41 Cheap Foods to Buy When You’re Broke

When you’re on a tight budget, it can be tough to figure out what to eat. You don’t want to spend too much money, but you also don’t want to subsist on ramen noodles and cheap cereal at every meal. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable foods that you can buy when you’re broke to create delicious (and often nutritious) meals.

In this blog post, we’ll highlight 41 of the cheapest foods that you can purchase without breaking the bank.

A grocery basket with a calculator and a receipt in it.

41 Cheap Foods to Buy When You’re Broke

Check out these foods divided by category – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, dairy, and pantry staples. For each food, we’ve provided average pricing, why it’s a great choice on a budget, and ideas for ways to use the food.

*Note – The average pricing listed is based on our experience with stores like Aldi or Walmart in the Northeast US in 2022. As inflation continues, pricing information may be different. In addition, pricing may vary in other parts of the country – for example, Hawaii is notoriously much higher for food costs, while certain areas of the Midwest and South may be a bit lower in cost.

Fruits

1. Bananas

One of the most affordable fruits, you can usually find bananas for under $0.50 per pound. They are a great source of potassium, and also contain fiber and Vitamin C.

A lot of grocery stores may even sell bulk packages of browning bananas at a discount. These are great for freezing for smoothies or baking into homemade banana bread.

Ideas for using them:

  • Eat plain as a snack
  • Add frozen bananas to a smoothie or milkshake
  • Bake overripe bananas into banana bread or muffins
  • Make a peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Use as a topping on pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, or cereal
  • Make a simple homemade banana granola

2. Apples

Like bananas, apples are almost always reasonably priced, clocking in around $1/lb or less. Up here in the Northeast, you can typically find them a little cheaper in the late summer and fall when they’re in season. They make a great snack on their own or can be used in a variety of recipes.

Ideas for using them:

  • Slice apples and drizzle with peanut butter for a snack
  • Bake apples topped with oats for a dessert
  • Chop apples and add to oatmeal or yogurt
  • Add sliced apples to a salad
  • Cook apples and onions and use them as a topping for pork chops

3. Watermelon

Watermelon is a summertime favorite, and luckily it’s also very cheap. You can often find a whole watermelon for around $5-7, which will give you around 30 cups of fresh fruit. According to the USDA, this averages out to around 20 cents per cup of watermelon on average. Not bad at all!

Plus, don’t forget that the rind of the watermelon is also edible. This can be a great way of stretching your food budget.

Ideas for using it:

  • Eat as-is for a refreshing snack or side dish
  • Add to a fruit salad
  • Freeze extra watermelon to throw into smoothies all year long
  • Make watermelon juice for a satisfying summer thirst quencher
  • Add chopped watermelon to chicken tacos
  • Use watermelon in a panzanella salad
  • Pickle watermelon rinds.

4. Pineapple

A medium pineapple costs around $2-3 and yields about 5 cups of fruit, making each cup around 50 cents. This tropical fruit provides a host of nutrients, including almost a whole day’s worth of your Vitamin C needs in a cup.

Ideas for using it:

  • Add pineapple and coconut to your oatmeal for a tropical breakfast.
  • Mix chopped pineapple with plain or vanilla yogurt.
  • Use as a pizza topping with ham and onions.
  • Make chicken or pork kebabs with pineapples, peppers, and onions.
  • Make homemade pineapple salsa with spicy peppers and use as a dip with tortilla chips.
  • Grill pineapple and serve it with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

5. Cantaloupe

Cantaloupes are another summer favorite and can often be found for around $3 for an entire fruit, which yields about 4-5 cups of chopped fruit. One cup of cantaloupe contains about a day’s worth of your Vitamin C and Vitamin A, making it a nutrient-dense food.

Ideas for using it:

  • Eat as-is or mixed with other chopped fruit for a snack.
  • Try making homemade pizza topped with white sauce, cantaloupe, greens, and bacon or ham. Sounds odd but it’s delicious!
  • Add chopped cantaloupe to yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Make cantaloupe sorbet in your blender with frozen cantaloupe – a great healthy dessert.
  • Create a savory Cantaloupe Caprese Salad with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese

6. Frozen fruit

Frozen fruit is just as nutritious as fresh produce, since it’s frozen at the peak of ripeness. It can last a lot longer since it won’t go bad as quickly, ensuring that you are able to use every last bit of your purchase. Plus, it’s often cheaper than its fresh counterpart.

Ideas for using frozen fruit:

  • Add to smoothies or milkshakes
  • Use in place of fresh fruit in baked goods
  • Thaw and use as a topping on oatmeal or pancakes
  • Thaw and mix into plain Greek yogurt
Frozen berries in bags in the freezer.

Vegetables

7. Carrots

A bag of carrots usually costs around $1-2 and can last you quite awhile. Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A and are often one of the more tolerated veggies among kiddos.

Ideas for using them:

  • Eat as a snack with homemade hummus (you can make this on the cheap using chickpeas, a little olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and seasonings – and can skip the tahini if you don’t normally keep it on hand).
  • Shred carrots into salads or slaws
  • Roast carrots as a side dish
  • Add them to soups or stews
  • Use grated carrots in pancakes or muffins

PS – The tops of carrots are also edible! You can use them in soups or can process them into a homemade pesto that you use over chicken or potatoes.

8. Celery

Celery makes for a fun crunchy snack and also contains many antioxidants, according to Healthline. You can usually find celery for $2 a package, and it’s more versatile than you might think.

Ideas for using it:

  • Top it with peanut butter or cream cheese and add raisins for that classic “ants on a log” snack
  • Make this delicious celery soup (it’s always my go-to when I’ve got a bunch of limp celery in the fridge that needs to be used up – we skip the cream and just use a splash of milk).
  • Make homemade vegetable broth by simmering celery scraps in water with other vegetables like onions, carrots, and garlic cloves.
  • Chop celery and add it to a salad.

