As a waitress regularly working morning to night shifts, a student and daughter living off her parents, giving advice on financial management seems like something I am completely capable of. Throughout high school, I’ve struggled with saving money and meeting dues, AKA enough money to pay off my monthly Netflix bill and weekly food expenses. I started working due to the feeling of "independency," the money of course, and—let's be honest—the bragging rights. Still, as a broke college student I now realize how smart shopping can alter my life (and my wallet). 

Ever since transitioning to a plant-based diet, I began to buy my own groceries and cook for myself on a regular basis. This meant that I had to start saving enough money to support the cost of my dietary change. For someone who consumes no meat or animal byproducts, I still have a variety of foods to choose from. Whether it be organic or not, I somehow manage to spend around $20 or less every week on my groceries. Even with the ‘once a week’ trips, the food would last me for almost two weeks. Despite this, I knew I had to change my shopping habits. The minimum wage struggle is real. 

1. Shop Smart

wine, beer
Zoe Zaiss

Go on little trips more often rather than buying everything at once. If you're going all out at one time, there's a higher chance you'll spend more than you need to. You'll be saving more this way so you don't spend your entire check at one time.

2. Preparation is Everything

macaroni, pasta, spaghetti
Alex Frank

The secret is in meal prepping, or cooking in bulk. This means preparing a week's worth of lunches or dinners at one time. You can use containers for every day of the week containing whatever you'd like.

Another option is bringing your own lunch (this one's a no-brainer). Making food at home is always the better option when you’re working or want to grab a snack, rather than eating out and wasting money (and most likely eating less healthily than you would at home). In addition to being economically responsible, this also saves time. 

3. Healthy Alternatives

sweet, chocolate, candy, granola
Vy-Anh Nguyen

Experiment with your food, you never know what will happen. Cauliflower can be used as a rice replacement, bananas and flax seeds can replace eggs (they work as a binding agent in baking, which defeats the purpose of the egg), you can use avocados for pasta sauce, chickpeas can be transformed into hummus, soups, salad toppers, or simple snacks. When in doubt, you can also whip up a smoothie. This can be a one to two ingredient snack for anytime of the day.

4. Buying The Right Foods

banana, wine, beer
Vy-Anh Nguyen

Before you shop, write down everything you plan to buy during the trip, not only for time management, but also to prioritize your shopping list. I think about what I'm going to make or the new recipes to try before I go. Usually, my grocery cart is filled with fruits and veggies, which is quite inexpensive when bought fresh rather than packaged.

An example of my groceries for a week would be, cremini mushrooms, eggplants, spinach, sweet potato, bananas (a must), muesli or granola, almond milk, and every once in a while, a new bag of quinoa. Considering that most fresh produce is less than $3 per item, a budget of $20 per week shouldn't be a problem when shopping for staples.

For me, changing my diet meant changing my lifestyle—primarily, the contents of my grocery bag. By putting more value into the items that you purchase and focusing on how to get your money's worth, you can save money and not have to worry about next month's rent or what you'll eat for dinner.