Festival’s Allegheny Room was the place to be Thursday, February 18th for Off Campus Life’s (OCL) Cooking and Shopping on a Budget Workshop. Though the room could only hold about 80 people, 200 or so students lined up long before the event started in order to gain a coveted seat. Most of the students waiting had to be turned away, but the early birds made it in.
The presenters, OCL Student Liaisons Mariya Kostadinova, a junior international affairs major, and Alyson Wyckoff, a junior music education major, introduced themselves to a rapt audience. They then outlined the five categories they planned to cover during the workshop: budgeting basics, food budgeting, grocery shopping, cooking, and eating healthy on a budget.
They began with the basics, discussing what a budget is and how to maintain one effectively. As college students, food budgets should be broken up into three categories: grocery shopping, dining out and takeout, and an on-campus meal plan. Since you get the most food for the least amount of money with grocery shopping, that’s where the presenters advised most of your money go.
Kostadinova and Wyckoff also informed their audience of mostly freshmen that, gasp, there are more places to shop than just Walmart. Chains such as Food Lion, Martins, Kroger, and Target offer sales and coupons, and bonus or MVP cards. Other lesser known options include the Red Front Supermarket, the Friendly City Co-Op, and Grandma’s Pantry.
“I didn’t know how many other grocery stores were so close by,” said Luke Robb, a freshman public policy & administration major. Furthermore, Robb was particularly interested to learn about the ethnic and international markets also in the area, and anticipates he’ll “stop by at some point to check them out.”
In addition to in-store sales, attendees learned they could also find coupons, cashback, and/or giftcards via grocery apps such as Ibotta and Checkout 51.
But the presentation wasn’t comprised entirely of endless tips and tricks. Halfway through the workshop, Kostadinova and Wyckoff paused for a quick game. Four volunteers competed to place as many dried beans into a cup as possible in under a minute. The catch? They had to do so with chopsticks. With a whopping 25 beans in her cup, the winner received the ingredients for a delicious Caesar salad.
In a second game, four different participants competed to name as many grocery items as they could within their allotted minute. This time, a sealed paper bag sat in front of them. If any of the items they named were in the bag, they received three points. The lucky winner of the second game received the fixings for chicken alfredo, much to the dismay of those who hadn’t volunteered.
Kostadinova and Wyckoff then continued their presentation, moving on to the fourth category: cooking. Knowing that college students budget both money and time, and fear the kitchen as much as a cumulative exam, they set out to alleviate those fears immediately. Recognizing that cooking is time consuming, they proposed solutions like doubling recipes in order to have leftovers, and doing basic meal prep on weekends. For the inept cook, they suggested watching YouTube videos and cooking channels, and following recipes found online and in cooking magazines.
Lastly, the presenters discussed eating healthy on a budget. They urged the audience to buy foods seasonally, and choose whole foods that aren’t pre-prepped, being less likely to contain preservatives. Seeing as many of the students in attendance were freshman, they were able to learn a great deal in anticipation of moving off-campus next year.
“I never really plan what I’m going to buy in advance, and I never budget, I just normally go and buy what I want,” freshman Courtney Beville shared. After the presentation, she intends to use the tips OCL provided, “especially next year, when I move off-campus.”
For the interdisciplinary liberal studies major, the workshop was more than just a learning opportunity. Beville participated in the last game of the night, where volunteers separated as many of their assigned M&M color as they could into a cup in under a minute. She won the dessert prize, ingredients for banana pudding and toppings, by the slimmest of margins.
To conclude the event, OCL raffled off a crockpot in true luck-of-the-draw style. Whomever sat in the chair with a blue sticky note stuck to the underside won the crockpot, they informed the students, which caused everyone to swiftly check their chair. As consolation prizes, OCL handed out recipe booklets to all the students as they trickled out the door.
“The most important piece of advice we hope the students remember is to learn to plan ahead and be disciplined when creating a budget,” said Wyckoff.
Realizing the workshop had not occurred for a few years, OCL Coordinator Rebecca Carbaugh decided to bring it back and revamp it, according to the student liaisons. Perhaps in part due to the incredible success of the event, “we will probably continue this as a permanent part of our workshop offering,” Kostadinova said.
“We believe this is both necessary and important workshop for college students, because a big part of them had never experienced cooking and never had to deal with budgeting and living by themselves,” said Alyson Wyckoff.
In need of more budgeting help? OCL’s next budgeting workshop, titled Mo’ Money, Less Problems, will occur Tuesday, March 22nd. In the meantime, be sure to check out their website.