Shortcomings of a student grocery shopper

Kasia Holowka examines the trials and tribulations of doing groceries as a student

Like moths to a flame, everyday outside of Carluccio’s a long line of hungry students forms. The dining hall and the Buttery are filled to the brim and that’s not to mention all the other restaurants who pack themselves full of students each lunch, enticing them with (relatively) cheap deals. It’s easy to notice what unites all students: the need for a cheap meal that won’t go bad before it’s eaten. Why is it, then, that so many students think buying lunch everyday makes more sense than grocery shopping and meal-prepping? I’m going to address the problem and hopefully provide useful strategies for meal prep and grocery shopping. 

Students who cook for themselves often find themselves wasting money. I can’t count how many times I’ve bought a loaf of bread that went mouldy in less than five days. The same goes for jam or any spread that goes off even when stored in the fridge. Naturally, dry food like pasta or rice becomes the foundation of many a student’s diet. The downside to this is that there’s a limit to what one can do with it.  Pretty much every day since the start of the semester, I have been consuming tomato soup that comes in packets. They don’t go bad and are cheap, and when combined with pasta, it makes for a nice meal. Eating it everyday, however, gets a bit repetitive. This rings true for many students, who lean towards food that is cheap and easy to store and end up having the same exact meal every night. 

“Even if you get along with your flatmates and try to go shopping together, you’ll quickly realise that in most cases everybody has a different approach towards food”

Why is this problem so prominent in Ireland? Many times I’ve found myself in a flat where the students were refraining from buying certain types of food or drink. For example, I once asked for some milk in my tea, to which the response was: “we don’t buy milk anymore, it always goes off before we finish it.” The truth is grocery shops prioritise families of two or more. It’s cheaper to buy in bulk. Food is more expensive when you’re not splitting with others, and sharing in a student accommodation proves just too complicated. Even if you get along with your flatmates and try to go shopping together, you’ll quickly realise that in most cases everybody has a different approach towards food. Most eat according to a different schedule and have varying meal plans and diets. The idea of splitting the cost of groceries sounds great until one flatmate is vegetarian, for example, and still has to pay for meat which they won’t eat. Learning each other’s diets and understanding what one person likes or would eat is just not something others have time to do, so it is only understandable that most of us are left alone with our groceries. 

What’s more is, it’s difficult to cook full-stop when you live in student accommodation. When you go to the kitchen after a long day of lectures and socialising and there’s somebody else already cooking, you might find that you don’t want to cook anymore. There is something calming in preparing and having your food in solitude which makes one’s social batteries recharge, this may be especially true for introverts. As alone time is scarce in student accommodation, it’s no wonder that many students prefer to order a takeaway if it means avoiding their flatmates. 

But it’s not just about food; students find themselves struggling to buy toiletries as well. I have heard many stories of people taking toilet paper and sanitary products from bars and clubs and some even from the university. And it is not surprising: Trinity does little to help students with their grocery shopping. It doesn’t offer student deals in partnership with any shops, which looks unprofessional compared to UCD, which has a Centra on campus. 

Furthermore, Trinity’s location adds to the problem. All the bigger shops which offer lower prices are located further away from the city centre, which makes it hard for students to get there. Many simply don’t have the time for a longer commute nor the extra money. And international students, who can’t afford to get a second phone number, can’t subscribe to a Tesco or Boots club card. 

“Either way, buying long lasting products in bulk is a great way to save some money, as supermarkets usually target families”

So is there anything we can do about the issue? What I would suggest is to know your fridge and freezer, and how long it keeps your products fresh. If it works well, buy foods that can be stored there; if not, make use of cupboards by stocking up on dry food like cereal or rice. Either way, buying long lasting products in bulk is a great way to save some money, as supermarkets usually target families. Make a realistic grocery list and stick to it, that way you can shop less frequently and avoid splurging on random items. It can also help to meal plan for the upcoming week and create the list based on that. 

Having a set grocery budget can also help manage your spendings. Many suggest that paying in cash makes you more in control as you can quite literally see the money being spent. Of course with inflation the amount spent can become quite dramatic, so a good way to control it is to use coupons and store-apps. Sites, which compare shop prices like ‘quidu’  also come in handy. If you have a few supermarkets in your area, you can go around buying specific products in different shops. 

Although many shift to well-known brand products, what saves loads of money is shopping generic brands. That usually means looking through the lowest or highest shelves, filled with special offers. Though you have to be aware: just because something is cheaper doesn’t mean you’re going to be willing to eat it. And lastly, bring your own shopping bags. It saves a lot of money and helps one avoid sudden shopping trips, as you can stick to the rule that you won’t shop without your groceries bag. 

Hopefully the tips provided will encourage more students to shop for themselves and realise the benefits of having food at home. Yes, shopping as a single student may be hard, but it is important to remember that we need to eat and that getting takeaways everyday might not be the best idea.