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How Much Does a College Student Spend on Groceries?

Written by Jaeme Velez
Updated: June 12, 2024
10 min read
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Pathward®.

Managing your finances is essential as a college student. One significant expense that often goes overlooked is grocery shopping. College students typically allocate a portion of their budget to groceries, balancing nutritional needs with limited financial resources. But how much does a college student really spend on groceries?

In this article, we will explore the average monthly cost of food for college students, provide practical tips for reducing grocery bills, and discuss how dietary preferences and location impact grocery costs.

Discover the real cost of groceries for college students in this eye-opening article, and start applying for scholarships at!

Grocery Shopping

It's crucial to understand the importance of budgeting for groceries. Setting a budget allows you to allocate your funds effectively and prevent overspending. Budgeting lets you plan your monthly grocery spending, avoid unnecessary impulse purchases, and create a healthier average meal plan.

How much college students spend can be determined by analyzing the income, expenses, and any other financial obligations a student may have. Location, dietary preferences, and the availability of local discounts are several factors that influence food costs.

By considering these factors, you can better estimate the average monthly cost you should allocate for groceries and eating out. Creating a food budget allows you to track your expenses and ensure that you allocate the appropriate amount per month on food for this essential need.

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grocery shopping

The Importance of Budgeting for Groceries

When it comes to budgeting for groceries and eating out, it's essential to make sure you have enough food to sustain yourself and maintain a healthy diet during school.

By having a meal plan and a budget, you can organize what you spend and if you will eat out or cook in advance. When you have a full meal plan made, you are less likely to rely on unhealthy, fast, processed food you can find at first glance in the market. Instead, you will be able to focus on buying fresh products, lean proteins, and whole grains for your meal.

Start by knowing how much you can really spend on average. Then, you can watch for special offers and stock up on items when they are on sale to save on the high cost of groceries.

Factors Influencing Grocery CostsStart by Taking Advantage of Sales and Discounts.

The average American eats three meals a day. Factors such as your location, the local cost of living, and your dietary preferences will be essential in how much you spend on food. For example, living in a metropolitan area may result in higher grocery prices than smaller towns. The cost of living in cities tends to be higher overall, including food prices.

Also, dietary choices can also impact grocery costs. If you follow a vegan or gluten-free diet, you may find that specialized products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

Some areas may have more frequent sales or promotions, allowing you to save on your grocery shopping. It's worth exploring local stores and comparing prices to find the best deals in your area.

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Average College Student Cost of Groceries

Understanding the average grocery costs for college students can give you a good starting point when creating your monthly budget for the school year. While individual spending habits and college expenses may vary, having a general idea of what to expect can help you know the average cost of your meal plans as a college student.

Breakdown of Monthly Grocery Expenses

According to a survey conducted by the College Board, college students spend an average of $150 to $300 a month on groceries. However, it's important to note that the amount spent can vary depending on several factors, including the student's location. or dietary preferences. Urban areas tend to have higher prices compared to rural areas.

The availability of discount stores, farmers' markets, or student discounts can also impact the overall cost for the school year. Dietary preferences and cooking habits mean college students also play a role in determining meal costs. Suppose you follow specific diets, such as vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. In that case, you may need to allocate more money for specialized ingredients.

Allocate part of your budget to essential items like grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy for a balanced diet. Allow room for occasional treats or out-of-campus food for flexibility. Using a shopping list helps avoid impulse buys, minimizes food waste, and controls spending.

costs of groceries

Comparing Costs: Home-Cooked Meals vs. Eating Out

Preparing food at home is generally more cost-effective than eating out regularly. The average cost of a home-cooked meal per average adult ranges from $2 to $6, while eating out can easily cost $10 or more.

By cooking, college students have control over the ingredients and portion sizes, allowing them to make healthier choices while saving. One effective strategy is preparing larger quantities of food and storing leftovers for the week to save both time and cash. Staples like rice, beans, lentils, and frozen vegetables are not only budget-friendly but also nutritious and versatile.

Cooking at home saves cash while in school, but occasionally, dining out is okay, too. Budget for it as a treat or a way to enjoy time with friends a few times per month outside of campus.

Tips for Reducing College Students' Grocery Bills

To save on your average monthly food costs, consider these effective strategies:

Create a shopping list and stick to it. By planning your meals ahead of time and buying only the items you need, you can avoid impulsive purchases.

Take advantage of sales, discounts, and coupons. Many grocery stores offer student discounts or loyalty programs that can help you spend less each month.

