What is the best cheap food to buy when broke?
Would it surprise you to know that most of the cheapest foods are also the healthiest?
That’s a double win in my book, especially when you are looking for inexpensive food options because money is tight.
Spolier alert – processed food (I call it beige food) is not cheaper than healthy foods, in fact it’s often more expensive.
I’m not a fan of beige food and I’m sure you don’t want to be eating crap. You want cheap filling foods that are healthy, taste great and don’t cost a lot.
Your grocery spending is the most flexible part of your budget so it makes good financial sense to start here when you are feeling the pinch.
My grocery budget was always the place I tried to cut back on but finding the cheapest food per pound while still being healthy AND on a tight budget can be hard.
More so if you are not sure what food to buy to get the most from your limited funds.
That’s why I created this list of 55 of the best cheap food to buy when broke so you will always know what is going to work best for your budget.
You know it’s worth it when your family eats healthily and aren’t constantly looking for extra snacks.
(Discounting teenagers who are seemingly always hungry!)
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How To Buy Cheap Food And Save Money On Groceries
Your grocery budget is one of the few places where you can really cut costs right down when times are hard.
For help in setting up a frugal grocery list check out my post that answers the question how much should I spend on groceries?
If you can focus on buying the cheapest food to live on for a month or two then the savings you make may well help you stop feeling so broke. But there are more ways to get cheap food on a budget.
Use a shopping app
Shopping apps can save you money on your groceries AND give you cash back. There are many different ones around but these are the 2 FREE ones I recommend.
Buy generic Brands
Generic brands are much cheaper than the premium brands but often made to the same recipe and made in the same factory, just different packaging. And if they do taste different, it doesn’t mean worse, different is just different!
You can save a much as 300% per item when you buy generic brands. That’s a huge saving when you are looking to buy low priced food.
What you need is a master list of the cheapest groceries that you can refer to at the grocery stores and use to meal plan.
With the cheapest groceries list below you can make dozens of great meals. Below your master grocery list I’ve also listed 20+ recipe suggestions to get you started.
Where to buy The cheapest groceries
Where to buy cheap food near me? This is a question I often get asked and one where you will need to do a little research. Not all shops are the same, you know that.
When it comes to your food budget you can make it go further if you shop around in different grocery stores for the best prices. It might mean shopping in more than one store but right now what you want is to get the cheapest food per pound for each item you buy.
Remember to factor in driving costs. No point driving 20 miles to save 10c!
Discount stores like Aldi, Lidl and Costco are famous for best budget food prices, always low. What I love about Aldi and Lidl is that they sell very few premium brands so you are not tempted by those higher prices and fancy packaging.
Always check the clearance section of whatever store you are in, regardless of your money situation. Why pay full price if it’s discounted by 30%?
Most foods can be frozen and used safely at a later date (check your freezer manual for storage times). If you time it right you can buy some of the cheapest food up to 90% off as stores often discount again later in the afternoon if these items haven’t sold.
Online bulk buys
If you have a large family or good storage options then you bag an even bigger saving when you focus on buying food in bulk. Foods like pasta, rice and canned goods are perfect for bulk buying as is toilet paper. (I know it’s not food, but!)
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Benefits of buying cheap foods
Whether this is something you need to do for a longer time or it’s just to get you over a temporary blip there are definite benefits of focusing on the best cheap food to buy when broke.
1. Buying the cheapest groceries will help you to break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. Especially if you can build a small pantry stockpile at the same time (I do encourage you to do this).
It’s hard to continually worry about surviving until you get paid again so creating some space by spending less on your groceries is a great thing to do.
2. If you are currently overspending each month then buying the cheaper foods will help stop you from getting further into debt. You don’t want to be building debt for the sake of a few premium branded waffles!
3. It frees up more money for you to throw at your debt. Never mind going into debt, you want to be getting out of debt. Crushing your food budget will give you the money to do this.
