How to Survive (and Thrive) on a $15.00/Week Food Budget

claire coder february1By Claire Coder
Distinguished Young Woman of Ohio for 2015

As a person fresh out of high school WITHOUT a meal plan, I have been forced to fend for myself. It was not an easy transition from a fully stocked kitchen with endless baking supplies to a cramped kitchen with a low probability of finding a spatula. Each time I attempt to cook in my humble abode, I reflect on how privileged I was to have an electric mixer. (I have definitely gained some arm muscles from forcefully mixing by hand.) These struggles are menial in the grand scheme of things. Compared to figuring out how to effectively budget, mixing by hand is as easy as pie.

Let’s face it, budgeting isn’t fun, nor is it easy. Starting January 2016, I decided to challenge myself to not spend more than $15.00 a week on food; yes, that includes going out too. I am now 5 weeks in and only one week (this week, ironically) have I spent more than $15.00 on food.

You’re probably thinking that I simply don’t eat, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I feel as though I eat more now than when I was in high school. So how have I been able to sustain this lifestyle? Here are some of my pro-tips and secrets…

  1. claire coder february2Become a Coupon Queen: Now, with smartphones and mobile apps, couponing has never been easier. Previously, people would truck it to the store every Sunday to purchase a newspaper simply for the coupons. Coupons are now all online. I suggest the “Coupons” app. All manufacturers coupons are available on the app. The downfall: you have to print out the coupons after you select them to be able to use them at the store. If you do not have access to a printer, there is a plethora of other apps; find the one that works best for you.
  2. ALWAYS Purchase Off-Brand: This is my general rule for food, especially dry goods. Even with coupons, brand name products tend to be more expensive.
  3. Find the Sale Bin: Typically, in the back, behind some shelves, out of sight, there is an area with HUGE markdowns on food. A whole loaf of bread can be as low as $0.49. This sale bin should be your first stop when making a trip to the store.
  4. claire coder3Use Your Grocery Store App: Many large chain grocery stores now have an app that allows you to load coupons onto your loyalty card. Personally, I shop at Kroger (Kroger App) and Target (Cartwheel App.) Prior to entering the store, I look at their weekly ads and then load all the coupons that I plan on using for that week onto my app/loyalty card.
  5. When Going Out to Eat: This can get really tricky. I hate to turn down opportunities to hang out simply because I am on a budget. Usually, I first offer to have people at my house and have everyone pitch in a few bucks to make a dinner together. (Sometimes I even end up making money off of this excursion!) If that is not an option, I tend to nosh on a granola bar prior to going out and then order a cup of soup at the restaurant. Soup is always the cheapest. Another cheat is to NEVER order a drink other than water
  6. Find Free Food: There are ways to get free food. Whether it be an on campus event, or a huge corporate decision to give away millions of burritos, free food is out there. Often, companies offer full rebates for trying their products. Look online for rebates/free trials for food. This may require some extra effort, but if you are determined to stay under $15.00 a week, this trick is golden.
  7. Be Crafty: Depending on what city you are living in, there are countless apps for deals around your location. Hooked, Localtopia, and Pocket Points are all great options in the Columbus, Ohio area. Ask around and do some research to find out about apps for your city
  8. Do All of Your Cooking on Sunday: After finishing my shopping and deal searching on Saturday, I plan out my meals for the week and masterfully throw together the conglomerate of markdown products into a crockpot and hope that it turns out. Pack all of your lunches/dinners into Tupperware so you can grab and go. Weeks are busy and although this takes a bit of time on the weekend, it makes the week smoother, easier, and healthier than making a trek to your nearest fast-food place.

There are just a few tips from the self-proclaimed Coupon Queen, Claire Coder. If you are interested in learning more, would like some help getting started, or learn what is cooking for under $15.00 next week:
Claire Coder is a college freshman at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Claire was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Ohio for 2015. Learn more about Claire here!

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