The Living Stipend: Strategies to Live and Save on the Grad Student Stipend

This section of the blog is where we take a moment to address major stress points on a tight budget– either one that’s based on a stipend, part-time income, or any other limited income. Each month, we will address a major expense or expense category and various strategies to reduce costs within that area. In this article, we are looking at strategies for saving on food.

Because we’re self-proclaimed nerds, I’ve invested my time, energy and mind into the future. As a broke nerd, and a lower-income young professional, however, I struggled in accessing healthier foods. With knowledge rooted in cultural pathways atypical of plenty, however, the foods I grew up with generally lacked nutritional value. I had to educate myself in ways to achieve these ends, and still wanted to stay true to cultural roots in food while cutting back on my food budget using come common strategies. Here’s what I did.  

Never sacrifice your health for cheap eats. I kept a bottom line: while I knew I wanted to save money, I also knew I wanted to eat healthily. Eating healthy is possible on a budget.

Plan your meals. I took the time to plan my meals, thinking about what ingredients could be common across dishes to save on a grocery list. In the early days, Buddha Bowls were a huge savior to my budget and kept my both full and satisfied. Rooted in veggies, these dishes were great to and for my body, and were a cheap option with vegan and vegetarian options. Have fun with your sauces and flavors, and base your grains/carbs in things that you can cook in larger quantities (rice, pasta, quinoa, potatoes, etc)!

I cut down on my meat and dairy to save money and increase the health of my diet. This is where many expenses come in. This may not necessarily mean going vegan or vegetarian (although it is healthier for your body, no one should ever make a choice like that if they are not ready to do so), it may mean just eating meat, dairy or seafood less frequently than you would have otherwise done. If you choose to eat them, consider eating these sources once a week instead of daily, and when you do buy meat, buy sales and try to buy larger quantities. Another option is to eat frozen meats or seafood when it is on sale and consider going to the butcher to ask what cuts you can get for good prices (they usually will have good deals on things like bacon ends, which are great for seasoning). When you find a good deal, don’t be afraid to put your freezer to use: buy larger quantities (packages), then freeze in serving sized ziplock bags. In buying dairy, consider the same strategy, or ask the deli for cheese ends, which can be cheaper than packaged cheeses.

Think about your food groups as you shop the sales. Think about sources of protein that can come cheaply. Protein, for example, can come by way of beans (lentils, black beans, green beans, soy, chickpeas, etc.), quinoa and peas, which are usually cheap, and varieties of mushrooms can also be a great source of protein. Further, spinach (which is best when it is organic) and kale are good sources of protein. Lastly, if you don’t have a sensitivity, eat eggs! They’re cheap and they are a great source of nutrients, including the B vitamins.

Consider where you buy your foods. Rather than going to trendy, higher-end grocery stores, consider buying from budget and ethnic supermarkets (some of which can be notoriously great for produce).  Bulk and discount stores are great when you have specific things you would like in higher volume (ie, onions, oranges, potatoes, bullion, olive oil, etc.), and other stores Aldi and Trader Joe’s are great for brand-sensitive staples like rice which may be more difficult to find in bulk stores. Also consider shopping the bruised fruit bins at your local store, participating in a farm share, or using a service like Imperfect Produce to purchase your fruits and veggies.

Be strategic about your snacks! This just means plan for them, including setting up for tea, coffee, and broth! Broth keeps you full (organic, free range) with high protein and can start your day off with both nutrition and warmth. Consider buying bone broth to start you off with collagen and vitamins! It’ll also balance for the meat you have left out of your diet and it’s great for your hair, skin, and nails!  Setting your home up with your favorite teas and coffees, building them into your routine can help to cut down on costs of your local cafe. You can still go to be social, just bring your coffee and order a venti iced water before taking your seat! Your bank account will thank you!

Eat free. Eat at free events when you can: one thing I learned in undergrad is that food is EVERYWHERE. You can feed yourself on the cheap– like $50 a month, cheap! We’ll be offering a series of grocery lists and recipes for your use in our downloadables.

How do you keep your grocery lists down?

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