Your Questions About Cheap Food To Buy When Broke
What should I buy at the grocery store when broke? Check out my list of the best cheap food to buy when broke as your starting point.
When you have only a tiny budget choose the absolute cheapest groceries. It might mean temporarily eating a lot of kidney beans, rice and ramen noodles but if it stops you from getting into debt that’s got to be a good thing right?
What is the cheapest food you can buy? This will depend on your local stores. If there is a really cheap loss leader in your store that works out as the cheapest food to buy, then buy that.
Rice, oats, noodles and pasta are all super cheap and can be almost meals in themselves when you have to make do.
What can I do if I have no money for food? In many counties and countries there is help available from food banks and charities that can help you if you literally have no money.
These can often supply you with a few days worth of food to keep you going. Do please contact your local help if you are struggling, that is why they are there. To help you.
How can I eat for $10 a week? For one person you could probably get away with spending just $10 a week. But it would be very repetitive and not the healthiest of diets.
Choose budget friendly food like rice, potatoes and oats. A couple of cans of beans and you can make very basic meals for a week from these. If you’ve already got herbs and spices all the better.
Because plain rice is well, plain!
And of course, cooking from scratch is the best way to make the most of the little money you have.
What Are The Cheapest Foods To Buy On A Budget?
Buy cheap food in bulk to get the best of both worlds as you get a lot of food for very little money.
Cheap foods you can buy in bulk include:
- rice (can often be bought in 5kg bags)
- pasta (3kg bags)
- oats, rolled or steel cut
- dried beans (all types)
- lentils (all colors)
- canned goods
- powdered milk
- peanut butter
Luckily many of the items below are available in bulk, even from your local grocery store. So the reality is the cheap foods you can buy in bulk are pretty much the same as the cheapest foods you are searching for.
With a few exceptions of course, because buying fresh fruit and veg in bulk, even if super cheap, can be a problem when it comes to keeping it fresh and storing it.
There is a saying that if you want to save serious money then live like a college student. I’m not advocating a change of lifestyle but cheap student meals can also be cheap meals for you.
Cheap Food to Buy When Broke – PROTEIN
lentils (red, yellow, green or brown)
Lentils are incredibly cheap when bought dry and are packed full of protein. Red split lentils don’t need soaking and disappear with 20 minutes of cooking perfect if you have picky eaters.
Canned lentils, while not the cheapest food to buy when broke as they are more expensive than their dry relatives, are still good cheap protein.
Beans (kidney beans, pinto, black eye, haricot, chickpeas)
Beans are another incredibly cheap food to buy when broke, packed full of protein and great for filling up hungry tummies.
Like lentils, dry beans are cheapest and usually need 12 hours of soaking and some time cooking, but you can also buy in cans ready to eat.
If using dry beans my tip is to soak the whole packet, cook them all then split them into portion sizes and freeze what you are not using.
Quick and easy protein at your fingertips and so versatile. Eggs can be breakfast, lunch or dinner, cold or hot. Egg salad, boiled egg and toast soldiers, egg fried rice to name but a few tasty egg dishes.
Buying a whole chicken is cheaper than thighs or legs. However all 3 are still cheap protein and you can often find them discounted.
Frugal tip – Cook a whole chicken, remove the bones and use the meat in sandwiches for lunch and pack ups.
Ground meat of any sort, even if a little more expensive than chicken makes it onto my list of cheap foods to buy when broke because they can be padded out so much with lentils and beans.
To the point where you have more beans and lentils than meat.
In my area pork is cheaper than beef which is cheaper than turkey, but I know this differs according to your local area. The key thing with ground meat is that it stretches as far as you want it to and adds great flavor.
Frozen meat can be cheaper per kg than it’s fresh counterparts. I have found that not all frozen meat is the same as fresh.
Ground beef is a prime example, it’s just not the same as fresh, the texture is very different. But frozen chicken and burgers are a staple.
