Budget Grocery List: The Best Cheapest Foods For Tight Budgets

You need to eat but your budget says otherwise.

A budget grocery list with all the best cheapest groceries to buy is what you need and that’s exactly what I am going to give you.

Knowing what to buy to keep you going until your next paycheck will help you to stop worrying and feed your family.

A budget shopping list is about rock bottom prices. They won’t always be the healthiest foods but I think you will be surprised at just how many actually are.

Tip – check out my post about how much should I spend on groceries to help you set the right grocery budget for you.

woman thinking about her budget grocery list while in the supermarket

Budget grocery list: the cheapest groceries to buy & why

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It’s one thing to have a list of cheap groceries written down but it’s not going to make you feel good if everything on that list is processed crap.

The good news is you can have a healthy grocery list on a budget as many of these foods are healthy.

The bad news is not every single one is perfectly healthy. For instance rice is an absolute staple of every budget grocery list I have ever written.

White rice is less than half the price of brown so that is the cheapest rice you can get. But brown rice is healthier.

When my back was against the wall and I was struggling to feed my family you bet I bought white rice.

And no I didn’t feel guilty about it. White rice is much healthier than chips or crackers. It has no added ingredients, no preservatives. I now buy brown rice because my budget allows me to but I would happily buy white rice if my budget dictated so.

Never feel guilty for doing your best to feed your family.

making your budget grocery list cheaper

There are ways to make your groceries even cheaper than the store prices which you should take advantage of if you can.

Use a shopping app

Shopping apps can save you money and give you cash back. There are many different ones around but these are the 2 FREE ones I recommend.

Ibotta is an easy to use app for both your grocery shop and many others like Amazon, Target and Dollar Tree. Sign up here (it only takes a minute) then start saving money every time you shop.

Fetch – is a receipt snapping app. Do your grocery shop as normal, take a photo of your receipt and upload it to Fetch to earn cash back and reward cards. Use code “APREWARDS” to redeem 3,000 points.

Loyalty Cards

Many stores have loyalty cards which can give you exclusive discounts. Sign up for the loyalty cards in your regular stores and see how this can reduce your budget shopping list cost still further.

Coupons can help you reduce make cheap food even cheaper but they carry a heavy warning.

Only use coupons if they are going to reduce the actual cash amount you would pay. Most coupons are for premium branded products, even with the coupon you can still pay more than the stores own brand product.

Generic brands

Premium brands rarely make it onto your budget grocery list for a reason, they are budget busters.

I’ve heard all the arguments about certain brands tasting better and occasionally I believe them. I’ve seen too many blind taste surveys where the premium brand NEVER wins to believe the hype.

The bottom line is when you have very little spare money and are trying to create a budget grocery list for your family, generic brands win the day.

Half written budget grocery list with pencil and orange pepper next to it on a desktop

Benefits of sticking to your budget grocery list

A cheap grocery list for one person or for a large family is all about feeding you all as cheaply as possible.

If you’ve still got a week left before pay day then you need cheap groceries.

If you have been laid off or lost your job then every part of your budget is tight.

You need to cut everything and groceries are a great place to make some big savings. Knowing the cheapest foods to buy helps you when you are facing tough times.

They help you keep going, not worry about putting food on the table. If debt is a burden you are struggling with, budget food will help you find more money to pay down your debt.

10 Cheapest basics for every budget shopping list

If you only have $10 to feed your family what you can buy? The answer is quite a lot!

And no, the cheapest basics are not processed crap, they might be super cheap but they are also
pretty healthy.

Having these 10 cheap groceries on your weekly or monthly grocery shopping list as the basis for all meals gives you a head start in keeping your grocery budget very low.

With this budget grocery list of just 10 foods you could feed you and your family. It might get repetitive but you’ve got protein, vegetables and carbohydrates in there.

1. Rice

White rice is the cheapest rice but it’s still healthy in comparison to many other foods. It can be almost a meal in itself as egg fried rice or the main component of other meals like chicken curry and rice. Buy in a bulk bag to make it even cheaper.

2. Pasta

Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, penne, spaghetti, fettuccine, twists and so on. Basic pasta shapes are extremely cheap and can be made into a filling meal for very little money.

Tuna pasta tray bake, spaghetti sauce (less meat more sauce) are 2 of my favorites.

Money saving 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!

3. Oats/Oatmeal

Your go to cheapest breakfast in a bowl is what oats is. Packed full of goodness no additives and so cheap to buy a big bag of your stores own brand. Bonnie Taub-Dix, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, recommends eating oatmeal every day.

Porridge/hot oatmeal made with water, a splash of milk and a little sugar sets everyone up in the morning.

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.

