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Cheapest foods to add to your grocery list when money is tight
When living on a tight budget, we need to be very picky about the things we spend our money on in order to make ends meet.
Basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are necessities that we just can’t go without and most of the time there is not much we can do to cut these costs… with one exception…
Since you’re reading this article, then you can probably guess that buying food is the exception to the rule.
And while we can’t do a whole lot about many of our basic needs, food is definitely an expense we can control using multiple strategies to create a cheap grocery list such as….
And much more…
For the purpose of this article, we’ll be focusing on buying the cheapest foods to help you make ends meet so you can feed your family without going broke.
Of course, you can easily incorporate any of the previously mentioned money-saving grocery budget strategies with buying the cheapest foods to save even more money at the supermarket.
How To Make Your Cheapest Foods Grocery List Even Cheaper
Grocery saving apps are a great way to lower the cost of groceries and get even the cheapest foods for less.
What I love about apps is that they are so easy to use and don’t take a ton of time. Simply scan the offers on your phone before you go shopping and pick the offers that are already on your grocery list.
Here are my top three go-to grocery saving apps that you should try…
How to Make Sure You Always Get Food for The Cheapest Prices
As you are probably aware, food prices fluctuate all the time whether it’s from store to store, if it’s in season or offseason, and if it’s on sale or not.
One way to make sure you buy food at the cheapest possible prices is by keeping a grocery price book and tracking where and at what price you can buy food for the least amount.
When you have this information at hand, you can stock up on groceries at rock bottom prices, which will lower your grocery bill even more.
You can start a simple grocery price book using a blank notebook or a printable version like the one that’s included in the Stretch Your Grocery Bucks Binder.
Cheapest Foods To Buy When You’re Broke
Chicken (fresh & canned)
Cream of Wheat
Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas)
Mac & Cheese
** Grab your free printable grocery list template of these cheapest foods + cheap meal ideas at the end of this post
Cheapest Foods To Buy When You’re On A Tight Budget
Plus cheap meal ideas for the foods on this list
Apples are one of the cheapest fruit options on this list, of course, you need to purchase the lower cost varieties to get more bang for your buck.
They are also so versatile and can be used in a variety of ways… you can eat them as a snack, used in desserts, jams, or as a fruit serving for breakfast on the side, as a pancake or waffle topping or in cereals to bulk it up.
Baking soda is one of those ingredients that just about everybody has in their pantry, and for good reason since it’s so versatile.
It’s not only great for baking but it’s also a great and inexpensive cleaner that can be used to remove stains for your clothes and countertops and even to freshen up the refrigerator.
At roughly $0.39 a pound, you can’t go wrong adding bananas to your shopping list.
The only word of caution here is to make sure you are going to eat what you buy because they do tend to go bad faster than most foods.
If you’ve ever spoken to someone who was around during the great depression, then they might have mentioned eating beans and rice for every single meal.
That’s because they are two of the cheapest foods on this list. Of course, you can use these ingredients to make meals that are much more appealing even if you are on a tight budget.
If you don’t have any chicken or beef stock on hand then bouillon cubes are the next best thing to use to make soups and stews.
There are many more uses for bouillon powder, which mainly is to spice up recipes and add flavor to your dishes.
Bread is a food staple on most of our grocery lists every week, and for good reason, because it’s cheap.
And if you are really trying to get food on the cheap, you should consider making your own homemade bread.
Broccoli is one of those foods you either love or hate, and if you love it then it’s a great filler food to bulk up meals that’ll go a long way to keeping you satisfied longer.
It can be used as a side dish, in casseroles, as a snack at work, or in your kid’s lunchboxes with some veggie dips.
Although butter is not really a food that anybody should eat on its own, it’s an ingredient that we all buy regularly to use in many meals.
At $0.99 a pound (in my area, anyway), butternut squash is a super cheap vegetable that you should try to incorporate into your meal plan whenever you can. These butternut squash noodles are the perfect meal to try and only take 15 minutes to make!
Cabbage is another really cheap food that you should add to your shopping list when money is tight or you’re trying to save.
Sometimes you can even buy cabbage for as little as $0.39 a head to make coleslaw, cabbage rolls, and other cheap meals.
