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Serving on a Budget: Eating Well on a City Year Stipend

Let’s be real. Living on a City Year stipend can be tough. Considering all the monthly fees for things such as housing, transportation, and other general needs for the month, I’ve definitely prioritized spending wisely. As I’m saving up for graduate school, I also want to be realistic about what I need and what I don’t need. Although living off a stipend sounds difficult, it’s not impossible, and over the past few months I’ve learned some tips and tricks on how to make the most of it.

The first piece of advice I can offer is to budget, budget, budget! As a recent college graduate, this is the first time in my life that I am working a full-time job and almost completely financially independent, forcing me to be responsible about what I choose to spend my money on. Monthly budgeting truly transformed the way that I perceive my spending. I change my budget each month to adjust from the previous and this gives me a good idea of how much I am anticipating spending or saving. I have reflected on what I regret spending money on and what I didn’t. Being realistic about my options has proven to help me stay grounded and spend less on certain categories in the future. However, out of all the categories in my budget, there is one that I always prioritize: food.

If you’re anything like me, you are a die-hard foodie. That means I dedicate a sizable amount of my monthly budget towards groceries and take-out. Luckily, City Year provides SNAP Benefits which cover nearly all of my monthly grocery costs. I love cooking meals at home, ranging from curries to fried rice to anything new and fun. The San Antonio Food Bank also ran a whole corps session where we made Tex Mex salad together. Through that session I learned just how easy it can be to shop smart and get the most bang for your buck while also eating food that’s tasty and healthy for you.

In a perfect world, I would be able to cook using fresh produce and ingredients for every meal. Realistically though, at the end of long days of service or working from home, it’s also nice to get out and pick up food for dinner. I’ve lived in San Antonio for four years now, and every year I discover a new spot for picking up food that is affordable and delicious. Lately, my take-out orders include the monk bowl with Korean “beef” from Green Vegetarian Cuisine at the Pearl, the chicken shawarma plate from Naara cafe, breakfast tacos from the famous El Milagrito on North St. Marys, and ramen (or pretty much anything!) from Tim’s Oriental cuisine in Leon Valley. Now more than ever there is a need to support local businesses, and that includes restaurants. Putting your money towards local spots ensures that you’re supporting your community while also getting a nice meal out of it!

No matter how experienced of a cook you are or what your food preferences are, there’s always a way to eat well without hurting your wallet. The great thing about San Antonio is that it’s extremely diverse, so there is something for everyone. Hopefully these words of advice will reassure you and get you started on exploring all that the city has to offer without going over-budget.

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