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40 Best Cheap Foods To Buy When You’re Broke

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Have you found yourself with too much month left at the end of the grocery budget? Here are the 40 best cheap foods to buy when broke. (Or, when you want to save a ton of cash to spend on something other than food).

You may want to add the following foods to your grocery list even if you’re not broke. If you’re trying to cut expenses, these cheap food ideas will help you slash your grocery spending so you can pay off debt, afford a large purchase, make up for lost income, or simply help you break the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

After all, food expenses account for the top third of all household expenses next to housing and transportation. Unlike housing and transportation, though, the grocery budget is a bit more flexible, so it’s a good place to start when you need to cut your budget quickly.

If you’re looking to save more money on everything you buy, check out my list of 140 best frugal living tips!

Just like kickstarting a diet with a juice cleanse, this list of best cheap foods to buy when broke can help you reset your food budget, allowing you to stop bad food spending habits in their tracks so you can design a more realistic grocery budget going forward.

How to cut your grocery budget quickly

One of the easiest ways to slash your grocery budget in a hurry is to reduce the amount of food you eat. Given the fact that the adult obesity rate in America is currently pushing 45%, I’d say we have a lot of room for improvement.

Another, no-brainer way to save money on groceries is by using free money-saving apps like Ibotta whenever you shop for groceries and household expenses.

To use Ibotta:

  1. Install the app on your mobile device
  2. Click on your favorite retailer
  3. Add offers to your list
  4. Go shopping
  5. Scan your receipt

Ibotta pays out in cash (use code: brjekqd for an extra $5) once you reach $20 in earnings. You can choose to have your payment sent via Paypal, bank account, or a gift card.

In order to save the most money possible on your grocery budget always shop with a plan! If you’d rather have a root canal than draft a meal plan every month, why not have someone else do it for you?

$5 meal plan is a money-saving meal planning service that sends you a new meal plan each and every week.

The best thing about $5 Meal Plan is that each meal averages out to about $2 per serving, so you can drastically cut your food budget while eating tasty, healthy food! Try $5 Meal Plan FREE for 14 days here

Best places to buy cheap foods when broke

In order to get the most for your money, you’ll want to shop around for the best deals on cheap foods. For example, even though bananas are on the following list of cheap foods, buying those bananas at a convenience store is a bad idea!

If you have a discount grocery store in your area such as Aldi, WinCo, or Food4Less shop there first. Did you know The Dollar Tree store sells food? Otherwise, try and seek out a local Walmart, Trader Joe’s, or Costco in your area.

*Tip: In order to stretch your grocery dollar, shop the clearance section first then the perimeter of the store.

You can even save money when eating out if you know the best places to get cheap eats.

Places to get free food when you’re broke

If you find you have no money for food, seek help! No one should go hungry…EVER! Utilize one (or more) of the options below:

  • Local churches
  • Meal pantries & Food banks
  • Social services department in your area
  • Food co-ops
  • Foraging
  • Facebook freecycle groups
  • Friends and family members
best cheap foods to buy when broke-jar of coins on table surrounded by food
When it comes to cheap foods, you can’t go wrong with these staples

Cheap foods for college students-$10 a week for groceries

If you’re a college student looking to score cheap food, you may be at a disadvantage when it comes to actually cooking and preparing that food. Due to the threat of fire hazards, not all dorms allow hotplates, toaster ovens, or slow cookers. If this is the case, you’ll need to get creative when it comes to preparing cheap healthy meals.

The good news is, if you have just $10 and a microwave, you can eat like royalty!

Ok, maybe not quite that good, but at least you won’t starve!

Here are a few cheap, microwave meals:

Eggs

  • Crack (2) eggs into a microwave-safe cup
  • Add a tablespoon of milk, shredded cheese (if desired), and a dash of salt and pepper
  • Mix well
  • Heat for 30 seconds, stir, and heat for an additional 30 seconds

Oats

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats (NOT quick-cooking)
  • 1/2 cup milk, milk substitute, or water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Dash of vanilla (optional) or cinnamon
  • Stir and heat for 90 seconds
  • Add in additional toppings if desired

