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.

Clubs

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.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Off Campus Apartments

Before you jump to the conclusion that off campus apartments are better than on campus dorms, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of both options. While off campus housing may offer more freedom, it may also entail more cost and inconvenience. When you’re on campus, the campus resources are all relatively nearby, definitely within walking distance from your dorm. Consider the following advantages and disadvantages to off campus living before you make your final decision.

Advantages to Off Campus Living

Off campus apartments definitely provide more freedom than on campus dorms. You’ll not be held to the restrictions and rules that those on campus need to follow, and you’ll also have the option to use your interior decorating skills to make your apartment your home. And if you prefer home cooking, you’ll be able to plan and make your own meals, rather than visit the campus dining hall. Now, while the cooking may appeal to some, others may find they save time by eating already prepared food on campus.

Living off campus gives you a wide variety of accommodations. You can rent a studio apartment for yourself, or share a larger apartment with others. Some students even go together to rent a house! It all depends on your income and your preference for roommates.

Renting an off campus home provides a break from campus every single evening. Those breaks are few and far between when you live in campus housing. If you’d prefer a quiet neighborhood versus noisy dorms, then off campus housing may be perfect for you! Find peace and serenity in your own apartment when your campus classes and other responsibilities are complete.

Disadvantages to Off Campus Living

Of course, there are just as many disadvantages to consider when you’re looking to live off campus. Apartments may cost more than you’re able to afford, and off campus housing is not usually covered by the grants and scholarships you may be using to get through school. If finances are a problem, you’ll probably choose your housing based on what can be afforded.

Besides paying for your own apartment, shopping for food, and taking time out of your class, work and study schedule to clean and keep house, you will probably need to buy a car for transportation to school, the grocery store, and work. Besides paying for gas, you’ll also need to pay for upkeep like oil changes and occasional engine tune-ups.

And while we’re on the subject of finances, consider all the extra costs associated with an apartment. Electricity, water, heating, internet, phone service, pest control, trash pick-up and other similar conveniences aren’t free. Be sure to add up all the expenses before jumping into signing a lease for any off campus apartments.

One final note to consider is the lack of campus security. Unless your apartment is owned by the school, you won’t be under campus security surveillance. So, you’ll want to be sure you choose an apartment that you can afford, but also one that’s in a good neighborhood.

There are many things to consider when choosing between on campus dorms or off campus apartments. Be sure to consider all your options and all the facts before you make your final decision.

Top 5 Amenities to Look for When Utilizing Off Campus Housing

While living on campus during the school year is convenient, it may not be the most cost effective. Oftentimes off campus housing has much more to offer than a small dorm room. Below you will find a list of amenities to look for when browsing apartments that rest just outside of the college or university you plan to attend.

Furnishings

Is the apartment for rent fully-furnished? Since dorm rooms come with beds and dressers, you must figure furnishings into the price of the rental to see if it makes off campus living worthwhile. Fortunately, many apartment buildings that surround college campuses realize this fact and supply their flats with everything from beds to coffee tables. If you’re lucky, you may even locate one with flatware and utensils.

Kitchens

In addition to a furnished apartment, you’ll want to scope out a place that has a kitchen. Since you’ll be farther away from the school and its cafeteria, you’ll need to make most of your meals at home. Of course, preparing meals and snacks in your apartment is much more cost effective than eating out on a daily basis, including in a university food court.

Utilities Included

When you make arrangements to live in a dorm room, you get the use of the room and all of the utilities associated with it for one price. Off campus housing may or may not give you a monthly quote that includes utilities. Make sure you inquire about this so you can get an accurate total price comparison of a dorm room verses an apartment nearby. Also keep in mind that it will be easier for a college student to pay one bill, verses three or four.

Wireless Internet Service

Does the apartment complex supply wireless Internet service for its residents, or does it have a cafe where the Internet can be accessed for free? Perhaps there’s a shared lobby where young adults can sit down with a laptop and connect. College students benefit from complimentary Internet by being able to do research for scholastic papers, checking on their student accounts, and emailing home to check in with family and friends.

Fitness Facility

Working out at least 30 minutes per day is the best way to stay healthy and alert, so keep your eyes open for an apartment building that has its own fitness gym for residents to use regularly. After you locate one, inquire as to the hours the facility will be open. Will this schedule gel with your class schedule? Also, you’ll want to know what equipment is present in the gym. Are there weights? Do they have mats for stretching? Will you be able to choose between a treadmill and an elliptical bike for cardiovascular workouts? Perhaps they have a swimming pool for exercise that is easy on the joints.

The more amenities the off campus housing facility offers, the less traveling you will have to do to squeeze in such things as meals, exercise, and class research. Once you locate the perfect place at the right price, you can begin your college career with a positive outlook.