4. Canned tomatoes

One of your 5 a day and so versatile. Combine canned tomatoes with pasta and some mixed herbs and you have a meal. They form the basis for so many different meals. I always have these on my shopping list, always.

5. Beans

Beans are another increadibly cheap food, packed full of protein and great for filling up hungry tummies. Dry beans are cheapest and usually need 12 hours of soaking and some time cooking.

When 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.

Download your free copy of the cheap groceries and budget meals ideas when you subscribe to the FREE resource library

images of the free printables for a budget grocery list

6. Lentils

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.

7. Potatoes

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 favorite (thinly sliced potatoes, 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.

8. onions

Onions are extremely cheap all year round, to the point where I wonder whether it’s worthwhile growing your own onions.

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.

9. carrots

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.

10. milk

Milk is so versatile and full of essential vitamins that it’s a founding member on your budget grocery list for family.

You can use it in baking instead of cream (not a cheap food), add to your favorite cuppa or drink it straight.

shocked woman holding a bag of groceries and looking at her budget grocery list receipt

The full budget grocery list to keep everyone fed and happy

The list above is perfect as your basis for every grocery shopping list you make but I know you need more variety than that, without spending a lot more money.

All the cheap groceries below are cheap and almost all of them are healthy. Protein, vegetables and seasoning are all present so be reassured that this cheap food list is still pretty healthy.

Worried about organic and beating yourself up over the cost of the Dirty Dozen List? Lauren Harris-Pincus, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, is adamant the list is very wrong.

bread

Generic and stores own brand white brand is very cheap, it’s not particularly healthy but it is filling. Wholewheat/wholemeal is a littler dearer but more healthy. Toast with peanut butter is a cheap breakfast or snack.

cereal

There are cheap cereals and there are expensive ones. The cheap ones tend to be lower in sugar and higher in fiber which is exactly what you want.

Generic branded cereal is often made in the same factory as premium brands and I’ve heard they can also be the same recipe! Cereal was a staple breakfast when I was growing up.

flour

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 can be helpful for families with allergens but unfortunately cost more.

Baking your own bread, cakes and cookies brings the cost of these items down.

noodles

Ramen noodles, super noodles or fast noodles, whatever their name, are one of the very cheapest groceries you can buy. They often 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 are more expensive and can have a high level of MSG that you don’t need.

Download your free copy of the cheap groceries and budget meals ideas when you subscribe to the FREE resource library

images of the free printables for a budget grocery list

peanut butter

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.

tuna

Canned tuna is a go to protein for a quick sandwich or a quick dinner of tuna pasta tray bake. You can stretch a can to serve 4 people when added to pasta. It’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s delicious!

chicken

Buying whole chicken is cheaper than thighs or legs. However all 3 are still cheap protein and you can often find them discounted. Cook a whole chicken, de-bone it and use the meat in sandwiches for lunch and pack ups.

ground turkey

Ground meat of any sort, even if a little more expensive than chicken has always been on my budget grocery list because they make so many different kid friendly meals. And can be padded out so much with lentils and beans.

In the UK, 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.

wire basket filled with eggs, open bottle of milk and bowl of flour against a wooden background

eggs

Quick and easy protein at your fingertips and so versatile. Eggs can be breakfast, lunch or dinner, cold or hot. It only takes 4 minutes to soft boil an egg, add toast and you have an egg and soldiers breakfast.

canned hotdogs

Hotdogs are not 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 if you’ve got kids they will appreciate these on your budget grocery list. You don’t need hotdog rolls with hotdogs either, a slice of bread will work just as well.

cauliflower

Cauliflower is extremely versatile, you can make cauliflower rice if you are going low carb, serve it as a side or have cauliflower cheese (like mac & cheese without the mac!)

Fresh or frozen, both work well. Check the unit price per kg to see which works out cheapest in your store.

Canned Vegetables

Canned veg is already prepared and already cooked and a great option if you struggle to get to the stores for it’s fresh cousin. You can pick up value brands of canned veg very cheaply.

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.

Frozen brussel sprouts

Fresh brussel sprouts are better than frozen but more expensive. When every penny counts I opt for frozen to help with my 5 a day. Jazz them up by baking them in the oven with a drizzle of oil or add tiny bits of bacon.

Frozen chopped spinach

Spinach leaves are great for adding to salads but when you want to add spinach as a hot side dish you can get much more for your money by buying frozen spinach. Add seasoning and butter to jazz up the flavor. Frozen spinach is good for adding into a veggie bake.

