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According to the recent Gallup poll, the median household expenditures on food was $130 per week. About a quarter of households spend less than $100 on food, and another 42% spend between $100 and $199 per week.

In this post, we will share practical tips for saving money and time allocated for grocery shopping. We are going to recommend several strategies specifically designed for students because college life has its own unique challenges and objectives. In this post, I will assume that a student is short on time, has a limited budget, and needs high-energy nutrition to stay focused for long hours of studying.

1. Shop for Groceries Once a Week on a Slow Day

On average, people spend 41 minutes in a grocery store, and visit it 1.5 times per week, which is equivalent to shopping every 5 days.

Let’s add the time of getting to the store. For example, it will take me at least 10 minutes to drive to the nearest store in Houston. So, the overall trip is about 1 hour at best.

The two slowest days at the grocery stores are Mondays and Tuesdays. However, most people purchase groceries on Saturday and Sunday. During those days:

  • It will take slightly more time to navigate the store.
  • There will be some delay at the counter service for meats and fish (+3 minutes), and
  • You will spend extra time trying to avoid bumping into each other’s carts (+2 minutes).
  • As you exit the store, add a few minutes to stay in line at the checkout. Even though an overall wait in a checkout line at the grocery store is under one minute, it can get up to five during the peak shopping hours (let’s take a guesstimate of +3 minutes).
  • Driving time increases during the peak hours, as well as the time for finding a parking spot (+3 minutes).

In total, the time comparison is a bit shocking. An average person who is going to the store every Monday will spend 53.7 hours per year on grocery shopping. On the other hand, a person going to the store every 5 days on busy days will spend 94.9 hours a year on grocery shopping. I bet any student would rather take the difference of 41.2 in sleep hours, than spend it on shopping.

2. Come to The Store When You Are Full

Avoid a common habit of shopping after school, after work, or before dinner. It may seem like you are saving time by picking up groceries on the way home. In reality, the opposite happens. According to the research presented at the conference of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, the body wants to get food at any cost when it’s tired or stressed. Thus, a regular shopper tends to turn into an easily tempted over-spender.

Recall how much you usually spend on impulsive purchases, without sticking to your shopping list. Ideally, it should be close to $0.

3. Go Shopping Alone and Wear Headphones

In the clothing stores, the music is selected to create a semblance of a party, and in grocery stores calm and enjoyable music is played to slow you down.

Going grocery shopping with a roommate may sound like a good idea because it will make the process more fun. On the other hand, people are more prone to emotional buying in groups. To save money, it is better to go alone and even better to take turns. It will also stimulate both of you to make a meal plan and grocery list. Make a schedule and take turns at buying groceries for each other. Take a look at our post on money-splitting apps.

4. Utilize Technology to Maximize Cash Backs

There are several apps that allow you to accumulate cash backs. All you need to do is scan the receipt when you get home. The most popular apps are Ibotta, Checkout 51, Saving Star, and Receipt Hog. Receive a $10 welcome bonus, when you sign up for Ibotta with my referral link.

5. Plan Ahead and Have a Budget

According to Gallup 2017 survey, a median American household spends around $130 per week per person on groceries. People spend roughly the same amount of money on eating out, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service food expenditures (per capita table).

Student life revolves around social activities and you can not avoid eating out with friends. We suggest being smart about it. For example, you can avoid eating out when you are just hungry. Instead, include snacks in your grocery list and prep individual meals.

In general, creating a meal plan and sticking to it is the best strategy. On average, 69% of women and 52% of men make a grocery list. As we already mentioned, impulsive shopping contributes to overspending.

How to Plan Ahead?

  • Review local deals before you shop. Also review the deals at the local pharmacies. Sometimes toiletries, cleaning supplies, eggs, tea, and milk are cheaper at CVS or Wallgreens.

  • Consider buying seasonal items that are cheaper now. Here is a list of seasonal products provided by USDA. Stocking up and freezing is a good strategy if the space allows.
  • Incorporate healthy energy-boosting meals, as well as slow-cooker and one-pot meals. For example, make it a habit to eat quinoa as a side instead of rice. Yes. Even wild rice.
  • Include green alkalizing smoothies and healthy snacks for each day.

Now, create a 7-day meal plan with 5 meals per day.

Never created a menu before? Here is guide with free printouts on how to get started.

My favorite go-to website with customized recipe search is Yummly. It searches the entire web based on your chosen ‘with’ and ‘without’ ingredients.

Let me show you how you can create a meal plan using an example.

Voila! You have breakfasts for the whole week and one less thing to occupy your thoughts. Finish the meal planning and get to the store.

6. Choose Products Smartly While in Store

Do’s

  1. Make your own bread. The price of all the ingredients for a loaf of bread is about 90 cents. Put them in a bread maker like this, turn on the oven, and get a fresh delicious bread made from scratch. Bread shouldn’t cost more than $1.00. This is a baking dish that I use. It is great for baking bread, steaming veggies, or event poaching eggs in the microwave – Silicone Baking Bowl for Microwave and Oven.
  2. Shop the section where items are sold by the pound for nuts, spices, and grains!
  3. Walk on the perimeter  of the store, and remember to check top and bottom shelves.
  4. Buy herb plants. In 3-4 weeks, you will have plenty of ongoing supply.
  5. Buy whole chunks of cheese. Grate it yourself.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t buy deli meats. Go to the butcher counter in the store, get a chunk of meat, and ask them to cut it.
  2. Don’t purchase cut or washed greens. They end up being 2-3 times more expensive than the same option in the bunch.
  3. Don’t buy toiletries and cleaning supplies in the grocery stores. It’s better check the prices at the local Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, Big Lots, or pharmacy.
  4. Don’t buy canned beans. They are 2-3 times cheaper in the per pound section.
  5. Don’t buy bottled water. Invest in a filter and a reusable bottle once and save money.

How do you save on groceries? What strategies do you apply for meal planning? When is your favorite time to go shopping for food?