Sometimes money is tight.
The majority of us have experienced a week or month where unexpected expenses crop up and we are left wondering how we’re going to afford to keep food on the table for ourselves or our families.
While this can be a stressful and testing time, there are some tips and tricks you could use to minimize your spending while buying groceries and get the most value for your money. Knowing the best cheap foods to buy will help you to be well-fed even when finances are tight.
Cheap Foods to Buy
Listed below are some examples of items that can be found for little cost and provide a great foundation for a wide range of meals:
- Dried Lentils – With an excellent shelf life and a generally low price point, dried lentils are a great source of calcium and iron and can provide a filling base to many meals.
- Eggs – A great source of protein and a very versatile item to have in your fridge, eggs can be used in a variety of ways with many different meals. They’re affordable and keep well in a refrigerator for up to 4 weeks, making eggs one of the best cheap foods to buy.
- Chicken – Chicken is one of the cheapest meat choices out there and is a good source of protein. It can be seasoned to alter the flavor and is a staple in many dishes. Particularly if bought in large quantities and frozen, chicken is great value for money.
- Canned Tuna – Canned tuna is easy to store, has a long shelf life, and can be used for lunches, dinners, or snacks. Tuna in spring water or brine are the healthiest and tuna provides high quantities of protein to your diet.
- Canned Beans – These make a great staple, a side to your main dish, or can be used as ingredients in chillis or other recipes. Canned beans are cheap to buy and often come in great value multi-packs. They’re also easy to prepare and a good source of protein and healthy fats.
- Peanut Butter – As a source of protein, peanut butter can be somewhat filling and inexpensive. It has a long shelf-life and is easy to find in bulk containers for low prices.
- Rolled Oats – Rolled oats are great for quick, filling, and tasty breakfasts. They’re often available to buy in large quantities, so one container could easily last the month and paired with different toppings they’re a very diverse item. As a healthy, filling, and very inexpensive options, rolled outs easily have a place on your shopping list if you’re looking for cheap foods to buy.
- Rice – Another basic essential is rice. On its own, rice can be bland and boring, but to bulk out your meals or paired with another dish, rice is a staple in many pantries. It’s also good value for the money.
- Pasta – Much like rice, pasta has an almost indefinite shelf life and can be bought for low cost in high quantities. It’s a great source of carbohydrates and really bulks out your meals.
- Non-Branded Cereal – It may not have the fancy well-known brand label, but cereal is cereal. It’s easy to prepare, popular with children and adults alike, and you can find almost identical non-branded versions of popular favorites for a fraction of the price.
- Bread – Wholewheat bread is a good source of healthy carbohydrates and can be used in an endless number of ways. If you’re unlikely to get through a loaf in the week, it can always be frozen and then defrosted quickly and easily in the toaster or microwave.
Fruit & Vegetables
- Canned Tomatoes – Canned tomatoes are very similar to fresh tomatoes in terms of nutritional value. They’re high in vitamin C and fiber and are good for adding to sauces and pasta for a tasty and simple meal. Often bought as part of a multipack, canned tomatoes are generally inexpensive. If you’re looking for cheap foods to buy, canned tomatoes should be on your list.
- Potatoes – Potatoes may not be the most nutritionally beneficial vegetable available to us, but they are filling, versatile, and have a decent shelf-life. Baked, boiled, or roasted, potatoes are a common favorite among families. Large bags of potatoes can be found relatively cheap.
- Broccoli – High in fiber, vitamins, and fatty acids, the list of health benefits broccoli provides goes on. If you’re looking to really cut your costs and you have the space, you could also grow broccoli yourself.
- Bananas – Bananas are a great snack and can also be added to smoothies or oatmeal for a tasty and nutritious breakfast. They’re easy to freeze and one of the most widely available and affordable fruit options.
- Spinach – Most foods pale in comparison to the plethora of nutritional value spinach offers. It is an excellent source of vitamin K, A, and C as well as manganese, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B2. This makes it a great choice for healthy meals and one of the best cheap foods to buy. While it doesn’t have the longest shelf life, spinach can be added to smoothies or sauces once it begins to wilt and still gives a good nutritional boost.