Mac & Cheese

  • 1/3 cup dry elbow pasta
  • 3/4 cup water
  • Microwave for approximately 3 1/2 minutes, drain off additional water
  • Mix in 4 Tbs milk (or milk substitute)
  • 2-4 Tbs shredded cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch or flour
  • Microwave again for up to 60 seconds
  • Stir and season with salt and pepper to taste

Fish

  • Place fish fillet on a microwave-safe dish
  • Season with salt, spices, garlic, cajun (whatever you like)
  • Add a teaspoon of a liquid: lemon juice, water, stock, etc.
  • Cover with a microwave-safe lid or wrap with plastic wrap
  • Microwave between 3-5 minutes depending on thickness/type of fish
  • Let set for 1-2 minutes before removing lid

Frozen veggies

Most bags of frozen vegetables can be tossed directly into the microwave and cooked according to the directions on the package.

  • If you want to cook less than an entire bag: add 1/2 cup frozen veggies to a microwave-safe bowl
  • add a few Tablespoons of water,
  • cover with a microwave-safe lid, plastic wrap, or plate
  • Microwave 2 minutes, stir and check for doneness

Popcorn

  • Add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels to a glass bowl
  • Cover with a plate
  • Microwave 2-5 minutes (remove when popping slows to more than a second)
  • Add favorite seasonings: oil, melted butter, salt, cheese powder

Beans

  • Use a glass dish that is at least twice the size of the volume of beans/liquid
  • Soak dry beans in water for 6-12 hours (2 cups per 1/2 pound of dry beans)
  • Add butter, margarine, bacon fat, and desired seasonings (NOT SALT)
  • Cover with a microwave-safe lid and cook for 7-10 minutes
  • Stir, recover, and cook at 50% power for 15-40 minutes stiring/checking every 15 minutes for doneness
  • Drain and enjoy!

Best cheap foods to buy in bulk

While it’s tempting to head to your local warehouse club and stock up when times are good in order to prepare for lean times, there’s a right and a wrong way to buy in bulk.

Trust me, you will not be a happy camper if your food stockpile goes bad before you’ve had a chance to consume it!

Due to their long shelf-life, foods like oats, grains, frozen berries, nuts (in the shell), protein powders, peanut butter, coconut oil, and canned meats should be bought in bulk whenever possible.

However, you should avoid purchasing large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, most oils (they go rancid), spices (they lose their potency), and condiments (they spoil quickly once opened) as they may end up costing you more money in the long run due to spoilage.

best cheap food to buy when broke-raw meats and proteins on white table top
To save money on meat, check the markdown section first

Cheap Foods To Buy When Broke: Meat/Proteins

Note: Prices listed below are based on a local Walmart in the mid-west as of November 2020. Prices will vary based on geographical location and availability and are subject to change.

1. Beans

Dried beans are the cheapest, however canned beans are also a frugal option. Beans are low in fat and high in fiber, protein, and B vitamins.

Cost: Pinto beans-$1.48/32-ounce bag

Meals Ideas: You can substitute beans in most recipes that call for ground beef, turkey, or pork. Also, beans go great in tacos, chili, hummus, and in many soups.

2. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and B vitamins. Opt for brown, free-range eggs, and store them in the refrigerator for best results.

Cost: $1.44/dozen

Meal Ideas: Scrambled eggs with toast, stirfry, egg salad sandwiches, fried rice, omelets, and quiche to name a few.

3. Peanut butter

Loaded with healthy fats, niacin, vitamin E, and manganese, peanut butter is a very nutritious food when enjoyed in small amounts.

Cost: $1.57/18-ounce jar

Meal Ideas: You can use peanut butter in curries, sauces, spread on a tortilla and rolled with a banana, or just with a spoon straight out of a jar!

4. Lentils

If you or your family can’t tolerate beans, dry lentils are a healthy, cheap alternative. Lentils are chock-full of potassium, fiber, and zinc.

Cost: $0.98/16-ounce bag

Meal Ideas: Use lentils in soups, stews, salads, ethnic dishes (like lentil dal), and even lentil burgers!

5. Bologna

Admittedly, not the healthiest way to get your daily protein, however, bologna is an inexpensive and tasty add-in for many dishes. And, it’s healthier than spam!

Cost: $2.00/16-ounce package

Meal Ideas: Fried bologna and egg sandwiches are one of my favorite comfort foods. You can also add bologna to casseroles, potatoes, or roll up with a slice of cheese for a quick, low-carb snack.