Cauliflower is a healthy and cheap food option to add to your grocery list whenever you can.
You can eat it as a side dish, use it in casserole and soups, or even on its own as a healthy snack option.
Carrots are one of the cheapest vegetables you can buy no matter what time of year it is. At roughly $0.99 a pound, you can’t go wrong.
You’ll want to opt for the full-sized instead of baby carrots, even though it’s a little more work to prepare them, you can get them for a lot less.
Another healthy and cheap food you should always add to your cheap grocery list is celery which is a great snack when paired with peanut butter or cream cheese.
It’s also a good option to build up casserole dishes, soups, and stews to lower the cost while still eating well.
Cereal is a pantry staple that most of us have on hand because it’s such a quick breakfast option when you are short on time.
Of course, the price varies quite a bit depending on the type of cereal you choose. If you want to get more bang for your buck, opt for unsweetened bran cereals. You can always add in some fresh fruit to sweeten it up and give it more flavor.
Cheese is another one of those foods where the price can vary quite a bit based on the type. Your best bet is to buy blocks of cheese whenever you can.
You can slice it up, or grate yourself to save money and you can even freeze some to keep it from going bad and just keep enough in our fridge for the week.
Chicken (fresh & canned)
Chicken is one of the cheapest meats you can buy whether its fresh chicken in the meat aisle, frozen or even canned and it’s a healthier option compared to red meats.
You can use it as a main dish, make sandwiches, in salads, casseroles, soups, stews and so much more (these chicken fajita wraps are my favorite!), and sometimes you can even buy it for as low as $.69 a pound which is a great deal.
Corn (in season)
Corn is another healthy option to choose when shopping for the cheapest foods and is a great deal any time of year but when you can stock up when it’s in season, you’ll save even more.
In my area, when corn is in season, I can usually buy 5 ears of corn for $1.00 so I try to stock up when I can get it as the lowest price possible.
Cornmeal is one of those pantry staples that everyone should have on hand since it’s an ingredient that’s used quite a bit when cooking from scratch.
It can be used to make delicious homemade biscuits, cakes, cookies, and so much more.
Cream of Wheat
Cream of wheat is another pantry staple that you’ll probably want to keep on hand for a quick breakfast option when you are short on time.
You can even add a few other ingredients on this cheap foods list to dress it up such as apple cubes, sliced bananas, and honey.
Cucumbers are one of my favorite vegetables and they are super cheap especially when you buy them in season at your local supermarket or farmers market.
You can slice them up as a simple side dish, use them in salads, or snack on them anytime since they are very low in calories if you are watching your weight.
This list of cheapest foods would not be complete without mentioning eggs since you can usually buy a dozen for under $2.
Eggs are great when eaten on their own and are a good source of protein which is typically the most expensive foods to buy.
Who doesn’t love Egg McMuffin sandwiches in the morning? Luckily you can make them at home for so much cheaper.
All the ingredients you need to make them at home are on this list of the cheapest foods so go ahead and indulge anytime you want.
Fish sticks might not be the healthiest food on this list, but kids sure do love them and they are so easy to make, just throw them in the oven and you are good to go.
Flour is another one of those cheap pantry staples that we should all keep on hand since there are so many recipes that call for flour.
And if you bake quite a bit, then you can buy it in bulk to save even more money.
There are many fresh vegetables on this list, but many of them can only be found for the lowest possible prices when they are in season, which is why during the offseason buying your veggies from the freezer aisle is a cheaper food option.
You can get most frozen bags of veggies for less then $1.50 and the best part, it won’t go bad if you don’t use them in a meal within the week, unlike their fresh counterparts.
Garbanzo beans or chickpeas are a cheap food option and can be served as a side dish as well as in salads, soups, chili, and many other recipes.
You can usually grab a can of these beans for less than $1.00 and they are high in protein which will help you stay full longer
If you grew up in the southern part of the US, then I’m sure your grandmother made grits, and for good reason. It’s a really cheap meal idea that could larger families on a tight budget.