Sausages come in so many different flavors and form many different dishes. Sausage pasta bake, sausage casserole, or the great British favorite of bangers and mash.
I would advise staying away from the cheapest sausages though; little meat, little taste and a lot of water.
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Canned tuna is a go to protein for a quick sandwich or a quick dinner of tuna pasta tray bake. It’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s delicious!
Other canned fish
Tuna is not the only cheap canned fish you can turn to when you are feeling the pinch.
There are other fish that fit the cheap criteria, sardines and mackerel are pretty cheap and very versatile. Have them on toast for a quick lunch or snack.
Peanut butter on toast is comfort food, but is also good added to savory dishes such as chicken & veggies in peanut sauce, chicken satay noodles or peanut butter pork curry.
Hot dogs may not be the most healthy of foods but they make an incredibly quick snack at a very cheap price. When you’re broke, you can’t always eat all healthy foods and who doesn’t like a few naughty hot dogs occasionally?
any meat reduced to under $3 a kilo
If you find meat in the clearance section of your grocery store and per kg it’s been reduced to less than $3/£2 then consider snapping it up. You can often find pork, beef and chicken at low prices.
Cheap Food to buy when broke – CARBOHYDRATES & GRAINS
Oats are filling and incredibly cheap, Hot oats/porridge for breakfast is probably one of the cheapest breakfasts you can have. It’s my go to breakfast before a long hike.
You can add them to meals to increase the protein levels, they soak up excess juices and disappear within 15 minutes of cooking so no one knows they’re there. I always add them to spaghetti sauces, chili and casseroles.
White rice is one of the cheap foods to buy in bulk if you eat it regularly. Brown rice is a little more expensive (still cheap though) but it’s a very healthy cheap food to buy.
Brown rice takes about 25 minutes to cook versus 12 minutes for white rice but for me it’s worth the extra cooking time for its nutty flavor and nutrients. I use brown rice instead of white regardless of the recipe.
Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes and you can now buy many of them in the wholewheat version. Pasta bakes are one of my favorite frugal recipes, as is lasagna.
At 10 minutes for white pasta and 12-14 minutes for wholewheat it’s very fast cooking.
Frugal tip – bring the pasta in water to the boil then turn the heat off. The pasta will cook without the heat, it adds about 7-10 mins to the cooking time – but it’s not costing you anything!
Generic and stores own brand white brand is very cheap, it’s not particularly healthy but it is filling. If you can, buy generic brands of wholewheat bread, it’s more filling and healthy and still one of the cheapest groceries you can easily get.
Cereals vary significantly in price and nutrition. Bran based cereals have more fiber than sugary cereals and are often cheaper.
Focus on the value brands as these are often the same recipe as branded ones and even made in the same factories, but of course are much cheaper.
Ramen noodles, super noodles or fast noodles, whatever their name, are one of the very cheapest foods to buy on a budget. They come in individual packets so you don’t have the problem of cooking too much.
Stick to the plain noodles variety and add your own flavorings. Ready flavored packets can have a high level of MSG which your body doesn’t need.
You can buy frozen pizza for less than dollar which is to me is one of the cheapest foods to buy on a budget when you need a whole, easy meal. All you need is a portion of frozen vegetables to add some fiber and vitamins.
Frozen pizza was one of the cheap student meals DD2 and her friends always had in their freezer. It stopped them from resorting to UberEats after a night out.
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cheap food to buy when broke – FRUIT
Fresh and crisp, apples last for ages in your fridge. Bake them with raisins, sugar and chopped nuts for a tasty pudding. One of your 5 a day fruit and veggies, buy whichever variety on offer.
Oranges are packed full of vitamin c and fiber and when in season are your best citrus for your tight budget.
Add them to a green salad for a burst of color. Chicken a la orange is a lovely dinner, I know it should be duck a la orange but duck is not on my list of cheap food to buy when broke.
