Is payday a week away, but you’re completely out of groceries and need to figure out how to find cheap food to buy when you’re broke? We get it! We felt the same way before we paid off $67,630 of debt.
The best way to cut costs when you’re broke is to reduce your grocery budget, which can be tricky if you have a large family. It’s one of the most effective ways to save money even on a low income.
That’s why we created this list of the ultimate cheap foods to stock up on when you’re broke. You’ll find it’s still possible to cook tasty meals on a budget.
But first, what is the biggest benefit of buying cheap food when you don’t have any money?
What’s the Benefit of Finding Cheap Food to Buy When You’re Broke?
Buying inexpensive food can not only help you stretch your money until you get paid again. It can even help you save money, whether it’s to pay off debt, save for an emergency fund, or another goal.
For another way to save with cooking and grocery shopping, you’ll love this article on 12 Hacks for Making Cheap Meals.
How to Buy Groceries When You’re Broke
Here are some quick tips on how to buy groceries when you have little money.
When you go grocery shopping for these inexpensive foods, you can either stick to your budget or it can go wrong, and you go over budget. That’s why it’s important to create a grocery list so that you strictly go by it and only buy things on the list.
Also, don’t choose name brands; go generic. We’ve even found sometimes that the generic brand is just as healthy if not healthier than brand-name foods.
You can also pick up meat on sale since meats are one of the most expensive foods to buy. Choose items that are getting ready to expire and then take them home to freeze them.
Your grocery store likely has a clearance section or one in each department, and that’s another great place to buy cheap food.
Here are the cheapest foods you can buy on a tight budget:
Ground beef is a less expensive protein that you can use in just about any main dish. Make hamburger soup, hamburger casserole, Doritos Nacho Bake, or spaghetti sauce so you can stretch it to feed more people. It’s more expensive the leaner you go, but 80/20 has the right ratio of fat and ground meat all at a good price.
Ground turkey is a healthy alternative to ground beef, and you can use it the same way. There are some dishes like meatloaf that you may be able to taste the difference. You may be surprised that when comparing ground turkey to ground beef, they are similar in calories and protein but turkey has less saturated fat.
– If you have one of the turkey factories in your town, like Perdue, they likely have a company store where you can get dirt cheap meat. We’re talking half the price!
Frozen meat is a great substitute for fresh meat. The quality is the same; it’s just frozen. And while you think it may be a pain to have to wait to make dinner because you have to thaw the meat, the Instant Pot cooks frozen meat too.
If you shop specials and store sales, you can get chicken for a lower price. Of course, you can make just about anything with chicken, from delicious chicken salad sandwiches to roasted chicken to chicken soup to casseroles.
– Chicken thighs are just as tasty as chicken breasts, but you can get them at a much cheaper price.
Canned Tuna and Chicken
There are many cheap meal ideas you can make from canned meat. Plus, canned chicken and tuna are perfect for quick meals such as tuna fish sandwiches, chicken noodle casserole, chicken taco soup, and more.
Canned salmon is another great ingredient for cheap meal ideas, and it’s one of the healthiest meats to eat on a tight budget. We love making salmon cakes, and they give us a different seafood experience. They are a great way to cook fish that kids will actually eat and a way to fit seafood in on a budget.
Everyone loves hotdogs, right? Hotdogs are another great meat for grilling out in the summer and serving with potato or macaroni salad or other cookout favorites. They are also a kid-friendly meal.
Potatoes are great because you can use them in many recipes, they’re super inexpensive, and usually, everyone in the family loves them.
You can wrap potatoes in plastic and microwave them for a baked potato while you’re cooking the rest of your meal. Then top them with things like salsa, ranch dressing, sour cream, cheese, and other toppings. Or you can chop or slice them and add them to soup, casseroles, and other main dishes.
Canned tomatoes are the unsung heroes to soup and stew bases as well as spaghetti sauce. Since fresh tomatoes can be really expensive depending on the time of year, you can substitute them with canned tomatoes where applicable.
Canned tomatoes are a versatile pantry staple you should always keep on hand.
Carrots are great for snacking and cooking. Add them to soups or stews or cook them as a side dish. Plus, you can buy them in bulk and eat them raw alone or with a dip like Ranch.
Sweet potatoes are a great alternative to white potatoes, and they’re healthier too. Since they are naturally sweet, you can even make a sweet potato pie with them. They’re versatile because you can use them as a side, like sweet potato fries or in a main dish. But you can also add sugar and cinnamon for a great dessert.
Frozen veggies are a great alternative to fresh or canned ones. If you get your store’s generic brand, you can often get packs under $1.00. Add them to a soup or cook them for a quick side dish.
Squash can be really inexpensive in the fall. Or you might be able to find farm stands or farmer’s markets in your area. You can slice squash and fry it, make it the star of a casserole, or season, steam, serve it up as a simple side dish.
