Stretching Resource Dollars
The budget constraints of a full-time college student can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be.
As a full-time student who works and keeps a household afloat, every penny matters! Food
costs are on the rise and that makes it more important than ever to shop smart. That is where I
began to understand the importance of “Resource Dollars.”
What are resource dollars you ask?
Your resource dollars can be the cold hard cash you work so hard for or it can also be CalFresh,
known federally as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Making both work
harder for your household is what this July Edition is all about.
How to stretch your resource dollars.
★ Tip #1 Non-Food Savings
Before I get into what you can do to be a smarter shopper with food, have you considered non-food ways to save? When I started school I knew my budget was going to be tight. So, I went
over my monthly bills and took a really careful look at where my money was going. The first thing I
did was cancel the cable. I was single, living on my own, and between work and school when I
was home I didn’t have time to surf through 400 plus channels finding nothing to watch because
I was either studying or sleeping.
Next, I looked at what I was spending on non-essentials and I realized that I tend to spend a lot
of money at the nail salon. Did I like having gel manicures and pedicures? YES, in fact, I loved it
but it was not a necessity. So, even though I stopped going to the salon, I learned how to
manicure my own nails, and this is a win/win. Believe it or not, the savings on the cable bill and
nail salon were almost $300.
★ Tip #2 Meal Planning is Key
You’ve heard me say it before and I will say it again and again: Planning is key! Failing to plan
is planning to fail. One of the things I do is keep a running grocery list. I use the notepad on my
phone. This comes in clutch, especially with the basics that I always have on hand such as:
cooking oil, rice, eggs, and spices. By planning meals ahead of time I can use food ingredients
that are on sale that week!
★ Tip #3 Don’t Get Sucked into the Bulk Buys.
There are plenty of instances where buying in bulk will save you. However, buying in bulk is not
guaranteed savings. Look at the cost per ounce, pound, and other measurements. For
example, an organic bunch of green onions that are typically 8-10 onions is around $1.50/ea. vs
non-organic for .99/ea. But it contains only 4-5 onions. By purchasing the organic you are
getting double the onions for a lot less.
★ Tip #4 Shop Weekly Ads
As I mentioned before, the weekly ads from my local grocers are where I start. I find two or three
proteins on sale and then I begin to plan my meals with these additional savings in mind.
★ Tip #5 Clip Coupons
I have mobile apps for all of the grocery stores I frequent. I search the weekly ads for digital
coupons for items that I need. I know it might be hard to refrain but only use the coupons for
items on your list. Most things outside of this will take you out of budget. As with all things, there
are always exceptions to the rule. If I see eggs, cheese, and other nutrient-rich foods that require
a coupon I will do my best to include it in my shopping budget for the week. Remember animal
proteins and cheese will freeze well.
★ Tip #6 Check Expiration Dates
Just because it is on sale doesn’t mean stock up. Look at the expiration date and shop
accordingly. Oftentimes food goes on sale because an expiration date is nearing or they could
simply have too much stock.
Utilize the Food Keepers App which is a product of the USDA:
★ Tip #7 Buy Generic
Be careful where your loyalty lies with name-brand products. There are plenty of quality generic
items you could be saving big dollars on. For this example, I will talk about marinara sauce. If
you pay attention you’ll notice all of the name-brand sauces are at eye level, and generic or
store-brand sauces are on the bottom shelf. I challenge you to take a jar of marinara sauce such
as Rao and compare it to a store-brand marinara sauce.
You’ll be surprised to see the similarity in the ingredients. Rao is a well-known marinara sauce
popular among low-carb eaters as the way to go. For ½ cup of sauce from Rao, you have 90
calories with 4g of carbs. For the Great Value brand, you get ½ cup for 60 calories and 7g of
carbs. Not a significant difference in the macronutrient content but the price savings are
incredible. 24 oz of Rao marinara sauce at WalMart is $7.72 per jar vs Wal-Marts Great Value
brand which is $1.48 for a 23oz sized jar.
★ Tip #8 Do not Go to the Store Hungry
This might be one of the most important tips. You could throw away all of your planning by going
to the store hungry. Just like you plan your trips to the store, plan to eat before.
You can be guaranteed to go out of budget and will definitely eat something void of nutrition as
well. Don’t end up like the hangry bear!
Remember Planning is Key when stretching resource dollars while reducing food waste and
being good to our planet.
Kelly Alarcon, Student at California State University, Long Beach with a concentration in
Nutrition and Nutritional Science has a passion for showing others the path to wellness through
nutrition while reducing hunger and food waste.