- Carrots – Carrots are healthy and inexpensive. You can eat carrots as a healthy, cheap snack, or have them with your meals. They can be eaten cooked or raw.
- Long Life Milk – Per liter or gallon, long-life milk is not always better value for money than fresh milk. However, long-life milk is often available to buy in bulk and this cuts the cost significantly. The obvious advantage is that it lasts much longer than fresh milk would, making bulk buying a viable option. In terms of nutrients, long-life milk is much the same as fresh milk.
- Flour – Flour is a great essential to keep in your pantry. It is inexpensive and extremely handy when you’re baking or cooking. It provides a myriad of options and is a fundamental part of many recipes.
- Seasonings – When cooking on a budget, seasonings are the holy-grail. They can turn a bland meal into a tasty and satisfying treat. Basic seasonings are generally very affordable, and it’s easy to pick one up each time you buy your groceries to gradually build a nice varied collection to choose from.
Ways to Save Money on Food
Here are some basic tips on ways to save some extra money while buying your groceries:
1. Use Discount or Cashback Rewards Apps
Apps like Ibotta or Fetch Rewards offer their users rewards, cashback, and exclusive deals or discounts while buying groceries (read our comparison of Ibotta vs. Fetch Rewards). The apps are user-friendly and simple. Beyond installation, there is very little effort required to start receiving discount codes or earning cashback.
Ibotta is a free mobile app that allows users to search for products and complete simple online tasks in order to receive a cashback reward. You also have the choice to link your grocery store loyalty cards, meaning purchases you make in-store are tracked directly through the app.
Similarly, the Fetch Rewards mobile app could enable you to save a substantial amount of money on your grocery shopping. All you need to do is upload a photo of your grocery receipt to the app, and let Fetch do the rest. Not only do they credit you with reward points, but they will also suggest items and brands that are likely to reap the highest rewards on your next shop.
If you’re looking to save some extra cash on your grocery shop but don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to couponing or searching for discount offers, downloading one or both of these apps is a really easy and efficient way to do so.
2. Meal Planning
Devising a meal plan at the start of the week or month is a great way to manage your spending and ensure your groceries don’t go to waste.
It’s no secret that the more often you shop, the more you are likely to spend, so sticking to one big grocery trip per week is the best option if you’re trying to reduce your costs. Meal planning allows you to create one shopping list and purchase all of your items at one time to avoid multiple trips to the grocery store.
As well as saving money on unnecessary items or spontaneous purchases, sticking to a meal plan also saves time. Where you may ordinarily spend a couple of hours wandering the grocery store aisles, with a clear list of items you are much more likely to get in and get out in a timely and efficient manner.
It’s also a great opportunity to plan in some healthy, cost-effective meals.
There are many free meal plan templates available to download online to make planning your meals even easier.
3. Buy Frozen Fruit and Vegetables
The common misconception around frozen fruit and vegetables is that they have a lower nutritional value than fresh produce. However, research has shown that they are just as rich in nutrients and in fact are much less likely to harbor unwanted additives and preservatives. They also require less preparation than fresh fruit and veggies and are generally very good value for money.
If buying frozen produce is not an option for you, consider buying fruit and vegetables that are in season and are grown locally. These tend to be much cheaper and this also allows you to support your local farmers. An example of this is pumpkins. Pumpkins are in such high abundance during the fall that they are practically given away. They’re a great ingredient to have and can be easily frozen to use at a later date.
4. Buy in Bulk When Possible
While buying in bulk may incur an initial cost that is higher than you may ordinarily like to spend week-to-week, it is a good way of saving money long term.
Generally, bulk prices work out being much better value than buying individual or smaller size items. Buying these things in a larger quantity at the start of the month could save you having to repurchase until the following month and means you can rest assured that you have some basics in your pantry at all times.
Things such as pasta and rice are great to buy in bulk, and you can usually find these at regular grocery stores. Meat is also significantly better value for