Green beans are another vegetable to add to your list of frugal foods. They make a delicious healthy side, or you can add them to soup, stews, salad, or a quick skillet meal like corn, potatoes, and green beans.
You can find so many different vegetables in cans, such as pickled beets, asparagus, corn, and much more. Canned veggies are often under $1.00 if you get the generic brand, and they are a cheap addition to any meal. They are perfect for soups too.
Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, you can get certain fresh vegetables on sale. Again, buying in bulk helps here, and you can wash them, then blanch them to freeze the extra vegetables. Fresh veggies are great for soups, snacks, and other healthy meals.
We always have onions at home. They are probably one of the most used vegetables because they are ingredients in so many recipes. Onions last a long time and are the perfect item for a low-budget grocery list.
Another pantry staple, garlic, is used in many dishes, especially Italian recipes. It lasts a long time, especially if you get the chopped garlic in jars. Add a dash to hamburgers, meatloaf, and sauces, especially spaghetti sauce, to bump up the flavor.
Canned pumpkin is a less expensive option than buying a whole one. You can use it in pumpkin pie and, of course, our favorite, pumpkin dump cake. You can also find other healthy pumpkin recipe ideas.
Salad is always a great cheap meal idea or side dish that accompanies many main dishes. You can buy Iceberg lettuce and other veggies instead of buying ready-made salad in a bag. To make it even less expensive, you can make your own salad dressing.
Depending on the season, green peppers can be less expensive vegetables to buy. We say stick with green peppers because red and orange ones are always more expensive. They add flavor and texture to so many different dishes, especially Mexican recipes.
Another leafy green vegetable to add to your list is Kale. It’s delicious when cooked (similar to collard greens), or you can drizzle it with vinegar like some people eat cooked spinach. Kale is healthy because it contains many vitamins and minerals like A, B6, K, and C.
Since we mentioned spinach, we might as well add it here too. You can get frozen or canned spinach for a cheap price, and if fresh spinach is on sale, it has a lot of vitamins too. Mix it with other lettuce for a salad that’s anything but boring.
Cabbage is another cheap food to buy when you’re broke. People add cabbage to soup or make coleslaw with it. It’s not a favorite for everyone, but there are some great recipes that you can make with cabbage.
Celery is another great vegetable that is a popular ingredient in soups and stews. It’s a versatile vegetable to always keep on hand for cooking and even snacking. You can cut up celery and add peanut butter or cream cheese on top.
Fruit can be expensive, and while canned fruit is okay, frozen fruit is even better. It’s delicious to make a quick smoothie for those weekday mornings when everyone is rushing around.
You can use it in other dishes or thaw it and eat it. Frozen food has a great shelf life and a way to reduce your food expense.
You probably thought you couldn’t get fresh fruits on a budget. However, bananas are one of the cheapest fruits you can buy. They’re less expensive because they are available all year long and you can buy a smaller bunch to save money.
Canned fruit is another cheap food to buy when you’re broke. Like other foods, you can get the store brand at a better price than the brand names. Canned fruit is a less expensive alternative to fruit cups. Remember, you always pay for convenience.
Grapes are another inexpensive fruit because you get more for your money. You’ll find sales based on the seasons, so watch the prices in your store. Grapes are a healthy snack and great in some salads.
You get a lot of bang for your buck with watermelon. A large watermelon can last a long time. It’s also the perfect healthy sweet summer treat.
You can buy smaller oranges in a bag for a reasonable price at any time of year. Oranges are a great source of fiber and vitamin C, which makes them a healthy, cheap food to buy when you’re broke. You can even add them to salads and use them in recipes.
Apples are less expensive in the fall, and you can get them in bags at a better price, so they are a great cheap food to buy when you’re broke. Different varieties are more expensive than others, but you can watch for the sales in your area. You can bake them with sugar and cinnamon or eat them as a snack.
The trick to buying fruit is to get it when it’s in season, so always watch your store for sales. Like many other foods here, knowing when the sales are on certain foods can help you slash your budget. You can snack on raw fruit, bake it in pies, and create other recipes with it.
Beans and Legumes
Dried or Canned Beans
Beans are a super cheap pantry staple, and you can buy dry beans or canned beans. Choose kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, or similar ones to cook in dishes or eat as a side dish. They are an excellent source of protein and have a high-fiber content. Beans are the perfect main ingredient for days like meatless Mondays.
Lentils are another great staple to keep in your pantry. They can be added to soup or used to fill other meals. Or you can make lentil chili or a lentil salad.
Pasta and Rice
Another great ingredient for cheap meals, pasta, can be used as a side or main dish. Add it to soups to make them heartier, or fix a quick spaghetti for busy weeknight meals. You can also make a homemade baked macaroni and cheese side dish your family will love.
