Grocery Shopping 101 for College Freshman



Living on your own for the first time can be pretty intimidating, especially when it comes to the whole eating thing. Sure, you could rely on the cafeteria and the takeout menus you find. But do you really want to leave your health and your stomach to chance? Instead of having others do the cooking, learn how to shop for your food made for dorm rooms with this basic Grocery Shopping 101 guide.


Making Your Dorm Room Grocery List

Before you go anywhere, you need a shopping list. It’ll keep you from buying things you don’t need and from overspending on what you want. A grocery list also expedites the process and gets you in and out much faster.

So what do you need? It’s important to remember that you don’t have the fully loaded kitchen like you do at home. A full grocery cart will go to waste so avoid overbuying. Instead, stick to the basics with this list:

  • ½ gallon of milk
  • Instant breakfast drink mixes
  • Granola
  • Fruit (apples, bananas, berries, etc.)
  • Eggs (half-dozen)
  • Bread (or tortillas)
  • Sliced or shredded cheese
  • Cereal
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Small tub of butter
  • Veggies (lettuce, cucumber, baby carrots, etc.)
  • Yogurt
  • Sliced chicken or pre-cooked meat
  • Instant noodles, pasta, and soup (mac and cheese, ramen, etc.)
  • Instant rice
  • Snacks (cookies, chips, pretzels, popcorn)
  • Coffee, tea, or other drinks you enjoy
  • Salt, pepper, and other spices you use frequently


Where to Shop

Any grocery store will do just fine, to be honest. However, if you’ve never been grocery shopping on your own before, you may want to try somewhere smaller. Discount stores are a good place to start because there’s less selection and the prices aren’t so high. If you’re more health conscious, stores with a focus on organic products or local farmers markets are even better bets.

It also helps to do a pre-shop so you can get the lay of the land. Big box stores in particular can be overwhelming and confusing. If you find you’re going to be in a rush or you hate larger stores, just doing a practice shop to pick up a few items and explore the aisles can really come in handy.


When to Shop

Frequency matters, especially if you’re working with limited fridge, freezer, or pantry space. A good rule of thumb is to shop weekly. That keeps your perishable items from going bad, and it means buying less each shop.

Go on a weekday, if possible. Weekends are terribly busy, and you may get stuck in a checkout line forever. Weekdays, especially in the afternoon, means you’ll have the place to take your time and do your thing with zero pressure. Plus, the pricier items go on sale during the week!


Shopping Tips and Tricks

A few sturdy and large grocery bags are essential these days. Plastic and paper aren’t in style, and having those things around is annoying and wasteful. Cloth or reusable plastic is a must.

Don’t forget to pick up some storage tubs and baggies. Avoid insect problems by locking it up if it can be easily gotten to. Plus, then it makes it easier to store in places like under your bed or in a grocery storage cube.

Coupon and cashback apps are essential to saving money. Ibotta is one example where you can get money back for buying certain grocery items. Seriously! Even more stores have reward programs where you can get discounts the more frequently you use it. If you’ve got the option, carry the card on your keys so it’s always handy.

Explore grocery delivery services if you’ve got the cash. They can be pricey, but they are good to know in case you’re sick and in need of soup and tea and can’t make it to the store yourself.

9 Supermarket Hacks for Frugal College Students


Chances are you’re probably tired of your dining hall’s eats, and you’re ready for something new. Even though you’ve heard your parent’s pleas of “Shop, don’t spend” when it comes to food, navigating supermarket prices can still be a bit of a challenge. In order to watch your wallet and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, we’ve come up with some great frugal hacks to make sure your grocery list is worth every penny.




  1. Share the Costs

One of the best grocery moves you can make as a college student is to not go it alone. Buying a few things a week can really add up. Plus, you may be left with a lot of food waste. Instead, ask your roommate to split the bill and share your food — or if you have a membership to a big-box supermarket, see if anyone would be willing to go halfsies on the buy-in cost.


  1. Compare Online Prices

Online delivery stores like Amazon Pantry and PeaPod often offer great deals on your favorite foods. All it takes is a bit of research. After a few local shops, start noting the price of your favorite item (such as $1 for yogurt). Then, pick a day to compare the same item online. You may be surprised to see which one is cheaper!


  1. Make a Meal Plan

One of the biggest mistakes grocery shoppers make is not having a plan. Even worse, hungry shopping can lead to lots of unhealthy impulse buys (like that candy bar at the checkout line). Come in with a list of everything you want to buy and stick to it as much as possible.


Actually write something down…like your meals for the week!


  1. Compare Labels and Research Organics

Let’s say you’re looking to trim fat but the low-fat option is much more expensive. Is it worth paying the premium? No! Instead, look at the labels of the generic or non-low-fat options. Many brands label their items as low-fat, low-sugar, low-sodium, etc. when they actually didn’t change the recipe at all! The same idea goes for organics. Before you only buy something organic, research the product online to see if it really earns that label.


  1. Generic Hunt

You probably have a favorite cereal or chip brand. Who doesn’t? But did you know that the recipe is almost identical (if not exactly the same) in that store brand package? You’d be surprised to find out that generic brands usually taste similar to their big brand counterparts. Besides, who doesn’t love hi-lo shopping?


  1. Go Vegetarian or Vegan

Here’s the deal — meat and fish are expensive! And as a college student, you most likely won’t have the means to cook or properly store it. So skip it altogether. Instead, grocery shop around plant-based diets where you’ll spend more on produce than slabs of beef.




  1. Sign Up for Coupons/Loyalty Clubs

Grocery stores LOVE when you sign up for their loyalty clubs, and they will reward you with coupons and exclusive deals. All you have to do is give your email, phone number, and address. Even if you won’t shop there frequently, it’s worth signing up for a few dollars off your bill.


  1. Stock Up Responsibly

If you’ve seen extreme couponing shows, you probably get that to make that work, you need to have a huge pantry or storehouse to keep everything. Not true! To save money this way, follow the rule of stocking up on most used products when it’s on sale. And then purchase an under the bed storage bin to keep your extras out of sight and mind.


  1. Know Your Supermarkets

Some supermarkets are just pricier than the next. Don’t be fooled by lighting, color, or decor. Shop around your college town till you find the most consistent low-priced supermarket. And avoid trendy where you’ll only pay for the better soundtrack. Once you find the perfect fit, use these tips to up your supermarket saving game and skip the dining hall line forever (until graduation).

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