first moved into my apartment two years ago I literally spent $100 dollars at the Dollar Tree. I thought my kids were going to die laughing, "Mom, OMG! You bought ONE HUNDRED things here, how embarrassing!". But when we got home we had everything we needed for a new place: mop, broom, bucket, dustpan, cookie sheets, dishes, glasses, (plastic) "silver" ware, can opener, etc. I figure that I saved myself between $400 and $700 dollars on that trip alone. So for things that normally sell for 5-10 dollars elsewhere, I highly recommend going to a "cheap" store first. The plastic silverware will break after about a year of use (and this provides great entertainment as you will laugh for about ten minutes when it happens to you or someone who is eating with you) but you do get 6 spoons for 99 cents. Eventually you can upgrade when you are able to, so no worries.
Specialty stores like Trader Joes can be expensive for some things and actually quite affordable for other things. You can get a somewhat good bottle of wine for under 10 dollars and I have found that the coffee sales make life worth living. This week, I found 13 ounces of Sumatra for $3.99. A great bargain. (I have paid upwards of $8.99/lb. for Sumatra coffee in the past.) Candles are a great deal at Trader Joe's too. You can get 8 tapered candles for about $4.00, which beats the dollar type stores, hands down. Just be careful with what you buy and where you buy it and you will do well to keep to your budget.
Well I hope this has helped you if you are in college and looking to save some money.
Have a happy college life and get good grades! ;)