Eating well in college

Eat smart. Moneysmart.

You have to eat—but you don’t have to put yourself into debt to do it. Learn how to eat well without blowing your budget.

Podcast transcript


PETE: Welcome to How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents here in the IU MoneySmarts radio network. I’m Pete the Planner. I host this thing, and I have a friend who helps. His name is Alex, and he’s here now. Hello, Alex.

ALEX: Hi there.

PETE: Welcome back to the show.

ALEX: Thank you.

PETE: You look comfortable.

ALEX: I feel comfortable.

PETE: We’re six episodes in. If you have missed any of the episodes, you should go find them at Lots of tools and resources there. I think traditionally, people, when they go to college, they don’t think about their financial life.They just don’t. They’re there to learn, have a good time. But I think we’re finding, in this new economy we live in, it’s the people that take it seriously now, that focus a little bit on their financial life now, that are gonna have the best chance to thrive in their career. So that’s why we do this.

ALEX: Yeah, and that’s a great point, too, that it doesn’t take that long. You can just spend a little bit of time on it, and it’ll help you astronomically.

PETE: We want eight minutes of your time a week. That’s all we want. We don’t go over eight minutes. Why? Cuz I can’t focus for that long. So it’s eight minutes, that’s what you got. This week on the show, we’re talking, eating your way into debt. My God, when I was a college freshman, I think I spent like 1,800 bucks on Papa Johns.

ALEX: It was bad.

PETE: Well, who doesn’t love the Papa, but everyone struggles with it. Hey, we welcome a friend of the show, Sydney. Hello.

SYDNEY: Hello.

PETE: So everyone struggles...


PETE: ...with this, right? So your freshman year, you spent a lot of money on food?

SYDNEY: I did, yeah. And I had a meal plan, but off-campus food is so much better.

PETE: What part of it do you think? Is it that you’re on your own, you get to make all your choices, and all those things that seem like a good idea when you couldn’t do it when you lived with your folks, you can now do.

SYDNEY: Exactly, yeah.

PETE: So you think, both, we got it? Do you think this is a problem for both genders, right? I mean, men and women both struggle with trying to budget different cost.

SYDNEY: Yes, I think so.

ALEX: Yeah.

PETE: Alex, where do you think it starts? So, do you think it’s the fact that, from the meal plan perspective, how does this play in? That people waste their meal plan or that they use too much of it too frequently, therefore they run out of points. What do you think they do?

ALEX: I think there’s two main different things. The first one is running out of meal points too quickly and eating too much or buying the candy next to the checkout line a little too often makes you run out quicker. And the second thing is, off-hours late at night when the meal plan points aren’t available, when the cafeteria is closed, and your only choice is to go outside.

PETE: Yeah, Sydney, do you feel like then the other component to all of this is when you eat outside the the meal plan, or you’re with the meal plan, nutrition starts to fade a little bit, cuz we always don’t make the healthiest food choices when we’re grabbing something? Do you think the health of students is impacted by stuff like that as well?

SYDNEY: Yeah, I think so. And actually, I mean, I notice when I was on a meal plan, salads tended to be quite expensive compared to other...

PETE: Interesting.

SYDNEY: Less healthy things. So if you’re trying to be health conscious, you really have to choose the light things in the salad bar cuz it gets pricey.

PETE: Yeah, and so then outside of that, though you find yourself just ploughing through Papa John’s sandwiches. So here’s what I wanna do. I think that the best way to make sure you don’t eat yourself into debt, because the reality is, let’s think about this. A lot of us are using student loans to fund our lifestyles in college, right? So if you just step back for a second and say, I’m eating myself into debt, that’s a terrible statement, right?


PETE: Guilt’s a powerful thing. Do you know what I mean? If you can guilt yourself into not doing that, then I think you’ll be better off. So let’s do this, Alex. What do you think? Let’s set a weekly food budget. Think that’s a good way to go?

ALEX: Yeah, definitely. And it’s gonna be tough for a lot of people, but I honestly wanna say outside, if you have a meal plan, keep it less than $30 as a round number.

PETE: Okay, help me. Let’s talk about this. Does that mean you’re recharging it for 30 bucks a week, or that you’re just making sure you’re not bleeding it down by 30 bucks a particular week?

