37 Cheap Groceries to Buy When You’re Broke

Food is the one day to day financial decision that can make or break a budget.  Its a necessity for life yet can cost a fortune if you let it.  When you’re broke or just watching your spending, it is also the one area where you have the most flexibility.

There is a way to cut back on your grocery budget without sacrificing too much.  But it will require a plan and some mad skills

Let me introduce you to one area that I get super excited about.  Cheap groceries to buy when you’re broke.  

There are probably a few that you already know about, but I’m hoping to give you some ideas on exactly what to do them as well as which groceries to buy on a tight budget.

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And if you want more great ways to save including recipes, meal plans, prices, and printables, check out my eBook on how to feed a family for under $200 in The Great Grocery Haul


Why Would You Need to Buy Cheap Foods at the Grocery Store?

There are so many reasons to cut back on your food spending.  Decreasing your grocery budget would be a great way to catch up on bills if you are behind.  It’s also an excellent way to kick start that emergency fund that you’ve been avoiding.

Building a stockpile of the cheap foods at the grocery store will prepare you for emergencies, layoffs, and other hard times.  There’s a comfort in knowing that when your income is low, you can feed your family and yourself.

My goal here is to give you a list of foods that you can use to make family and budget-friendly meals.

Saving up for something fun like a vacation, a wedding, or the downpayment of a house would benefit from this cheap shopping list.

Cash flowing college, home improvement or repair, or a large purchase like a car, camper, or boat would be expedited by the best cheap foods and sticking to that low food budget.

But what if you are just broke?  All of your money is gone, and you only have $25 to spend this week?  What are the best cheap foods?


How to Buy a Lot of Food With a Little Money

When you don’t have a lot of money whether by choice or not, you are forced to get the biggest bang for your buck.  Your return on investment needs to be big.  Our goal here is to keep your grocery bill low.

Making foods from scratch, including bread products and skipping the premade prepackaged food from the shelves or freezer section is going to significantly reduce your grocery budget.

Baking your own snacks and creating your own take out like pizza will also decrease your food spending.  All of these things can be made with as little as a dollar a meal.

Think (when grocery shopping on a budget) how you can make many things at home instead of buying them already made.  Even items like tortillas for tacos and buns for hot dogs can be made at home instead of buying them.

I can remember times when I wasn’t sure how I was going to feed my young family when my husband was laid off.  We had been for 5 years and we had just bought a house. 

We had two little boys ages three and one and the company my husband worked for had closed their doors.

I was so grateful for the library and their books about frugal living.  I was also grateful for generations of women who knew exactly what it was like to live a frugal lifestyle.  We never would have made it.  The majority of my cart was full of the cheapest foods to buy 

So for 18 years, my habits of buying the best groceries for the least amount of money run deep.  Even today after paying off over $100,000 in debt including my house, I am leaning into once a month grocery shopping more and more.  Always looking for a way to cut those costs.

Grocery List for a Month on a Budget

When you are heading to the grocery market, don’t forget important tips like comparing prices, choosing store brand items, and understanding price and quality.  It may come down to cheaper foods rather than quality.  For example, deciding to buy canned or frozen instead of fresh vegetables.

If you are looking for more ways to save money at the grocery store, I have an amazing resource that will provide you with a way to feed a family of four for under $200 a month. 

It will provide you with price comparisons for three different stores, meal planning, grocery lists, recipes, and a cheap grocery list for the entire month.  I found the best food prices to make sure you can reduce that monthly bill without sacrificing health, taste, and comfort.

Check it out in the Frozen Pennies Shop.  There is a coupon below.


Cheapest Grocery List on a Budget


We can get bananas all year round here, and they are about fifteen cents each.  They’re a favorite.  Packed with vitamins and minerals, they can be added to muffins, pancakes, yogurt, and cereals.  This makes it my favorite fruit on the cheap grocery list.


The great thing (besides the price) about pasta is how versatile it can be.  You can top with sauce, cheese, or butter.  Make it a main dish or a side dish.  

It can serve as a vehicle to stretch the meat portion of dinner.  Who doesn’t love pasta and at less than a dollar a pound? It’s one of the best cheap groceries on this list.

Canned vegetables

I understand the lack of nutritional value in canned vegetables, but when you are broke, and you need food, you can’t dismiss a thirty-nine cent can of peas.  It’s one of the best foods to buy on a budget. 

Don’t get me wrong, eating canned vegetables is still going to give you some nutritional benefits.  And when you are broke, it’s about doing the best we can.


The number one most filling and cheapest food to buy when you’re broke.  Also, great cheap food if you are gluten-free.

Like pasta, rice is versatile.  It is also number one on most people’s “cheapest grocery list food” list.  Including Dave Ramsey’s rice and beans analogy.  It can be used as a filler to stretch meat or as a side dish. 

Don’t forget to add some spices.  Salt, garlic powder, parsley, and a little shaker cheese will turn rice into a delicious side dish.  You could even add milk and a sweetener to eat it for breakfast.

