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!
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?