Hunger on Campus: How College Students Can Get Help

When college students paying their own way have a financial hiccup, they have to make hard choices about how to spend their limited funds — and some turn to their food budget to close a gap.

Gina Higgins, a mechanical engineering student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has paid for school with a mix of scholarships, loans and part-time jobs. She planned every penny of her budget, cutting corners by shopping at discount grocery stores and commuting to campus.

Then, her car broke down and her family couldn’t help. Higgins needed her car to get to classes, but couldn’t afford to pay for repairs on top of rent, utilities and food. She knew that she could only cut back on her food budget, so she turned to her school for help.

“It’s a stereotype for a reason that college students survive on ramen and free snacks from club meetings — we don’t tend to eat well because we can’t afford to eat well,” Higgins says.

Almost half of 86,000 students at two- and four-year institutions nationwide surveyed in fall 2018 by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice said they were food insecure — without reliable access to healthy food — at some point in the previous year. More than a third of those students said they cut the size of meals or skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money for food.

Getting help for food insecurity

Nearly 40% of college students are considered low-income, the biggest risk factor for food insecurity in college, according to a 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office.

Food insecurity isn’t only about lack of food; it’s also about quality, says Alicia Powers, community health coordinator at Auburn University and managing director of the school’s Hunger Solutions Institute.

“If you’re choosing it because it is the only thing you can afford, then we need to address that,” Powers says about instant ramen meals.

Resources at Higgins’ university got her through the crisis. She had help signing up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program government benefits. She also received an emergency grant to cover the cost of car repairs and some meals at the dining hall.

Here are food resources that may be available for students in need.

Unused meal share programs

College meal share programs allow students to donate their unused meal credits, or swipes, to other students, who claim them for campus dining.

Meal share programs are often student-led efforts, aided in part by nonprofit organizations like Swipe Out Hunger and Share Meals.

In the 2018-19 school year, over 70% of students at the 80 colleges that Swipe Out Hunger serves reported less stress and anxiety about where they would get their next meal after receiving meal swipes. More than half who received swipes also reported higher class performance.

Campus food pantries

On-campus food pantries provide nonperishable items and some may offer fresh options like fruit, vegetables and dairy products as well as frozen food.

“Just because you’re low-income or struggling doesn’t mean you should only be able to eat food in packaged form or cans,” says Marissa Meyers, a senior department research associate for the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.

The campus food pantry at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, partners with the Thurston County Food Bank to receive weekly deliveries of fresh produce and refrigerated items.

Use the College and University Food Bank Alliance’s search tool to find campus food pantries.

SNAP benefit enrollment

Students with part-time jobs may be eligible for SNAP benefits, which they can use to buy food at grocery stores, convenience stores and some farmers markets. But it can be difficult for students to qualify, since most will have to work about 20 hours a week to use the program.

Some colleges, like Portland State University in Oregon, bring farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits to campus.

Financial aid appeal

Students who don’t receive enough financial aid or who have a serious change to their financial situation midyear can appeal their aid offer. Students should be ready to provide their financial aid office with the amount they’ll need, details of their circumstances and relevant documentation.

Emergency grants

A one-time emergency aid grant from a college can also help students bear the burden of their expenses — and that doesn’t just mean food. Insecurity with food often goes hand in hand with housing insecurity, says Mary Haskett, a psychology professor who led a food and housing security study at North Carolina State.

Students should visit their school’s financial aid or student affairs office.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

The article Hunger on Campus: How College Students Can Get Help originally appeared on NerdWallet. —

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Drink Up Savings at Starbucks

One Starbucks grande Cold Brew with Salted Cream Cold Foam, please.

Even if your order sounds fancy, enjoying your coffee shouldn’t have to put you over budget.

Whatever your drink of choice, following these tips could help keep you from overspending at your favorite coffee spot — without giving up your habit.

Write a money recipe

First and foremost, recognize your Starbucks purchases as a part of your actual budget.

“I prefer that people be realistic with themselves and say, ‘Listen, this is a habit that I’m not going to give up. It makes my day. It makes me happy,’” says Marianela Collado, CEO and senior financial adviser at Tobias Financial Advisors in Florida.

“Then it should totally be a line item. If you take $5 a day for 365 days, that’s almost $2,000.”

Those who utilize a budgeting system like Mint or Quicken should create a “coffee fix” category in their budget, Collado says. This would fall under the “wants” section of your budget, much like an entertainment or beauty category. And be sure to set a monthly spending limit.

Keep your dark roast out of the red

Then, make some trade-offs. For example, Collado says she’s noticed that some members of her team regularly splurge on their afternoon lattes, but bring their lunches to work instead of going out to eat. They value getting coffee out more than they value eating out.

If you’re not sure if you can hold yourself accountable on your own, don’t discount the ability of a gift card to keep your spending on track. Using a gift card as your payment method is actually a forced budgeting technique, according to Tracie Fobes, founder of Penny Pinchin’ Mom.

She recommends loading a Starbucks gift card onto the Starbucks app with your coffee money allotment for the month. Then don’t reload the card again for the next 30 days.

“You put $40 on that card, and when that $40 is done, guess what? Your Starbucks run ends for the month.”

Swap stars for savings

You can maximize your monthly coffee allotment by joining Starbucks Rewards and downloading the coffee joint’s app.

The Starbucks loyalty program offers customers the ability to earn stars — two stars for every $1 spent — that can later be redeemed for free drinks and other rewards. There are also other benefits, such as a free treat on your birthday, according to a Starbucks spokesperson.

If you’re going to be making purchases at Starbucks anyway, it makes sense to earn rewards for your loyalty — it’ll stretch your coffee dollars a little bit further.

