7 Ways for Broke College Students to Afford Food

From tight budgets to campus hunger, college students can struggle to afford food. You have options besides ramen. Check out these 7 ways to afford food.

What happens when the cost of college competes with everyday expenses? 

Broke college students are increasingly finding it difficult to afford food. In some cases, students face financial juggling to make ends meet. But other situations can be more extreme, with college students being unsure where their next meal is coming from. 

The statistics are shocking. About 45 percent of college students have experienced food insecurity within a one-month timeframe. By definition, that means having limited or uncertain access to nutritious food. For example, students may be skipping meals because they’re low on cash. 

The study from Temple University went further to understand student hunger. Among those students who reported having food or housing insecurity, two-thirds are also employed. Even though they’re earning money, it’s still not enough for the essentials. 

“If I’m sending my kid to college, I want more than a food pantry. I want to know that they’re addressing high food prices on campus and taking steps to ensure no student goes hungry,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor at Temple and the founder of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.

When faced with the high cost of tuition, textbooks and student fees, even students on a moderate budget can find themselves struggling. The additional financial burden of student loans can further increase the true cost of higher education. 

What can students do when they can’t afford to eat? Here are the seven best ways for broke college students to afford food. 

1. DIY When You Can

On average, you’ll spend less money on food when you make it yourself. The next best option is to buy prepackaged foods, meal kits or market prepared meals. The most expensive option is to eat out. 

Priceonomics compared the costs of 86 popular meals, and here are the average cost per serving:

  • Home Cooking: $4.31
  • Meal Kit: $12.53
  • Restaurant: $20.37

Notably, the researchers didn’t use the savvy that broke college students use when seeking out cheap meals. 

In the experiment, the ingredients for home-cooked meals were purchased at Whole Foods, which isn’t known for its low prices. The prices for restaurant meals were sourced from national chains like Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, Chili’s and P.F. Chang. Those prices would be higher than college favorites like a Chipotle burrito. 

Despite the differences between how college students shop, the ratio of costs still applies. Therefore, college students should expect to spend about five times more to eat out than to cook their own meals. Preparing your own food can help you dramatically reduce your total food costs. 

2. Scout Out Cheap Groceries

Another way for students to make the most of their food budget is to opt for cheap groceries. 

For example, bulk oatmeal, rice, grains, beans, and pasta are cheap staples. Frozen veggies are a fast and cheap source of nutrition, easily transforming into a stir fry. Choose high-value fresh produce like bananas and lettuce. Frozen fruit and peanut butter and quickly turn into a healthy smoothie.

For full-time students who are struggling to afford to eat, consider both the direct cost of the groceries and the time it takes to prepare them. Rather than labor-intensive groceries, you’ll get the most bang for your buck by choosing food that can cook while you’re doing homework. 

3. Deals, Sales and Cash Back

Take advantage of sales. For food items you know you’ll eat, buy in bulk to get good prices. You can stock up on college classics like ramen soup, Easy Mac and coffee. 

You can also get good deals by shopping at discount stores like Aldi, which is the cheaper cousin of Trader Joe’s. These stores commonly have great deals on gluten-free products and other specialty goods. 

You can also earn cashback on groceries by using sItes like Rakuten (formerly Ebates). Current deals include Walmart, Albertsons, Sam’s Club and more

4. Make the Most of Buffet Dining Hall

All-you-can-eat dining halls are not a great deal when you want a quick bite or a small meal. However, it is possible to use buffet dining halls to have a big, hearty meal. You just have to play your cards right so you go to the dining hall on wings night rather than the day they’re serving mystery meatloaf.

You may also be able to get a few meals at the dining hall from friends who have large meal plans. At the end of the semester, some schools have use-it-or-lose-it policies. For students who have lots of meals to use at the end of the semester, it’s better to swipe someone through than to pay for uneaten meals. 

There are even organized programs to help college students distribute unused meal credits or swipes. Swipe Out Hunger is a non-profit student-driven organization that collects unused meal swipes at the dining hall. They’re already at 80 college campuses. 

Among students who have received free swipes, the non-profit reports 70 percent have less stress about where they would get their next meal, and more than 50 percent reported higher class attendance.

