How to not blow your money, on food
By guest writer Floor Meijer
Whether your resolutions for 2019 are to save more money or not, eating something else than ramen at the end of the month is always nice. The biggest expense of students besides rent and tuition after all, is food. With these 7 tips you’ll be eating meals your mom would be proud of and saving enough to go to all those wonderful events in Groningen.
1. Plan your meals, go shopping less
As with studying, planning is always helpful when doing groceries. Even though the life of a student is often quite unpredictable, you can still plan ahead for a certain number of meals. This way you avoid having to go to the supermarket everytime you need dinner. Buy ingredients you can use for several meals, such as bell peppers and staples like rice and pasta. Now you’ll only have to walk the five steps to your fridge instead of going to the supermarket to find all you need for a good dinner. One of the good things about planning your meals is that you have to go shopping less often. This will leave you more time to go to cheaper supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl. While Lidl is somewhat out of the center, it’s generally cheaper than Albert Heijn or Coop and the quality is still great. If you are really lazy and do not have the blessing of a free public transport card you can always borrow one from one of your Dutch friends. I won’t promote illegal activity, I’m just saying they will never check whether it is actually yours…
2. Make a list and stick to it
Now that you have planned your meals you will need to do the actual shopping. First, eat something. You want to avoid going to the store hungry and coming back with a bunch of snacks instead of dinner. Second, make a grocery list at home, where you cannot yet be tempted by all the delicious cakes, candy and cola the store has to offer. (Don’t forget to treat yourself once in a while though, the life of a UCG student is very hard. Just put it on the list.) Because you were such an organised student and planned your dinners, making the list will be super easy and you can buy one ingredient for several meals while also reducing waste and expenses. Now all that is left to do is stick to your list.
3. Outsmart the supermarket
Supermarkets are not out there to trick you into going broke, they are however making use of the average laziness of their customers. More expensive products are almost always put on eye level, so remember to look down. Usually that is where you will find the supermarkets’ own cheaper brands. Another useful trick can be to look at the fine print on the price tag. By looking at the price per kilo, liter or unit of the product, you can do a better job at comparing products on price. For example, when you’re trying to find out which toilet paper to buy by looking at the price per roll. Remember, however: spending more money on something that is cheaper in bulk but you won’t need is still wasted money. You can buy the bigger bag of lettuce because it’s relatively cheaper but if it ends up rotting in your fridge, it doesn’t make much economic sense. The same goes for Albert Heijn’s never ending ‘Bonus’ products (which you shouldn’t be seeing anyway as you promised to go to cheaper supermarkets). The bonus or other discounts can be great, but if you end up buying a product that wasn't on your sacred grocery list it is not a very wise investment. Besides, as my money-saving-icon mom used to say: ‘Een koopje kost ook geld’ (‘a bargain still costs money’).
4. Use your freezer
A good rule of thumb is that buying in bulk is always cheaper. You as a lonely student though, cannot eat that all at once. Your freezer can be your best friend as a student. Buy your meat and bread when there is a discount and store them in your freezer. Use freezer bags to maximize storage space and you can start a stock that can last you through broke times. Beef can stay in the freezer for up to 6 months but pork and prepared meat doesn’t last that long so be aware of that. You can actually defrost and freeze most food again without risking all kinds of nasty diseases, just make sure you do your defrosting in the refrigerator.
5. Buy at the market, but in the right way
“Buy at the market” is probably something you’ve heard many times since you came to Groningen. And the market is great, if you know how to use it. You might have been disappointed in the past by bad quality, but you cannot blame the market for selling tasteless strawberries if you’re buying them in December. Same goes for a lot of fruit and veggies. Use this page to buy the right thing at the right time when you’re at the market next Tuesday, Friday or Saturday (if you're too disorganized to make any of those days, try Le Souk in the Folkingestraat for amazing spices and cheap veggies) Get yourself informed on what is in season and you’ll never be disappointed by the market again, and you’ll be fulfilling your be-better-for-the-environment resolution without any effort too.
6. Eat vegetarian
No, I will not lecture you on the environmental and ethical benefits of eating vegetarian, but it is a great way to make your meals cheaper. You do not need to ditch your beloved piece of meat every meal and you especially do not need to learn to love all meat replacements such as tofu. Just think of some dishes such as pasta carbonara or burritos, where you can replace the minced meat with some veggies instead. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and if you learn to use some nice spices you won’t even miss those dead animals!
7. Eat with friends, share with friends
Lastly, eat with friends. Eating by yourself is not only less fun, it is also more expensive and you’ll be more likely to throw leftovers away (you’re at UCG, you’re supposed to care about that). So eat with friends. If you lack them, offering food is a great way to make new ones. UCG has a great, clean kitchen, use it. There’s nothing better after a long day of boring lectures and meaningless project work than a nice meal that you don’t even have to leave UCG for. If you did have a sad and lonely dinner, and you don’t feel like eating the same pasta pesto for lunch again, you can also share with your friends. Maybe they’ll offer you some nice curry in return.
With these 7 tips, you will no longer have to call your parents at the end of the month to beg for money. Don’t forget to still call them once in a while though, they like knowing you're still breathing.
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