Brew up a bargain

Loyalty programs are a popular savings technique (Starbucks told us its rewards program has more than 16.8 million active members). But beyond simply joining, there are less conventional ways to get the most out of your cup of joe, too.

One option? Time your coffee run strategically. The coffee chain sometimes hosts discount promotions, such as happy hours. These are deals offered directly through the Starbucks app and could include offers such as 50% off drinks or buy one, get one free. These are available to all Starbucks customers and typically start at 3 p.m.

At any time of day, try asking the barista for less ice, recommends Kara Stevens, founder of The Frugal Feminista. The beverage may be slightly less cold, but the container will be filled with more drink for your money.

Pass on the pastries

Sure, you can keep the iced latte, but pass on the pricey pastries, scones, cakes and other snacks, Fobes recommends.

But if you really, really like the flavor of that iced lemon loaf cake, go to Pinterest and check for a similar recipe you can make at home.

“Somebody out there has a copycat where you can make it at home and get the Starbucks experience without paying the Starbucks price,” Fobes says.

Stevens puts her Starbucks food advice this way: Don’t linger too long. The more time you spend there, the more likely you are to be tempted by the food items.

With a little extra work, you can drink up your favorite coffee with a helping of whipped cream — and without dragging down your budget.


The article Drink Up Savings at Starbucks originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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5 Easy Ways to Enrich Your Dinners on the Cheap

No one at NerdWallet is writing about living frugally during the day and then logging off to indulge in caviar and cognac at night. We usually try to practice what we preach. So when dinnertime rolls around, we know a few ways to cook up an affordable meal. Check out our ideas below.

Fill up on lentils

Social media writer Valerie Lai adds lentils to meals for a few reasons. For one, they’re filling — one cup of cooked lentils packs nearly 18 grams of protein. Dry lentils also have a long shelf life and cost only about $2 per pound.

Lai adds lentils to just about everything, she says, including curries, salads and stews.

Just add chicken

“Shredded rotisserie chicken from the supermarket makes a million different dinners,” says credit cards writer Robin Frankel. She’ll add it to a salad or use it as filling for tacos and enchiladas. She’ll also throw the shredded chicken in pasta, along with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and a sauteed green.

Put an egg on it

Chanelle Bessette’s dressed-up ramen.

Banking writer Chanelle Bessette makes one stop at Trader Joe’s for all the ingredients in her “dressed up instant ramen.” The base is a single-serving cup of ramen soup, which is about as cheap to buy and easy to make as a meal gets. (You could buy a cup for $1.29 as of September 2018 and cook the noodles by either adding boiling water or adding tap water and nuking the cup in the microwave.)

The “dressing up” comes from the vegetables Bessette cooks separately and adds to the soup: frozen broccoli and corn and fresh bok choy. The soup’s (cheap) finishing touch is a hard-boiled egg.

Spice up spaghetti sauce

Adding cooked Italian sausage to canned spaghetti sauce “makes cheap sauce taste good,” says writer Barbara Marquand. She suggests making the spiced-up sauce on a Sunday and stashing it in the fridge. Then, “on a weeknight, all you have to do is heat up the sauce and boil some spaghetti noodles,” she says. Or you can use that sauce as a base for lasagna, she adds.

» Explore the beginner’s guide to frugal living

Bake a potato (or another staple)

“A baked potato is the easiest side dish ever,” Marquand says. “Top it with grated cheese and sour cream, and it’s a meal.”

Stocking up on potatoes and other ingredients that can become a quick meal can dissuade you from ordering food on nights when you don’t have a meal plan, she says. Staples can include tuna for for tuna-salad sandwiches, eggs for scrambled eggs, frozen veggie burgers and bagged salad.

» Stock up on these pantry staples to create cheap, healthy meals

Now let’s hear from you. In the comments, tell us your ideas for affordable dinners.

The article 5 Easy Ways to Enrich Your Dinners on the Cheap originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Travelers, Save on Meals With These Tidbits

After transportation and hotel costs, food and drink expenses can often be among the biggest budget-busters of any vacation.

Whether you’re trying to stretch your per diem on a business trip or get the most value per dollar on your family excursion, here are some ideas for saving on meals and beverages.

Before your trip

Seek accommodations with a kitchen(ette)

The ability to refrigerate and cook food — or even just microwave it — can be a major way to save money. If you can score a hotel, motel or Airbnb with a few kitchen appliances, then a quick trip to the local grocery or convenience store can limit your spending on dining out.

In fact, you can turn grocery shopping into its own mini-adventure once you arrive, according to Paula Pant, founder of She says that going to a foreign grocery store can be a fun way to explore a new culture. Wandering the aisles and trying to translate labels in different languages is all part of the experience — and Pant advises that you go with the flow.

“You might think you’re getting butter, but it turns out to be yogurt,” Pant says. ” … The trick when grocery shopping is to not be attached to any kind of outcome.”

If you’re road-tripping, consider smoothies

Small snacks are portable and can save you money, but they may not be particularly filling or healthy.

“If possible, bring a blender with you, especially if you’re on the road,” Pant says. “You can bring that blender into your hotel room and go to the grocery and get some leafy greens (like kale), fruit, dairy and protein powder and blend it up. It’s a great way to save money on food and get enough greens.”

Take (OR GET) a credit card that earns dining rewards

Some credit cards, especially travel cards, offer bonus points for dining out. Although such rewards will defray only a small percentage of a big restaurant bill, they can add up quickly over the course of a trip. If you’re traveling internationally, make sure your card isn’t charging you a foreign transaction fee, which could eat up any rewards you earn.

Bring a refillable water bottle

Purchasing one-time-use plastic water bottles every time you get thirsty? Not very cost-efficient. Skip the expense (and the frequent trips to the store) by bringing a sturdy, reusable bottle or travel mug.

