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Peer Advice: CalFresh 101 and Saving Money on Groceries $$$


Welcome Class of 2026!!

Here are some things I wish I knew about the CalFresh Program during my time at MBKU. Even if you did not qualify during your time in undergrad, I still encourage you to read this through and apply as eligibility differs from undergrad vs grad school (:

What is CalFresh?

The CalFresh Program was created for people with low income who meet the eligibility requirements to encourage a healthy and nutrition diet. Each month, you receive a certain amount of money on your CalFresh card that you do not have to pay back (aka free grocery money!!) It is a great way for students like us to save money as we tackle on daunting student loans which also creates a huge stress reliever that we do not have to worry about food all the time.

Am I eligible and how do I apply?

As a graduate student, the requirements for CalFresh are:

  • Students who have been approved for work-study
  • Students who work 20 hours a week or an average of 80 hours a month
  • Students with dependents under the age of 12
  • Students who receive services from Disabled Students’ Services (DSP)

The important eligibility that changes from an undergrad student for a grad student is that now that you are in graduate school, you are considered an independent student. This means that you report your own information such as income instead of both you and your parents if you have not done so already. During my time in undergrad, I never qualified for the CalFresh program because they took looked at my parents income. Now, as a really really broke college student with my little to none independent income, I am eligible for CalFresh! I wish I did not wait so long to apply for this program and recommend you apply even if you are not sure you qualify! It never hurts to try. You can check if you are eligible on the official website. It will take about 10-15 minutes and will ask about and they will ask about your income, rent, number of people living with you etc. After checking out if you are eligible, you can apply for the program, using this link here. I recommend applying during the summer before school starts since there will be a phone interview after submitting the online application and it does take some time for you to receive the CalFresh card.

What can you buy with CalFresh?

You can use your CalFresh card for most grocery stores such as Vons, Trader Joes, Costco, Target, and even Amazon (just make sure it says EBT eligible on the app.) The only thing to keep in mind is that you are only able to buy cold foods and no hot foods (like rotisserie chicken.) However, your option for food is limitless! If you are not the best at cooking or don’t have time to, you can use your CalFresh card to purchase cold pre-made foods like salads, wraps, grocery store sushi, or even the famous $5 Sprouts TikTok Sandwich. You can also use your card for non-alcoholic drinks to energize yourself for studying and save money and time on going out to buy coffee. Another really amazing thing about the program is that you can use your CalFresh money at local farmer markets and get a special discount when you shop local!

What are other benefits of the CalFresh program?

Some amazing benefits having CalFresh include free access to museums like LACMA or the Broad in LA and more! Use this link here to check out LA free activities and use this link for free admission all over California. You may also be able to qualify for discounted internet and phone service plans with CalFresh.

General Tips on Saving Money at the Grocery Store:

  • Download grocery store apps or sign up for free membership to get exclusive access on amazing deals to save $$
  • Buy generic brands instead of name brand grocery items (usually located at the bottom of the shelves) – I really like Target’s Good and Gather generic brand and Von’s Signature brand
  • Create a grocery list and stick with it! Go in with a plan so that you not only save time, but you don’t get distracted by all the good foods and snacks
  • NEVER go grocery store on an empty stomach (Trust me, I have been there and was always tempted to buy everything in sight)
  • Check weekly ads for local sales and deals (My go to is the Vons and Ralphs ad where they have a buy 5 items section sale with really good prices)

TLDR: The CalFresh program is an amazing way to save money on groceries and everyone should try applying. It is also a great way to try different kinds of food and enjoy eating without the guilt of spending too much money while taking out student loans. Make sure to apply sooner than later so you that you do not have to worry about applying once things start to pick up in school!