Freshman 15: Easy ways to put your food fund on a diet

When it comes to food, college students have a lot more to worry about than simply gaining the dreaded "freshman 15".
The cost of going out to eat with friends, ordering late-night pizza, and indulging in daily lattes will not only expand your waistline, but will also shrink your bank account. Before you know it, your jeans are too tight, and you don’t have the finances to fund a new wardrobe because you spent all of your money dining out and ordering in.

Whether you’re a college freshman or a fifth-year senior, following these 15 easy tips will help you save money on food without becoming another starving college student cliché.

  1. Purchase a meal plan. Many schools offer on-campus meal plans for students at discounted rates. For some schools, these are built in to your student fees.
  2. Take advantage of student mixers and activities. Go for the free food!
  3. Avoid convenience stores and vending machines. Unless the store accepts your meal points or gives student discounts, convenience stores are typically more expensive than a grocery store.
  4. Make your own coffee. Avoiding coffee shops can help you save a significant amount of money. Paying $4 for a cup of coffee with cost you $120 per month. Brewing your own coffee is a cost-effective way to get your caffeine fix while on a tight budget.
  5. Use coupons. Whether you’re going grocery shopping or trying a new restaurant, coupons can save you a lot of money in the long run. Utilize websites such as Groupon and Living Social to find deals on restaurants in your area. Grab the local paper every Sunday and clip grocery store coupons.
  6. Prepare food yourself. It usually costs less to make a meal than it costs to buy a meal from a restaurant. You can even bring your own meals to school and save on cafeteria expenses.
  7. Don’t charge it. Avoid using a credit card to eat out unless you know you can pay it off at the end of the month. If not, you’ll end up paying $100 for a $10 meal.
  8. Avoid impulse buys. Shopping while hungry can cloud your judgment and lead to impulsive spending. Make a list prior to your trip to the grocery store and stick to it.
  9. Go generic. Name-brand items are often pricier than the same store-brand item.
  10. Don’t buy everything bulk. While it’s usually cost-effective to buy in bulk, this may not be the case as a student. Be realistic when you’re shopping, and only purchase an amount you know you will use.
  11. Drink water. Water is free and it’s good for you.
  12. Make a budget. If you have plans to go out for dinner with your friends, plan to make your own lunch for a few days. Planning and budgeting will help you avoid spending more than you can afford.
  13. Stock up on snacks. Keeping popcorn or pretzels on hand is more cost-effective than ordering pizza when the 1 a.m. hunger pangs hit.
  14. Keep a food diary. Keeping track of the food you eat and how much you spent on each meal may just shock you in to cutting back.
  15. Download the free Cheap Eats eBook. For more valuable money-saving tips, check out Cheap Eats.

Jessica Horton is a former copywriter and community manager at MMI.

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