Do some research on Yelp OR Groupon

These sites might not always yield the best results for places to eat and drink, but occasionally you’ll find a legitimately good deal. At least check in advance and cross-reference the restaurants with customer reviews. Consider signing up for Yelp Cash Back to get even more rewards for your dining. (Those rewards can be “stacked” with any points that your credit card earns.)

Consider an all-inclusive resort

By bundling your food, drink and accommodations into one lump sum, you can often pay much less than you would by buying everything separately.

During your trip

Limit dining out to one meal a day

Enjoying local cuisine is one of the best parts about traveling to a new place, but it can make a huge impact on your wallet if you do it multiple times a day. Consider narrowing down your dining out. Pick one meal per day — breakfast, lunch or dinner — that you’re going to splurge on. Or rotate that meal each day so you get to try even more new food.

Matt Kepnes, founder of, says lunch can be the ideal meal.

“Many restaurants, especially in Europe, offer lunch specials, where items on the dinner menu are offered at a huge discount,” he says by email. “You can get an amazing afternoon meal for a fraction of the cost you’d pay for the same meal in the evening. I usually tend to eat my ‘nice’ meal during lunch, because lunch specials and plates of the day are about 30 to 40% off what I might pay at dinner.”

Eat LOCAL food

Keep in mind that food and drink cost more when they have to be shipped long distances.

“Try not to try to eat the same types of food that you eat when you’re at home,” Pant says. “If you’re in Indonesia, for example, cheese or wine will be expensive. Eat what the locals eat.”

Be aware that touristy areas might not offer the best versions of local food and drink, and that the more popular an area is, the more expensive it might be to eat there. Get some restaurant recommendations from the locals and go where they go. You’ll likely get a more authentic experience.

Visit a food stand or food truck

These convenient grab-and-go options are one way to ensure you’re eating locally. Food stands and trucks often infuse regional flavors into their fare, and they can be a filling and fulfilling alternative to pricey sit-down dining.

“In most places around the world (and especially in Asia), the streets are lined with little food stalls and areas where food is cooked openly on the street,” Kepnes says. “You grab a plate, sit down in a little plastic chair and enjoy a delicious meal. Street food is some of the best food in the world. Meals at street stalls — different from street vendors, who have a bit more permanent setup — cost less than a dollar most of the time and are a great way to really experience the local cuisine.”

Avoid snacking

When possible, make sure your meals are big or at least filling; otherwise, you might be tempted everywhere you turn.

“A gelato here, a gelato there. A soda. A candy bar. An ice cream. A small pastry. It all adds up,” Kepnes says. “Since the price is so small (‘It’s only a euro!’), we don’t think of snacking as having a big impact on our budget. But buying snacks a few times a day will slowly add up and throw your budget out of whack. It’s not something many travelers think of.”

Eat at buffets

Speaking of filling meals, a buffet could be just the ticket. Plus, it can be cost-effective.

“[Buffets] offer a great value for your money, even if they don’t always serve the best meals,” Kepnes said. “You can fill up on one meal for the entire day. They typically cost around $15 USD.”

Participate in local cultural events

Grab a local newspaper or alt-weekly and look for an event calendar. You’ll likely be able to find food and drink festivals that can provide great value for the cost of admission.

After your trip

Sure, go ahead and clean off your blender and travel mug. But more importantly, make sure you’ve actually earned those dining rewards on your credit card (it can take a billing cycle or two for them to show up), and then redeem them however they work best for you. You can use them to offset some of your travel expenses, or you can save them toward booking your next foodie-centric adventure.

The article Travelers, Save on Meals With These Tidbits originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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5 Tips for Cooking an Inexpensive Thanksgiving Dinner

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a thankless job if you’ve destroyed your budget to do so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By setting realistic expectations, shopping strategically and delegating tasks, this can be an affordable meal to prepare. Here’s how to pull it off:

1. Stick to the basics

First, drop the “Pinterest fantasy,” says Hali Bey Ramdene, food editor for The Kitchn. Your sanity and wallet will take a hit if you attempt the pear sangria and the sweet potato and Brussels sprout okonomiyaki and the apple-pecan pumpkin Bundt cake. Oh, and the turkey.

Use Pinterest and other social media sites as inspiration, not as a barometer of success. If you want to attempt a challenging dish, go for it. Otherwise, take advantage of the affordability of the Thanksgiving basics: turkey, potatoes and other vegetables.

Ramdene also points out that you probably don’t need a dozen appetizers and side dishes. “Think of the plate,” she says. A dish with just the essentials is a feast, when you consider a couple of slices of turkey, along with stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce. Would your guests even have room for the fancy Bundt cake?

2. Downplay social media

Just as Pinterest can set unrealistic expectations while you’re planning the meal, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat can up the ante come dinnertime. “Before, you just had dinner with your people. You fed them, and it was wonderful,” Ramdene says. “Now those people are taking photos of every single thing and narrating the dinner.”

Ramdene suggests gently asking guests to not use their phones at the dinner table. That way, they’re more present to exchange real-life experiences rather than Instagram stories. “The goal of Thanksgiving is to feed your family and be thankful together,” Ramdene says, “even if your potatoes don’t really look good with the Lark filter on them.”

3. Rethink the turkey

Look at your guest list and ask yourself if you really need to roast and serve a whole turkey. That’s a lot of food and a lot of work.

Instead, consider serving just a turkey breast. That’s what Katie Moseman, owner of the blog Recipe for Perfection, has done for the past three years. Moseman says a turkey breast is cheaper than a whole turkey and much easier to cook. Plus, it’s still tasty and attractive, with a “beautiful caramel brown exterior,” she says.