5. Access Resources

Food assistance can be more complicated for students. You could be in a new city and don’t know where in the community you can go to get help. Plus, in some states, there can be additional regulations for getting government assistance, and it’s not always clear if your work-study hours meet the work requirements.

On-campus social workers are valuable resources to help address student hunger. Unlike financial aid officers who specifically focus on the cost of tuition, social workers can help you to understand available resources and navigate solutions like emergency SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).  

Currently, about 30 percent of college students experiencing food insecurity are using food stamps. Still, many don’t use the safety net. More than half of low-income college students don’t participate in the food stamp program even though they qualify for it.

There may even be an on-campus food pantry you can access right away. Plus you can find a local food bank by searching on Feeding America.

6. Score Free Food

Many on-campus events offer free food to entice people to show up. By stopping by these student events, you can get free pizza, snacks or ice cream. 

You can also score free food by visiting local shops that make fresh food daily. For example, bakeries or bagel shops may be giving away free food when they’re closing up for the day.

7. Find a Gig to Cover Food Costs

There are a few easy gigs that can cover your food costs. 

One option is to become a resident advisor. Typically, these roles include room and board. That means your housing and meals will be covered in exchange for your supervisory role in the dorms. 

Another popular option is to become a paid notetaker for OneClass. The app pays students to go to class, and students can earn $470 per course for uploading their lecture notes. One student attending the University of California-Davis told Reader’s Digest that she made $1,500 in less than a year. 

In addition to the cash you earn, paid note-takers find that when their job is tied to their classwork, their grades improve. The majority of OneClass note-takers report seeing a significant GPA improvement, and some note-takers improve by as much as three grade points.

Learn more about how OneClass is helping students succeed in college.

Image attribution: gpointstudio – stock.adobe.com

USF Online Tutoring Services

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHM 2020Chemistry for Liberal Studies I
CHM 2032Introduction to General, Organic, and Biochemistry I
CHM 2045General Chemistry I
CHM 2045LGeneral Chemistry I Laboratory
CHM 2046General Chemistry II
CHM 2046LGeneral Chemistry II Laboratory
CHM 2210Organic Chemistry I
CHM 2210LOrganic Chemistry Laboratory I
CHM 2211Organic Chemistry II
CHM 2211LOrganic Chemistry Laboratory II
MAC 1105College Algebra
MAC 1114Precalculus Trigonometry
MAC 1140Precalculus Algebra
MAC 1147Precalculus Algebra and Trigonometry

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHEM 108Introductory General Chemistry
CHEM 180Investigative Science I: Physical Science
CHEM 185Investigative Science II: Earth & Life Science
CHEM 190Forensic Chemistry
CHEM 210General, Organic and Biochemistry
CHEM 212Principles of Chemistry I
CHEM 213Principles of Chemistry II
MATH 050Intermediate Algebra
MATH 110Finite Mathematics
MATH 112Applied Precalculus
MATH 115College Algebra
MATH 117Precalculus with Modeling
MATH 120Precalculus
MATH 140Applied Calculus

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Course CodeCourse Name
NASC 116Elements of Living Systems
NASC 121Chemistry of Sustainable Products
NASC 122Environmental Chemistry
MA 123Applied Calculus for Business I
MA 123LApplied Calculus for Business I with Lab
MA 126Applied Calculus for Business II
MA 126LApplied Calculus for Business II with Lab
MA 131Calculus I
MA 139Calculus II

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHE 121Elementary Chemistry I
CHE 122Elementary Chemistry II
CHE 125Chemistry and the Environment
CHE 221General Chemistry I
CHE 222General Chemistry II
CHE 224Problem-Solving in General Chemistry I
CHE 225Problem-Solving in General Chemistry II
CHE 227General Chemistry I Lecture
CHE 228General Chemistry II Lecture
CHE 277General Chemistry I Laboratory
CHE 278General Chemistry II Laboratory
MAT 101Concepts of Elementary School Mathematics I
MAT 102Concepts of Elementary School Mathematics II
MAT 111Algebra for College Students
MAT 115Precalculus
MAT 121Calculus A
MAT 122Calculus B
MAT 135Calculus I