Pasta sauce

For under a dollar for a big jar, it’s one of the best budget foods.  Any type of tomato sauce is going to be a good deal.  One can use it for so many dishes.  Soups, stews, and pasta toppings as well.  Adding some spices, you can turn it into BBQ sauce, pizza sauce, or salad dressings.

Macaroni and cheese

Sometimes boxed macaroni and cheese is a need.  It’s a great lunch or side dish.  But, sometimes the cheapest doesn’t taste the best.  Adding some spices or some extra cheese can make all the difference.  I prefer adding hot sauce to mine. 

But for around twenty five cents a box, it’s one of the cheapest foods to buy.

Also, adding some ground meat like beef or turkey along with some sauce can turn a plain box of macaroni and cheese into a knock off hamburger helper one pan dinner!


You can find many spices for a dollar or less at Aldi or the Dollar Tree.  These little jars are a gift from the dinner goddess and can transform boring chicken into a gourmet dinner with a bit of research and creativity. 

They are a must when you’re grocery shopping on a tight budget.

Canned fruit

Not as great as fresh but an excellent cheap grocery list item.  It can be used as a more frugal alternative or addition to fresh fruit. 

For fifty cents, a can of pears would make a sweet side dish for breakfast or snack.  And adding canned fruits like peaches or pineapple to a cake makes it a little extra special.  

My mom loved adding canned fruit to cottage cheese.  Also, canned fruit is a great addition to plain yogurt.


This vegetable is one of the cheapest grocery items to pick up when you’re broke.  Its uses are endless and its by far one of my favorite foods. 

Potatoes are the main ingredient in a delicious casserole, a meal of baked potatoes with an assortment of toppings, or a side dish for breakfast or dinner.  Potatoes can be used in so many different ways.

Chicken thighs or legs

Dark meat seems to be so much cheaper than white meat which makes them an excellent addition to the cheapest grocery list.  I encourage you to look for the best prices.  

You can make a rub with all of those spices above, top with BBQ sauce or cook them and pull off the meat for so man other meals.  Whole chickens can also be a reasonable price and will allow you so many more options.  

Don’t forget to simmer the bones and make a broth for soup.  Also, marinate them in a homemade marinade of oil, vinegar, and spices can make a tasty and tender dinner.  

Canned fish

Tuna sandwiches are a favorite of mine.  Especially on homemade bread.  But you can also make things like tuna patties or substitute tuna for salmon and do the same.  Add these canned fishes with some noodles and vegetables to make a casserole.  

Casseroles are cheap and can be made as a way to use up leftovers and stretch meats.  Check out Pinterest for recipes.


This is a pretty versatile member of the cheap food on a budget club.  Of course, when you think of oats, you think of oatmeal for breakfast.  Top with some canned fruit or frozen berries and its a warm, filling breakfast.

As a filler for meatloaf, meatballs, salmon patties, or any other place you are using ground beef, oats aren’t just for breakfast.  Consider using them for cookies, granola, or the topping of a crisp or cobbler, too.  

Generic cereal

The significance of pricing between an off-brand and popular brand cereals is staggering.  Most adults and children can’t tell the difference.  Particularly in cereals like rice crispies, cheerios, and frosted flakes.  

They are an excellent alternative to the more expensive ones and a nice addition to some homemade muffins and canned peaches for breakfast.


If you have the pantry trifecta on hand (flour, sugar, yeast), you can make almost any breakfast, lunch, dinner, or treat.  It’s so cheap and can set you up for lots of foods from scratch. 

Flour is a staple on our cheapest grocery list.

With the internet FULL of free recipes, there is a neverending list of possibilities.


Sugar is the second part of the pantry trifecta and saving grace when you are broke and need snacks.  Making bread, cookies, and cakes are a great way to cut costs and allow some mental relief knowing you can make a dessert or snack without completely depriving yourself. 

Plus, cookies and snacks are not the cheapest foods.  Almost four dollars for Oreos!


The last of the pantry trifecta is yeast.  At less than $1 for three packets, it’s an easy way to supply pizza and bread for pennies.  I have been making my own bread the last few weeks and nothing tastes better.  I may never go back to store bought bread again!

Here’s my recipe for our favorite bread:


2 cups warm water 

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup oil (olive or avocado)

5-6 cups all purpose flour  



In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water and then stir in yeast.

Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam, about 5 minutes.

Mix salt and oil into the yeast.

Mix in 5 cups of flour.

Dough should be tacky and clean the sides of the bowl.

Add a little more flour as needed.

 Knead dough for 5 minutes.

Place in an oiled bowl.  Cover with a damp cloth.

Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Knead for 1 minute and divide in half.

Shape into loaves and place into two greased 9×5 inch loaf pans or one square pan.

Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.

Cool, brush with butter and enjoy!


The perfect food.  At less than ten cents per serving, eggs are great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and baking.  You can’t “beat” an eggsalad sandwich on homemade bread!