Worried about bucking tradition? “You’d have to have pretty fussy guests to complain,” Moseman says. “The carving the turkey on the table thing really only happens on TV.” As Ramdene puts it: “This is not a Norman Rockwell painting.”

If you’re feeding many guests and want to roast the whole bird, you’ll encounter a range of price tags and types. The Kitchn’s guide to buying a turkey may help you find one that fits your budget.

4. Shop wisely

That means starting now. Moseman scouts online and paper flyers of local stores and compares prices for the ingredients she’ll need. “A lot of times, the best deals won’t be found all at one store,” she says. So if you’re truly looking for the best bargain on each item, you’ll likely have to make a few stops.

As you create your “plan of attack,” as Moseman calls it, consider the value of your time, too. The grocery across town may sell pumpkin pies that are 80 cents cheaper than those at your neighborhood store, for example, but is that worth a 30-minute drive?

5. Enlist help

“Cooking Thanksgiving dinner by yourself is a falsehood,” Ramdene says. Save yourself stress and money by having guests bring dishes or beverages to share.

Ask guests with food intolerances or allergies to bring a side dish that’s safe for them to eat. That way, you’re not shelling out for specialized ingredients or sweating over a tailored dish, Moseman says.

Specify requests for other guests, too. “Don’t just tell guests to ‘bring whatever,’” Ramdene says. “If you decide to host, you’re like a taskmaster.” Ask for a dessert to share, for example, or a hot appetizer.

Chances are your guests will appreciate a chance to contribute during the giving season. “People like to show up and bring their best dish,” Moseman says. “It takes pressure off the host, it costs less, and they’re happy to say, ‘Here’s something amazing I cooked. Please compliment me.”

The article 5 Tips for Cooking an Inexpensive Thanksgiving Dinner originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Ask anybody who’s shopped at Whole Foods: Adopting a healthy diet can test your will and your wallet. Proper planning and savvy shopping can help you overcome challenges on both fronts.

Armed with these tips, you can eat healthy, wholesome foods and stick to your budget.

Make your own meals

Cooking at home kills two birds with one stone. You eat healthier by using a fraction of the butter and salt that restaurants tend to use, and you spend less money.

Order salmon at a restaurant, for example, and you’ll likely pay at least $15. You can get a pound of frozen salmon fillets, enough for three 5-ounce servings, for the same price or less at your local grocer.

When you do eat out, order an appetizer or split an entree with your dining companion to save on money and calories.

Plan your weekly menu

Meal planning is a great way to stick to a healthy diet without blowing up your budget. Map out your meals for the week — breakfast, lunch and dinner — and make a grocery list, taking into account what you already have in your pantry. This will keep you from over-shopping and helps guard against impulse purchases.

Planning will also help you maximize your grocery haul. Roasting a chicken one night? Shred the leftovers, add some salsa and toss it on a tortilla for lunch the next day. Or mix it up with some homemade mayo and a diced apple for a tasty chicken salad.

Buy frozen produce

Fruits and vegetables are a staple of any healthy diet. But fresh produce has a short shelf life and can be pricey, especially if the item isn’t in season. Opt for frozen goods to save money, without sacrificing nutritional value.

“Produce is flash frozen at peak ripeness, meaning flavor and nutrients remain intact,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. “Plus, frozen goods store longer than fresh and you can stock up during sale time.”

Opt for store brands

Generic products are often identical to their name-brand counterparts in ingredients and quality. Where they differ is price.

“Shoppers can save 30% to 50% when they buy generic or store brands of such healthy foods as whole wheat pasta, canned organic vegetables and more,” Woroch says.

A 16-ounce bag of frozen broccoli at Giant is just $1 if you opt for the store brand. Buy the Bird’s Eye brand instead and you’ll pay $2 for a 14-ounce bag.

Hit the tail end of the farmers market

The early bird gets the worm, or so the saying goes. But when shopping at your local farmers market, you can get the worm — or berries, greens and beets — for less if you show up late.

“I shop at farmers markets right before the market closes to get a discounted price on produce,” says Jerlyn Jones, a registered dietitian who works at a health center that serves low-income and homeless individuals. “Most times the farmers are happy to sell at lower price than take food back to the farm that didn’t sell.”

Many markets accept federal and state food benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as SNAP. Some even offer matching dollar programs, helping your benefits go further.

Try cheaper cuts of meat

Think beyond boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which can run anywhere from $4 to $9 per pound. Instead, snag some chicken legs or thighs for less than $2 per pound.

Not hungry for chicken? Pop a pork shoulder or beef roast into the slow cooker. Either will yield enough to feed your family with leftovers to spare, and both are more budget friendly than steaks or chops.

Shop at discount grocers

Eating healthy doesn’t require shopping at Whole Foods. Discount stores like Aldi and Trader Joe’s offer healthy, organic eats for less than mainstream grocery chains. A bag of quinoa, a protein-packed whole grain, is $2.99 at Aldi, compared with $5.99 at Giant.

Hitting multiple stores can also help stretch your budget. Check weekly circulars and look for coupons to determine which retailer offers the best deals for the items on your grocery list.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

The article How to Eat Healthy on a Budget originally appeared on NerdWallet.

5 Ways to Stash Cash and Still Eat Well in College

When you’re looking for ways to rein in your spending, a food budget can be a good place to start. But you don’t want to sacrifice your social life. Here are a few ways to enjoy those tailgating parties, coffee dates and roommate takeout nights without food costs draining your bank account.

1. Plan your spending

Divide your food budget into two categories: needs and wants. Food can easily walk a tightrope between the two, so use this strategy as a guide, not a rigid rule. If you’ve already paid for a campus meal plan that covers all of your weekly meals, most of your additional weekly food spending will fall into the want category. If you live off campus, consider your groceries as needs and impromptu drive-thru runs as wants.