ALEX: I say spend no more than $30 in a week at a time.


PETE: Outside of the meal plan?

ALEX: Outside of the meal plan.

PETE: Okay, so that takes us to $120 a month of outside spending. And this does not include entertainment beverages of the sort. I mean, this is mainly just breadsticks and things.


PETE: Is this a breadstick budget?

ALEX: Yeah.

SYDNEY: And coffee. 

ALEX: Coffee and cheese sauce.



PETE: Do you think college students have a coffee problem? I mean, in terms, seriously. I mean, it’s called a latte factor. It’s the popular way to say it. And do you think that exists?

SYDNEY: Yeah, I mean, it’s easy to put more in your coffee than you actually need, so you can end up spending $5 on a cup of coffee that would normally cost like a dollar. So I think there’s not much forward planning when you think about getting coffee.

PETE: Coffee is weird, because it’s absolutely necessary, but it’s a convenience thing. So I know at our offices, we have a Keurig, the one-shot deals. You push them down or push it. Do you know how much Keurig coffee really costs?

SYDNEY: I just actually bought a box today.

PETE: Okay.

SYDNEY: I think it was $8 for a pack of 12.

PETE: Okay, here’s what’s crazy. Here’s what I want you to do. Let’s say you went back to your place, and you cut open all the cups, okay?


PETE: Don’t do this, don’t do this, because it’s a waste. Alex, if she does this, can you submit reimbursement for her K-cups?

ALEX: We’ll figure something out.


PETE: All right, here’s what we’re gonna do. Everybody excited, I feel like we should have sound effects. Here’s what we’re gonna do. All right, so you’re gonna empty out all the coffee, hypothetically, and you’re gonna weigh it.

SYDNEY: Uh-oh.

PETE: Okay, yeah, I know, exactly. Do you know it’s 56 dollars a pound, is what Keurig coffee is? If you emptied up enough cups to get a pound, it would be 56 dollars worth of K-cups. Boom, taste it. How do you like that?

ALEX: I don’t at all.

PETE: A little fun fact for you. That crazy?


PETE: Does that make you feel like, I should just grind some coffee?



PETE: But it’s a convenience thing. But $56.00 a pound, it makes my face hurt. All right, so Alex, what’s your favorite tip? What’s your favorite tip for saving money on dining out?

ALEX: For me, it’s going to be: set that specific budget. Because even in just a weekend, you could buy pizza Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday, or Thursday, depending on what you like to do. And you’re already above that $30 that we said earlier, so set that budget, stick to it. If you can stay under it, by all means, do that.

PETE: All right, Sydney?

SYDNEY: A tip for eating out.

PETE: Have someone else pay.


ALEX: Yeah, there you go.

SYDNEY: Probably, yeah.

PETE: I think it’s just about, for me, it’s always a weekly budget. I think food has to be set on a weekly budget.


PETE: I think it’s too hard, otherwise.

SYDNEY: Yeah, it also helps to pay in cash, so you know what you’re spending. Especially when buying coffee or just eating out something frivolous, then you know.

PETE: And we’re gonna talk about this a little later in the podcast, later in the year, but the debit card causes all sorts of weird things. Have you gone to one of those all inclusive resorts where you have a room key that’s actually the resort, or something you go with your parents? A debt card is not that. You actually have to pay for it, but I think a lot of times, it just feels like this endless key card, like a gift card or something.

ALEX: It doesn’t hurt to spend it.

PETE: I know, it needs to hurt. Cash hurts. All right, so that’s it for this week. Thank you for joining us.

SYDNEY: Thank you for having me.

PETE: Is this the highlight of your life?

SYDNEY: Indefinitely.

PETE: Are you gonna empty those K-cups and weigh it?

SYDNEY: I’m, no, I’m not going to.

PETE: You can’t, it’s so expensive. My gosh. I would rather hire someone to pick coffee beans for me, and you could do it cheaper than $56 worth of K-cups, right?

ALEX: Just grab some pestle and mortar and just grind it up yourself.

PETE: Yeah, there you go. You’re a thinker. All right, so this has been How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents, brought to you by the IU MoneySmarts radio network. Find more information about us at We’ll see you next time.