A girl—or guy—has gotta eat. But how do you make sure you eat well while paying off student loan debt? You don’t have limit yourself to a diet of canned beans and ramen while repaying your student loans.
With some careful planning, you’ll be able to eat healthy, nutritious, and delicious food, while still having enough money to double down on your debt. If you’re looking for a way to save on groceries, we’ve got you covered. These 10 tips and tricks can help you learn how to budget for food so that you can satisfy all your cravings.
1. Make a Budget
If you’re looking for tips on how to reduce your grocery bill, making a budget is a good place to start, so you can understand how much money you are currently spending and where you can cut back. If you’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on trips to restaurants, take out dinners, and artisanal coffee, it might be time to evaluate your purchases and limit the money you spend on those items.
It’s important to be realistic when you set up your budget. If you’re currently getting take-out five times a week, try cutting down to three or four and see how much money you can save. Starting with small changes can make it easier for you to stick with your new budget. And, the more successful you are, the more likely you may be to stick with your new plan.
2. Cook at Home
It may seem obvious, but a great way to save money on your food bill is to actually cook at home. Sounds easy, right? But between the ease of ordering delivery, and so many dining out options, it’s tempting to just eat out. It is much cheaper to cook for yourself—especially if you take the time to plan out your week.
Take some time on Sunday—or whatever day works for your schedule—to look at your week and determine what days you’ll be cooking at home. Then, plan some meals for the week. After you go shopping, take an hour or two to prep some food for the week as well.
While it can seem daunting to meal prep a week’s worth of food, having a few staples like grains or proteins prepped and ready to go saves you a lot of time during your busy week, and makes it much easier to say no to ordering in. Don’t feel like you have to have something prepped for every meal or snack. Even having one or two prepped items can help you stick to your weekly grocery budget.
3. Shop Once a Week, with a Plan
Another good idea for when you’re figuring out how to spend less on groceries is to limit your runs to the store. Try going only once a week. Limiting the number of trips you take to the grocery store will also require you to do some planning so you end up with everything you need to make it through the week.
But you’re also limiting the number of impulse purchases and unnecessary items you buy. Plus, when you shop with a plan, you may be less likely to throw out food you intended to use, but actually didn’t.
When you go to the grocery store, make sure you go with a list. Wandering through the aisles can lead to unintended purchases, so plan your route strategically.
One tip is to set up your list by category; dairy, produce, dried goods, frozen foods, etc. so that your list is organized the way the store is set up and you won’t have to do as much doubling back during your shopping trip.
Also, try to avoid shopping when you’re hungry. It’s difficult to refrain from a tasty treat if you’re browsing aisle after aisle of cookies, crackers, chips, and ice cream while you are hungry. Time your grocery shopping after you’ve eaten a snack or meal so that you may be less likely to impulse buy food you don’t actually need.
4. Repurpose Your Leftovers
Think of throwing out food like you’re throwing away money. You spent your hard-earned cash to buy those groceries, so tossing them in the garbage means you’re throwing away money you could’ve used elsewhere. Do your best to avoid throwing away food and repurpose your leftovers.
Maybe you roasted a ham for Sunday dinner and now have a ton of food left over. Use the bone to make a soup. Turn the leftover meat into a new meal, like ham mac and cheese. Repurposing your leftovers means less food ends up in the trash, and more money stays in your wallet.
5. Rotate Through Pantry Staples
Before you go grocery shopping every week, evaluate your pantry items. Take a look at anything that might be expiring in the next couple of weeks, and add it into your rotation.
People buy pantry staples like canned tuna, beans, or tomatoes, thinking they’ll use them in a pinch, only to let that food go to waste. To avoid throwing away the canned goods you spent good money on, rotate your shelf staples into your cooking every week.
6. Start a Kitchen Garden
Enjoy cooking with fresh herbs? Start an herb garden. Buying fresh herbs at the grocery store seems cheap, but those few bucks can add up quickly. Starting a small herb garden in your kitchen means easy access to your favorite herbs. Plus, since you have a living plant, you won’t have to throw away any wilted basil or parsley after just a week.
7. Don’t Overlook the Bulk Bins
Buying granola? Not sure if you’re a quinoa fan? Need a teaspoon of a spice you may not use again? Head to the bulk bins. There, you can find a diverse array of dried goods—dried beans, spices, granola, nuts, seeds, dried fruits.
Shopping in the bulk foods section means you can buy the exact amount you want and if you don’t like what you’re testing out, there are no wasted leftovers. Also, because there are minimal packaging and branding costs, the bulk food section can be cheaper than buying items in retail packaging.
8. Invest in a Vacuum Sealer
If you find yourself throwing away freezer-burnt food, it might be time to invest in a vacuum sealer. You can purchase a vacuum sealer for as little as $25. This could potentially help you cut back your grocery bill in the long term. Eat a lot of chicken? Buy chicken breasts or thighs in bulk and individually vacuum seal each piece, then freeze. The chicken will last longer thanks to the vacuum-sealed packaging, and you’ll be able to portion it out as needed so it won’t go to waste.
9. Avoid Waste: Get Creative in The Kitchen
The United States wastes about $160 billion in food a year . Not only could reducing food waste make it easier to meet the growing demands of the global population, it could also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Wasting less food impacts more than just your family’s food budget. Try getting creative in the kitchen to avoid food waste, for your bottom line—and for the planet.
Have a bunch of fresh herbs on hand? Pulse them all in a food process for a unique and delicious pesto. Add flavor to your soups with the rinds of Parmesan cheese. Use the brie left over from your dinner party for fancy grilled cheese sandwiches.
The berries you bought are starting to bruise, so cook them down into a compote for dessert. Don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen—you could end up saving money and creating your next favorite meal.
10. Stay Away from Convenience Ingredients
While it can be tempting to buy pre-washed, sliced, diced, or chopped produce, those conveniences come with an added cost. Cutting these items from your shopping list could result in considerable savings.
Instead of buying a bagged salad, buy a whole head of lettuce and make your own. Instead of picking up peeled or minced garlic, buy a whole head. Whole garlic is usually more pungent in flavor, so you’ll end up using less at a time, and spending less money. Plus, it typically lasts longer.
Convenience foods don’t stop in the produce section. Items like grated cheese are generally more expensive than their unprepared counterparts. Instead of buying a bag of grated cheddar, buy a block and shred it yourself using a box grater or food processor.
Refinancing Your Student Loans
Another option to consider when reviewing your budget? Student loan refinancing. If you refinance your student loans, you’re essentially taking out a new loan with new terms and a new interest rate. Depending on your earning potential and credit history, you could qualify for a lower interest rate, which could reduce the amount of money you spend over the life of your loan.
Or you could lower your monthly payments by lengthening your loan term. But remember, if you lengthen your term you’ll end up paying more interest over the life of the loan. If you have federal student loans, it’s also important to note that you will lose out on benefits like income-driven repayment plans when you refinance with a private lender. But if refinancing is right for you, you could end up with a little more room to experiment in the kitchen.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.