The 5 Smart Food Choices That Are Helping Me Pay Off My Student Loans

published Jan 9, 2019
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I grew up in a fairly frugal household — my parents prioritized their spending, brown-bagging their lunches for work every day and skipping out on “extras” like cable TV. Although I had a solidly middle-class childhood (I enjoyed more than my fair share of family vacations and was gifted a used car upon getting my driver’s license), we exclusively shopped on sales racks and rarely ordered anything other than water to drink when we went out to dinner.

Thanks to their excellent money management, my parents had a decent-sized college fund set aside for me. Between their savings and scholarship money I was awarded, I didn’t have to take out a ridiculous amount of student loans — around $15,000. I graduated in 2016, and only owe about $3,000 right now.

In addition to being a generally budget-minded person (thanks, mom and dad!), I managed to pay down these loans by making some financially fueled food decisions — without sacrificing flavor or fun.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

1. I pack my lunch.

Like my parents, I almost always bring my own lunch to work. In addition to usually being the healthier choice, it saves me a lot of money. Plenty of my colleagues spend upwards of $15 every day on lunch — that’s $300 a month! I also happen to enjoy cooking, so I don’t mind spending Sunday afternoons meal prepping for the week.

Some of Our Best Lunch Ideas

2. Or I go out to lunch — instead of dinner.

But I’m a millennial, and I do like to go out and order in. When I make plans with friends, I usually suggest going out to lunch instead of dinner. Entrees at lunchtime are often cheaper, and there’s less pressure to order a $10 glass of wine. Or, if I know I’m having a low-key Friday night at home, I’ll pick up a lunch entrée in the afternoon, and reheat it later — no delivery fees, plus a cheaper meal is a budget win in my book.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

3. I frequently make eggs for dinner.

When I need something quick for dinner, my pick is a few eggs in some form. I ate a lot of eggs in my years as a vegetarian, and they’re still one of my favorite meals. Eggs are inexpensive, versatile, filling, and delicious — I like mine in an omelet with feta cheese, or poached over toast. I get them for $2 a dozen at a nearby farm stand, so in addition to scoring a bargain, I get to support a local business. And who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?

4. I stock my purse and desk drawer with snacks.

During my first job after college, I noticed that I’d get hungry around 4 p.m. every day, just before it was time to leave and head home. I’d either venture out to get a quick snack somewhere, which usually resulted in a $9 smoothie, or stick it out until I got to the supermarket, where I’d buy way too much food.

To combat this, I started keeping Lärabars in my purse, as well as stocking my desk drawers with healthy snacks. Whether I’m waiting in line for a gallery opening or stuck on an airplane, I usually have something on hand to prevent me from splurging on whatever snack is most convenient.

(Image credit: Monkey Business Images)

5. I try to never pay full price.

I get ready for almost every trip to the store by browsing the weekly sale flyer and cutting coupons. Whether on Target’s Cartwheel app or with the Procter & Gamble inserts that come in the newspaper, I’m a coupon fiend. Close friends know I rarely pay full price for anything, so why should groceries be an exception? My mom always used coupons when I was growing up, and we used to go through them together every Sunday before hitting the supermarket. It’s a habit I was initially a little embarrassed of, but once I grasped how much I could save by simply snipping out a few pieces of paper, I was hooked.

Do you have any of your own tips to add? Leave them in the comments below.