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How To Save Money On Food With A Student Budget

I've just finished my first semester of university, and I'm about to head into my second, so I know a thing or two about budgeting and saving money, especially on food. It took me a while to get a budgeting system going where I can buy and cook healthy food, without being broke at the end of the month, and I want to share those tips with you today.

Eating healthy is something that is non-negotiable for me. It should definitely be cheaper, but unfortunately we live in a world where fast food is the cheapest and most convenient option. 

That doesn't stop me from trying my best to eat well, even with the added pressure of being a student. Before I moved to China, I watched videos that said it's super difficult to be healthy in China, that fruit is so expensive and that it's better to just have take away all the time. But since coming here I've found that it's not actually that difficult (for me, at least) and I can manage to balance pretty well.

I have a few tips that I use daily when it comes to buying food and still being happy with some money left in the bank. I hope you find them useful!

The first thing is to create a budget. I love Aja Dang's YouTube channel because to me, she's like the budgeting guru I've always needed. She creates videos where she outlines her monthly budget, videos that show what she's spending her money on weekly, and tips on how to stick to a budget. Her driving force is that she's aiming to pay off all her student loans, so she's definitely a channel to watch (I was definitely inspired by her to create this post!).

My budget is pretty simple; I look at how much money is going in versus going out and I see what I can cut out so I can have as much as possible. Then, I allocate different amounts of money to different expenses, such as groceries or school equipment, and I only use that amount of money per week on that specific expense.

My budget is weekly, but this can definitely work monthly too. If you allocate money to buying food that's good for you and not to just anything you can get your hands on, then you're more likely to spend money on just that.

Because I know myself, I also have a certain amount of money each week I can spend on junk food, and I am not allowed to go over that no matter what. This makes it easy to have money left at the end of the week to save!

I buy my vegetables exclusively from the market, and it's a 10 minute walk from the dorm building, which is great! It's so much cheaper to buy from the market compared to a supermarket, so this is definitely something to try if you can.

A definite bonus is that the more I go, the more familiar they become with me and I can haggle cheaper prices!

When I cook, I often choose to buy tofu as my protein for the week instead of meat, and it's so. much. cheaper! I can buy tofu for less than ¥3 (less than 40p!!!) and it lasts the whole week. This is compared to chicken which I buy for around ¥10 for a week, or beef (which I only just bought a couple of weeks ago for the first time since coming here), for around ¥20. 

Going meat-free has other benefits too, but the benefit for your pocket is pretty great!

Something that I cannot stress enough, especially when you live in East Asian countries, is to not buy imported food, or at least limit the amount of imported goods you buy! They are always going to be more expensive than locally produced food, for example my coconut milk. It's not something I can avoid because I'm lactose intolerant so this is something I add into my budget. My milk comes from Thailand and I haven't been able to find Chinese-brand coconut milk unfortunately.

Some things like Heinz ketchup, or Lays (or Walker's if you're from the UK!) aren't expensive at all, so there's no problem there, but if you can, definitely buy goods from the country you're in!

Something I love about China is how easy it is to buy whatever you want online.

I buy my sweet potatoes online (the market doesn't have the white ones which I prefer) and they come fresh and they're just as good as buying at the market. I've also seen teas, snacks, meat, breads and other types of food online and it's usually cheaper then buying in-store.

Meal prep saves so much money and time, and it's something I know all students have tried at least once before.

I cook once or twice a week, and keep the food in tupperware in the fridge. When I want to eat, I just warm it up and I'm good to go! My favorite things to meal prep are my tofu and broccoli, or any kind of chicken dish as my main meal, along with rice that I also cook for the week. I'll chop vegetables once and keep them in tupperware too and cook them when I'm ready to eat, just because mushy veg isn't very appetising.

Meal prep has changed the game and I strongly advise you to give it a go if you can.

If the thought of eating food you've cooked a few days ago doesn't sound good, then you can prep ingredients too, and cook them when you're ready to eat!

Something I look forward to are the sales in Walmart, because it's when I can stock up on staples like rice, oil, meat or snacks. 

If you have sales going on in the supermarkets near you, definitely take advantage of it and buy buy buy and save some money! 

Things I won't eat right away get frozen and that way I just have to defrost and get cooking. One thing I love about China is that things on offer also come with additional goodies, like one 4L bottle of oil can come with a smaller one attached to it, or bottles of drinks come with things like bowls or cutlery. I've even seen toothpaste come with a bowl! 

So, the next time there's a sale near you, take your shopping bags and stock up!

So, those are my tips for how I save money on food, manage to eat healthy, and remain happy and sane at the same time! This is probably a really long blog post, but I had so much to cover and I didn't want to miss anything.

I hope this was helpful for anyone looking to get smarter with food and money, and if you have any other tips, I'd love to hear them below!

I'll see you in the next one!