Ditch your fear of the grocery bill.

There are a lot of basic day-to-day things I wish my parents had taught me—namely grocery shopping.

I had a very fortunate upbringing, where I never worried about whether there’d be food on the table when I came home from school. While this is an advantage many Canadians don’t have, it definitely gave me a skewed perspective. When I left the shell of my parents’ house, I had no idea how much food costs (or is supposed to cost). I was floored when I handed the cashier at Loblaws my credit card and saw it was going to cost me over $100 to buy all of the items that I wanted—all just for me.

That was the day I realized I was grocery shopping all wrong. Since then, a lot has changed, and while I’m far from a master, I have a little more understanding of how to stretch my dollar, while filling my cart.

Here’s how to grocery shop smart as a student:

1. Keep your costs down

a crumpled receipt

Let me tell you one thing straight up. For one person, your groceries should NOT cost you $100 per week.

I learned this the hard way. After starting to grocery shop for myself, my parents were confused when I told them I was broke all the time. After explaining my meal plan and how much money I was spending, my dad chuckled and explained that I was doing it all wrong.

Meal prepping is a great way to save both money and time. However, you have to be smart about it. To avoid overspending, always keep an eye on store flyers. Plan meals around what’s on sale rather than what you’re craving. 

One meal (including leftovers) should not cost you more than about $15 in raw ingredients to make. If it does, you are doing something wrong. 

Don’t be like me and accidentally spend $20 on a single package of stewing beef because I didn’t know any better. 

vegetable produce stand

Tracking prices is especially important if you eat meat. As the most expensive part of your bill, keep an eye on what deals your grocery store is offering on different types of meat. It’s also good to be somewhat familiar with which cuts to choose. That way, you don’t overspend by buying a higher quality cut than you need for your dish.

I would also recommend trying your best to cut as much beef from your diet as you can. Beef is the most expensive meat to purchase and the worst for the environment.

Chicken legs and thighs work well in just about everything, and pork chops are cheap, easy to make and nearly impossible to mess up.

Ground turkey works very well as a ground beef substitute. As a bonus, it has less fat than beef and is much healthier.

As well, have a general idea about which vegetables and fruit are in season. If you are buying produce that seems more expensive than it usually is, it’s likely not in season. That price hike typically indicates it was grown in a greenhouse or shipped from another part of the world. Try and limit these purchases as much as you can. During winter, frozen veggies and fruit are your friends. They’re cheaper and they last.

2. Shop around or price match

Baskets of lettuce

I always used to judge my dad for driving to several stores to save a few cents on strawberries, but now I get it.

Being selective can be tricky if you don’t have access to a vehicle or other grocery stores. If you have a friend with a car, see if you can tag along next time they go on a grocery run.

Otherwise, try to pick up groceries on sale next time you pass a different grocery store than what is near your house. You’d be surprised at what you might score.

Don’t have the funds or the energy to bus around? Don’t fret, we’ve got a solution! Price matching is an easy and effective way to save you money. Walmart, No Frills, FreshCO–you name it. They all offer customers the opportunity to price match their products with competing stores. All you need to do is peruse flyers to find the best deal on items you need.

Apps like Reebee or Flipp make it easy by allowing you to search through flyers to find groceries at the best price–all in the comfort of one app! Still confused? Watch VP’s Ryan and Shay take you through how to price match with ease. After all, why pay more when you can pay less?

3. Know what to buy when shopping in bulk

Milk, cheese, yogurt section of grocery store

Bulk stores are fantastic.

You can stock up on essentials and pay less than you would at your regular grocery store. The critical thing to remember with Costco and other bulk stores is only to buy what you can use up; think toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, and other products that have no expiration date.

Avoid the trap of buying a family-sized box of Cheerios only to have it go stale.

Did you know Canada is one of the worst offenders for wasted food globally? Asking the hard questions (and being honest with yourself) will help you save money in the long run and ensure you won’t be adding to the food waste problem.

4. Breakup with snack food

Pile of baked cheeto packages

Since living on my own, I’ve had to learn some harsh lessons—the hardest was realizing the sheer astronomical price of snacks.

You may not think that $3-7 on crackers, chips, cookies, and cereal is much, but all those expenses add up in a hurry.

If you plow through snacks as quickly as I was, you’d know the feeling. 

Breaking up with snack food was hard, but the good news is that there are tons of healthy recipes you can find online that don’t break the bank. But don’t get me wrong, treating yourself every once and a while is totally fine, just try to do it sparingly.

Your wallet will thank me!


5. Take advantage of on-campus initiatives if you are struggling

Basket of vegetables

Bringing lunch to school can be hard. I either forget my lunch at home or don’t have enough leftovers to bring to class.

For times like these, don’t be afraid to seek out on-campus food initiatives.

Healthy, nutritious, and sustainable lunches are served up Tuesday and Thursday at IGNITE’s pay-what-you-can Soupbar at North campus from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The Lakeshore campus also has a monthly Soupbar pop-up, and the next pop-up is scheduled for April 5!

IGNITE also offers financial services for students who are struggling. If you are experiencing financial stress because of an emergency, the Financial Relief program can help. Check out IGNITE’s financial services page for more information.

We’re here for you.

For more on cheap and easy recipes to make at home, check out 5 easy soup recipes you can make any day of the week!

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