Set weekly goals for each category based on what you can afford and what’s reasonable for your lifestyle and location. This budgeting calculator may help. Tweak your spending goals to develop a budget that works for you.

2. Understand your campus meal plan

Many schools charge a lump-sum dining hall fee per semester or bundle food and housing costs, so it can be hard to know what you’re really paying for each meal you eat on campus.

The cost per meal can vary widely by school, so use this college meal plan calculator to estimate yours. The dining plan may be your only option, because some schools require students living on campus to buy one. But if you have can opt out, you could save money by skipping the dining halls and buying groceries and the occasional meal out instead.

3. Cook at home on weeknights

Vowing to not order takeout is probably unrealistic, but try to cook at home at least during the week. You’ll be most successful if you plan ahead, so make meal prep part of your Sunday routine. To get started try vegetable curry, turkey avocado cubanos and lemon basil ramen stir fry.

4. Budget for splurges

It can feel impossible to resist that group pizza order after a late night out. You don’t have to deny yourself those indulgences, but come up with a way to curb too much impulse spending.

One idea: Use a prepaid debit card to hold your “want” food allowance. Look for one with minimal fees. Load a set amount onto the card each month, and when it runs out you’ll know it’s time to cut back until next month. For a similar effect without the fees that some prepaid cards charge, tuck a few bills in an envelope and use them to buy those midnight munchies. In both cases, the card and the cash — or lack of it — will say no when your willpower can’t.

5. Split bulk grocery items among your roommates

Buying pantry items in bulk can be cost-effective. But when you’re cooking for one, a 25-pound bag of rice could take you years to finish. To avoid waste and still reap the cost benefits, ask your roommates to split bulk amounts of nonperishable items like pasta, beans, oatmeal and nuts. Use Venmo or a similar money-transfer app to pay one another back.

Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @teddynykiel.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today College.

The article 5 Ways to Stash Cash and Still Eat Well in College originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Eat Cheap, Without the Junk

Is your regular diet consisting of more “junk” than “food?” Have the dining hall options that used to satisfy you now leave you with a bad taste in your mouth? Are you just bored with your routine and want to find ways to mix it up or nourish yourself within your budget? Well then get ready foodies, because this Pinterest page is full of recipes and dining hall hacks to help you break out of the rut, fuel your brain for finals, and eat on the cheap. Because hey, making your own food is one surefire way to save some serious cash. And if you’ve got any food tips or hacks of your own that you want to share, tweet us @MoneyKnowl.


To check out the Pinterest page by Texas Tech University Advising, click here.

The Weirdest Thing I Did to Save Money

Personal finance experts are in the business of helping readers save money every day. Although not every tip can apply to every reader, there is a shared goal of imparting financial wisdom to others to help them cope with debt, improve their credit, successfully obtain a home and accomplish a number of other financially based goals. It’s definitely possible to take frugality too far, however, and the quest to save money can quickly turn from the wise to the weird.

We asked 30 major bloggers and personal finance experts to share both the most bizarre things they’ve ever done to save money — and the lessons they learned through the experience.


I Scrounged in the Lost and Found for a Free Swimsuit

“I don’t consider it weird, but others I’ve told about this incident find it cringe-worthy,” Jeff Yeager, the Ultimate Cheapskate, said. “I checked into a hotel once, only to realize that they had a swimming pool and I didn’t bring a bathing suit. The clerk at the desk suggested that I buy one at the mall next door. Grimacing, I asked if instead they perhaps had a suit in my size in their lost and found. She proudly produced a nice-looking swimsuit in just my size, and said that I could keep it when I was through, since it had been in their lost and found for more than 30 days. It’s still my favorite suit. Lesson: It never hurts to ask.”


I Saved Coffee Cups to Get Free Refills

“At one point in time, I used to save paper coffee cups and use them to get free refills on a different day,” said Deacon Hayes of Well Kept Wallet. “Then places started charging for refills, so it really didn’t make sense to do this anymore. Plus it was kind of weird to take a paper coffee cup home, rinse it out and wait to take it the next time I was at that coffee shop. I learned that the best bet is to brew my coffee at home or, if I schedule a meeting, make sure to do it where they offer free refills.”


I Bought Secondhand Ski Lift Passes

“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was to stand at the bottom of a ski slope and ask people who have finished skiing for the day to sell me their ski lift passes,” said Maria Nedeva of The Money Principle. “This sounds like another middle-class woman playing at money saving but it was a powerful and empowering experience that took me far beyond my comfort zone. And I was already using most usual saving hacks and then some, anyway. To buy three ski lift passes, I had to ask about twenty people.”


Photo Credit: Susan Law Cain

I Dressed in Costume for a Free Burrito

“Some may find this weird, but I thought it was genius,” said David Carlson of Young Adult Money. “When I was in college, Chipotle offered free burritos on Halloween if you showed up in costume (I believe they are now $3).  A group of my buddies and I went to about six different Chipotles and collected a free burrito at each. Who could pass up six free Chipotle burritos? Not us.

“I learned a couple things from this experience: College students will do just about anything for free food, especially Chipotle, and lettuce doesn’t stay good for three days in a leftover Chipotle burrito.”


I Sported Free-But-Branded Shirts

“A few years ago, I worked for a certain potato chip company,” said Nelson Smith of Financial Uproar. “As part of the job, I got three or four free polo shirts per year, which are really comfortable and, at least in my opinion (but probably not my girlfriend’s), pretty stylish. There’s just one problem: They have potato chip logos on them.

“You can probably figure out where this is going. Yes, I still wear those shirts to this day. And often, too.