6. Canned fish

Need your omega-3’s but don’t have a lot of cash? A simple can of tuna or salmon is a tasty yet healthy alternative to fresh (or frozen) fish.

Cost: $0.68/5-ounce can

Meal Ideas: Tuna or salmon cakes, casseroles, tuna melts, tuna fish salad, and sandwiches.

7. Hot dogs or beef smoked sausage

While you’ll want to avoid eating a ton of processed meats if you’re trying to eat a healthy diet, a few hot dogs or smoked sausages here and there certainly won’t kill you.

Cost: $0.98/12-ounce package (chicken & pork)

Meal Ideas: One of my favorite go-to cheap meals is called the ‘poor man’s meal’. Just dice up some potatoes and onions, fry in a bit of oil in a skillet until almost done. Then, add sliced hot dogs or smoked sausage and seasonings and fry until golden brown. You can also add-in some scrambled eggs in order to stretch the dish further.

8. Whole or ground chicken

When you’re looking for the best cheap foods to buy when you’re broke, you can’t go wrong with chicken! In fact, if you plan it right, one whole chicken can provide you with a week’s worth of meals!

Cost: whole-$0.97 per pound, boneless/skinless breast-$1.99 per pound, ground-$2.97 per pound, (frozen) thighs-$1.18 per pound

Meal Ideas: Roasted chicken, chicken and rice, tacos, soups, casseroles, stirfry, in pasta dishes; the possibilities are endless. Use the chicken carcass for broth.

9. Whole or ground turkey

Stock up on frozen turkey during the holiday season when the prices are the lowest.

Cost: $0.78 per pound during the holidays for a whole turkey, ground-$2.58 per pound

Meal Ideas: Same as the chicken ideas above.

10. Ground beef

I always have a few pounds of ground beef stashed away in my freezer. I can cook up a batch super quick (no need to thaw it if you cook it over low heat in a covered skillet) and add it to pasta, or season it a bit and roll up in a tortilla filled with veggies. Add lentils or beans to stretch every last bit!

Cost: 80/20-$3.55 per pound

Meal Ideas: Burgers, meatballs, tacos, chili, enchiladas, beef stroganoff, meatloaf, and shepherd’s pie.

11. Stew meat and roasts

Nothing sticks to your ribs like a good, hearty stew! The best thing is, the more veggies and grains you add, the less meat you’ll need to use. Serve with warm, crusty bread for extra comfort!

Cost: Beef stew meat-$5.96 per pound, Pork stew meat-$3.44 per pound, Beef chuck roast-$5.47 per pound, Pork picnic roast-$2.14 per pound

Meal Ideas: Stroganoff, beef stew, chili, pot pie, curry, and goulash.

best cheap foods to buy when broke-dry grains on white tabletop
Grains keep well for long periods of time if they are stored in airtight containers

Cheap Foods To Buy When Broke: Grains

12. Rice

Brown rice is healthier than white rice, but it also takes longer to cook and costs a bit more. Brown rice also has a bit of a ‘nutty’ flavor, which can affect the end result of some dishes. White rice keeps for up to a year in the right conditions.

Cost: white-$1.44/32-ounce bag, brown-$1.37/32-ounce bag

Meal Ideas: Use in stirfry, casseroles, soups, beans and rice, and Oriental dishes.

13. Pasta

Whenever possible, choose whole grain over enriched.

Cost: $0.82/16-ounce box on average

Meal Ideas: Spaghetti, fettuccine, soups, casseroles, lasagna, and mac & cheese to name a few.

14. Oats

You can save so much money by replacing cereal with oats for breakfast! Plus, oats are healthier and way more filling!

Cost: $1.76/18-ounce container

Meal Ideas: Overnight oats, oat bars, homemade granola, and oatmeal cookies. You can also use oats as a filler to stretch ground meats.

15. Quinoa

Did you know that quinoa provides more protein and fiber than rice? Which means, it fills you up faster. For the longest time, I avoided this grain/seed because I couldn’t pronounce it. It’s pronounced ‘keen-wah’. {You’re welcome!}

Cost: $2.97/16-ounce bag

Meal Ideas: Salads, tacos, side dishes, soups, and power bowls.

