One of the most exciting things about being in college is grocery shopping on your own.
If you’re like most people, grocery shopping was part of the absolute monarchy of your parents while you were growing up and you had to just deal with whatever they brought home. If you live in a dorm, you probably have very limited options when it comes to cooking (whatever you can shove in your mini fridge and prepare in a microwave or toaster), but if you have an apartment with a decent kitchen (a stove, bare minimum) then there is really no excuse for you to try and survive on Lunchables and microwave chicken nuggets and it is in your best interest to cultivate decent grocery shopping habits as quickly as possible.
The first rule of grocery shopping is never, ever go to the grocery store hungry. Your entire worldview is skewed when you’re hungry, your mood is off, and you aren’t always rational. When you’re hungry, you might feel the need to buy overpriced cheese platters or Beefaroni might sound like a delicious meal. The bottom line is you rarely are as happy with your selections post-hunger binge as you are mid-hunger rampage through the store, so it is in your bank account’s best interest to wait until after you’ve had at least a snack before you try and take on the grocery store.
Second, make a list. The first time I tried to fly solo at the grocery store I came back with a bunch of garbage that I ate almost immediately. Grocery shopping can be overwhelming; there are so many beautifully packaged treats that are so appealing but so unnecessary. You do not need four different kinds of PopTarts or a lifetime supply of Twizzlers. Additionally, do not buy things you do not regularly eat just because they are on sale. You do not need four cans of something you will probably never eat just because you get one free if you buy three. Food is expensive, so it’s a good idea to figure out what you need and align it with what you can afford before you ever step foot inside any store that sells food. Figure out what you like and can realistically prepare for yourself, and do not deviate from those things.
Third, embrace the delicate art of couponing. You do not need to be whipping out a color-coded accordion folder in the cereal aisle or have some sort of apocalyptic stockpile of canned goods, but an envelope with a few coupons isn’t a terrible idea and it can save you at least a couple bucks each trip. Finding coupons is easy; besides being in the newspaper, lots of stores have them available in store and you can also find a lot of printable coupons online.
Lastly, I would highly recommend paying for your groceries in cash. It prevents you from buying anything you can’t afford and going over your budget. Credit and debit cards make it so tempting to spend more than you should, but something about giving up your cold hard cash will probably turn you into Ebenezer Scrooge and make you seriously think twice about that extra bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.