I Wandered Around Looking for Free Wi-Fi

“I’d say it was when I was traveling on a motorbike around Europe and didn’t have a cell phone plan for all of the small countries where I would sometimes only spend a few days,” said Pauline Paquin of Reach Financial Independence. “I was the passenger and we would go around the town center, me with my smartphone in my hand trying to find free Wi-Fi to load our route and look up a hotel for the night. We would then stand outside awkwardly and load up the data. I have learned that although it is nice to be resourceful, sometimes it would have been worth the cost of a coffee just to sit down and relax!”


I Couch Surfed

“I couch surfed to save on travel costs,” said Stefanie O’Connell of The Broke and Beautiful Life. “When I tell people I crashed with relative strangers as a petite 20-something-year-old woman traveling on my own, they think I’m totally nuts. The reality is, couch surfing hosts are more like friendly neighbors than creepy weirdos. I’ve stayed with families, couples, young and old. You might be pleasantly surprised by what’s out there when you stop assuming the worst. Couch surfers are an awesome community of adventure seekers —and it’s free!”


I Endured Time-Share Pitches

“I attended time-share presentations for the gift, free meal or show tickets,” personal finance writer Barbara Friedberg told us. “In Southern California there were many opportunities to visit vacation properties with time-share ownership possibilities. At the beginning of our marriage, when we had more time than money, we attended the mandatory time-share sales pitch (never bought in spite of the pressure) for the perks. For example, we got a great meal and show tickets at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Southern California.

“The takeaway was to figure out what your time is worth. If you’re young with no money, use your time to save or make more money. Be creative when looking for low-cost experiences and money-saving strategies. We also got a lovely luggage set at one time-share presentation, and free Las Vegas show tickets at another presentation while on vacation.”


I Unplugged My Power-Sucking Electronics

“I think most of the money-saving strategies I use are pretty normal,” said Jeremy Biberdorf of Modest Money. “I guess one that is less common would be unplugging appliances when not in use. A lot of those appliances are draining electricity even when turned off. There were also specific appliances that I’d put on a separate power bar knowing I would rarely use them. Then I could leave that power bar turned off.

“For this strategy, it might have been more effective if I had one of those devices that gauge appliance electricity use. Then I could determine where this was most worthwhile. Of course then there would be the extra expense. Due to the inconvenience, I have started leaving many of those appliances plugged in. Sometimes the time involved does make a difference in which money-saving strategies are worth the effort.”


I Charged Rent to a Credit Card

“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was put my rent on my credit card,” said Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto. “Even though I had to pay a $10 fee to my landlord in order to pay with a credit card, I earned $30 cash back each month. In the end, I saved $20 a month by filling out a credit card rent form once a month in my apartment complex’s lobby.

“There are always creative ways to save money, you just have to find a way to take advantage of them.”

Read: 7 Times It Costs More to Pay With a Credit Card


I Opted for a Red-Eye to Get a Flight Voucher

“I was flying out to the East Coast to start my first real job after college,” said Nick Loper of Side Hustle Nation. “My flight was supposed to get in Sunday night, and I would show up to the office on Monday morning for training and orientation. At the airport, the flight was oversold and they were looking for volunteers to take the later, red-eye flight that landed at [5 a.m.] Knowing I had several cross-country trips in my future, I wanted that flight credit voucher so I volunteered.

“Thankfully the flight was on time; I got a couple hours of sleep at the hotel, and made it to my first day of work only a little tired and bleary-eyed. It was probably a risky move though, and perhaps I didn’t make the best first impression!”


I Celebrated Christmas Late

“Growing up, we sometimes used to celebrate holidays a day or so after their official date,” said William Charles of Doctor Of Credit. “As we all know, after a big holiday (Easter, Christmas, etc.) the prices for items relating to that holiday dramatically decrease. In the past, my family has decided to celebrate these holidays a few days after their official date so everybody could save some much-needed money. It also usually means flights and other travel items are much cheaper as well, as you’re not needing to travel during those peak periods.

“Holidays really aren’t about presents or celebrating on a specific day (unless that day holds particular significance for you), but rather spending time with loved ones.”

Keep reading: How to Save Money During the Peak Travel Season


I Experimented With At-Home Waxing

“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was waxing my own eyebrows,” said Shannon McLay of Financially Blonde. “A friend of mine told me about this waxing kit which costs about as much as one waxing for me, so I figured I had nothing to lose. The entire experience scared me and I almost dripped hot wax on my eyeball, but I learned that I could do anything if I just put my mind to it. I now wax my own eyebrows regularly, and I have no fears whenever I do it.”


I Snuck Sugar Packets

“As a 21-year-old single mom, I was a clerk at a big-city newspaper, where an editor would ask me to run to the cafeteria for coffee for reporters, ‘and get something for myself, too,'” personal finance writer Donna Freedman said. “Instead I would pocket the 35 cents it cost to buy an orange drink and purposely get more sugar packets than necessary; that way, I’d get an extra buck or so a week (these were 1979 dollars) plus sugar to take home for my oatmeal.

“I don’t know about ‘weird,’ but it’s certainly sad. Money and sugar! But seriously: It was just one more reminder that since I had very few resources, I’d better be creative about meeting needs for myself and my baby. My various hand-to-mouth coping strategies were pretty useful much later, when I was a mid-life college student and broke divorcee.”


I Took a Bus 1,000 Miles Out of My Way

“One of the weirdest (and best) things I did to save money happened soon after college graduation, during a recession when few landed regular jobs,” said Julie Rains of Investing to Thrive. “I accompanied a friend on a road trip from North Carolina to Montana, where she stayed to work the summer at Yellowstone National Park. Rather than flying directly back home, I extended my trip by taking the bus to Los Angeles and then flying out of LAX, because the total transportation cost was less expensive using this route. While in LA, I stayed with a college friend studying law at Pepperdine University; her campus housing was on Malibu Beach, so my cost savings involved a free beach stay.