Eating healthy on a budget is entirely possible. Incorporating cost-effective yet nutritious meals into your meals is key. For example, beans, lentils, eggs, and seasonal fruits and vegetables are all budget-friendly options that provide essential nutrients.

Consider preparing your own snacks instead of buying pre-packaged ones. This healthier approach, of course, will save you money. With snacks like fruits, nuts, or homemade granola bars, you can be both nutritious and cost-effective.

Make use of leftovers. Instead of letting food go to waste, repurpose it into new leftover meals.

Timing can also play a role in saving money. Shopping off-peak or late in the day can lead to discounts on items stores want to clear, making bulk-buying a cost-effective choice for non-perishables.

Consider growing your own herbs and vegetables if you have the space and resources. If you have the opportunity to garden or place herbs on a windowsill, you can cut costs and add fresh flavor to your meals.

Maximizing Savings with the Bold Visa® Debit Card for Student Shoppers

For college students, especially during a busy two-semester school year or an eight-month school year, managing expenses like grocery shopping is crucial. The Bold Debit Card offers a tailored solution for economizing these essential expenses. 

This card is more than just a payment method; it's a strategic tool designed to enhance savings on every purchase, particularly beneficial for students who often find themselves eating off campus or balancing a college meal plan with regular grocery shopping.

Earning While Shopping: The Bold Debit Card turns every transaction into an opportunity to save. Its straightforward rewards program allows you to earn 1 Bold Point* for every $2 spent in any category.

This is especially valuable for the average individual American student at institutions like Columbia Teacher's College, located in urban areas, where managing both meal plans and grocery expenses is a common challenge. Using the Bold Debit Card for regular grocery purchases, particularly during months of eating off campus, enables students to quickly accumulate points.*

Direct Benefits on Grocery Expenses: The Bold Debit Card’s innovative feature lies in its reward redemption* options. Students can transform their Bold Points into cashback or student loan payments, which can lead to saving money and offering more financial leeway for groceries or other critical needs like textbook prices, thereby extending their budgets throughout the school year.

Tailored for Student Budgets: The debit card is designed with the financial constraints of higher education students in mind. It doesn’t have annual fees or hidden fees, which are typical student banking fees. This feature is particularly advantageous for students spending a significant portion of the year, such as an eight-month school year, managing their finances independently.

Simplified Shopping Experience: For students, particularly those at busy institutions or those living off campus, the Bold Debit Card simplifies the shopping experience. Its features, including easy payment options and direct deposit capabilities, streamline the process, making it more efficient for students to handle their grocery shopping amidst their hectic schedules.

Empowering Smart Shopping Decisions: If students integrate the Bold Debit Card into their daily routine, it encourages them to make smarter financial decisions. It aids in effectively tracking grocery budgets during the school year and beyond, motivating students to be more mindful of their spending habits and promoting a culture of responsible financial choices in higher education.

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grocery shopping

The Impact of Dietary Preferences on Grocery Costs

Factors such as location, seasonality, and personal shopping habits can also play a crucial role in the total cost of groceries. By being mindful of where and how you shop, you can still follow your dietary preferences without breaking the bank.

Costs Associated with Special Diets

There are ways to mitigate meal expenses and make your dietary choices more affordable, which is especially important for students managing their budgets during the busy two-semester school year.

Buy in bulk: Purchasing staple items like grains, legumes, and nuts in larger quantities can often result in significant savings. This is particularly beneficial when living off campus without having school meal plans. Additionally, planning your meals in advance and making a shopping list can help you avoid impulse purchases and stick to your budget.

Explore local farmers' markets or co-ops: You may find fresh, organic produce at lower prices at venues in urban areas. These alternative shopping options allow you to incorporate more diversity into your diet while keeping costs in check, contributing positively to your health and spending less per month.

The Price of Healthy Food in College

Processed and convenience foods may seem more affordable, but they often lack vital nutrients. While nutritious foods may have a higher upfront cost during college, investing in your health is crucial in the long run.

When it comes to eating healthy on a budget, there are several strategies you can employ:

First, focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These items are often more affordable and provide essential nutrients for your body and mind.

Second, meal plans are another effective way to save money while maintaining a healthy diet. By planning your meals for the week and making a shopping list, you can avoid unnecessary purchases and reduce food waste. Additionally, a meal plan and cooking at home instead of eating out can save you a significant amount of money in the long run.