16. Whole wheat bread

Growing up, my grandmother always served bread and butter with our meals. She knew it was a good way to fill our little bellies up fast. Now, with (3) growing boys of my own, bread and butter (with a little honey) has become a staple at my own dinner table.

Cost: $1.48/20 ounces

Meal Ideas: Sandwiches, serve with soup, french toast, bread pudding, as a side to any meal.

17. Tortillas-flour or corn

My husband likes to play a game called ‘what can I stuff inside a tortilla’! The man will try virtually anything in a tortilla.

Cost: $1.69/10-count bag

Meal Ideas: Tacos, burritos, tortilla pizza, quesadillas, peanut butter and banana, wraps, really…anything.

18. Saltine crackers

Crackers are a frugal chef’s secret weapon. They belong in every well-stocked pantry.

Cost: $1.23/16-ounce package

Use In: Use crushed crackers as a filler in meatloaf, as a substitute for bread crumbs, a topping for casseroles, add-in soups, or top with your favorite meats and cheeses for a quick snack.

best cheap foods to buy when broke-milk and cheeses on white table top
Dairy products are one of the biggest grocery budget-busters. Stock up when you come across a sale and freeze for later.

Cheap Foods To Buy When Broke: Dairy

19. Whole milk

If you have the freezer space you can turn one gallon of whole milk into two by mixing half and half with water and freezing it for later. Just make sure you leave a bit of room at the top because milk expands when frozen.

Cost: $2.73 per gallon

Use In: Quick breads, sauces, cereal, and oatmeal.

20. Block cheese

If you’re looking to save money on your grocery budget, skip the pre-shredded/pre-sliced cheese and do it yourself.

Cost: $1.83/8-ounce block

Use In: Around here, we put cheese on just about everything. Don’t judge, we all have our vices.

21. Yogurt

Purchase the large tubs of vanilla or plain yogurt and skip the individual size pre-flavored containers. You can add in your own frozen fruit and toppings for a lot less. The good thing about yogurt is that it takes forever to go bad.

Cost: $1.84/32-ounces

Use In: Smoothies, homemade bread, muffins, pancakes, and snacks.

22. Butter (or margarine)

I’ve found that while margarine is cheaper, it’s also loaded with water which makes it inferior to butter when used in cooking. Margarine, though, is good for spreading over toast and flavoring dishes.

Cost: $2.98/16-ounces

Use In: Homemade baked goods, panfrying meats, mashed potatoes, and toppings.

cheap foods to buy when broke-bowl of fruit salad on white table top
It is still possible to eat healthy when you are on a tight budget

Cheap Foods To Buy When Broke: Fruits

23. Bananas

You can pick up a bunch of bananas any time of the year for cheap. They are an excellent source of potassium and fiber.

Cost: $0.53 per pound

Use In: Banana bread, muffins, pancakes, smoothies, wraps, toppings, and snacks.

24. Apples

Contrary to popular belief, not all apples are created equal. There are a plethora of varieties each developed with distinct flavors. The good news is, apples are relatively cheap, so you can try out different kinds without breaking the bank. My favorites are Granny Smith, Envy, and Pink Lady’s.

Cost: Gala-$1.32 per pound, Red Delicious-$1.10 per pound

Use In: Salads, snacks, desserts, and baked goods.

25. Citrus

Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are an excellent source of vitamin C. So ye won’t be gettin’ any scurvy, savvy?

Cost: Navel oranges-$1.37 per pound, Lemons-$1.99 per pound, Grapefruit-$1.08 per pound

Use On: Seafood, salads, snacks, and desserts.

cheap foods to buy when broke-assorted fresh vegetables on white background
Frozen vegetables are healthier (and just as cheap) as canned

Cheap Foods To Buy When Broke: Vegetables

26. Potatoes

While sweet and white potatoes are technically a starch, you can base an entire meal around them in order to stretch your grocery budget. *Tip: Leave the skins on for added nutritional value!

Cost: Russet potatoes-$0.33 per pound, Sweet potatoes-$0.67 per pound

Meal Ideas: Loaded baked potatoes, potato soup, fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries.

27. Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are shelf-stable for up to 18 months. You may also want to stock up on cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste.

