How to make it on a $100 grocery budget

Living off-campus can actually be less expensive than living on-campus, if you do it right.

For one thing, the on-campus Flex plan is very expensive – about $1,600 for a semester, give or take, and students have to use it during the semester or else the money disappears from their accounts. It’s usually just cheaper (and often more convenient) to buy groceries yourself, especially if you’re a commuter.

The average grocery budget for the American adult is about $151 a month. The median grocery budget is about $125 a month; however, when you combine the expenses of books, rent, school supplies and housekeeping supplies, it becomes clear that cutting costs is necessary for survival.

One of the best ways to cut down costs is to limit your packaged meat intake. Going truly vegetarian will make your life harder because products like soy and seitan can be expensive and recipes are hard to find, but buying hamburger meat instead of chicken or pork will make it easier to add a little meat into your diet without digging too far into your budget.

Even with a limited budget the possibilities for food are almost endless. Graphic by Kate McHugh.
Even with a limited budget the possibilities for food are almost endless. Graphic by Kate McHugh.

Another way to add protein to your diet is to buy eggs. Eggs cost about $4 for an 18-pack, and the 18-pack can last you the whole month depending on how many eggs you eat. They last for a couple of weeks to a month, so go ahead and get the generic 18-pack. They’re easy to incorporate into any diet if you’re creative – they go well with white rice, they’re excellent for breakfast, and you can make a lunch out of them. They are high in cholesterol, so make sure you exercise enough.

Rice is fairly inexpensive, though very carb-heavy. Brown rice healthier, but it’s also more expensive. 3 bags is about $9 at Kroger.

Cheese is both a good way to add flavor to your diet and a good way to get protein. It’s not a great idea to eat a lot of cheese all the time, but it doesn’t hurt to add a few flakes to a baked potato. Block cheese is less expensive than individually-wrapped cheese, but you’re probably going to want to buy the individually-wrapped cheese anyway.

Milk is extremely expensive for the average college student, and it goes bad quickly. It’s good for baking and all that, but unless you like drinking milk or eating cereal, it’s not worth it. I would suggest getting powdered milk for baking – it’s cheap because it’s gross to drink, but it feeds the yeast all the same and it won’t go bad and kill you.

Bread is less expensive than you’d think. There’s always a group of close-to-expiration loaves of bread on sale, usually at 88 cents a loaf or lower. It’s quite easy to buy four loaves of bread and stick them in the freezer until they’re needed. They won’t go bad for a few months. You can also do this with fruit like bananas, strawberries and  blueberries and save them for smoothies (or those weird nights when you’re up at two in the morning studying for a final).

Pasta is a good way to add a little flavor to your diet without selling your firstborn child. Spaghetti sauce comes in cans for about $1.50 for three servings, and with a little tweaking can taste like Ragu. Just experiment.

Potatoes seem expensive, but they’re really not. $10 buys a lot of potatoes. They’re very versatile; you can chop them, mash them, boil them, peel them and bake them. A potato peeler will make your life a lot easier here. You can get it at Dollar General for $3, so add that to your first month’s budget.

Cereal’s cheap, but, as we’ve already established, milk isn’t. If you like to eat it dry or with a glass of orange juice, go for it. Otherwise, switch out for toast or bagels.

Vegetables are good for you, but stick to canned stuff until you can figure out what you need and what you’ll eat. Fresh, organic vegetables are great, but they are also expensive.

Some Final Thoughts:

The first month is probably going to be an exercise in bland food. Figure out what you like, what you don’t, and how to align what you like with what you can afford.

And remember – have fun with it!

Spaghetti Sauce Recipe: (2 servings)

2 cans generic spaghetti sauce

1 onion, diced

Hamburger meat, to taste

3 tablespoons of garlic salt

1/4 green pepper, diced

1 tomato, diced

3 teaspoons Basil

5 teaspoons Olive oil


Take the cans of spaghetti sauce, put them in a skillet, and let them simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes. Stir the garlic salt in one tablespoon at a time, making sure to dissolve it. Mix olive oil and basil in a spoon, sprinkle it into the sauce.

Add in the diced tomato and the hamburger meat. Sitr occasionally.

Chop the onion in half, then take the pepper and chop it into fourths. Dice and mix in a bowl. Add to pasta sauce to taste. Add about a tablespoon of salt to remove the metallic aluminum taste.

Mix with your spaghetti and enjoy!