If you’re a graduate student in 2016 and still paying for food, there is something utterly wrong with you. But don’t worry, your condition is likely reversible if you adhere to the pointers in this article.

The average graduate student today is 33 years old. Meaning unlike our counterparts in college, we are often encumbered with more austere age-related life issues such as getting out of debt (probably from an overpriced college experience), keeping up with the costs of marriage (or worse – the costs of finding a spouse), dreaming of owning an expansive home with four or five-digit units of living space (while settling for the more realistic goal of maybe owning a rental box at the local UPS office) and just general upkeep (your mobile phone data won’t pay for itself). And you haven’t even considered food.

So don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, nourishment is a vital part of life. But so is rent and electricity and if you live in the North East like me, so is heat and hot water, and heated transportation and not having to shovel snow. Furthermore, juggling 18-hour work days for which you’re probably remunerated at the rate of $0.18/hours and keeping up with all your financial demands AND maintain a healthy well-fed lifestyle is virtually impossible. Essentially on the long list of things that I consider important to successfully navigating my graduate school experience, food comes in at a jubilant last position. Instead, being the resourceful scientist-in-training that I am, I have established the following 5 foolproof system on how to survive graduate school on free food:

Retrain your body on it’s nourishment requirements

Three meals a day? Pfff! These are the trenches of career-building, not a luxury resort in the Caribbean. When your body calls out for a meal, respond with a loud battle cry because that is exactly what you’re going to do. Fight the feeling off. It’s simple. The same way you shut off that little nagging voice in your head that reminds you of your overdue payments to Sallie Mae, you just shut off your hunger pangs for at least one meal a day. Or two. Cost of skipped meals : $FREE.99

Overdose on caffeine

Following from the first point, caffeine is a great decoy response to hunger pangs. By dousing your digestive tract with coffee at least a third of the time you’re awake, you manage to keep your body busy with sifting through all that fluid for several hours only to find nothing meaningful on the other side in terms of nutrients. The true value of overdosing on caffeine is that the graduate environment is rather generous with donating caffeinated drinks to passers-by in the form of meetings. So essentially you can find a free cup of coffee at least twice every hour by scouring different buildings and departments looking for ongoing meetings. Remember to always show up early, pour your cup of coffee confidently, add all the necessary trimmings and leave as soon as the speaker gets to the front of the room. Cost of caffeine overdose : $FREE.99

Attend campus social gatherings solely for dietary purposes

The true art of overdosing on caffeine and other free meals is learning the ins and outs of social gatherings in your graduate environment. The cardinal rule of graduate school is: where two or three are gathered, there is food. And it is of course at no cost to members of the audience. It is important to familiarize yourself with the different campus organisations that meet regularly, the kinds of foods that they serve, the number of people who usually attend different events and the number of judgmental people who might be in the crowd to dissuade your feeding frenzy. It is probably best to create a diary of all these factors to stay abreast. And always, ALWAYS bring a to-go containerCost of three-course meal at social gathering complete with doggy bag : $FREE.99

Put down the pride, pick up the puppy face

This might come as a shocker to you but you, the student, are the only one on the short end of the cash stick in the graduate environment. Professors make bucketfuls of money whereas administrators get their own fair share. Commonly, these people might invite you out to elaborate lunches or dinner in their houses or at fancy restaurants. Your first temptation might be to turn them down because you know there is nothing but (literally) peanuts in your wallet and your pride is the only thing of value you have left. But wait, consider this. Shove the pride aside, practice your most appealing puppy face complete with misty eyes that warrant pity and show up to the invitation in drab dilapidated clothes. They will never make you pay for the meal, it’s human nature. Cost of puppy face : $FREE.99

Join a community garden

Many cities have some prime city real estate set aside for members of the community to grow flowers and other plants that uplift people’s feelings and improve the geographical aesthetic. DO – Join as many such organisations as you can. DO NOT – Actually spend time growing or planting anything, your graduate career is already demanding enough as it is. As a member of the community garden you have unrestricted access to the garden and all its produce. Help yourself to as many items as you can pick, work fast and diligently and mostly at night, collecting the fruits and vegetables into a Trader Joes bag to dissuade any suspicions that the groceries are not in fact yours. Cost of joining community garden and picking produce : $FREE.99

Guest post by Nelumbo

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