Ground turkey is another one of those unfortunately rare cheap meats on this list. It’s can be bought for around $2.99 a pound which is a few bucks cheaper than ground beef.
You can make delicious turkey burgers for so much less and it can be used as a substitute for hamburger in most recipes.
Not exactly a food you would eat on its own, but honey is a good and natural alternative to artificial sweeteners and can be used in your morning coffee, and many desserts.
Although not very healthy, hot dogs are another cheap meat option when money is tight and can save you a ton of money on food when hosting a backyard cookout!
Knorr sides are one of the rare convenience foods on this list of the cheapest foods since most other quick meal ideas do come with a price for that convenience.
They cost around $1.00 and make the perfect side for most meals since they come in a variety of flavors and take less than 15 minutes to make.
Lemons aren’t really a type of food to eat on its own unless you really love sour fruits but they are perfect for cooking whether the recipe calls for lemons or just the juice.
One way you can use lemons to save money is to add flavor to your water if you are the type of person who just won’t drink plain water which by the way is the cheapest drink you can and also the healthiest.
Lentils are a great source of protein which is great since most high protein foods come in the form of meat which is the most expensive.
You can use them in soups and stews, to make stirfry, chili, or as a side to the main dish.
Most lettuce is fairly cheap when you consider how much you get for your money but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you opt for iceberg lettuce.
You can combine it with many of the other cheap vegetables on this list to make a delicious garden salad to eat as a side dish or even as a light lunch.
Mac & Cheese
Mac and cheese are another one of those rare but cheap convenience foods on this list, but not exactly the healthiest choice.
Of course, if you have younger kids at home, then you probably already have plenty on hand since it’s one of those foods you don’t need to force your child to eat.
Oatmeal is another food staple that you should probably keep on hand in your pantry since it’s such a quick breakfast idea.
You can purchase flavored oatmeal which will cost you a bit more but still a good option or you can add fruit and honey to plain oatmeal to give it more flavor and bulk it up for a filling breakfast that should last until lunchtime.
You can usually buy onions for pretty cheap depending on the variety and they are great for adding flavor to dishes, in salads and soups, and to dress up burgers and sandwiches.
Pancake or waffle mix is another pantry staple that is really cheap as long as you buy the boxed kind instead of the shake and pour which are severely overpriced.
This, of course, is due to the convenience factor but really, measuring the correct amount isn’t all that hard to do considering it can save you quite a bit of money.
Whether you choose spaghetti, macaroni, linguini, or ziti, any other pasta, they are super cheap and can be purchased for around $1 for a 12 ox box.
Peanut butter is one of the few cheapest foods on this list that’s high in protein which makes it a really tasty and healthy option.
You can make PB & J sandwiches for breakfast or lunch or can use it as a veggie dip for many of the vegetable options on this list.
Peppers, like onions, are more of a food to add to dishes to give the meal more flavor but it can also be used as a main dish such as baked stuffed peppers.
Pop Corn Kernels
Who says you can’t have a treat when eating on the cheap? You can make your own homemade buttery popcorn at home with popcorn kernels for so much less than buying the microwavable kind, and guess what, you can still make it in the microwave for added convenience. Learn how here.
Potatoes are one of those foods that go well with just about anything and can be cooked in many different ways which is great because you can eat them a few times a week without feeling you are eating the same thing over and over.
Powdered milk is not exactly a food but many recipes call for milk so I think it’s fitting to add to this list. One of the benefits of buying powdered milk is that you can make just enough for your needs without letting any go bad.
Ramen noodles are a go-to meal for many who are having a hard time putting food on the table. On its own, it’s not a very healthy or filling meal but you can add some of the cheap vegetables from this list to bulk it up and make it a better cheap lunch or dinner option.
At roughly $0.17 cents a serving, you can’t go wrong stocking your pantry with rice since it’s one of the cheapest foods on this list.
You can make it as a side dish, in casseroles and soups, as a bed for stir fry dishes, and even desserts.
Oats are another healthy option to buy for cheap since it contains a lot of fiber to fill you up and keep you going until lunchtime.
It’s also great for making cheap snacks for the kids such as oatmeal cookies and homemade granola bars.
