Finding foods other than ramen noodles and energy drinks on a college budget can seem impossible. Services like DoorDash and Uber Eats are easy options, but their expensive service fees add up fast. While your experience as a Saint Rose student is designed to enrich you with the knowledge that you’ll need for a prosperous future, there are some lessons that school simply cannot teach us – like how to grocery shop without spending a fortune!
Whether you live on campus or are a commuter, proper food budgeting is an important skill to learn early on. With our comprehensive guide to affordable grocery shopping, you’ll be ready to start your shopping and (hopefully) spark some culinary inspiration.
Frozen chicken legs
Rather than splurging on your favorite wings from Madison’s Pizza, opt for frozen chicken legs instead. The average price for frozen chicken legs ranges anywhere from $4 to $7, providing you with a classic staple ingredient that lasts for multiple meals. They’re easy to find, and prepare, and are sure to provide you with enough protein to power through your day.
Eggs are another classic kitchen staple. A carton of 12 eggs typically goes for around $2 to $3 and gives extensive breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. They can be the main focal point of a meal, like scrambled eggs or a topping for ramen, and a crucial ingredient in easy baking recipes.
If you don’t eat meat, or maybe want to try a meat alternative, tofu is a great, versatile option. You can prepare it in a variety of ways and use it in countless dishes. At around $1.50 to $2 per pound, this protein is affordable and reliable for those looking to add some flare to their vegetarian or vegan cuisines.
This shelf-stable ingredient is loved by many not only for its usability in sandwiches, salads, and more but also for its low price point. An eight-pack of tuna can be found at Walmart for only $8, with individual cans selling for less than a buck!
Ground beef is an important part of a multitude of delicious and filling meals. At roughly $4 to 5 per pound, it can sustain you for several days and easily be stored for future use. From burgers, meatballs, nachos, and more, ground beef is an affordable food you can always count on.
Nut butter made from peanuts, almonds, or cashews is high in protein and healthy fats to keep your muscles strong. There are many ways in which to add nut butter into your diet, whether it’s on a sandwich, in a smoothie, or simply by the spoonful. You can find very affordable nut butter made by most grocery store brands; for example, peanut butter costs around $4 to $5 for a 40-ounce jar. If you really want to stock up, Walmart offers a whopping 64-ounce jar of peanut butter for less than $6.
Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and more are commonplace at every grocery retailer and can add a hearty dose of protein to your meals. A can of most varieties of beans will cost you less than $1 and have a long shelf life, so we recommend stocking up on multiple at a time before making your next serving of chili, soup, salad, or nachos.
Sure, there are countless name brands of pasta out there that can vary in price depending on just how fancy you’re aiming to be. However, virtually every grocery store has its own brand of pasta in a wide variety of shapes and sizes that can hold their own against expensive competitors. Most store-brand pasta can be found for around $1 to $2 per pound and can be used to create several dishes for whatever mood you’re in. Plus, with so much of it to go around for such a small price point, you’ll definitely have leftovers.
Just like pasta, different brands and varieties of rice can be all over the place when it comes to price. However, grocery stores often sell bulk bags of their own rice for very low prices. A one-pound bag of white rice from Walmart will cost you only $.92, and a five-pound bag will cost you less than $4. With rice being such a versatile item used in many dishes, this is definitely something you’ll want to buy in bulk and stock up on.
There’s nothing quite like a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning, complete with fresh fruit, brown sugar, and some maple syrup. However, the pre-packaged packets of oatmeal can rack up pretty high in cost. The good news is that grocery stores typically sell large containers of rolled oats for a very low price. You can find an 18-ounce container of oats for $3 to $4. Just add some of your preferred oatmeal toppings yourself, and you’ll be all set. Your own unique oatmeal creations will taste better than any packet ever could!
Pro Tip: if you don’t have a stove, you can make oatmeal in the microwave. Just follow the instructions on the container and be sure to cover your bowl with something to avoid splatter!
Grocery stores usually have a designated bakery section specifically to churn out their breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries. However, when it comes to needing a simple white or wheat loaf to make your perfect sandwich, most grocery stores will sell loaves for around $1.50 or less.
Pro Tip: If you are in need of a different kind of bread, say to make garlic bread or to use on a charcuterie platter, most store bakeries will have a section of marked-down bread and other baked goods that are set to expire within the next week. The clearance markdowns can be drastic compared to the original price points of these more gourmet-style baked goods, so always be sure to check there first before splurging on something expensive!
There are seemingly limitless options when it comes to choosing your favorite cereal nowadays. However, the name brands that we all know and love can be quite pricey. Thankfully, Malt-O-Meal cereal is a generic brand sold in most grocery stores that not only makes recreations of all of the most popular cereals but does so for a fraction of the price. The best part is that they sell their cereals in massive quantities! A 37-ounce bag of their cereal will typically cost less than $6, including generic versions of Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Lucky Charms, and more. These bulk bags are MASSIVE and will last a very long time.
