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Learning from my groceries

The lessons I’ve learned while adapting to new responsibilities as a second-year

<p>&nbsp;With a smaller meal plan than the unlimited plan first years use, I was thrown into the challenge of figuring out where to buy groceries&nbsp;</p>

 With a smaller meal plan than the unlimited plan first years use, I was thrown into the challenge of figuring out where to buy groceries 

The beginning of second year was unexpectedly difficult. When I entered my second year, I thought I had gotten through the worst of my college experience — everyone always talks about how hard it is to be a first year. As a second year, I already had supportive friends, I knew how to use U.Va. Collab and how to navigate Charlottesville. I had experienced a variety of teaching styles from college professors and had learned the hard way that, no, I would not be able to get up in time for an 8 a.m. class. 

However, despite the fact that I no longer had to cope with dorm life, Zoom classes or the struggle to find friends, my second year presented its own unique challenges. I was now faced with more responsibilities as my independence increased with each year of college. Second year brought new, different obstacles that had not been necessary to consider during my first year. These included taking care of my car, managing household responsibilities along with my housemates and stepping into leadership roles in extracurricular activities. 

The most difficult of these unexpected obstacles proved to be grocery shopping. With a smaller meal plan than the unlimited plan first years use, I was thrown into the challenge of figuring out where to buy groceries, when to buy them and what to buy. Thus, much of fall semester consisted of lessons I learned about grocery shopping, and myself, as I braved the aisles of various stores each week. 

One of the lessons I learned early on is that I will not have the energy to cook every night. Though this is different for each person, the raw ingredients sitting in my pantry seemed completely overwhelming after a long, hard first week of classes — I barely had the energy to do my laundry, much less craft a meal from scratch. However, for a few weeks I continued to only buy the freshest ingredients, determined not to become the stereotypical ramen-eating college kid. 

As life got busier, I found myself going out for food more and more often, my schedule too full to allow for constant cooking. My weekly menus lay abandoned on my desk, defeated by the many responsibilities of a college student. Eventually, I realized that I would need to buy pre-made dishes if I was to keep up with my schedule without draining my bank account. It took a change in perspective to accept that perhaps what I needed didn’t align with what I had thought I wanted. As I slowly accepted that it’s okay to buy a few frozen meals a week, I also learned that the new burdens of second-year merited new graces to allow myself the room to thrive. 

Another question I was confronted with last semester was when to shop. With a busy schedule of classes, social activities, extracurriculars and finding time to take care of myself, I found myself grocery shopping whenever I had time — not always managing to make the trip before I ran out of food. It seemed impossible to find a consistent time to go, as I wanted to spend my free time with friends. I also struggled to choose shopping over schoolwork, as future employers would be interested in my GPA, not my grocery receipts. After a few weeks of struggling to provide for myself, I realized that I would be the most productive once I had taken care of my own needs — when I wasn’t stressing over what I would eat for dinner, I had more mental energy to work on homework or to invest in relationships. By establishing a consistent routine, setting purposes and goals for each day of the week, I was able to both take care of myself and my responsibilities, while still finding time to get to the store.

Perhaps the most challenging problem I faced last semester was finding a grocery store that worked for me. It took me months to determine my priorities when it came to deciding on a grocery store — did I value proximity more, or was I willing to drive half an hour to get the lowest prices? Did the one specific item I needed from one specific store mean that I should only shop at that store? Or did I need to just shop at the same places as my housemates, avoiding the question altogether? 

The further into second year I got, the more I realized that compromise is an inevitable part of life. It was necessary that I made sacrifices to make sure my needs are met, both physically and emotionally. In the case of grocery shopping, I needed to sacrifice the standards I had set for myself — whether it meant financial sacrifice or sacrificing my time, I needed to make sure to choose grocery stores based on my needs at the moment, not on any expectations I had for myself. 

The fall semester of my second year taught me a lot. It was, and continues to be, a lifestyle unlike I had ever been asked to live before. However, as I pay attention to the lessons I’m learning and the obstacles I’m overcoming, I’ve begun to see the beauty in independence, not just the challenges. 

Caitlyn Kelley is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at


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