White rice is another great ingredient to stock up on. It’s so versatile whether you use it in soups and casseroles or pair it with a stir fry. Or you can simply use it as a side dish.
Just like white rice, brown rice is a pantry staple, except it’s one of the healthy foods you can eat on a budget. It’s filling and cheap, and perfect as one of the grains you can eat for your diet. You can make a lot of dishes with brown rice.
Old Fashioned Oats
Old fashioned oats are one of the cheapest foods you can buy. This ingredient is more versatile than you think because you can have oats for breakfast as oatmeal or oatmeal cookies. Some people use it as a filler to save money on groceries because you can use it to hold things together, such as meatloaf.
The ingredients to make your own bread are dirt cheap – flour, salt, oil, yeast, white sugar, and warm water. Plus, there’s nothing better than cutting into a fresh-baked loaf of bread except eating it. You can use it for sandwiches or eat it as a side with every meal.
Milk and Dairy
Eat cottage cheese plain or for breakfast, add jelly or fruit for a sweeter treat, or use it as a replacement for ricotta in lasagna. If you buy cottage cheese in a large container, you can save money.
Eggs are a great source of protein and a basic ingredient for many foods. You can eat them alone, make omelets, or bake with them. Depending on where you live, you can often get a dozen for around a dollar.
Another great dairy product you can add to your list of cheap groceries is yogurt. While the small yogurt cups are convenient, it’s definitely less expensive to buy yogurt in large containers. It’s a great snack or quick breakfast idea.
Milk is fairly inexpensive if you watch what kind you buy. It’s a nutritious source of calcium, and you can drink it plain. But it’s also an ingredient in many recipes like mashed potatoes, gravy, pancakes, cereal, and more.
It’s possible to buy cheese on a budget if you shop smartly. Watch for sales and go for cheeses like cheddar or Colby that are less expensive. And instead of asking what cheese goes with, you should ask yourself the opposite because it goes with everything!
Buying cartons of stock is expensive when you can just buy bouillon cubes and add them to water to make a delicious broth. We use it as a soup base often. You can even add it to dishes like rice and beans to kick the flavor up a notch.
Other Pantry Staples and Quick Meals
Almost everyone loves peanut butter, and it’s perfect for school lunches on a sandwich with jelly or bananas. You can even spread it on graham crackers, apples, or other fruit for a healthier snack. Peanut butter is one of the best pantry staples you can have.
Cream of Wheat
Not everyone has eaten Cream of Wheat, but it’s a delicious alternative to oatmeal for breakfast. It cooks fast, and you can add sugar to make it sweet. Now it comes in a few different flavors, and it’s very inexpensive.
The store brand of personal-sized pizza is often cheap, as in $1.50 a pizza, depending on where you live. Keep a bunch of these on hand for quick meals to take to work or at home. Kids love these frozen pizzas too, so it’s a win-win.
Cereal is a great fast breakfast food your kids can eat in a dash. It’s cheaper if you buy the generic brands because those are very similar to the expensive popular brands. You can even eat cereal as a snack.
While they aren’t the healthiest, plenty of college students have survived on ramen noodles. They taste great and are easy and quick to make. So, always stock up on ramen noodles, so you have them when your grocery budget is next to nothing. You can buy them in bulk for a super low price even where food prices are high.
FAQs for Cheap Food to Buy When You’re Broke
What’s the cheapest meal to make?
Grilled cheese and soup is always an inexpensive family meal. You can also make pancakes and waffles if you buy the basic mix. A classic pantry staple meal is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sloppy Joes are cheap to make, and you can make Goulash with just tomatoes, macaroni, and ground beef.
What are good cheap snacks?
There are plenty of great snacks out there, such as:
- String cheese
- DIY trail mix (not store-bought)
- Peanut butter and crackers or sandwiches
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Celery sticks
- Carrot sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Tortilla chips and salsa
Is $200 a month enough for groceries?
The answer is yes, but there are several factors to consider. It depends on how many people are in your family and the eating restrictions of family members. Another significant consideration is where you live. Prices in San Francisco, CA, will be vastly different from prices in the South East of the United States.
In some places, it is possible to feed a family of four on $200 a month.
Final Thoughts on Cheap Food to Buy When You’re Broke
I hope the list of food helped you. Finding food when you have no money can be stressful. If you’ve fallen on hard times, please don’t be embarrassed to find a food pantry or food bank near you.
We have all gone through difficult times when money was scarce, and we didn’t know how to get by.
Use this list of cheaper foods or add them to your shopping lists whenever you go grocery shopping. Planning helps you save money and stay on budget.
Remember, shop the sales, go for generic brands, and always make a list to save money on groceries every week.
Don’t miss these other articles to help you save money on groceries this month: