There's no doubt that the life of a college student is one of expense. Sometimes, it can feel like all of the money you're making from a side-hustle goes right out the window on car payments, tuition, club dues, or going out for drinks on a Friday night. That being said, you shouldn't have to sacrifice your college experience in order to make ends meet. 

I've always considered myself to be a very keen budgeter and frugal individual. I don't buy clothes that aren't pre-owned or thrifted, nor do I update my phone to the newest model. So, I'm always looking for ways to reduce how much I'm spending on essentials- food included. 

Your food budget is dependent on many different factors including dietary preferences/restrictions, kitchen access, and time. As a whole-foods-vegan (WFPB), I manage to spend, on average, less than $20 weekly on food (groceries & restaurants). That being said, I structure my schedule to cook meals on weekends and eat leftovers throughout the week and meal plan almost religiously. Someone who might work thirty hours a week as a full-time student might not have this same time allowance, so their budget will be different. 

Here are some basic tips for tightening up your grocery budget. 

Make yourself a list before going to the grocery store. 

How many times do you walk into a grocery store with a general idea in mind of what you need to purchase, and end up walking out with nothing you intended on buying in the first place? It's no wonder that grocery stores organize their shelves strategically to get you to purchase as much as possible. Try to make a list before you go shopping based on what you need. Check out Pinterest for recipes before you leave the house so you have a good idea of what you want to cook for the week. 

Purchase frozen when you can. 

Can anyone really tell the difference between frozen blueberries and fresh blueberries when they're together in a smoothie? Many of the options in the frozen section are cheaper than non-frozen produce and taste the same. 

Consider buying foods on sale, especially ones that you know you'll eat regularly.

Everyone loves a good sale!  But sometimes, we end up buying more food that we won't end up eating for a long time. (I'm looking at you, four pints of dairy-free Halo Top in my freezer) Cheap food can give us an option to try new recipes and new ingredients, but it's important to consider how you can live within your means to reduce waste and unnecessary spending. 

To do this, consider making a list of your pantry staples. In my case: oats, nutritional yeast, almond milk, peanut butter, rice cakes, textured veggie protein, frozen broccoli, tofu, potatoes, and onions. I know I can make different variations of meals from these simple ingredients, so they are ones I always have on hand. 

#TreatYourself, but set a budget. 

In America, eating at restaurants accounts for nearly 50% of all household spending on food! Although it might be nice to eat out and have someone else do the dishes for once, eating out at restaurants can take a big hit to your wallet. If you find yourself spending excessively at your favorite restaurants, try to schedule when you plan on eating out well-in-advance so that you a) have something exciting to look forward to after a long day of classes and b) avoid the late night "Domino's, again?" deal. 

Befriend someone with a Costco membership.

Costco, BJ's, and other wholesalers offer many of the same products you would find at a traditional grocery store- but in bulk. This means that you can get things like five pounds bags of apples, huge bags of coffee, 3-pack boxes of cereal, and more toiletries than one could ever need. Oh, and did we mention the samples?  

I find wholesale clubs to be especially useful when I'm hosting a party and need to find big bags of oven-ready snack foods. Getting a membership to share with your housemates might also be more economical; that way, you can split the membership fee  and share the products that are too much for one single person.

When in doubt, make it yourself.

Granola, freezer meals, hummus, and practically anything in a bag at Trader Joe's can make a significant dent in your budget. Many processed foods are also filled with oils, unhealthy fats, and preservatives; these products can easily be avoided by making many of these foods in your kitchen. Trying out new recipes will also give you the opportunity to find out more about your cooking style and build your culinary skills. Invite a couple friends over and have a cooking party!