Cost: Diced-$0.74/14.5-ounce can, Sauce-$0.74/15-ounce can, Paste-$0.46/6-ounce can

Meal Ideas: Chili, soups, stews, casseroles, salsa, and Italian dishes.

28. Carrots

To save the most money, be sure to purchase the large, unpeeled carrots. Baby carrots (while yummy) are a rip-off, they are simply regular-sized carrots that have been whittled down to a stub.

Cost: $0.69 per pound

Meal Ideas: Good for a quick snack, use in soups, stews, stirfry, and casseroles.

29. Zucchini

The best time to buy zucchini is in mid to late summer when everyone has more zucchini on their hands than they know what to do with. Peel, slice, and freeze to use throughout the year.

Cost: $0.98 per pound (in season)

Meal Ideas: Zucchini pie, zucchini bread, side dishes, use in place of noodles, and in stirfry and soup.

30. Squash

Same as zucchini, although, there are summer and winter varieties of squash to choose from.

Cost: Butternut-$1.18 per pound, Spaghetti-$1.18 per pound, Yellow-$0.98 per pound (in season)

Meal Ideas: Roasted squash, use in casseroles, soups, sheet pan dinners, and soup.

31. Onions

Onions are a super-cheap way to add loads of flavor to any dish. Buy them in bulk if you can and store them in a cool, dry place away from potatoes which can cause them to spoil faster.

Cost: Yellow-$0.55 per pound

Meal Ideas: French onion soup, add to eggs, casseroles, soups, and potato dishes.

32. Frozen veggies

Frozen vegetables are far healthier than canned veggies, and they usually cost the same. For example, a 14.5 oz. can of green beans costs $0.95 at my local Walmart, and a 10 oz bag of frozen green beans costs $1.00. Because I am not paying for half a can of water, the frozen green beans are a better deal.

Cost: $0.84/12-ounce bag

Meal Ideas: As a side to any meal, in soups, stews, casseroles, and stirfry.

33. Celery

Celery makes the list of cheap foods to buy when broke because it helps keep your blood sugar stable which helps you feel fuller longer.

Cost: $1.32 per pound

Meal Ideas: Makes a good snack, also use in soups, stews, stirfry, and casseroles.

34. Raw spinach

You may notice spinach made this list of cheap foods over lettuce. That’s because it is denser (therefore, more filling), contains more vitamins, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Have you ever tried to eat cooked lettuce?

Cost: $1.98/10-ounce bag

Meal Ideas: Salad, soup, stirfry, sauteed, in egg dishes, and in pasta.

35. Cabbage

A good head of cabbage will outlast virtually any other vegetable when stored properly. To store cabbage, wrap it in dampened paper towels and place it in a ziplock bag. Puncture a few holes in the bag and store it in the crisper drawer.

Cost: $0.78 per pound

Meal Ideas: Corned beef and cabbage, soup, sauerkraut, stirfry, and salads.

cheap foods to buy when broke-baking goods arranged on a white background
Save money and make your own baked goods from scratch

Best Cheap Foods: Pantry Staples

36. Sugar

Every frugal pantry should contain a bag of sugar (or sugar substitute).

Cost: $5.00/10-pound bag

Use In: Desserts, quick-breads, beverages, and to help the medicine go down.

37. Shortening

In place of shortening, I like to keep a jar of coconut oil on hand at all times. It adds a bit of fat and flavor to everything it touches and you can use it in place of lotion and conditioner.

Cost: $3.14/48-ounce can

Use In: Biscuits, pie crust, frying, and baking.

38. Cooking oil

While you can sometimes substitute mayo, applesauce, and melted butter or margarine for cooking oil, it’s still nice to have on hand when you want to fry up a pan of hashbrowns.

Cost: $1.84/48-ounces

Use In: Frying, baking, and more frying.

39. Flour

Flour and sugar go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s just plain silly to have one without the other. If you are not a frequent baker, you can store flour in the freezer to keep it fresher longer.

Cost: $2.24/10-pound bag

Use In: Baked goods, and as a thickening agent.

40. Spices

Here’s my list of go-to spices: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, oregano, taco seasoning, and chili powder.

Cost: Varies-You can usually find spices at the dollar store.

Use In: If you’ve been cooking without spices, you have my condolences.

I sincerely hope this list of frugal foods has helped you get through another month!

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