“From a business perspective, I learned that costs are often lower on high-volume routes; from a personal perspective, I discovered that free-form adventures are often more fun and cheaper than traditional travel.”


I Collected Birthday Freebies

“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was to use my birthday to collect freebies from more than 20 restaurants and stores around town,” said Kyle Taylor of The Penny Hoarder. “A lot of retailers offer these birthday freebies as a promotion and you only need to present your driver’s license to score tons of free food, free gift certificates and valuable coupons.

“My goal was actually to get to all 100 places on this list, but after my fifth scoop of free ice cream I realized that my eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach. It was still a pretty fun day, and I scored a few free gift certificates that I was able to use later in the week.”


I Earned Cash Taking Surveys

“I once used an app that recorded my location and occasionally asked me simple survey questions in exchange for ‘points’ that could be redeemed for cash,” said Louis DeNicola of “In the end, it took a lot of time and battery life and I only made $10. I’ve since learned to recognize when something takes more time than it’s worth and focus on outcomes.”


I Slept in the Car Instead of Paying for a Hotel Room

“My wife and I once took a trip to Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio,” said Brian Fourman of Luke1428. “Instead of paying for a hotel, the night before we went to the park we slept in our Saturn at a Walmart parking lot. Our big takeaway from that money-saving experience was that we are never doing that again.”


I Took My Trash to Work

“A few years back, I took a look at that huge garbage receptacle provided to me by my local government, and I realized how little trash I generated,” said Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers. “I decided therefore to opt out of garbage pick-up, and I believe I saved myself close to $200 annually. I obtained permission from my employer at the time to use the company dumpster, and took my refuse to work with me each day. It might sound like a rather unseemly process, but I recycled and composted everything I could, so it really wasn’t that bad.

“What I took away from the experience is that oftentimes you can find savings just by taking an objective look at some of the things you spend money on. If you’re willing to be a little creative, there are plenty of ways to save.”


I Put on Bike Stunt Shows

“When I was a kid, I would save money to grow my baseball card collection,” said Elle Martinez of Couple Money. “I had my can recycling route I did, but I wanted to earn a little bit more. Not weird, but I came up with the idea of putting on these little bike ‘stunt shows’ (no real skills, but I marketed it all around the neighborhood like I was a star), and charged like a quarter per spectator.

“I discovered that there are different ways to earn and save money, and having a job. I liked the idea of these small projects or games that allowed me to build my savings. Even now, I look for fun ways to build my savings.”


I Window-Shopped for Free Cookies

“When I used to be a broke college student, there was a discount store, Bob’s furniture store, that gave cookies to shoppers,” said Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista. “I never bought furniture but I always went for the free cookies. What I initially took away from the experience is free cookies taste better than paid-for ones. What I really learned is that there is always a way to get more for less.”


I Ate Free-But-Stale Bagels

“The weirdest thing I’ve ever done to save money was drastically cut my grocery budget for about two months while I was paying off debt,” said John Schmoll of Frugal Rules. “I figured out the cheapest way I could eat and still allow myself to get by, and thus have more money to throw at my debt. So, for roughly six to eight weeks I ate nothing but stale bagels from the grocery store and rejected frozen pizzas I was able to buy from a friend who worked in the food service industry. That allowed me to cut my grocery spending to a little under $100 a month for the span of time I did it.

“The lesson learned: Sometimes short-term sacrifices aren’t worth it in the long-term. It did allow me several hundred extra dollars to throw at my debt, but I could have looked for other ways to accomplish the same thing.”


I Gave Up Luxuries

“The weirdest thing I did to save money was cut luxury items out of the budget,” said Brian of Debt Discipline. “In order to save money immediately to have more cash to apply to debt repayment, we cut satellite radio, Game Fly and eating out. By simply changing our behavior, we were able to free up hundreds of dollars each month in our budget. After a few weeks of doing without these things, it was clear that they are wants and not needs and can be easily sacrificed.”


I Listened to the Same 12 Songs

“The weirdest thing I did to save money was listen to the same twelve songs over and over again, for years!” said AJ Smith ofSmartAsset. “I got an MP3 player as a gift when they first came out and I stuck with it, even after better, newer versions came out and long after I was able to add or change the songs. I ran with that MP3 player for years and finally when it started to bother me, I budgeted for and eventually bought a new one. This reminded me that finances are all about priorities; I chose to spend my money elsewhere until I prioritized it and then added to my budget.”


I Stocked Up on Free Condiments

“There are [two] weird things I did to save money that are related,” said Jon Dulin of Money Smart Guides. “When I was in college and I would be out at a fast food restaurant or a picnic, I would load up on ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise packets so I wouldn’t have to buy the condiments. I would also stock up on plastic utensils so I didn’t have to wash my regular silverware.

“At the time I thought I was a genius for saving money, but then I realized I was barely saving much money since I rarely use condiments in the first place and the cost to actually wash my silverware wasn’t that much either.”


I Hacked Gift Cards and Other Offers to Save More

“I do a lot of weird things to save money, but I recently wrote about my purchase of a treadmill desk which went way off the deep-end,” the eponymous Lazy Man of Lazy Man and Money told us. “I stalked Sears’ website for a few days to get the best price. Then I used a reward card to buy discounted gift cards to buy the product. I also attempted to apply for the store credit card to save another 10 percent off the $1,500 treadmill desk. I did this even though I was paying the bulk of the bill with the gift cards. It didn’t all go according to plan, but I ended up with a tremendous deal.