In fact it’s never on any of my frugal grocery lists because a) it’s pretty expensive and b) it’s quite a fatty meat. Best saved for Christmas as a turkey alternative.
Bananas are available year round at basically the same price. I’m sure they do have a season but the growers manage to supply us regardless. Buy smaller bananas and you get more fruits and portions per kg.
There are many types of melon, cantaloupe, galia and honeydew are the most common. In season they are cheap, out of season not so much.
My husband loves cantaloupe melon but struggles to get through a whole one. Me? I’m just not a fan, regardless of type.
Kiwi’s have a deep taste and more vitamin c in them than an orange. As they are smaller than the likes of melons, you can pick them up extremely cheaply.
Here in the UK I can often get them for just 15p each (20c) when in season.
Watermelon is something we always ate when on holiday in Europe. It’s cheap and refreshing. In the UK, it’s not such a thing to buy but in season it’s very cheap per kg compared to many other fruits.
Winter can see you paying a higher price for fruit as there are less seasonal varieties available.
Frozen berries and other fruit gives you the chance to keep having them on your porridge or cereal through out the winter. Not always as cheap as fresh but then fresh berries are expensive when it’s snowing.
Canned fruit is cheaper than frozen fruit and can be stored anywhere. Nowadays most canned fruit can be found in either fruit juice or syrup. Syrup based fruit is often a little cheaper.
Popular and cheap canned fruit includes peach slices and pineapple.
Cheap Food to buy when broke – VEGETABLES
canned tomatoes (chopped or whole)
With a can of tomatoes you have a meal. Blitz them to make a soup. Combine them with pasta, herbs and cheese and you have yourself a meal.
Canned tomatoes are one of the perfect cheap foods to buy in bulk as you can store them for a long time. Buy in bulk when they are on offer to maximize your savings.
Canned veggies are already prepared and cooked and a great option if you struggle to get to the stores for it’s fresh cousin. Add them to stews and tray bakes to pack in a few extra veggies. My tuna pasta tray bake usually has both carrots and corn added in.
Cheap canned veggies include peas, corn, carrots and green beans.
Cabbage is a great all rounder but often overlooked as, let’s be honest, it can be a little boring. However cabbage makes a great slaw (red or white) and if cooked well, i.e. not for very long, is tasty.
My favorite winter vegetable. Mashed with a little butter and seasoning, I could eat this everyday. Unfortunately my husband is not as keen. I have this mashed in place of pasta or rice when dialing back on complex carbs.
A green salad with egg or tuna is a complete lunch in itself. I had green salads for lunch for years, every single day, including the weekends, but excluding the Saturdays we had a bacon sandwich.
Bagged salad leaves are not on my list of cheap food to buy when broke because they are expensive for the amount you get, whereas a whole lettuce most definitely is.
Potatoes are filling and on of the cheapest food per pound you can buy. They can be made into so many different side dishes never mind main courses.
Potato dauphinoise is a firm family favorite (thinly sliced potatoes & onions, cream or milk, garlic and seasoning baked in the oven for an hour).
Baked potatoes make for a great cheap meal, add cheese, tuna, chili or any leftovers you have.
A new to me veggie, we’ve only been using sweet potatoes for the past couple of years, no idea why as I’ve always known about them, just never bought them.
You can make sweet potato fries, or try topping cottage pie with a 50:50 mix of sweet potatoes and carrot for a potato alternative.
Kale is a dark green leafy veg that many people grow at home as it lasts throughout the winter and keeps on giving when your sprouts and broccoli have finished.
Steam it, boil it or add to a stir fry. Kale crisps baked in the oven are also very nice.
Spinach leaves are great mixed with lettuce to make a green salad. They may not be a super cheap grocery food per kg but you get an awfully big bag of leaves for a low price. How much spinach can one eat in a week anyway?
One of the cheapest food per pound, you can bake them, boil them, mash them or eat them raw. Carrots are versatile and perfect for adding to kids lunch boxes in the form of carrot sticks.
