Four years ago, I’d just moved into the dorms at Hillside. Besides sharing a bathroom with twenty other girls and not being able to listen to bands I liked without my roommate telling me how poor my taste in music was, there was something glorious that came with dorming: an 18-meal plan.
I never had to worry about what I was going to eat after class. Like a well-trained dog, I scurried down to the dining hall three times a day and indulged in a buffet of subpar food.
It was great.
After a year of squandering financial aid, I moved out with some girls into my first apartment. I paid attention to the important bills, like rent and Wi-Fi. All the while I assumed after a year of not cooking I’d be fine budgeting for groceries and allotting time for cooking. Too bad it didn’t work.
This is what most students starting college get wrong; they don’t know how to budget their time and resources, so as a result, their diet goes to shit and their wallets run dry. They’re so worried about being as strategic as possible about their classes, jobs, etc. that feeding themselves becomes a fleeting, unsatisfied thought.
Luckily for them, Cal State Long Beach lures its students with the colorful signs of Carl’s Jr., Sbarro, Coffee Bean, El Pollo Loco and The Nugget. These locations scream “convenience,” and they are packed day in and day out with people trying to grab a bite before making their way to their next destination. The problem begins when someone is walking into El Pollo Loco every day for lunch because they didn’t plan to make one.
Let’s do the math for a second. If someone on campus four times a week had lunch everyday at El Pollo Loco, opting for something from the $5 value menu (it sounds affordable, right?), then $20 plus tax would be going to food for lunch alone every week. Now add in breakfast and you get another $20. If we bring in dinner, that’s a whole other deal, because drinks or a dinner with friends after a long day makes everything better — and more expensive. That can be another $40 a week.
You should not be spending $80 four days out of the week when you still have the weekend, aka going out time, aka spending more money time.
This isn’t to say that eating on campus is a complete scam. You can’t beat convenience, and healthier options like the Beach Walk and Hibachi-San have been opened in response to students’ desires for more variety.
Still. Because we students have a lot of buying power and little experience in budgeting, we spend a ton of dough on food. CNN reported students spending to be $765 on off-campus dining, (At CSULB, the cheapest meal plan for on-campus housing is $3260.) Obviously, food is something you need everyday and will have no choice to buy. But students who live off-campus have the choice to purchase quality food at quality prices.
First, understand what your body needs. If students are lucky, they’ll be taking nutrition and will be held responsible for tracking their diets for a few weeks and realize how crappy it is. If not, ChooseMyPlate.gov has got them covered. It shows what your calorie and diet needs are based off of your weight, height and gender.
Second, take a trip to the grocery store. Do some research and stick to the markets that don’t charge $5 for a single avocado. Shop around and find a location that has reasonable prices for products you can buy in bulk, like chicken and apples.
Third, it’s time to cook for yourself. It’s best to get the learning out of the way now and benefit in the long run. My roommates picked some recipes we found online, and I made countless calls to my mom on how to make the perfect rice (the secret ingredients: love, and a lot of garlic salt).
At the beginning of living off campus and away from mom and pops, I tried following my own advice and failed time and time again. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone to cook for themselves 100 percent of the time and never eat out. This is the time where we can finally get that bottle of wine and french fries at three in the morning; however, it’s not to say that cooking for yourself is impossible. I got into the groove and appreciated the extra cash. Cooking can help you save money that can go toward more important necessities, like a printer or an Amazon splurge.