With so many different kinds of apples grown in New York State alone, there are some that are certainly pricier than others. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to their favorite type of apple, but varieties like Macintosh, Gala, and Red Delicious apples can be bought in bulk for around $.65 to $1 per pound. The best part about apples is that they stay fresh in the fridge for over a month, so you have plenty of time to eat your way through them.
Bananas are one of the most nutritious and satisfying foods money can buy, and the good news is that the money you spend on them will pale in comparison to most other produce. Bananas typically go for $.30 per banana, and usually will not go over $2 for a bundle. While they may not stay fresh as long as other fruits on this list, even brown and overripe bananas can be used to make a loaf of delectable banana bread.
Grapes are a budget-friendly fruit packed with vitamins to keep you fueled throughout the day. They are great in a fruit salad, on a charcuterie platter, or simply on their own. Plus, their poppable nature makes them perfect for snacking. You can find most varieties of grapes for only $1 to $3 per pound.
This citrus fruit can be used for smoothies, juices, snacking, and more. Rich in vitamin C, oranges are one of the most popular fruits sold year-round. At only $1.50 $2.50 per pound, stocking your fridge up with these guys will keep both your belly and wallet happy. Plus, since they come in their own natural container, they are perfect for on-the-go.
Perhaps seen as the forgotten sibling of the apple, pears are a delightful source of vitamins C and K. They remain fresh for a long time, can be sold individually or in bulk, and will keep you hydrated and satisfied. These green beauties sell for $1 to $2 per pound.
Potatoes may not be the first item that comes to mind when you are thinking about vegetables, but they’re versatile ingredients for fries, mashed potatoes, soups, chips, and more simply would not be the same without them. A pound of russet potatoes will only cost you about $1.30, and sweet potatoes will often only be about $1.10.
The refreshing crunch of cucumbers compliments any salad or picnic basket. They are a delicious and healthy treat both on their own and when combined with other ingredients. Cucumbers will only cost you around $1, and paired with your favorite dressing or hummus they are sure to please.
At around $1.50 to $2 per pound, fresh broccoli is essential in lunches and dinners. Whether you use it as a key component in a baked casserole, a rich broccoli cheddar soup, or just prefer to sprinkle it with some oil and garlic, broccoli is both affordable and delicious.
Dip them, slice them, bake them, or fry them, carrots are a staple vegetable to have in your kitchen. Whole carrots are one of the most affordable vegetables on the market, coming in at around $1 per pound. Be careful though: pre-sliced shredded or baby carrots can often increase in price. Make sure to buy whole carrots instead and chop them up yourself.
Whether you prefer iceberg, butter, or romaine, lettuce is a key player in any salad, burger, or sandwich. Although lettuce may not be as jam-packed with nutrients as some of the other veggies on this list, it still remains an important part of most diets. A head of iceberg lettuce or a heart of romaine will usually cost around $2. If you want to keep things simple a bag of pre-cut lettuce will only cost about $2 as well.
Milk is one of those ingredients that is so commonplace in the kitchen that you may not think twice about trying to save some money on it. Milk is just milk, right? True, milk is in essence always just milk. However, a little-known tip is that 2% milk is actually a few cents cheaper per gallon. It can be found for about $2.75 a gallon to satisfy all of your cereal, mac and cheese, and Oreo-dipping needs.
Oatsome Organic Oat Milk
If you don’t eat dairy, dairy-free substitutes are available in abundance. Oat milk is typically the most affordable of the milk substitutes on the market and can do just about anything dairy milk does. You can find Oatsome brand oat milk for just $3.78 per liter. Sure, it is a little pricier than dairy milk, but its rich and creamy taste is definitely worth it.
A little trick to saving money on cheese that is often overlooked is purchasing blocks of cheese rather than buying it pre-sliced or pre-shredded. As was mentioned earlier in this list with carrots, the pre-made versions of foods will often cost you more than buying the whole food itself to prepare at home. You can find just about any cheese your recipe calls for in its block form, and save a few pennies on it too.
Daiya dairy-free cheese
If you are searching for an affordable vegan cheese to add to your diet, you may worry about breaking the bank. The good news is that with dairy-free and vegan food options growing in popularity, the prices on these items are decreasing. Daiya is one of the most affordable vegan brands currently available and has products that can be used just as dairy cheese would be used. Daiya cheese-style shreds can be found for around $4 to $5 per seven-ounce bag at most grocery stores.
Great-Value gummy bears
Sometimes we all find ourselves craving the sweet chewiness of a gummy bear. Unfortunately, most popular candy brands continue to rise in price, which is not so sweet. Thankfully, Walmart offers its own brand of gummy bears for a fraction of the price of name brands like Haribo or Albanese. You can get a massive 52-ounce bag of gummy bears for only $6.57 that’s over three pounds!
