Published: Jan. 30, 2024

Woman grocery shoppingEating well during college can feel challenging for some students, especially with rising food costs. Here are ways to help you save money when shopping for groceries. 

Make a meal plan 

Making a meal plan before grocery shopping can help save time and money and prevent food waste. When constructing a meal plan, include ingredients for dinners, lunches, breakfasts and snacks throughout the week. Be sure to account for leftovers as meals. Leftovers are a great way to stretch your food budget. You can take leftovers for lunch on campus or repurpose leftovers to create a new meal. Try to get creative and use every ingredient available to you, like using leftover vegetables to make soup. 

Look for coupons 

Many grocery stores have weekly sales, deals and coupons. Download your grocery store’s app, check their website or pick up paper coupon magazines at store locations. Get in the habit of browsing coupons as you create your meal plan—you can adjust your plan to use the ingredients with cost-savings that week. 

Pay attention to the price per unit 

Sometimes, the lowest price isn’t necessarily the best price. Look at the price per unit at the bottom of the price tag. For example, a 12-ounce cereal box will likely cost less than a 24-ounce box. Yet, the price per unit may be less for the larger size. If your budget allows, you may save money in the long run by purchasing the larger box.  

Incorporate more plant-based food options 

Diets high in meat are often expensive. You can save money by planning meals with plant-based ingredients like tofu and beans. These alternative protein sources are often cheaper but still maintain high nutritional value. Check out tips for eating more whole plant-based foods.  

Upgrade simple meals 

Add simple ingredients to turn a wallet-friendly meal into a nutritious and hearty meal. For example, add vegetables (broccoli, onion, carrot) and protein (hard-boiled eggs, tofu, chicken) to instant noodle packets. Or add frozen berries or a cut-up banana to your cereal or granola for extra nutrition and flavor. 

Coordinate and share with your roommates 

If you live with roommates, you can agree to share specific items or meals to avoid duplicating costs. For example, you can share kitchen staples like butter, milk or coffee. As part of your meal plan, you can each cook dinner one night per week and split the cost of the food. Just ensure everyone is comfortable sharing and stays within the agreed-to budget. 

Swap items 

You can substitute the items you typically purchase for more affordable versions. Here are a few examples that can help you save. 

  • Buy whole foods: Some foods are cheaper in less processed forms. For example, blocks of cheese tend to be cheaper than bags of shredded cheese.  
  • Buy generic: Most stores have a variety of products under their generic brand. These products are often cheaper than the name brand for similar quality. 
  • Buy produce in season: Local, in-season produce tends to be cheaper. You can find a complete list of produce by season on the USDA website
  • Buy frozen produce: Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than out-of-season produce but maintain good nutritional value since they are picked and packaged at their peak quality. Steam-in vegetable bags can also be an easy way to save prep time.  
  • Buy in bulk: If you use many of the same ingredients, buying dry goods in bulk can often be cheaper. 
  • Buy canned foods: Canned foods are incredibly versatile and can be an affordable option. They are also easy to store. Just be aware of products high in sodium. 


The Basic Needs Center (BNC) helps connect students to essential resources, including access to nutritional and culturally relevant foods. The Buff Pantry is available to current students and welcomes clients once weekly to receive an average of 20 pounds of food per visit. The Buff Pantry has a variety of items available, including produce, pantry staples, refrigerated and frozen goods, and personal care items. 

The BNC hosts free mobile food pantries for CU Boulder students, faculty and staff, and community members of Boulder and Broomfield counties. Food is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, the BNC hosts many events centered around various topics, such as sports nutrition and stress management. Attend the How to Save Money on Groceries workshop on Tuesday, Feb. 13, from 5-6 p.m. in UMC room 417.