“I learned that I am a little crazy about saving money. On a more serious note, I got competitive in searching for the best price and the end result was more money in my pocket. You don’t have to go overboard like I did, but saving money on big purchases goes a long way.”


We Sweated It Out to Keep the A/C Off

“The weirdest thing we’ve done to save money is refusing to run any form of air conditioning for a month in the Texas summer heat,” said Jason and Vanessa of Cash Cow Couple. “We wanted to see how low our electric bill could fall, and our punishment was an abundance of sweat. It was a good experience because it served as a reminder that air conditioning is a luxury for many people in the world, not a necessity. We human beings are quick to adapt.”


I Lived in a Rent-Free Basement

“After my husband graduated from law school, we sold our home and moved into his parents’ unfinished, two-bedroom basement with our three kids,” said Stephanie of Six Figures Under. “We decided we would pay off our $130,000-plus in student loans before buying a house.

“While we’re itching to get into our own place, the free rent makes a huge impact on how much we are able to put toward our debt. Our living situation is also a constant reminder of our goal, which helps us not get sidetracked along the way. Two years (and one more kid) later, we are making great progress and are glad we chose this weird way to save money.”


I Was an Airbnb Early Adopter

“The weirdest thing I’ve ever done to save money was using Airbnb (back when it was just getting started) to stay in someone’s spare bedroom while on a business trip to NYC,” said Philip Taylor of PT Money. “It quickly became obvious that this room was the ‘cat’s room.’ I learned there is such a thing as being too cheap and to do a better job reading the reviews.”


I Canceled Cable

“I got rid of my cable subscription a few years ago,” said Chana Schoenberger Zimmermanof Max, a service that helps consumers maximize their interest earnings. “In addition to saving about $100 per month, I discovered that I didn’t really miss the ability to just turn on the TV, which also saved me from wasting time. If there’s a show I feel compelled to watch, I buy it from iTunes or watch it on Netflix, but even then I don’t come close to replicating that cable bill cost.

“At Max, we’re passionate about earning more interest on your cash in the bank, so it makes sense to keep cash there, or to invest it, rather than spending it on TV.”


“This article, The Weirdest Thing I Did to Save Money, was originally published on”

8 Things That Sabotage Your Budget

It can be difficult to live on a budget if you feel like you’re constantly running out of money: you pay the bills, buy groceries and other necessities, and before you know it, you don’t have much left in your bank account.

This is a constant struggle amongst college students that can be avoided. Sure, money is tight, but if you cut out the things you don’t need, then you just might be surprised with how much cash is left in your wallet at the end of the month.

Here are eight things that can sabotage your budget if you’re not looking for the best bargain:

  1. Textbooks

There’s nothing quite like that dreaded trip to the bookstore during the first week of classes, right?

Here’s a piece of advice that will save you money and spare you from waiting an hour in line once you’re there: Don’t go to the bookstore!

If you are still paying full price for your textbooks, then stop immediately. There are plenty of websites that sell the same books for a much cheaper price, and some of these sites give you an even better deal if you return them at the end of the semester. Amazon, for example, has a great rental program you could be using for all of your books.

  1. New Technology

Yes, it’s a little bigger than the previous version. Sure, the camera is slightly better. But you do not need the new iPhone!

There’s a social pressure to always have the latest gadget. But guess what? The last iPhone works just as well as the new one. Maybe it’s a split-second slower, but you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have on the new one just because it’s new.

Take care of the technology you currently have and it will serve you well. Hold on to it until it dies and you absolutely need to upgrade it.

  1. Expensive Coffee

Coffee is an everyday necessity for most people, but don’t empty your wallet for your morning cup of joe.

Brand name coffee shops (you know the ones) have great coffee, but they also have high prices. You can downgrade to more affordable coffee until you earn more money or, better yet, make your own coffee. After all, any kind of caffeine will get the job done.

  1. Full-Price Items

You know that coupon book you always get in the mail and then immediately throw in the garbage? Don’t toss it. Start using it!

Retailers are constantly having sales on certain items, and a quick Google search will show you the cheapest option for whatever you’re looking for. There are also some cash back websites that give you exclusive deals, as well as rewards when you use their service. Do yourself a favor and never pay full price again.

  1. Restaurants or Take-Out

How many times are you eating out or ordering food every week? And how much are you spending on restaurants versus the grocery store? If your restaurant spending outweighs your grocery bill, a good goal is to flip those numbers around.

An occasional trip to your favorite restaurant is acceptable. But keep in mind that one night at a fancy restaurant can equal a week or two of homemade meals.

  1. Credit Card Mistakes

Make sure you sign up for the right credit card that matches your needs, if you really need one at all.

Many people make mistakes with their credit card that leads to financial trouble. For instance, credit card companies may try to hit you with an annual fee. To get around it, however, you can contact their customer service to request that they waive the fee. There are plenty of cards without an annual fee as well, so be sure to take a look at those options.

In addition, be sure to pay your balance each month. This will help you avoid paying astronomically high interest fees.

  1. Brand Name Products

Sometimes certain things are expensive solely because of their brand name, when a cheaper version of the same product works just as well. And here’s another tip: if you do a little research to see where a product was manufactured, you may find that the store brand is the same as the name brand, just with a different label (like ketchup). So make sure you check out the cheaper brand before you make your purchase.

  1. Entertainment

It’s time to get rid of that cable bill.

The entertainment industry is starting to cater to instant streaming, which means you can watch any show you want at any time. It also turns out that signing up for major streaming services with a standard TV plan is a lot cheaper than a 200-channel cable plan.

Be Smart!

Practice being intentional about your spending. Take a moment and think about each purchase before you make it, and you may find that there’s a good chance you can save your money for something you find more important.

Anum Yoon started and maintains Current on Currency, where she shares her hard-earned insights on money management.