Like some other items on this cheapest foods list, salsa is not really a food that can be eaten on its own right out of the container.
But with that being said, when you’re trying to save money on food, you need to find ways to add flavor to your meals so you actually stick to your meal plan.
Frozen sausage such as Brown n Serve cost less than $1.50 per box and has 4 servings so it’s a great option to add to your eggs in the morning or in various dishes or casserole recipes.
Spinach is a cheap and healthy food option when on a tight budget whether you buy it fresh, frozen, or even canned.
It can be eaten as a side dish, added to salads, in sandwiches, smoothies, in omelets, and the list goes on…
All varieties of squash is another one of those healthy foods that are really cheap, especially when they are in season. You can roast it and eat it as a side dish or as the main course like in this butternut squash noodles recipe
Just like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are a really good buy at the supermarket since you can cook them in so many different ways.
One of the best characteristics of both regular and sweet potatoes is that they don’t go bad as fast as most vegetables if stored properly, avoiding food waste.
There are many recipes that call for tomatoes and when you can buy fresh ones in season at a low price, it’s probably the best option.
But since fresh tomatoes fluctuate based on the season, canned tomatoes are a great way to still make these dishes for cheap.
If you love tacos (which is a super cheap meal), then you’ll be glad to know tortillas are a great value for the price.
And you may have noticed that just about everything you need to make tacos for dinner are on this list!
Tuna Fish (canned)
If you love seafood then this list of cheap foods might be a bit disappointing but luckily there is tuna fish to fall back on if you get a craving.
There was a time when you could buy it for less than $1.00 a can but the price has increased quite a bit in the last few years but it still costs less than most meats.
Zucchini is a great vegetable option when trying to eat for less and when it’s in season, you can buy it for really cheap at the grocery store or farmers’ markets.
Cheap Meal Ideas Using This Cheapest Foods List
So now that you have a grocery list of the cheapest foods you can buy when you are on a tight budget, you might be wondering how to use all these foods to eat for less.
The good news is that there are tons of dirt-cheap meal ideas you can make using these cheapest foods, that you can choose from to feed your family healthy, hearty, and delicious meals all month long.
Cheapest Breakfast Meal Ideas
Cereal & Toast
Eggs & Sausage
Cream of Wheat with Honey
Oatmeal With Apples or Bananas
Sausage Egg McMuffin
Pancakes with Honey
Waffles with Fruit
Cheapest Meal Ideas
Hot Dogs & Fries
Turkey Burger & Fries
Baked Stuffed Potatoes
Mac & Cheese
Fish Sticks & veggies
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Chicken Alfredo (w/ Knorr Sides)
Chicken Rice Casserole
Beans & Rice
Shepards Pie (w/ground turkey)
Raman Noddles w Veggies
Chicken Rice Soup
Chicken Stew & Biscuits
Tuna Mac & Cheese
Homemade chicken noodle soup
Lentils & Rice
Chicken Fried Rice
Ground Turkey & Rice Casserole
Cheapest Snack Ideas
Peanut Butter Sandwiches
Baked Potatoe Skins
More Ways To Save Money On Groceries
As I mentioned earlier in this article, there are many ways and strategies to save money on food to lower your grocery bill which I’ll share in a bit.
Before you put these money-saving strategies into place, you should first know what a good grocery budget target amount is based on your family.
You can head over to this grocery budget calculator to find out what you should be spending on food.
Stockpiling The Cheapest Foods to Get Them Even Cheaper
Stockpiling food when you can get it for the lowest possible prices is one of the easiest ways to save money that doesn’t take a whole lot of time.
The first thing you are going to need to know is what is the rock bottom prices for each of these foods. This is where having a price book comes into play.
You can track prices on a spreadsheet, in a notebook, or with a price list printable which you can get along with many other helpful tools and forms in the Stretch Your Grocery Budget Binder.
Once you know what the cheapest prices are for the foods you buy on a regular basis, you’ll want to stock up to last until the next time these products come on sale.
Most grocery stores and supermarkets run sales in cycles, typically these cycles run ever 6 or 8 weeks.
You can find out your store’s sales cycles by studying the store circulars or you can even ask the store manager is he/she’s willing to share this information.
