By Emily Wolf, University of Missouri

When it comes to preparing for college, most students don’t have “learning to grocery shop” high on their to-do list. Between the stress of student loans, parking, rent, and figuring out what you’re going to eat for the week, grocery shopping can get put on the back burner.

I’m here to tell you that’s wrong.

Grocery shopping – when done right – can be one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for success in college. For me, it’s become a way to relieve stress and start fresh for the coming week. As a full-time college student, there’s nothing better than coming home from a long day of classes and seeing a full fridge.

Learning to grocery shop is also vital to managing your finances. According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food was the third largest expenditure for single people, behind only housing and transportation. On average, people spent $7,923 on food in 2018.

On doing it right: all grocery trips are not created equal. Running into the store after realizing your roommate ate your last frozen calzone and you have nothing else in the fridge for dinner? Not the best recipe for success.

To get the most out of your grocery trips, I recommend you:

1. Come with a plan. Here in Missouri, Hy-Vee and Gerbes both have an app that lets you create a grocery list based on their stock. It’ll even tell you the aisle location of the item you’re searching for. Taking a few minutes to decide what you’re going to cook that week, and what ingredients you need to pick up, will save you time and money.

2. Eat beforehand. If you walk into your local grocery shop hungry, you’re going to leave with more food than you know what to do with. Even chowing down on a granola bar beforehand can help ensure you’re thinking with your mind, not your stomach.

3. Buy in bulk. Getting proteins on a budget can be hard, but many grocery stores have bulk deals on all kinds of meat. I’m personally a fan of buying ground beef in bulk, because I can cook it up and meal-prep tacos for the entire week. Chicken is another meat you can buy cheap in bulk, and you can freeze portions until you’re ready to cook them.

4. Know the price. When I first started shopping on my own, I’d often get sad and frustrated when the food I wanted to buy was out of my price range. Doing a little bit of research beforehand can save you that heartache, and it’s as simple as googling “sweet potato price” (substitute with your desired ingredient.)

5. Don’t feel tied to a grocery schedule. Some weeks, you may run through your food a little early. Others, it may last you several days past what you planned for. That’s OK! While it’s good to have a general schedule, making yourself stick to that religiously can lead to over-purchasing or under-purchasing, both of which have downsides.

Grocery shopping is a strategy game, and with practice, it’s a game you can win. A college student’s budget is often tight at the best of times, so solidifying a solid grocery strategy will save you a lot of hungry nights.

Emily Wolf is a junior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.