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Report: College Student Spending on Groceries & Eating Out to Reach Record High in New School Year

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By Scott Winstead

college student food spending

As a new academic year begins, college students across the nation are gearing up for another year of challenging coursework, personal growth, and, unfortunately, escalating costs.

Affording college is more difficult than ever before. Tuition rates have outpaced inflation by nearly 5 times over the last 50 years, textbook prices have continued to skyrocket, and back-to-school spending on school supplies is at record highs.

Simply put, the financial burden of pursuing higher education has reached unprecedented levels, affecting not only tuition fees but also everyday essentials like food. Yes, even staying fed has become increasingly difficult for many college students to afford.

According to our recent analysis, the average college student will spend over $700 a month on food, a significant dent in an already stretched budget. This record-high number is 5.9% more than students spent on food last school year.

Read on for our full report.


Projected Monthly Grocery Spending for College Students by State

According to a recent USDA report, the average price of groceries has gone up by 4.7 percent in the period between June 2022 to June 2023.

That means the average individual American now spends about $433.64 per month on groceries. However, college students tend to spend about 27% less per month on groceries than the average adult.

Knowing this, we were able to determine that the average college student will spend $304.86 per month on groceries this school year. That works out to about $2,439 for a full, two-semester school year, about $87 more than they spent last school year and nearly $360 more than they were spending on groceries two years ago.

You can see a full state-by-state breakdown of projected college student grocery spending for the 2023-24 school year below:
Hawaii $545.90 $4,367.17
Alaska $458.27 $3,666.15
New York $458.27 $3,666.15
West Virginia $391.96 $3,135.65
Mississippi $387.22 $3,097.75
South Carolina $373.01 $2,984.08
Massachusetts $367.09 $2,936.71
District of Columbia $365.90 $2,927.24
Washington $362.35 $2,898.82
Pennsylvania $361.17 $2,889.34
Georgia $357.62 $2,860.92
Vermont $356.43 $2,851.45
Alabama $356.43 $2,851.45
Minnesota $354.06 $2,832.50
Rhode Island $348.14 $2,785.14
Wisconsin $343.41 $2,747.24
Delaware $336.30 $2,690.40
Oregon $330.38 $2,643.04
Maine $326.83 $2,614.62
California $325.64 $2,605.15
Florida $317.35 $2,538.83
Iowa $297.22 $2,377.79
Oklahoma $297.22 $2,377.79
Tennessee $296.04 $2,368.31
Wyoming $296.04 $2,368.31
New Jersey $293.67 $2,349.37
Maryland $293.67 $2,349.37
Connecticut $292.49 $2,339.89
Ohio $290.12 $2,320.95
North Carolina $290.12 $2,320.95
Nebraska $285.38 $2,283.05
Illinois $273.54 $2,188.32
Michigan $273.54 $2,188.32
Colorado $273.54 $2,188.32
North Dakota $273.54 $2,188.32
Louisiana $271.17 $2,169.38
Montana $269.99 $2,159.90
Indiana $262.88 $2,103.06
Kentucky $259.33 $2,074.64
Missouri $256.96 $2,055.70
New Mexico $251.04 $2,008.33
Arizona $245.12 $1,960.96
Virginia $239.20 $1,913.60
Nevada $233.28 $1,866.23
Texas $226.17 $1,809.39
South Dakota $224.99 $1,799.92
Arkansas $220.25 $1,762.03
Utah $220.25 $1,762.03
Idaho $219.07 $1,752.55
Kansas $195.39 $1,563.09
New Hampshire $103.02 $824.17


Porjected Monthly Cost of Eating Out for College Students

While college students will be dealing with record-high grocery spending this school year, they’ll still be going out to eat off campus from time to time.

From the time period of June 2022 to June 2023, the cost of eating out at a restaurant has gone up an average of 7.7%.

Recent reports show that most Americans now eat out between 4 to 5 times a week. With that in mind, we project the typical college student to spend on average $397.80 a month eating out this school year. That’s a total of $3,182.41 across the entire 8-month school year.


The Average Cost Per Meal for College Students in 2023-24

Between the cost of groceries and eating out off-campus, students will spend $702.66 per month on food.

If you assume a typical student eats 3 meals per day, that works out to a cost of $7.81 per meal and $23.42 per day over the course of a 30-day month.

Some might wonder if getting a meal plan through the university is a more economical option for students. Today, the average meal plan costs around $4,500 for an eight-month school year, with some meal plans costing as much as $9,000 in some cases. That works out to about $6.25 per meal or $18.75 per day, which is a bit cheaper than the $23.42 per day cost of groceries and eating out, but it’s important to remember that a lot of students on meal plans still eat out occasionally and spend a little bit of money on groceries to have on hand.


Rising Food Costs Leave Students Hungry for Help

The pursuit of higher education, once seen as a gateway to opportunity, has evolved into a labyrinth of escalating costs, leaving students to grapple with the daunting reality of strained budgets and difficult choices.

Affording a college education has become an uphill battle, where the relentless rise in tuition rates, textbook prices, and school supplies are only compounded by the high cost of food.

The weight of these escalating expenses extends beyond the classroom, impacting even the most basic necessity: sustenance.

Grocery bills surge, restaurant meals become elusive luxuries, and the once simple act of staying fed morphs into a financial feat.

At what point do students decide the whole pursuit of higher education simply isn’t worth the cost?

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