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Grocery shopping on a budget 

Your DeKalb Farmers Market, Trader Joe's and more

Oodles of Ramen noodles. Leftover pepperoni pizza. Hot Pockets. Just the thing college students crave but should probably avoid.

And don't even start with the overload of options on most school meal plans. With the ever-rising costs of rent, school loans, gas, and ... drinks, college students often have a hard time justifying spending big money on food.

So let's talk about grocery shopping on a budget. Here are some cart-stuffing tips to help you out:

Make a grocery list: Even with limited time, roommates can sit down during their favorite TV show with a home-cooked meal. Look up recipes and build your list around those ingredients. Stick it on your fridge,

Stick to it: To curb impulse buying, shop alone -- and certainly don't shop hungry. You won't get distracted by the items your friends -- or your stomach -- think they want. If you need to save gas (and be environmentally savvy!) by carpooling, take separate carts and go your own way. If you have roomies with similar tastes, talk about what you can split. Is one gallon of 2 percent milk a week enough for three people? Can you alternate buying a large box of Honey Nut Cheerios?

Beware of enticing packaging: Items like rice and mashed potatoes in prepackaged single servings are another money trap. Yes, they may be quick and convenient, but they're not worth the inflated price you're paying. It's more cost-effective, not to mention healthier, to make a whole pot of rice and save leftovers, or at least to buy the bigger box of instant potatoes.

Clip those coupons: You may feel a bit like your grandmother on Sunday afternoons, but you'll have a few extra dollars nonetheless. Check store specials online or in your junk mail. When you do splurge on irregular items or when you want to try something new, make sure it's on sale.

Some hot spots

With keen emphasis on quality, Your DeKalb Farmers Market offers reasonable prices and a huge selection. Its produce section alone is roughly the same size as some entire stores. It also has hard-to-find ethnic ingredients and a fantastic meat selection for cobbling together adventurous and tasty feasts like a regular gourmand. Mon.-Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 3000 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-6400. www.dekalbfarmersmarket.com.

If you don't (or can't) trek to Decatur for your provisions, take advantage of neighborhood farmers' markets such as East Atlanta Village Farmers Market on Glenwood Avenue or Piedmont Park's Green Market. Peruse homegrown offerings and support local farmers, but do realize that you're paying for quality rather than quantity.

It's always refreshing to suffer sticker shock of a different variety. Trader Joe's has a gourmet cheese selection that's as diverse as it is shockingly cheap. The relatively recent addition to Midtown Promenade also offers affordable sundries such as nuts, olives and vinegars. All the more reason to splurge on a case of the chain's coveted Charles Shaw wine.

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