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHM 111College Chemistry I
CHM 111LCollege Chemistry I Lab
CHM 120Physics and Chemistry of the Environment
CHM 120LPhysics and Chemistry of the Environment Lab
CHM 122Organic Chemistry I
CHM 122LOrganic Chemistry I Lab
CHM 123Organic Chemistry I Honors
CHM 123LOrganic Chemistry I Honors Lab
CHM 223Organic Chemistry II
CHM 223LOrganic Chemistry II Lab
CHM 280College Chemistry II
MST 105Fundamentals of Algebra and Trigonometry
MST 105LFundamentals of Algebra and Trigonometry Lab
MST 111Calculus with Analytic Geometry I
MST 112Calculus with Analytic Geometry II
MST 113Multivariable Calculus
MST 117Discrete Mathematics
MST 121Linear Algebra I

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHEM 102General Chemistry I
CHEM 104General Chemistry II
CHEM 184Introduction to Chemistry
CHEM 251Organic Chemistry
CHEM 252Organic Chemistry
CHEM 260Inorganic Chemistry
CHEM 261Organic Chemistry Laboratory
CHEM 262Organic Chemistry Laboratory
MATH 139Quantitative Reasoning
MATH 141Fundamentals of College Algebra
MATH 150College Algebra
MATH 151Trigonometry
MATH 152Precalculus

CSULB Online Tutoring Services

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHEM 90Introduction to General Chemistry
CHEM 95Introduction to General Chemistry
CHEM 111AGeneral Chemistry
CHEM 111BGeneral Chemistry
CHEM 112AAdvanced General Chemistry
CHEM 112BAdvanced General Chemistry
CHEM 140General, Organic and Biochemistry
CHEM 220AOrganic Chemistry I
CHEM 220BOrganic Chemistry II
CHEM 223AOrganic Chemistry Laboratory I
CHEM 223BOrganic Chemistry Laboratory II
CHEM 227Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry
CHEM 241Explorations in Biochemistry
CHEM 251Quantitative Analysis
MATH 92Foundations for Essential Algebra A
MATH 94Foundations for Quantitative Reasoning
MATH 95Foundations for Business Calculus
MATH 109Modeling with Algebra
MATH 111Precalculus Trigonometry
MATH 112AEssential Algebra A
MATH 112BEssential Algebra B
MATH 113Precalculus Algebra
MATH 115Calculus for Business
MATH 115ZCalculus for Business
MATH 119ASurvey of Calculus I
MATH 119BSurvey of Calculus II
MATH 122Calculus I
MATH 123Calculus II

Christopher Newport University Online Tutoring Services

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Course CodeCourse Name
CHEM 103Introductory Chemistry I
CHEM 103LIntroductory Chemistry I Laboratory
CHEM 104Introductory Chemistry II
CHEM 104LIntroductory Chemistry II Laboratory
CHEM 121General Chemistry I
CHEM 121LGeneral Chemistry I Laboratory
CHEM 122General Chemistry II
CHEM 122LGeneral Chemistry II Laboratory
MATH 110College Algebra
MATH 125Elementary Statistics
MATH 130Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry
MATH 131Mathematics for the Life Sciences
MATH 132Concepts for Calculus
MATH 135Calculus for Business and Social Sciences
MATH 140Calculus and Analytic Geometry
MATH 148Accelerated Calculus

UMass Boston Online Tutoring Services

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Please book a call with Janine the Tutor for a 10 minute consultation. Note that tutoring availability may be limited during exam season. Book early to reserve your spot! If your class is not listed below, give us a call and we will find the right tutor for you!

Course CodeCourse Name
CHEM 111LEnvironmental Concerns and Chemical Solutions
CHEM 115Chemical Principles I Lecture
CHEM 116Chemical Principles II Lecture
CHEM 117Chemical Principles I Laboratory
CHEM 118Chemical Principles II Laboratory
CHEM 130Physiological Chemistry
CHEM 251Organic Chemistry I Lecture
CHEM 252Organic Chemistry II Lecture
CHEM 255Organic Chemistry I Laboratory
CHEM 256Organic Chemistry II Laboratory
MATH 115College Algebra
MATH 125Introductory Statistics
MATH 130Precalculus
MATH 140Calculus I
MATH 141Calculus II