Frozen green beans

Fresh green beans are nicer but again they are more expensive. When money is the most important factor switch to frozen. Best steamed and served with a knob of butter.

sweet potatoes

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, top cottage pie with a 50:50 mix of sweet potato and carrot for a potato alternative

squash

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.

zucchini

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 broke grocery list when in season. They don’t freeze well so growing them means either feast or famine.

woman putting money into a piggy bank with a bag of grocery shopping

broccoli

A great veggie to grow in your garden (if you can keep the cabbage white butterflies away).
Broccoli’s nutrients include fiber, iron and A, C, K and B vitamins. Bake it 50:50 to make a lovely cauliflower broccoli cheese.

whole lettuce heads

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.

Bagged salad leaves are not included in my healthy grocery list on a budget (because they cost that much more) whereas a whole lettuce most definitely is.

spinach

Spinach leaves are great mixed with lettuce to make a green salad. They may not be a super
cheap grocery food but you get an awfully big bag of leaves for a low price. It’s cheaper to buy a whole lettuce and a bag of spinach to make numerous salads than individual bags of salad.

peppers

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. Frozen peppers can be even cheaper and mean nothing is wasted as you only use the right amount.

frozen veg

Frozen vegetables are flash frozen, often within a couple of hours of being picked so they lose little of their nutritional value.

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 food to buy at the grocery store includes: peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, peppers.

kale

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.

You can download the entire list of 39 cheapest foods and all the budget meal ideas when you subscribe to the FREE resource library.

garlic

Add garlic to most of your recipes for a depth of flavor. Garlic is cheap all year round. Roast whole garlic bulbs are delicious with crusty bread.

canned fruit

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.

salt & pepper

Seasoning is essential to make the food you buy taste that much better. Ground white or black pepper gives a kick to dishes and is cheaper than whole peppercorns. Salt is probably the cheapest thing you can buy and one box lasts a very long time.

mixed herbs

These are an essential item on any broke grocery list of mine. They pep up the plain tasting cheaper foods for very little money. Make your own pasta sauce from a can of tomatoes, mixed herbs and pepper.

sugar

Is another baking building block and also comes in different types including; white, demerara, icing, brown and golden.

Plain white sugar is the cheapest and when I was really struggling with my budget I rarely bought any of the others (except icing) as I just substituted it in the recipe.

4 young women in kitchen laughing with vegetables against their eyes

Meal ideas for your budget grocery list

Okay, you’ve got your basic grocery list of cheap foods, now you need some ideas of meals to make to keep the family happy and stomachs full.

Because it’s one thing to buy the food, some of which perhaps you haven’t used before. It’s another to make nice meals that stop you from reaching for your credit card and a take away meal.

Cheap breakfast ideas

  • Oatmeal/porridge with a splash of milk and sugar.
  • Go traditional Scottish and try it with salt instead of sugar (no I haven’t tried this and no I’m not going to!)
  • Cereal with milk – kids can have this on a daily basis
  • Toast with peanut butter
  • Boiled egg and toast soldiers – cut into strips (also known as dippy egg, kids love dunking the toast soldiers)
  • Fried egg on toast
  • Eggy bread – also known as french toast (in the UK this is a savory dish without cinnamon or nutmeg) whisk an egg with a splash of milk, salt & pepper then dip the bread in the egg and coat both sides, fry on a hot heat until golden brown. Trust me, it’s delicious!

Download your free copy of the cheap groceries and budget meals ideas when you subscribe to the FREE resource library

images of the free printables for a budget grocery list

Budget groceries lunch ideas

  • Tuna sandwich with a green side salad
  • Egg sandwiches with spinach leaves
  • Tuna & green salad
  • Egg and green salad
  • Chicken noodle soup and bread
  • Omelet/omelette with your choice of veggies
  • Lentil and carrot soup and bread
  • Mixed vegetable soup and bread (add a little chicken if wanted)
  • Baked potato with tuna
  • Any of the budget breakfast ideas
3 young people in kitchen laughing and throwing vegetables in the air

Budget groceries dinner ideas

  • Baked potato with chili, or leftovers
  • Vegetarian bean chili and rice
  • Chicken curry and rice
  • Egg fried rice
  • Omelet/omelette with potato, broccoli and zucchini/courgette
  • Hotdogs and mashed potatoes or homemade fries
  • Chicken thigh casserole with dumplings
  • Chicken, potato and onion pie
  • Tuna pasta tray bake
  • Homemade lentil soup with bread
  • Homemade chicken noodle soup and bread
  • Macaroni cheese
  • Omelette and stir fry vegetables
  • Keema curry & rice
  • Home made pizza
  • Egg fried rice
  • homemade burgers, 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

For more help with keeping the cost of food down join the free 7 Day Grocery Budget Challenge.

Come and follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hints and frugal tips!

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Last Updated on 25th May 2021 by Emma

About Emma

I'm here to help you become confident in making the best money decisions for you and your family. Frugal living has changed my life, let me help you change yours.

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