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5 Killer Tips for Eating on a Budget

Updated on August 6, 2014

Establishing a Cost-Effective Lifestyle

If you’ve just graduated from college and are headed off to the real world, there are a number of serious life changes in store for you. One of the biggest, yet largely overlooked changes, is what, when and how you are going to eat. Chances are you just spent 4+ years getting your monies worth at campus dining halls or living off college town take-out funded by your parent’s established income.

But that life is over now and it’s time to get real. You’re going to be living off your own limited income, so the need for a cost-effective diet and lifestyle is crucial. Here's a few tips on learning to eat on a budget.

Weekly Food Cost Poll:

How much do you spend a week on food on average?

See results

1. Calculate Your Individual Food Costs

According to recent Gallup polls, the average American spends approximately $151 a week on food. That’s an astounding $7,852 a year. While most people are relatively aware of all their non-food related purchases, how much people spend on food often gets overlooked.

Calculating your daily/weekly/monthly food expenses can take a bit of time and research, but it is totally worth it.

  • Put together a list of what you eat in a typical day.
  • Calculate how much each one of the items costs per day by taking the unit price and dividing it by how many days or uses you typically get out it. For example, if a box of cereal costing $1.99 usually lasts you a week, its daily cost is 28 cents.
  • Finally, add up your total daily and weekly amounts and see where your stand.

You might be surprised to see how much you are spending and how large a portion of your expenses go towards only a few high-priced items. Use this information to find places you can potentially cut back your spending and get the most out of your groceries.


2. Learn How to Cook

In today’s day and age, there really is no excuse for not knowing how to cook at least a couple basic meals. Twenty years ago if you wanted to learn how to cook you had to either watch your mother in the kitchen or take a cooking class, but another option has presented itself in recent years: the internet.

The knowledge necessary to successfully and safely traverse the kitchen is now incredibly widespread. Everything from recipes and tips to How To instructions and video tutorials are available right at your fingertips. Getting to the point where you and more importantly, other people, will happily scarf down your meals may still take a bit of trial and error, but you have all the resources you need to get there with just a few clicks of your mouse. You don't have to rely on take-out.

Look up a few recipes that interest you, put on a ‘Kiss The Cook’ apron, and give it a go.

3. Brown Bag It: Pack your lunch!

You did it in elementary school, you can do it again. Only this time you are in control, so Mom’s go-to ham and cheese sandwich on white bread won’t keep cropping up unexpectedly.

You can keep it simple or get fancy, but either way, bring your lunch from home. Invest in some good Tupperware, and then put it to use. Make your lunch the night before for a quick morning getaway. That helps ensure that a rushed morning doesn't result in you having to rely on the deli across the street at lunch time. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to never purchase lunch, but trying to limit yourself to eating out only 1 or 2 times a week is a good place to start.

Say hello to a big batch of homemade stir fry!
Say hello to a big batch of homemade stir fry! | Source

4. Sunday Evening Mega-Meal

During a busy week, finding the time to cook all your meals can sometimes be difficult and a bit overwhelming. A good way to relieve some of that stress but still get the benefits of home cooking is to make a large meal on Sunday night that you will use for lunch or dinner throughout the week.

This involves having the same thing multiple times in a week, but if you can find a couple really great recipes it is definitely worth it. Make a big pot of your favorite chili or soup or a Tupperware full of a stir-fried vegetable and noodle medley. (Doesn't that sound delicious:) Put a little bit in a smaller Tupperware each day or every other day for lunch and there you have it, a delicious, stress-free homemade meal.

Making your own meals doesn't necessarily mean you have to labor over the stove every day.

Aldi's is the BEST!

5. Power of Left-Overs

If the idea of having the same things for lunch a couple days in a row scares you, fear not, for that is where the magic of leftovers can save the day. Cooking for one or even two can often times be a challenge.

Most recipes aim for 4-6 servings, enough for a small family, but if it’s just you or you and your partner, that’s double or triple the amount that you need. Rather than downsizing a recipe and wasting time trying to figure out how to split an egg in half for a recipe that calls for 3 eggs, go ahead and make the full serving size. When you’re done feasting for the evening, take what’s left in the pot and pop it in one of those Tupperware’s you’ve been dying to put to use and voilà!- tomorrow’s lunch is ready to go!

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Saving on Food

Although some sacrifice is involved, it is totally worth it in the end to actually take account of what you are eating. By practicing smart budgeting tips and cutting back on luxury items, the money you save can be alarming- especially when you consider how much you are saving over the course of a year.

Just the action of taking account of what I'm eating allowed me to cut down my food costs nearly in half. Being prepared will allow you to follow through with these money-saving strategies.

This article was a guest post.

Written By: Rachel Sorna!


Submit a Comment

  • mariexotoni profile image

    mariexotoni 16 months ago

    That is very unfortunate and I am sorry to hear that! I am on a tight college student budget still, and have found some ways to lower the amount I spend in groceries and miscellaneous items. For instance, I use this site called and buy coupons. So, instead of paying $16 for litter, I spend $5 on a coupon that lets me pick up the litter for free. They have some food coupons and personal care items as well. Gillette razor coupon, for instance - you spend $10 and get a $49 product.

    They have lots of coupons, I really recommend you check it out !

  • kenneth avery profile image

    Kenneth Avery 16 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

    Leftovers are definitely a great way to save bucks on food budgets, but in my case, you first have to have bucks in order to have a food budget.

    Loved this hub. I mean it. Very practical and sensible ideas.

    My situation is a "catch 22," situation. I am a disabled retiree living on a fixed income with most of my check going for medications and what is left for utilities and such.

    My wife is in the same boat. The remainder of her check, after pay for med's, is for the remainder of monthly bills.

    The very most we ever spent on food is $100.00 a month, but since there are only two of us, we are learning to deal with it.

    Keep up the great work.

  • MarloByDesign profile image

    MarloByDesign 2 years ago from United States

    I agree that leftovers are a great way to save money on food. Great Hub.

  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

    Great tips. This is useful to me, since I've been living on my own when my mother died last March. I've been cooking some of my own meals, needs to watch my budget for shopping, and need to excel on how to boil eggs. I've been struggling with this for almost a year now.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Very important and useful information for college graduates!

    Some very nice suggestions. Learning how to cook can save a lot of money. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!

  • The Examiner-1 profile image

    The Examiner-1 3 years ago

    Hi Marie, I do not go to college but this was useful. I thought that you did a good job on it in explaining the food shopping on a budget (I already do that). I voted it up and marked it useful and awesome.