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Eat smarter, not harder: Money saving tips

Money—you either have it or you don’t. As college students, most of us likely belong to the latter. As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I wanted to spend less money on trivial items and more on experiences. The “no-buy year” has become an increasingly popular trend in recent years, requiring people to stop spending money on non-essentials and use up all products and food in-house before buying more. There are, of course, exceptions and differing rules depending on how one structures their no-buy year, but each resolution shares the same goal of minimalism and spending less.

With this in mind, I began to look for areas in my college life where I spend too much. Coffee and dining out were the largest chunks in my bank statement, accounting for 25% of all my expenses over the previous semester. (I may have shed a tear looking at it.)

Now, here are the ways I’ve been saving money on food this past month.

1. Cold brew your coffee. Arguably the easiest way to make coffee, you can have a smooth brew of coffee for mere cents as opposed to the coffee shop price of $4 or more. I use a 1:8 ratio of coffee to water—when I bother to measure it—and typically let it steep for 24 to 36 hours. After the steeping is finished, I pour it into a French press to drive out the coffee beans. Cheesecloth or a fine strainer will work the same.

2. Meal prep. As a vegetarian who’s trying to cut back on dairy, I have limited meal options through Sodexo. For this reason, and to eat out less, I dusted off my cookbooks and Pinterest boards to find simple recipes that don’t require me to spend all night in the Susie kitchen. It’s good to find favorite recipes that can be made in large quantities and reheated, such as enchiladas, soups and grains. Salads are also relatively inexpensive to make and can aid in clearing out your fridge—goat cheese, edamame and chickpeas are my favorite mix-ins. A good set of Tupperware and reusable plastic bags will help sort everything for the week.

3. If you can, buy in bulk. Buying frequently eaten foods in bulk will help to bring your bill down in the long run. The spices garlic, chili and curry powders are used often in my recipes. I buy foods like farro, quinoa, vegetable broth, sweet potatoes and onions in bulk to ensure they’re always stocked. On the other spectrum, leave the $8 single-use spice at the grocery store—odds are, you can replace it with something cheaper and more versatile.

4. Go shopping with a list. Don’t go shopping with an appetite. Eat before you shop or you probably will grab a lot more food than you need. A list will keep you on track to get all you need for each recipe and will keep your bill down.

5. It’s okay to say no. FOMO—fear of missing out—is real. Whenever your friends go out to that one restaurant that’s way too expensive for yet another “girls’ night out,” your heart may ache for missing out but it’s better than your wallet aching. There will always be more dinners, more gatherings and more fun times with your friends. If the money should be put toward something else, put it towards that. You’ll thank yourself later.

6. And it’s okay to say yes. So, you’ve eaten your prepped meals and drunk your cold brew up until payday, and your friends invite you out to that one coffee shop. It’s okay to reward yourself after cultivating self-control. If you don’t say yes all the time, it will be more special when you do. The money saved can be put toward bills or a more exciting spring break.