Starburst assorted lollipops
Nearly everyone you know has tried Starburst candy at least once in their lifetime, and the popular consensus is that the candy is delicious. The brand recently released its own line of lollipops flavored just like the original candy, and they’re cheaper than most other lollipops on the market. An 8.8-ounce variety bag of these pops sells for less than $4 and will keep all candy fanatics happy.
Mott’s fruit snacks
Mott’s is a brand most known for their stellar juice and apple sauce assortments, but it also offers some wonderfully affordable fruit snacks as well. Plus, since fruit snacks are typically healthier than gummy candies, you can snack on a few packs of these guiltlessly. A 22-pack of Mott’s fruit snacks will only cost around $5.48 to $6, making them a great addition to any lunchbox or midnight munchie snack run.
Turkey Hill Ice Cream
Turkey Hill offers an extensive list of delectable flavors that are sure to please anyone with a craving for ice cream. They are known for their variety of options, like chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate peanut butter cup, fudge ripple, and more. Half gallons of this treat sell for about $3.52 at most grocery stores, often less than the other name brands.
As we mentioned earlier, Walmart’s Great-Value brand has a plethora of dupes for some of your favorite grocery items at just a fraction of the price. A particular area in which their brand shines is their cookie selection. Whether you’re craving chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, chocolate mint, or peanut butter, Great-Value has all of the cookies you want and more. You can get your hands on some of these cookies for anywhere from $1.50 to $4 depending on your selection, a significant decrease in price from the name brands.
Popcorn is a great option for a budget-friendly snack that is quick and easy to prepare. A tip I have learned when it comes to saving money on popcorn is to purchase your own popping kernels rather than microwaved bags. By purchasing a $2 to $3 bag of unpopped kernels and popping them yourself at home (either with a popping machine or on the stovetop), you are really buying a long-lasting supply of multiple servings of popcorn. You can season your homemade popcorn however you see fit and have significantly more servings than you would by purchasing bags of the microwave brands. Most grocery stores will offer their own brands of popcorn kernels right next to the popular brand names.
Chips and homemade salsa
Tortilla chips are one of the more affordable chip options on the market, and if you stick to the store brands rather than name-brands you can typically find a bag of them for around $2 to $3. You can find them in various styles as well: circular dipping chips, scooping bowl-shaped chips, or cantina style. As for salsa, jars can be relatively expensive. It’s best to prepare your own salsa using ingredients from the produce section that are low in cost. By making your own salsa, you can adjust the spice levels to your liking, store a large portion of it away for future uses, and save money.
Bulk snack packs
Having food that is easy to take on-the-go is essential for college students. Bulky bags of chips or crackers are not the most efficient when packing a lunch. Brands like Frito-Lay, Great-Value, Utz, Cheez-It, and more offer multi-packs of some of their best-selling snacks in small snack-size bags. Depending on the size of the multi-pack, the prices range between $5.50 and $15. While it may sound a bit steep, the convenience of having a large inventory of portable snacks to choose from is worth it.
Everybody loves the childlike nostalgia that comes with drinking a glass of refreshing fruit juice. You may first think of a brand like Hawaiian Punch or Welch’s as your go-to juice option, but Minute Maid offers an incredible deal on their juices for a considerable size. At Walmart, you can find a 59 fl. oz carton of Minute Maid juice for only $1.76. You can choose from original fruit punch, tropical punch, peach mango, strawberry-grape, and more. With such a low price, you could stock up and buy several!
Rockstar Energy Drink
For those of us who need a kick of caffeine to get through our day, we often gravitate towards the sweet rush of an energy drink. The problem is that most energy drinks will cost upwards of $4 per can, which really adds up throughout the week. Luckily, Rockstar Energy has a lineup of delicious flavors that will stimulate your senses for about $2 per 16 oz can at most grocery stores.
Great-Value coffee pods
Continuing with the theme of needing caffeine, coffee is a staple among the college community. Sure, we all love to treat ourselves to a fancy Starbucks drink every once in a while, but those shaken espressos can really add up. Similarly, K-Cups for Keurig machines are also known for being on the more expensive side. This is where Walmart’s Great-Value brand comes in once again, offering their selection of coffee pods made for Keurig machines at a much lower price. A 12-pack of Great-Value coffee pods only costs $4.24, and they offer different flavors for all kinds of coffee lovers.
A great money-saving tip when it comes to buying beverages is to purchase powdered drink mixes rather than buying a new bottle of soda or juice every day. Nearly every drink brand offers a flavored drink mix of their product that you simply mix into water; they often come in bulk as well. Whether you’re craving Gatorade, Powerade, Sunkist soda, or water that tastes like pink Starbursts, there are powdered drink mixes out there for you to try. Packs of these mixes sell for around $5 for a 30-count box. By stocking up on these, you will begin saving money on drinks in no time!
There are many more ways to save money when it comes to the grocery store. Couponing and hitting the sales every week is always recommended!
With this list to guide you, we hope grocery shopping for yourself can feel a little less like a burden and more like a fun adventure further into independence. Enjoying quality food always feels good, and saving money certainly does, too.