Money College: How to eat on less than $35 a week

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eating on $35 per weekMoney College isn't just for college students, but those who care about them -- and pay those tuition bills, too. Self-described "shopping dad" James Buffington takes on the challenge of feeding a college student on $35 a week, without a single slice of stale bread in sight.

Can a college student eat on $35 a week? If need be, yes, but it does require discipline and a simple rule: Buy cheap. The surest way to do this is to shop at a discount supermarket and buy only generic or store brands.

Cheapskate that I am, I shop one of two discount chains for staples every couple of weeks. On my latest trip, using off-label brands, I put together the following shopping list and menus. It's no-frills cuisine, and I use that term loosely, to be sure, but that's besides the point. It's a survival diet for someone on a constrained budget.
So hold your nose, cruise the aisles with me and away we go... (Note: Prices will vary depending upon where you live and shop.)

The shopping list

1 gallon of milk: $1.89
2 boxes store-brand cereal: $3.98
2 loaves of bread: $1.98
1 package hot dog buns: 89 cents
1 package hamburger buns: 89 cents
2 pounds spaghetti: $1.98
2 jars spaghetti sauce: $1.98
1 pound bologna: 99 cents
1 pound chopped ham: $1.99
2 pounds noodles: $1.98
1 pound butter: $1.89
1 bottle mustard: 69 cents
1 bottle ketchup: 89 cents
3 cans condensed soup : $1.77
1 pound ground beef: $1.99
1 pound hot dogs: 99 cents
6 pack of microwave popcorn: $1.69
2 1-pound bags frozen vegetables: $1.98
5 pound bag of potatoes: $1.98

Total before tax and coupons: $32.42

Now, let's see what our menu looks like.

Day One
Breakfast: 2 bowls of milk and cereal
Lunch: 1/2 pound buttered noodles and 2 sandwiches (your choice)
Dinner: 2 hot dogs, 2 potatoes 4 ounces vegetables
Snack: popcorn

Day Two
Breakfast: 2 bowls of milk and cereal
Lunch: 2 sandwiches and soup
Dinner: spaghetti
Snack: popcorn

Day Three
Breakfast: 2 bowls milk and cereal
Lunch: 1/2 pound buttered noodles, 2 sandwiches
Dinner: 2 quarter-pound burgers, potatoes and 4 ounces vegetables
Snack: popcorn

Day Four
Breakfast: 2 bowls milk and cereal
Lunch: 2 sandwiches and soup
Dinner: 2 hot dogs, potatoes and 4 ounces vegetables
Snack: popcorn

Day Five
Breakfast: 2 bowls milk and cereal
Lunch: 1/2 pound buttered noodles and 2 sandwiches
Dinner: 2 quarter pound burgers, 2 potatoes and 4 ounces vegetables
Snack: popcorn

Day Six
Breakfast: 2 bowls milk and cereal
Lunch: soup and 2 sandwiches
Dinner: spaghetti
Snack: popcorn

Day Seven
Breakfast: 2 bowls milk and cereal
Lunch: 1/2 pound buttered noodles and 2 sandwiches
Dinner: 2 hot dogs 2 potatoes and 4 ounces vegetables.
Snacks: tonight we fast... or eat leftovers

One week of meals and snacks, done on under $35. The good news is that, yes, we have some leftovers as well. We should have half of a loaf of bread (at 20 slices per loaf), mustard, ketchup, two hot dogs, 3/4 of a bag of vegetables, two hot dog buns and four hamburger buns.

The bread items, refrigerated, should remain good for at least a week or more. That should cut our next food bill by approximately $4.40. Add that to the $2 we saved this week and the $2 we would have if we exactly duplicated our purchases in Week Two and we have an extra $8-$9 or so we can use to splurge.

Think of the possibilities! A pound of kielbasa ... a jar of peanut butter ... potato chips. Dare I say it? Beer! The mind boggles, the taste buds tingle -- and we would still maintain our $35 per week average.

It's possible to be creative and trim even more, or perhaps divert a few extra bucks to cheap junk food. The spaghetti dinners cost about $4 , for example. For $3 you can pick\ up a package of six Salisbury steaks and gravy and a small box of instant rice. Prepare the steaks and the box of rice. Cut the steaks into small pieces and mix the steals, rice and gravy together. You should have enough for two dinners and save a buck in the process. If you have a lighter appetite or are health conscious, a 3-pound bag of apples runs $1.99. Cut out the noodles at lunch and have an apple or two: less carbs and fat for the same cost.

Variety from week to week can also be done with some substitutions. A box of house brand Rice-A Roni style rice runs 69 cents a box and actually has more rice than the name brand. Pick up two boxes and eliminate the soup at lunch. Two boxes easily produces enough rice for three lunches and save you another 35-40 cents.

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Dan

Jesus your gonna be unhealthy after eating that stuff.. I'm in college and I refuse to eat like that. Spend the extra 20 a week and don't worry about heart disease and obesity.

May 23 2012 at 9:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply