By Abby Ivory-Ganja

As a college student, it’stempting to eat out. In fact, some near-campus restaurants take our student meal charge, so it’s even encouraged. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up spending more than you realize on food. Lunch can cost $10, and diners about $20. That can really add up.

In fact, college students spend most of their discretionary income on food. Students spend more than $11 billion a year on snacks and beverages, according to

Eating out is unavoidable, whether you live in the dorms or an off-campus apartment. However, there are several ways I’ve found to make your final total at a restaurant a little lower.

  • Skip a soda. A soda can add $2 or more to your total. I recommend you stick with a water if you can. If you do get a soda, try to get a refill so you’re getting more value out of it.
  • See if the restaurant you’re going to has a rewards program or punch card. Whether you’re headed to a local pizza joint or Panera, join the rewards program if you go semi-regularly. You’ll save money every time you get a free slice or get an email about a discount.
  • Take advantage of happy hour deals. Buy one get one free appetizers are effective at getting you in the door and saving you money too. If you’re planning a get together with friends, make sure get in the door before the deals end. Appetizers totally count as a meal. See a list of rewards programs here.
  • Carry snacks in your bag, so that when you do eat out, you don’t over order. You want to avoid a situation where your eyes are bigger than your stomach unless you want to carry those leftovers for the rest of the day.
  • Order a kid’s meal if you’re not starving. Sure, you might get judged for ordering it, but they are a good deal. I find a kid’s meal to be a good amount of food for me. If you’ve got those snacks in your bag too, you’ll be set and saving money left and right.

Ivory-Ganja is a master’s student in journalism at the University of Missouri