Thursday, October 25, 2007

7 Money-saving Food Tips for the Student on a Budget

I remember when I was studying in Melbourne as a uni student, it was tough making ends meet. I had to live on less than $1,000 a month, 60% of which went towards paying rent and transport, which didn't leave me much to work with in terms of subsistence. Tied down with a limited budget, here are 7 things I learnt to help maximise my money for my daily food needs:

7 Money-saving Food Tips for the Student on a Budget
1. Shop at the Wet Market
As opposed to the supermarket. Foods are generally fresher and cheaper – isn’t that reason enough? Well, actually there’s more. You get the chance to bargain too, and if you’re good there are steals out there to be bought. Going near closing time is another way of getting really good deals on produce from sellers looking to make a quick sale before the day ends. I remember shopping at Victoria Market in Melbourne an hour before closing time to get really cheap deals. The downside, however, is that most of the choice picks are usually gone by then. But staples like onions and potatoes can go dirt-cheap by the bag, and that works too because you should be buying in bulk (see tip #3).

2. Buy House Brands
When you do go to the supermarket, think Home Brand, Fair Price, No Frills and the like. In-house brands are the cheaper "versions" of the store items available, which means they are lower quality, right? WRONG! Very often, in-house brands are products from leading brands, repackaged and repositioned for the budget buyer. Why would a reputable brand want to do that? Simple: to take away market share from their competitor! So give in-house brands a try. Sure, I've had not-so-great experiences with Home Brand chicken nuggets, but I've been really taken with Home Brand Coffee. Anybody in Australia want to buy me a tin? Seriously. My supply is running out.

3. Buy Bulk
Make use of economies of scale. A 12-pack of toilet paper is cheaper than a 6-pack per roll. So is a 1kg tin of coffee compared to a 300gm per gram. And a 10kg bag of rice compared to 2kg per kg. Sure, it seems like you're paying more now, but buying in bulk makes efficient use of your money.

4. Shop with a List
If you find that you’re walking through the entire store just to get that one item, it’s probably no accident – the modern supermarket is designed in a way to entice you to spend more time in the store, and hence increasing your chances to buy more. One way around this is to make sure you have a list when you do your shopping. When you have a list, you can always pause a minute before you head to the checkout and see what’s made it into your basket that wasn’t originally in your list. Chances are, you didn’t really need them anyway - which means they can be taken out.

5. A little spice goes a long way
Forget that pre-marinated steak or chicken mix. Spices and condiments are an inexpensive way to add a multitude of flavours to your food without having to resort to more expensive pre-flavoured or pre-marinated foods. You'll be amazed what a dash of cumin does to your lamb stew, or a sprig of rosemary to your chicken, and how much difference a little salt and pepper goes. You don't need an extensive spice rack, just always have a few of your favourite ones on hand to make otherwise-mundane dishes spectacular!

6. Stew!
This one’s applicable to you carnivores. When buying cuts of meat, keep in mind that the tougher meats are usually the cheaper cuts of meat. So, instead of getting that juicy piece of steak, get a piece of brisket for a third of the price and turn it into a nice stew. With a little time and a little spice (tip #5), a good pot of stew can keep you filled for two, maybe three meals for the price of a steak.

7. Think Modular
When building my menus for the week I tend to think in terms of three category: carbs (rice/noodles/bread/potatoes), meats (poultry/pork/beef/fish) and veggies. At any point of time, I try to maintain at least two items in each category at the kitchen. That way, when I go out to top up groceries, I just know that I’m short of, say, 1 meat and 2 veggies. Keeping your kitchen stocks organized is a good step in making sure you buy what you need more than what you fancy.

That’s my 7 tips for saving money when living on a student budget. Do you have any tips to share from your experience?

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Agagooga said...

Buy food that's almost expired and thus priced to clear.

It won't go rotten for a while yet, and if you're paranoid you can cook it on the day itself.

Buying in bulk isn't always feasible though, especially when cooking for one. I was never able to use up 200ml of cream!

noelbynature said...

> Buying in bulk isn't always feasible though, especially when cooking for one. I was never able to use up 200ml of cream!

True! Cooking for one is terribly cost-inefficient. One workaround is to share groceries with friends and neighbours.

Good tip about buying food price to clear - I still do that!

ioyces said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ioyces said...

hey hey!!

i'll bring u some coffee when i come back in Dec ok??? :)

err...more money saving tips...

cook with friends n i have a system...there r four of everyone takes charge of one day from Monday to Thursday...for instance, i cook every wednesday n make eight my friends can have dinner n enough for lunch the next effectively, all your dinners from mon- thur n all ur lunches from tues - fri r taken care of...n u only spend around 2 hours cooking n around $20 on's really a very time n cost..PLUS u get company for dinner n also more motivation to try out new recipes n cook better food perhaps! :)

Anonymous said...

My tips:

1. Take turns to cook with your partner/housemate. Whoever's cooking that day pays for the groceries and the aim is to cook lots to last over 2 days.

2. If you're really desperate and couldn't make it to the market, buy poultry/red meats from the deli section of Safeway or Coles. Although packaged meat is sometimes cheaper, more often than not, it's actually more expensive than the deli. We pay more for's really bad for the environment!

3. I have a policy of only buying junk food when it's on special.

4. If you shop at Prahran market, go on the weekends between 1.30-2pm. That's when they have $1 bags: Massive bags of potatoes, carrots, onions and what-nots going at, you guessed it, one dollar! And it's just as fresh as buys earlier in the day.

5. If you don't eat a lot of meat (like me) but need some protein in your diet, buy chicken wingettes and drummetes. Incredibly cheap and you don't feel like you've eaten a whole pot roast on your own.

6. Spices can be really expensive and some curry pastes are actually cheaper than buying individual spices. Of course its not as good as the real thing, but if you're in a hurry and on a budget, why not?

7. Try buying vegies at Asian grocers. The Asian grocer's at Prahran market sells cheap and very fresh vegies. And he sells fantastic serai, curry leaves and peeled garlic too!

~ Celine

deanacakes said...

this is not just for student,now not student also have to spend on a budget

g..k..s..t..r said...

I've been desperate enough to raid the hostel's rubbish bin. There will always be affluent international students that toss out slightly limp vegies and half a loaf of stale bread. Of course exercise common sense and don't eat rotting meat!

Anonymous said...

I'm a student and have been looking at your site now for a few months. I love it! I wanted to share another site that I came across that has a budget that can be downloaded for free. I've been using it, so between you guys helping me keep my food costs low and updating this budget, I've been able to cut back 5 hours a week working and can still make ends meet!!!

Anonymous said...

Saving tips for student: take away food in Nelayan restaurant(3 course) $7.80 without rice.Cook own rice at home and eat with one course of u still have 2 course meal for another day. Roll a day ($5.79)-whole roll with meat n vege's a lot and u can eat it for lunch and dinner. waterspinach,choy sum or other leafy's cheap,only $1.29 each and u can stirfry it with meat ball n eat with rice.spent less than 2 dollar a day.

4.make potato n carrot soup with chicken stock.add chicken mince to save more on meat.Miso soup also cheap.Good health eat less meat.cook at home.

5.Stir fry tempeh(soy bean),tofu or make omelette. also good source of high protein.Cheap food.cook at home.

6.stay out of home.spend most of time at u save water,electric more.

Agagooga said...

Go vegetarian. Meat is expensive.

Anonymous said...

This sweet little free budgeting online utility is a godsend for students on a budget and possibly a great tool to have before stating spending money. It's simple, powerful, totally anonymous to use and yes, free at:


loan modification said...

Great tips. Thanks for sharing them.