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Back To Uni: Food Shopping On A Budget

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If you’ve been following the rest of our “Back To Uni” series then you’ll know what you should be taking with you to University, read the massive list of student hacks we compiled and can plan your schedule (as well as our other great tips). In this post we’re looking at how you can save time and money in the kitchen whilst not skimping on your diet.

There are many ways that you can save money especially as as student’s budget is always tight. Here are a few tips to get you started that apply to anyone who’s shopping on a budget, not just students:

Set a budget and stick to it

Don’t be too extravagant with your spending, you’ll regret it later. Figure out how much you can afford on your weekly food budget and only take that amount with you so you won’t be tempted to stick a bottle of vodka and a massive cream cake in your shopping cart “because you can”.

Plan your meals for the week

Planning your meals will help with two things: figuring out what you need to buy, and being able to stick to your budget. To help you plan out your meals you can download my free weekly meal planner which allows you to list your meals and figure out what you need to buy, You can also download my free grocery list so you can tick off items that you need. Shopping with a list is a great way of ensuring that you don’t spend too much money by only purchasing what you need or are going to be using that week.

Don’t buy the top-of-the-range items

Buy budget/value foods where you can. Sure, they may not be as nice but you can jazz them up with some herbs or spices. If you’re not convinced, check out the Supermarket Own Brand Guide which rates own brand items in UK Supermarkets (know of an international version? Let us know in the comments).

Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry

This is a sure fire way of overspending as you’ll be adding snacks and all sorts of items to your basket in order to stop your rumbling tummy.

Buy in bulk if you can

It’s often more cost effective to purchase some items in bulk as long as they’re not perishable and you have the storage space. Food such as pasta, rice and tins (soup, beans etc.) are often a lot cheaper when bought in large or multi packs.

Bulk prepare items for later use

If you’re buying in bulk, you can freeze quite a few staple items for later use. Foods like peppers and onions can be chopped up and frozen to save you money – and time.

Team Up With Your House/Dorm Mates

If there are a few of you together you can band together to buy bigger packs or cuts of meat, bulk items you can share out etc.

Sign up for as many loyalty schemes as you can

Many shops have customer loyalty schemes that allow you to earn discounts and coupons for money off of products.

Don’t be embarrassed to use coupons

Shops hand them out in the hope that they’ll be used. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing coupons from magazines and online. Check out your favourite store’s Twitter and Facebook pages so keep an eye on deals they offer and check out coupon sites – I can recommend Coupon Shop for those in the U.K, if you have any suggestions for the Rest of the World please let us know in the comments.

Check prices so you know you’re getting the best deal

You don’t need to go to each individual retailer to check prices, use a website like My Supermarket (U.K and U.S) where you can set up a shopping list and see which retailer is offering the best price. Don’t forget though that some retailers (in the U.K at least) offer to match any price so you may earn cash back at the till.

Get a cash back app

There are several apps you can download that allow you to earn cash back when you buy certain items. Be warned though, don’t buy and item just because they’re offering cash back or you’ll easily blow your budget. If it means swapping brands, or is offering a great discount that you can’t ignore then go for it, otherwise think carefully about the financial implications before you buy. In the UK, I can recommend Shopitize available for Android and iOS

Control the amount you eat

Do you really need to use a whole pack of chicken for one meal? Try and make food stretch out for multiple meals, or freeze left overs for use later on.

Find out when your local store reduces items

If you don’t mind going out just before the local store closes you can often find some great bargains in the reduced section, some stores also reduce items multiple times a day so try to find out when they do this (they normally operate on the same schedule each week day) and you can pick up some great food which you can eat that day or freeze for later use.

Check out deals carefully

Sometimes a deal isn’t actually as good as it looks. Supermarkets quite often put discounts on certain sizes of items. Check whether it makes sense to get this particular size – is it cheaper to buy two smaller items? Will you use all of it? Is a bigger pack a better deal? Other times, they offer a “buy x for y” which again may not be as good a bargain as you think so be careful.

Don’t go for convenience

Sure, pre-packed salad saves time but if you look at the cost it quite often doesn’t make sense. Pre-prepared (or pre-packed) vegetable are often more expensive than their loose counterparts – and you’ll probably end up buying more than you need. Similarly, buying items like chicken are often a lot more expensive if you go for pre-cut items. For example, I can buy 2 chicken breasts in my local supermarket for £4 when a whole chicken will only cost me £5 and do 3 meals. You can watch this YouTube video where a master butcher shows you how to bone a chicken.

Similarly, if you buy a “proper” fresh loaf of bread rather than the bland pre-sliced ones you can save yourselves a bit of money. Left over bread can be frozen or, if you haven’t caught it in time, use it for croutons or bread and butter pudding (yummy!).

Buy frozen if you have the space

Frozen vegetables are often cheaper than their fresh counterparts, but still retain the same amount (if not more) of their vitamins and minerals. They allow you to portion control quite easily and will do you several meals rather than going off and having to be thrown out.

Learn to cook

Being able to buy various items and cook them yourself rather than having to rely on ready made meals or takeaways will make a huge impact to your budget – and your health.

Bulk up your meals

Add rice, couscous, beans, lentils or quinoa to meals to add extra bulk. These are cheap items that will make you feel fuller by making your meals go further.

Try going veggie

Even if it’s for just one or two days a week, a simple pasta, rice or vegetable dish can save you money, and it’s super healthy too.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

I’ve recently started to try and eat fish again – I haven’t eaten it for over 20 years. Buying tins of fish like mackerel and tuna (when it’s on offer or if you go for the value brands) makes for a great cheap meal that can be used in a variety of ways from salads to pasta bakes. I’ve now started to eat certain types of fish again and it makes for a great cheap meal that has the proteins I need to stay healthy.

Over To You

What do you do to save money when shopping?

Personally I plan every meal, go through the fridge and freezer every week and figure out what needs to be used up before writing a list. I go to two different supermarkets and buy what’s the best value, and buy in bulk and freeze food for later use.

Let us know how you plan and shop in the comments below.

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