Full of Vitamin C and a great snack, side dish, or addition to a soup or stew.  Add a little honey or syrup if you have it to make a fancy version.


Cabbage is cheap food.  For less than fifty cents a pound, it can be used cooked or raw and qualifies for a best budget food.

Frozen vegetables

Not quite as cheap as canned vegetables, frozen is a great alternative to fresh.  Flash frozen, and at the peak of freshness, you won’t have to worry about the broccoli going bad before you can get to it. 

Steam, roast, boil, or microwave these frozen nutritional nuggets for pennies per serving.

Canned chicken

Canned chicken isn’t really my favorite if I’m honest here.  But I do use it in a pinch for casseroles and chicken salad sandwiches. It’s not as cheap as canned fish, but it is more frugal than fresh chicken.


Cucumbers might be my second favorite vegetable.  Depending on the season and where you look, you could find them as low as ten cents apiece. An excellent salad addition or side.  Make your dip, add salt and pepper, or just eat them plain.


This is a great addition to spice up any dis.  Cooked onions add a sweet flavor for some sass while raw will give you something to cry about.  No matter how you slice them, they are cheap.  They can add a little something when needed for your cooking.

Peanut butter

I don’t know if I would ever want to be without peanut butter.  Amazing support for your homemade bread and the perfect treat when you just need something.  

Grab a spoon.  

Also, peanut butter will make an excellent Thai salad dressing or a sauce for a stir fry.  Considering the protein-packed jar, the price of peanut butter beats any other nut butter making it a part of our “cheapest groceries” list.

Baking powder & baking soda

If you have baking powder and soda, you can bake.  When you are looking for cheap foods to buy when you’re broke, you need to invest in items that will set you up to make a plethora of other things.  Both are part of that small investment.

Also, baking soda is an excellent cleaning agent.

Canned beans

The perfect staple of any frugal diet.  And the number one stereotype of cheap groceries – beans.

The perfect filler or side dish, and are high in protein and fiber.  Adding them to soups, stews, and casseroles will stretch that meat addition out.  

Add white beans to a chicken and broccoli casserole. Mashup some kidney beans and mix with some salsa for a side dish or dip.


We love stuffed peppers.  They can be a vehicle for all sorts of inexpensive items.  Add a little sausage, rice, beans, and cheese, and its a delicious meal for less than a dollar a person.

Dried lentils

One of those foods that are so cheap, we must add it to our cheap foods to buy when you’re broke.  

But I’ll be honest; I really have no idea what to do with lentils except add them to soups.  If you have any thoughts, please comment down below and tell me what to do with these!



You do not have to buy this one to survive, but what a great snack for pennies.  You can pop it in several ways, and google can even show you how to do it on a stovetop with some oil.  But buying popcorn kernels in a bag will cost you a fraction of those microwave bags.  And they are so much better for you


an excellent source of fiber and sweet, apples are an excellent choice.  Great for snacks and desert.  Add to that five a day fruit and veggie consumption.


Pork is cheap and versatile.  You can all sorts of spices and sauces to it and completely change the flavor.  I think there is a definite trick to cooking it – otherwise, it seems to come out as tough as leather.


A large tub of yogurt for under two dollars will offer nutrition and a side dish.  Packed with tasty things like protein and probiotics, you can customize it with sweetener, fruit, nuts, or granola.  Good for breakfast or a snack, too


A decent alternative to coffee and soda if you are frugal.  One of the cheapest foods to buy when you are broke, tea can offer you the caffeine that so many of us need as well as a refreshing cold beverage to take the place of soda or juices. 

A nice addition to the foods to buy on a budget.

Tap water

Stop buying bottled water.  You don’t have the money.  Buying a filtered water pitcher is a good deal if you don’t care for the taste of your tap water.  Drink the free water (or that you are already paying for).  

You can’t get any more frugal than tap water.

Ground beef or turkey

Depending on stores, location, and sales, one of these is going to be a big part of your cheap grocery list. They can make a great addition to any dish and pare interchangeable in many recipes. 


Milk is cheap at just over two dollars a gallon here.  However, the milk needs to be used sparingly and as a supplement instead of a staple.  One small glass of milk a day is plenty to drink.  The rest should be used for cooking, baking, and cereals.

Sour cream

Sour cream is an excellent condiment and a fantastic addition to your cheap grocery list.  Use it in cooking for a cream sauce, make dips and casseroles, or top a baked potato.  In my area, 16 ounces is less than a dollar.

Grocery Shopping on a Tight Budget

When you are looking for cheap foods to buy when you are broke, finding those foods is only half of the battle.  Planning meals and making those foods once you are home is the key to success. 

Learning to cook and finding recipes that can stretch those chicken legs can be the biggest challenge.  The world is full of recipes and resources to help you do just that.

As a financial coach, I always like to encourage you to use cash instead of credit cards or debit cards.  Especially if you are on a tight budget.  

For more information on how to use cash to get out of debt, check out this article on Cash Envelope Wallets.