Better Bang for Your Buck: A College Student’s Guide to Never Being Hungry

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Being a broke college kid can be a struggle sometimes, especially when it’s already hard to make ends meet and buy groceries. Nobody really talks about not being able to afford food or living off 25 cent ramen packets every night in college, but this can be a regular occurrence for some.

Sometimes topics like this can be embarrassing, but believe me when I say we’ve all been there at one point. I know what it feels like to worry about where your next meal comes from or if you’ll have some extra bucks to buy groceries after you’ve paid bills.

I was tired of worrying and struggling so I decided one day to sit down and come up with a strategy for buying groceries and how to budget my money more efficiently.

I wanted to share some tips and tricks that I found helpful, in hopes that it will help other students that are struggling to buy food.

  1. Couponing works. I never thought I’d turn into that crazy coupon lady who does separate transactions and pulls out a coupon book at check-out, but here I am. I felt embarrassed couponing at first, but when I realized how much money I was saving, it was addicting. I love saving money now, especially on groceries. My favorite store to buy pantry items from is Dollar General, by far. Dollar General offers a weekly ad that has all their sale items listed; they also offer a digital couponing system that allows you to “clip” coupons online and apply them to your balance at check-out. Another great thing about Dollar General is EVERY Saturday they offer a $5.00 off your $25.00 purchase or more coupon. This coupon can be combined with other coupons and savings they have. Last week I saved $15.65 by stacking coupons and I only paid $26.00 and some change at check-out, walking out with quite a few bags. Another way I save money is using the Ibotta app; it’s a cashback app that allows you to get money back on certain items you’ve purchased. I was able to get back another $1.85 from my purchase at Dollar General and while I know that $1.85 doesn’t seem like much, it adds up, trust me.

  2. Buy some groceries from the Dollar Tree. Dollar Trees have really stepped up their game when it comes to certain food items. They have some name brand items and some off-brand items, but they all taste the same to me. I sometimes buy certain groceries from there, but only items that I know aren’t a $1.00 anywhere else. Some items I usually buy are:

  • Cream of chicken soup

  • Garlic Bread (6 count)

  • Pasta sauce and pasta

  • Pizza crusts

  • Spices

  • Pinto beans

  • Snack crackers (peanut butter, cheese, etc.)

  • Frozen fruit / vegetables

  • Frozen waffles

  1. Larger quantities of food means leftovers for multiple days. Casseroles, one pot, and crockpot meals are always my go-to for quick, cheap, easy meals that will last for a couple days. For instance, the other night I made a Tater Tot Chili Dog Casserole. The casserole was rather large and lasted for a good two and a half days. I also had half a bag of tater tots left over, so I’ll be able to make this meal again at a later date. This meal cost me under $10.00 to make and was delicious. Here are some of my favorite things to make when I’m stretching meals:

  • Creamy Ranch Chicken

  • Tater Tot Chili Dog Casserole

  • One Pot Cheesy Chicken Broccoli and Rice

  1. Go to events that offer free food. This probably seems like freeloading, but if you’re truly struggling to eat it makes logical sense to use resources that are available to you. There are usually several events around campus that offer free food and while I don’t know of any specifically, keep your eye out around campus for flyers. I also recommend going to some of the churches around town that have a day of the week they offer a free meal to those in need. The BSU Christian Challenge ministry located on campus offers free lunch on Mondays at 12 and St. Helen Catholic church offers free lunch on Thursdays from 11-1, unless there are other services planned that day.

  2. Go to the local food bank. Portales has a local food bank located at 1100 Community Way. The food bank is open Monday – Friday 8am to 5pm. Anybody is able to go and get food all that they will need to see a driver’s license and to know how many people are in the household.

  3. Ask for help. New Mexico offers a low-income food assistant program, “food stamps” as everyone calls them. They give you a certain amount of money to spend on food based off your monthly income and other factors like if you’re in school, pay rent, bills, etc. Not everyone qualifies for food stamps, but it’s worth a shot applying. More information can be found at or visiting the local Income Support Division office in Portales.

I hope that some of these tips will help someone in need, as they’ve helped me a time or two. Being a broke college kid is all part of the college experience, but being a hungry college kid is not.

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