By: Steph Strickland

When people imagine the diet of a college student, they often refer to images of stressed students eating their body weight in pizza and Chinese takeout, in order to offset the stress of exams and crippling debt.

This stereotype may ring true for many students, because college can be quite the culture shock as students are faced with the freedom to choose pizza over a salad, even when cost is not factored into the decision-making process.

However, The National Youth Transitions Center reported on a study and reached the conclusion that over 40% of a college student’s budget was “discretionary” spending. Meaning, in most cases, students primarily choose to budget more money toward unhealthy habits.

Misconceptions regarding the expenses surrounding a healthy lifestyle run rampant in college towns, partly because students are simply unaware of the most effective ways to spend their money, which leads to binge eating Cheez-Its in place of dinner.

I am here to challenge this status quo, and share methods to living off of five dollars a day, while maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle.

  1.     You must be committed to yourself and your diet

Prior to living on such a marginal amount of money each day, I had lived a healthy lifestyle for over 3 years. This allowed me to maintain a routine and buy foods I knew I would enjoy, to avoid being wasteful in the long run.

So, before jumping into this, students need to make sure they are committed and regimented into a new lifestyle, whether that is veganism, vegetarianism or simply a balanced diet. Studies show that it takes approximately 21 days to form a habit, so at least practice a healthy lifestyle for that timeframe prior to investing in this lifestyle.

  1.     Planning is essential

Much of this healthy lifestyle comes down to planning out grocery trips and eating out as little as possible.

Publix offers online planning, sales flyers and coupons to help in developing a cost-efficient grocery list. Tools like this are essential, because meandering the aisles at your local grocery store, seldom results in effective purchases and usually leads to unhealthier and expensive options being chosen over their counterpart.

The National Youth Transition Center claimed that in order for students to live a healthy lifestyle they must “research” their college dining plans, in addition to their college town food options in general.

  1.     Know what to buy and when to buy it

Generally, it is most beneficial to buy a product when it is on sale; however, when it comes to grocery shopping this can be more difficult.

There are tools such as the Publix online program which allows buyers to peek into the upcoming week’s sale flyer, which attempt to alleviate this issue. It is important to ask, ‘Do I really need this’ when faced with any item.

Moreover, it’s important to determine what foods you need to buy. Generally, I stick to whole, fresh vegetables and fruits, which make up over half of my diet. Tricks like buying whole fruits and vegetables and cutting them yourself saves more money than most would anticipate. Staying away from prepackaged foods and gravitating toward fresh and simple ingredients is another general tip to adhere to. For example, instead of purchasing a brand name brown rice that cooks within minutes, buy a large bag of off brand whole grain rice and boil it yourself.

  1. Meal Prep

This is a practice that is also new to me, and I’d argue that it isn’t essential to saving money, but it does limit the amount of time spent during the week preparing meals, and gives you fresh, healthy options to choose from at any time.

Meal prep goes hand in hand with planning, and if you are aware of what meal options you have in a given week, you will tend to resist overspending and only buy what is needed.