A College Student’s Guide to Getting Free Food

College students are known for being the skimpiest spenders when it comes to essentials, and for good reason: with rising tuition costs (as well as unemployment among non-graduates and graduates alike), expensive books, and other necessary supplies, who has money leftover to pay for things like food anymore? If you fall into this boat, or are simply looking for ways to cut back on your meal expenses, then the following guide will help you find the best ways to get food without paying a dime.

Local Businesses

Restaurants and beverage places-bars, smoothie joints, tea houses, etc.-are always looking to attract new customers, and when they are located in a college town, they’re going to take full advantage of the power of word-of-mouth marketing. They often offer huge discounts or even free food coupons to students on campus to entice them to come try their menus. With any luck, the student will love it and proceed to tell their friends about the place and possibly return in the future as a paying customer. It’s a win-win marketing ploy: business gets customers and college student gets free food.

Tip: There are also free food days at restaurants, such as free cone days at ice cream places or free burritos from Chipotle on rare occasions.


To attract members, clubs often offer food at their introductory meetings (almost guaranteed to be pizza). Some clubs continue to offer free food to its members throughout the year, making it doubly beneficial to join a club in that it looks great on a resume and you won’t starve on days you have a meeting. As a current member of my college’s speech and debate team, I not only get pizza at our Friday meetings, but I get invitations to our holiday potlucks and get meal money to pay for all of my food expenses during travel tournaments. Many other clubs do the same.

Associated Students’ Activities

Events on campus, organized by the ASB, often have free food for attendees. This can include club promotion days, holiday celebrations, spirit weeks, etc. Schools specifically allocate a certain amount of money for this organization to use on their events, and to attract more interest from the general student population, they know food will do the trick. I recently got a free hamburger, fry, and chocolate shake from In & Out just for participating in my college’s Meet and Greet Day for potential high school applicants.

Free Samples Scouting

If you are fortunate enough to live near a grocery store that offers free samples to its shoppers, then you may want to consider dropping by every once in a while. Costcos are especially known for this, although you will need a membership to get in first (they also have ridiculously cheap food, such as a full hotdog meal for $1.50 or two huge slices of pizza for only $2). This may be frowned upon by wealthier or older shoppers who don’t understand the predicament of a starving college student, but this can be an excellent way to replace an entire meal without paying for it.

So, if you’re struggling to keep the costs down while in college, finding free food opportunities can be a tremendous budget-saver. It’ll likely be a sporadic occurrence, but when you find yourself with a free meal, that’s $5-10 less you’ll be taking out of your food budget for the month.