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How to Be a Foodie on a Student Budget

I am a firm believer that exploration is often best done through culinary investigations. Whether I’m visiting a new city or rediscovering my hometown, I love to eat and drink my way through any place. I’m not too picky in my cuisine choices; dive bars and hip bistros appeal equally to me. I often scour Instagram for the latest and greatest food joints to drag my friends to. Not only is it a tasty way to discover new neighborhoods and hangouts, but sharing a meal or drink with friends is one of my favorite ways to catch up or keep up with the people I love.

Being an amateur foodie can be blissfully enriching in all sorts of ways – except when it comes to my bank account.

It can become an expensive hobby when you can’t stop discovering cool new places – especially because you might want to revisit those same cool new places again and again and again. If you’re like me and living on a college student budget (or are perhaps just trying to be a financially responsible adult), you may feel pressured to abandon your culinary exploration altogether. I am here to tell you to put that ridiculous notion out of your head right this second!

There are many savvy yet subtle ways to be a foodie on a budget – let’s make a list of them, shall we?

Embrace the appetizers

I think this is especially smart to do at the particularly wallet-depleting restaurants. After all, you’re likely to find the same quality and heart in the starter menu as you would in the entrees, but for a much more palatable price. I recommend ordering a few different appetizers to share amongst friends! This allows you to try several things from the menu without breaking the bank. My friends and I love doing this at The Bachelor Farmer, as well as The Copper Hen.

Stray from the big guns

While doing your restaurant research, you are likely to come across a few places that are wildly famous must-sees, with 500 Yelp reviews and counting. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit those places, but I would encourage you to not feel married to them. If my mom could talk to you, she would say, “You’re beautiful and smart and lovely! Play the field! Forge your own path!” In terms of the food world, this loosely translates to: don’t be afraid to go find your own hole-in-the-wall places. You just may come across a little known gem with zero Yelp reviews but some absolutely killer pad thai for way less than the better-known Thai place down the street. Go make my mother proud!

Rethink gourmet

Who says that participating in conventional fine dining is the only way to be a foodie? Does it say that in some foodie bible I am unaware of? I doubt it. Some of the most delightful culinary experiences can be found in surprising places. Example A: food trucks. I am thrilled with how trendy and prevalent food trucks have become! My favorite food as a child (…and adult, let’s be honest) was a grilled cheese. Now there are entire trucks dedicated to grilled cheese – what a time to be alive!

Doughnut (donut?) shops are also unexpected locales to find some seriously yummy food. (If you are ever in the Twin Cities, I can’t recommend Glam Doll Donuts enough!) Open your mind to the coffee/waffle shops that may take a more humble approach to culinary creation.

Use your phone (or tablet or computer)

We live in an incredible time of technological madness, and we might as well exploit that for our culinary pleasure. Don’t be ashamed to cash in on that Groupon discount; there are some amazing 2-for-1 deals on the app waiting for you to snatch them up.

You can also use restaurant search apps to find places within a specific price range. Two notable heavy hitters are Yelp and Zomato. They’re accessible and easy to use, offering restaurants reviews and recommendations. Localeats focuses on the non-chain eateries in a given city, so it’s helpful for finding the more unique joints. All of these apps often offer direct links to menus so you can discretely check out the prices before sticker shock hits. 

These are just a few simple tips to keep eating like a champ on the road and within your own city without busting your budget. (And to get on the road for cheap, book a bus or train ticket on or download the Wanderu app!)

Above all, I would encourage you to think of your foodie adventures as an investment in yourself, your relationships, and the cultural pulse of a city. How could your accountant argue with that?

How do you maintain your foodie status on a limited budget? Leave me a reply with your own tips!

emily-author-bioAbout the author: Emily Hest is a college student in the Twin Cities. She is a farm-turned-city girl who loves to read memoirs and drink way too much coffee. She loves learning about the world and occasionally indulging in trashy reality television. You can find her over on Instagram at @emilyhest!

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About the author
Kate Sedrowski

Kate Sedrowski

Kate Sedrowski is on a mission to spread delight while inspiring and encouraging people to travel. Her favorite travel companion is her teddy bear, and her favorite souvenir is the scar from the broken nose she got in a snowball fight in Québec City.

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