One of my parents (I have 4 so, just you know..) has a secret recipe for mashed carrot which they have yet to share. It has 9 ingredients in it and is apparently a pain to make. I loved it as a child so am working on getting that recipe.
Onions, another one of the cheapest food per pound, are extremely cheap all year round, to the point where I wonder whether it’s worthwhile growing your own onions. It is because homegrown are tastier, bigger and of course you know what hasn’t been sprayed on them.
They are great for bulking out meals and adding to your 5 a day fruit and veg tally. Baked onions are particularly tasty, a drizzle of oil, garlic and 30 minutes in the oven is all you need.
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A great veggie to grow in your garden (if you can keep the cabbage white butterflies away). Broccoli’s nutrients include fiber, iron and vitamin C, A, K and B. Bake it 50:50 to make a lovely cauliflower broccoli cheese.
Ready popped popcorn is expensive for what it is whereas popcorn kernels are a cheap savory snack (or sweet if you prefer that) that you can pop yourself at home.
Celery makes it on to the list of cheapest food to buy on a budget purely because it is so cheap, not because it’s nice tasting.
Sorry I know I’m biased but you’d have to pay me to eat celery raw. Celery lovers snack on it adding cream cheese, peanut butter, pickles and such like. I don’t!
Peppers in season can be added to your list of cheapest food to buy on a budget when your grocery store has a glut and price them accordingly. Out of season they are not so cheap so if you are growing a garden I would recommend trying peppers.
Zucchini (courgette in the UK) is probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow at home, after tomatoes, so if you have some space (quite a lot) then give this a try.
However they are often pretty cheap so add them to your grocery list when in season. They don’t freeze well so growing them can mean either feast or famine.
Squashes are the perfect fall and winter vegetable and around Halloween time they are practically free. Pumpkin soup, pie and roasted squash are all extremely popular.
Add garlic to most of your recipes for a depth of flavor. Roast whole garlic bulbs and have them with baked cheese and crusty bread. Garlic is cheap all year round.
frozen potato products
Making your own chips from fresh potatoes is the cheapest way to have chips. But I know that sometimes convenience foods are just so, convenient.
Frozen chips are cheap and quick, and if they stop you from buying a takeout then they are worth buying and having on hand.
Check the unit price of other frozen potato products like potato wedges and hash browns as they can get expensive pretty quickly.
Frozen vegetables are flash frozen, often within a couple of hours of being picked so they lose little of their vitamins and minerals.
In comparison fresh veggies have often been stored in a warehouse for days or weeks and once you buy them you then continue to store them for a few days or longer.
The added bonus of frozen veggies is you chose your portion size with nothing wasted. Frozen vegetables to buy at the grocery store includes: peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, peppers (cheaper than fresh).
home grown vegetables and fruit
Rather than looking at how to buy cheap groceries have you thought about grocery foods you can grow instead?
If you’ve got a space space and the weather (poly tunnels are helpful in colder climates) then you have nothing to lose and much to gain with growing a few.
Start with easy veggies like tomatoes, salad leaves and fresh herbs, these can also all be grown in pots so you don’t even need a garden, a balcony or sunny windowsill will do.
cheap food to buy when broke – DAIRY
milk (fresh or powdered)
Milk is so versatile and full of essential vitamins that it’s a founding member on your list of cheap food to buy when broke. You can use it in baking instead of cream, add to your favorite cuppa or drink it straight.
Cheese is very easy to eat too much off so buy just a small block and make it off limits for snacking. Perfect for a quick sandwich, and toasted cheese sandwiches are just yum.
Plain unflavored yogurt has protein and calcium and many other things going for it. You can buy it in big tubs, add fresh or frozen fruit to make a pudding.
Have it with banana for breakfast, add it to curries to cool down the spicy heat. I’ve done this successfully when I added haberno chili flakes instead of normal ones to a dish and nearly blew my head off!
