As the new semester starts, many UT students are settling in to their first-ever off-campus apartments. This living situation comes with a lot more independence than the dorms – and a whole new set of expenses.
Unlike the all-inclusive meal plan required for freshmen, most off-campus students stick with the default Flex Dollars plan – and $300 only goes so far.
It can be hard to budget for groceries when you’re living in your own apartment for the first time. It can be just as hard to determine what supplies you really need. So here’s your one-stop grocery tips list: budgets, supplies and more.
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, American households spend almost 10% of their income on food. Middle-income families spend an average of $7,000 on food every year. With an average household size of 2.6, that’s $225 per person per month – and $2,700 per person per year.
Those are some big numbers, but it’s very possible to spend far less. It depends on your dietary needs and preferences, but a strong rule of thumb for a basic, thrifty-but-nutritious grocery budget is $100 a month. If you go grocery shopping every two weeks, that’s about $50 per trip.
A separate grocery budget and restaurant budget can be helpful.
But on $100 a month, location is everything. It’s far easier to stick with a low budget at less expensive stores, like Aldi rather than Publix or Whole Foods. And on this budget, it’s also helpful to stick with a plant-focused – but not necessarily vegetarian or vegan – diet.
For cheap recipes, try recipe websites that have “budget” or “easy” sections. One good example is budgetbytes.com, which has hundreds of recipes for people eating on a budget.
Here’s a basic student shopping list for people who want to go beyond canned soup and Kraft mac n’ cheese, but your mileage may vary – if you plan specific meals, yours will be different. This is just a basic guideline for those who really aren’t sure where to start.
Basics (Ingredients that last several trips)
· Cooking oil (olive, coconut, vegetable).
· Your favorite shelf-stable carb (dry pasta, instant rice, regular rice).
· Pasta sauce, if you’re going the pasta route.
· Salt and pepper.
· Other seasonings of your choice (garlic powder, bouillon cubes, cayenne pepper, Sriracha sauce).
· Peanut butter and/or jelly.
· Butter. (Not necessary but makes everything a little better!)
· Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo).
· Beans. (Shelf-stable, versatile and way less expensive than meat at $0.50-$1 a can. Try a variety to see what works best for your favorite recipe types!)
· Eggs. (Probably the cheapest protein out there. You can find a dozen at Aldi for about $0.60.)
· Meat of your choice. Frozen is usually cheaper than fresh, or you could buy a large batch on sale, cook it and freeze it for easy use in future meals.
· Sliced lunch meat for the ever-convenient sandwich.
This part of the list will vary the most. You’ll get the best out of your budget if you shop for fruits, vegetables and greens that are in season and/or on sale.
But for the best value, get at least part of your vegetables from the freezer aisle – you can find spinach, broccoli, peas, frozen fruit for smoothies and all kinds of mixed veggies. But here’s a few basic things to look for:
· Some fruit that’s on sale.
· Some kind of greens.
· Long-lasting produce like onions, potatoes, and carrots.
· Cheese; block cheese is usually a bit cheaper than sliced or shredded cheese.
· Coffee! (Or tea. Whatever.)
· A bit of vinegar or lemon juice can add acid to a dish and balance it out a little.
· Maybe some snacks!