Lastly, consider joining or starting a cooking club or group with fellow university colleagues who share similar dietary preferences. This can be a fun and cost-effective way to explore new recipes, share cooking tips, and split the cost of ingredients.

How Location Affects Grocery Costs

The geographic location of your college or university can have a significant impact on grocery costs. Let's explore how location influences the prices you can expect to pay for food.

Comparing Grocery Prices in Different Regions

Urban areas and regions with higher costs of living often have higher grocery prices compared to rural or suburban areas. It's advisable to research and compare grocery prices to help you adjust your budget accordingly and make informed decisions when it comes to the everyday cost of grocery shopping.

The Effect of Local Cost of Living on Grocery Bills

The cost of living in your town or city plays a crucial role in determining what you will spend. If you're attending college in an area with a higher cost of living than average college students do, you can expect grocery prices to be higher as well.

However, living in a more expensive area doesn't mean you have to overspend on food. By applying the budgeting and smart shopping strategies mentioned earlier, you can still manage your grocery bills effectively, regardless of your location.

Understanding how much a typical college student spends on groceries is vital for financial planning. By considering the average grocery costs, tips for reducing bills, and the impact of dietary preferences and location, you can make informed decisions to manage your finances effectively.

You can strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and enjoying delicious, wholesome meals during your after-school and college years with a meal plan.

finding and paying for groceries as a student

Frequently Asked Questions About How Much College Students Spend on Groceries

How does the Bold Debit Card benefit college students in managing grocery expenses?

The Bold Debit Card offers a unique advantage for college students in managing their grocery expenses. It provides opportunities for cashback rewards* and savings, especially useful for students who frequently shop for groceries. Additionally, the card can be used to pay off student loans effectively, making it a versatile financial tool for students.

What is the average monthly cost of groceries for a college student, and how can they budget effectively?

College students typically spend between $150 to $300 per month on groceries. Effective budgeting includes understanding the importance of setting a grocery budget and considering factors like location, dietary preferences, and local discounts. It's essential to balance nutritional needs with financial constraints, and strategies like a meal plan and smart shopping can help in managing grocery bills.

How can students with specific dietary preferences manage their grocery costs effectively?

Students with special dietary needs, such as vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free diets, often face higher grocery costs due to specialized products. To manage this, they can buy staple items in bulk to spend less, use student discounts, and explore local farmers' markets for affordable options. A meal plan in advance and creating shopping lists are also effective strategies to control expenses without compromising on dietary requirements

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†The features associated with the Bold Debit Card discussed in this blog post are provided by and are not affiliated with our Bank partners, Pathward®, or Visa.

Jaeme Velez
Content Writer

About Jaeme

Jaeme Velez is an exceptionally dynamic writer, researcher, and avid enthusiast for science and technology. He brings a deep understanding of securing scholarships, obtaining student loans, and navigating the transition from community college to university.

As a first-generation college student, Jaeme began pursuing the dramatic arts and made a significant transition to pursuing academic studies at L.A. Valley College, focusing on Communication and English. He graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Creative Writing at Columbia University in the city of New York. His academic excellence has been recognized through the Casdin Family Scholarship Award and his membership in the Columbia University Honor Society.

Jaeme's academic path is marked by a profound passion for literature and storytelling, particularly in exploring the confluence of diverse cultures and languages while addressing social disparities. Alongside his literary interests, Jaeme maintains a keen curiosity for science and technology, actively engaging in research and projects related to Artificial Intelligence, Design, and human-computer interaction.


Balancing work and full-time studies as a first-generation college student has endowed Jaeme with a wealth of experience and insights. In his role as a Content Writer at, Jaeme shares invaluable wisdom and advice, drawing from his personal journey to provide the guidance he wishes he had received at the start of his academic journey. 

His work is fueled by the desire to equip the next generations of students with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate their unique academic paths. From financial literacy to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Jaeme strives to contribute to the ongoing discourse on education and support the next generations of scholars, regardless of their age, background, or current stage in life, as they traverse the complexities of higher learning.

Since joining the team in 2023 as a Content Writer, Jaeme has employed his distinctive background as a first-generation student alongside his familiarity with scholarships and student loans to guide students through the intricacies of academic life, emphasizing that every student's journey is distinct and worthy of recognition. 

Through his writing and advocacy, Jaeme leverages his personal and professional experiences to provide comprehensive support to students. He is dedicated to empowering students and addressing the challenges they encounter in their pursuit of higher education. 

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“Who is the person? What's their problem? Do your research. Offer solutions.”

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