Cottage cheese comes in many flavors but the plain version is extremely cheap and you can then add your own flavors for far less cost. It’s great as part of a cold lunch with a side salad and crackers or on a baked potato.
Chocolate is an essential food item and always on my grocery list. You can buy generic branded chocolate very cheaply and it’s a perfect item for baking with.
Flapjacks with a thin chocolate topping are one of my husbands favorite home made snacks.
As a frugal chocoholic I may love a certain top brand in purple packaging but I don’t buy it, instead I buy Aldi’s own brand which is very tasty. Their value brand is not so great but I do buy it for baking.
Cheap food to buy when broke – MISCELLANEOUS
Baking your own bread, cakes and cookies brings the cost of these items down further. Flour is one of your baking building blocks and comes in many different types.
Including self raising, plain, strong bread flour as well as specialty flours that do not fit the criteria of cheapest groceries but can be very helpful for families with allergens. Flours like gluten free, almond, coconut and spelt.
Is another baking building block and also comes in different types including; granulated, powdered (icing) superfine (caster), muscovado and brown.
Seasonings, herbs and spices
These are essential items on my cheapest grocery list, especially salt and pepper. They pep up the plain tasting cheaper foods for very little money.
Make your own pasta sauce from a can of tomatoes, mixed herbs, pepper and chili powder. Add curry powder to ground beef and peas to make keema curry.
Coffee seems to be fairly universal in popularity but even the stores own brand is not nearly as cheap as teabags. I know I am biased as a) I’m a Brit and b) I actively dislike coffee.
Teabags give you your caffeine hit far cheaper than coffee and you can have it cold in the height of summer.
(Not if you are a Brit though as that is just not the done thing here)
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what to eat when broke: 20+ Meal Ideas
What’s the cheapest meal to make? The cheapest meal to make is one that uses what you already have in the pantry. That way you spend no money at all. Using what’s already in your pantry is one of the best ways to save money.
But let’s presume your pantry is pretty darn empty and you need budget meal ideas that give you the most bang for your buck when you go grocery shopping.
I’ve listed below some very cheap meals for a tight budget and will fill you up. Some of these are from DD2 and her cheap student meal days. Others are cheap meal ideas that are quick and easy – my kind of recipe.
These meals are all designed to stretch the meat content and pad out with great cheap food such as beans, lentils and vegetables.
Because these have lots of vegetables in them and whole grain carbohydrates they are some of the cheapest healthy meals you can eat and will keep even the hungriest person filled up.
You’re looking for cheap food to buy when broke, not expensive things that mean each meal costs a fiver. Many of these meals will cost less than a dollar per person.
- Baked potato with chilli, cheese or leftovers
- Vegetarian bean chilli and rice
- Chicken curry and rice
- Sausage & tomato pasta tray bake
- Hot dogs and mashed potatoes or fries
- Chicken thigh casserole with dumplings
- Bacon, potato and onion pie
- Tuna pasta tray bake
- Homemade lentil soup with bread and butter
- Macaroni and cheese
- Omelette and stir fry vegetables
- Keema curry & rice
- Home made pizza
- Egg fried rice
- Burger buns, fries and green salad
- Bean and cheese burritos
- Chicken veggies in peanut sauce
- Meatless spaghetti
- Noodles with chicken and vegetables
- Breakfast for dinner
- Cauliflower & broccoli cheese bake
- Chicken satay noodles
- Bangers and sweet potato mash
For more cheap healthy meals have a read of these posts:
The Best Cheap Food To Buy When Broke
I hope this master list of cheap groceries will help you plan some great frugal meals and help you save some serious money on your groceries.
Being broke and trying to feed your family can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge you can win when you know the right healthy cheap foods to buy.
Subscribe to my FREE Resource Library and download your copy of the 55 best cheap foods you can buy and 20+ cheap meal ideas!
Last Updated on 28th September 2021 by Emma