Why are you in college? Probably because someone told you somewhere down the line that it would be a good idea. In fact, several people probably told you the same thing several times. Those people were probably right. College offers a chance to get out on your own before actually having to face the real world. It also gives you a chance at a better career and the chance to make more money down the line.
But for a lot of college graduates, disposable income doesn’t come until a few years after graduation. Grads face countless nights of eating ramen over the sink while visions of filet mignon dance in their heads. Fortunately, there are a few ways to stretch every dollar to the fullest so you still have money to take your boo out on the town after you’ve bought groceries for the week. The tips I’m going to share can also be implemented as part of a more sustainable lifestyle.
Tip #1: Plant a garden. Gardens are a great way to access fresh produce without having to spend an inordinate amount of money. It’s easy to make a home garden organic, and having fresh food at home will also save you gas money. Home gardens also reduce strain on natural resources. Just think of all the water, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, plastic, and manpower required to grow, package, distribute, and sell produce. If you want to learn how to garden, there are countless books and videos on the subject. Whether you own a large plot of land or if you can hardly see a spot of green from your apartment window, there’s a way to make any space work. If you end up living in a city, you’ll obviously have to get a bit more creative with your space. Community gardens exist, but the waiting list for these spaces is usually pretty long and it could be years before you get a plot. It might be better to plant window boxes in whatever space you have available. Books on permaculture can help you get the most out of a small space using simple, organic methods. This kind of project also allows you to reach out to neighbors and find someone with a green thumb to help you.
Tip #2: Avoid packaged foods. This may seem like an obvious one, but the more processed a food is, the less nutritional value it has. And while Twinkies may seem cheaper than a bunch of carrots, it’s only because the government gives billions of dollars to Big Agribusiness to make it that way. Much of the processed food you eat utilizes agricultural processes that exploit farmers, guzzle up natural resources, and strip the land of its natural ability to grow food. When you buy packaged food, you pay for the convenience of it. That extra packaging ends up in a landfill. In the long run, it’s better to spend a few extra minutes putting together a sandwich than it is to let the packaging from a Smuckers Uncrustable sit in a landfill for thousands of years.
Tip #3: Buy in bulk. This is a solution to Tip #2. It’s a simple truth that the more food you buy at once, the cheaper it is going to be in the long run. Buying packets of oatmeal is more expensive than buying a two pound tub, which is still more expensive than buying a 50 pound sack. Bulk grains and dried beans last a very long time in storage, and end up costing cents per pound. Bulk bins can be found at any Coop or natural food store. In Eat Well on a Dollar a Day, Bill Kaysing advocates buying grain at feed lots. Yes, this is the same food livestock eat, but when you consider how much a racehorse is insured for and that a horse’s stomach is more temperamental than a human’s, it quickly becomes apparent that these bulk grains are perfectly safe for human consumption. If you still find this idea unsettling, most local natural food stores will offer to put you on their order list if you know what you want. You can special-order anything from a case of tofu to a 50-pound bag of grain. If you don’t want to buy that much food at once, an employee may be able to put you in touch with someone in your area willing to split an item with you.
Tip #4: Kick the meat habit, or give it up a few days a week. Meat costs a lot of money. Beans and tofu cost less. If you know where to buy it, you can get organic tofu at two dollars a pound. On sale, non-organic boneless chicken is around the same price. However, tofu yields around seven servings per pound, and chicken only three or four. Beans cost less than tofu, while fish and beef usually cost more than chicken. The production of meat also leads to topsoil erosion and the wasteful use of fresh water and feed. Both animals and workers are treated terribly on industrial farms. Annually, meat production gives off significantly more greenhouse gas than all the world’s transportation (Livestock’s Long Shadow, 2006). Factor in the environmental costs, and it’s clear that eating less meat can’t be a bad thing.
While these four tips will get you started, it certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all you can do to stretch your dollar and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
As a student of creative writing, I am 99 percent positive I won’t be making a living from writing fiction, not unless I am cursed with unleashing the next Twilight on the world. The job I see myself graduating into offers 20 grand a year. For those of you who will share my modest future lifestyle, I entreat you to use each dollar to its fullest.