Buying In Bulk To Get a Lower Unit Cost When Buying Food
Buying in bulk is similar to stockpiling but this money saver focuses on buying larger sizes to get food at a lower price per unit cost.
Of course, if you can combine the two grocery shopping strategies, you can save even more money on food.
When buying in bulk, you want to start with the foods that you buy every week or on a regular basis to get more bang for your buck.
So if you buy a box of rice every week when you do your regular grocery shopping, why not buy the largest size available so you can get it at the lower cost per unit.
If you choose to go all-in buying in bulk, you’ll want to make sure you are going to use what you buy before it goes bad or expires to prevent food waste.
Meal Planning Around The Cheapest Foods
Meal planning around foods that are on sale is another great way to feed your family for less.
This grocery saving strategy does take a bit more time than buying in bulk or stockpiling food when you can get it at it’s cheapest prices, but one of the benefits is that you don’t have to spend as much money groceries upfront.
What you would do is sit down with your store circulars and look at the foods that are on sale then brainstorm cheap meal ideas that you can make with these foods.
You’ll want to pay close attention to the items that are on the first page of the circular which is where stores typically advertise the loss leaders.
A loss leader is a pricing strategy where a product is sold at a price below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services. One use of a loss leader is to draw customers into a store where they are likely to buy other goods
Using Coupons & Grocery Saving Apps to Get Food Cheaper
Shopping with coupon and grocery saving apps are another great way to reduce your grocery bill. Unfortunately, there aren’t usually many coupons available for a lot of the foods on this list.
But it is a great way to be able to afford high priced foods so you can splurge every now and again without feeling like you’re wasting money.
One of the best ways to get more bang for your buck and keep your grocery bill under control is by stacking strategies so you can buy foods and the cheapest possible prices.
For instance, you could buy products that are on sale, even better if it’s a loss leader, then stack a coupon on top of the already sale prices, then if everything aligns, you could possibly find a rebate on a grocery couponing app like Ibotta to get a rebate.
You can take this even a few steps further if you are really ambitious and purchase the largest size products (if there are no restrictions on size), reducing the cost per unit as discussed in buying in bulk.
Then if you have multiple coupons, you could stockpile enough of these particular grocery items to last until you can get them for the cheapest possible prices in the next sale cycle.
Pretty cool, huh?
Cheapest Foods FAQ
Can you really eat for $25 a week?
Yes you can. In fact, I documented how my husband and I were able to eat delicious meals for a week with just a $50 grocery budget ($25 per person) with food to spare. Check out my cheap grocery list post for details.
How can I eat if I have no money?
If you have no money to eat, then there are some things that you can do to get free food to feed yourself and your family.
Food Pantry – The first place you should look into is if you have any food pantries in your area. Most foods you get will be pantry staples but anything is better than going to bed hungry.
Soup Kitchen – You can also see if there are any soup kitchens in your neighborhood where you can go to get a warm homecooked meal for free.
Local Church – Churches are always willing and able to help people in need and many have programs in place to feed people who can’t afford to buy food. You don’t need to be a regular churchgoer to get help.
Food Stamps (EBT) program – Another thing you’ll want to do is apply for food stamps at your local department of human services office. If approved (based on income), you’ll get a monthly amount of money (to be used for food only) added to an EBT card.
The application/approval process could take some time so make sure you scoop out the other sources I mentioned to get by in the meantime.
What are the cheapest meats?
By far the cheapest meat you can buy is chicken which comes on sale quite regularly for $.99 – $1,19 a pound. Sometimes you can even get it for as low as $.69 a pound which is a super great deal so make sure you stock up!
Related articles to help you lower your grocery budget and buy food for cheap
Cheapest Foods To Buy On a Tight Budget Conclusion
As you can see, there are many cheap foods you can buy when money is tight, and even more cheap meal ideas you can make with those grocery list items.
Whether you are struggling to make ends meet or are just looking to save more money on your monthly expenses, buying the cheapest foods is one of the easiest ways to cut costs.
Do you know of any other cheap foods that are not on this list? Please share them in the comments and I’ll include them in my article in a future update.