9. Potatoes

Potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. They’re also very filling, which makes them great for stretching your food budget. You can usually find a bulk bags of potatoes at under $1/lb, or loose potatoes around $1-2/lb.

Ideas for using them:

  • Roast in the oven with some oil and seasonings.
  • Make homemade French fries.
  • Bake potato wedges to go alongside burgers or sandwiches.
  • Chop up and add to soups or stews.
  • Make a breakfast hash with potatoes, brussels sprouts, and plantains – then top with a fried egg! (YUM).
  • Whip up some mashed potatoes – always a hit in any household!

10. Cabbage

A head of cabbage usually runs around $1/lb, making it one of the cheapest vegetables around. It’s a good source of potassium, folate, and Vitamin K, and has phytonutrients that may support brain health and reduce cancer risk, according to Verywell Fit. It can be used in a variety of dishes.

Ideas for using it:

  • Make homemade sauerkraut and use as a topping on hot dogs.
  • Try “egg roll in a bowl” with ground pork, ground turkey, or ground beef.
  • Add chopped cabbage to soups or stews. (This cabbage roll soup is always a hit in our house).
  • Roast or grill wedges of cabbage with some oil and seasonings for a delicious side dish.
  • Make coleslaw (a classic summertime favorite). You can make a standard mayo-based version or do a lighter version with vinegar, olive oil, and seasonings.

11. Broccoli

Broccoli is a great source of vitamins C and K, as well as fiber. It’s usually around $2/lb, and you can utilize both the florets and the stalks.

Ideas for using it:

  • Add to stir-fries or make an easy beef and broccoli recipe.
  • Roast in the oven with some oil, salt, and pepper. Easy and delish!
  • Make homemade broccoli pesto to use on pasta, chicken, or fish.
  • Use the stalks to make broccoli cheddar soup. Or, slice the stalks thin with a mandolin and roast to make broccoli chips.
  • Create a raw broccoli salad with the florets along with red onion, golden raisins, grapes, bacon, and a mayo-based dressing.

12. Onions

While you’re probably not going to grab an onion for a snack or side dish, they add flavor to a ton of meals – so they’re a good cheap grocery staple. You can usually find a 5 pound bag for $3-4. Onions are also nutritious as they’re rich in antioxidants and support gut health, according to Healthline.

Ideas for using them:

  • Chop and add to breakfast dishes like scrambled eggs and potato hash.
  • Make French onion soup.
  • Quickly pickle red onions for a delicious topping on tacos or salads.
  • Caramelize onions to top on burgers or hot dogs.
  • Use as a flavor booster for homemade soups and sauces.
  • Make onion rings for a tasty snack! (Just slice into thick rounds, dip in batter, and fry).

13. Spinach

Spinach is a nutrient-rich leafy green that’s usually around $2 a bag. It contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron and calcium.

Ideas for using it:

  • Sauté with garlic for an easy side dish.
  • Add to smoothies for an extra boost of nutrition (and you can’t even taste it!).
  • Add to pastas, soups, stews, or even pizza!
  • Mix into scrambled eggs or omelets.
  • Make a fresh spinach salad topped with your favorite fruit (strawberries and apples are two of ours), your favorite protein (like chicken or lentils), and nuts.

14. Bell peppers

Bell peppers are a great source of Vitamin C, and they add color and flavor to any dish. They’re usually around $1.50/lb, but my secret trick is to use FlashFood produce boxes to stock up on them. I can often get a huge box full of bell peppers (along with some other veggies) for just $5 total. (Want to try Flashfood? Sign up and use my referral code CHRI2VVQP to get a $5 credit with your first $10 order.)

Ideas for using bell peppers:

  • Slice into strips and enjoy with hummus or your favorite dip.
  • Roast in the oven with other vegetables like onions, mushrooms, and zucchini. Enjoy as a side dish, or toss with pasta and parmesan for a main meal.
  • Stuff bell peppers with browned ground turkey/beef, rice, and tomato sauce – then bake and enjoy.
  • Add to salads or grain bowls for some extra color and flavor.
  • Make roasted pepper grilled cheese sandwiches – slice a few bell peppers thinly, roast in the oven until the skin chars a bit and you can peel it off, then pile high on your favorite bread with your favorite cheese. Finish cooking as you would any other grilled cheese.

15. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a refreshing and healthy summertime food. You can usually find them for around $0.50-$1 each.

Ideas for using cucumbers:

  • Make homemade pickles!
  • Add cucumber slices to sandwiches for an extra bit of nutrition.
  • Enjoy as a healthy snack with some hummus – or, as I love, with cream cheese and sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning.
  • Mix sliced cucumbers with a little vinegar, salt, and sugar for an easy, tangy side dish.
  • Add chopped cucumbers to a Mediterranean bowl filled with rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, and feta.

16. Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are a cheap and easy way to add flavor and nutrition to your meals. You can find them for $1 – or less! – per can at most stores.

Plus, canned tomatoes are actually higher in lycopene than fresh tomatoes. That antioxidant has a number of health benefits!

Ideas for using canned tomatoes:

  • Add diced tomatoes to chili or stews.
  • Combine with rice and beans for an easy, quick meal.
  • Use to make shakshuka – also known as eggs in purgatory – a budget-friendly favorite!
  • Make homemade marinara sauce for pasta or meatball subs.

17. Frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables are a great way to get your recommended daily intake of veggies without breaking the bank. You can find bags of frozen veggies for $1-2 at most stores, which is often cheaper than buying fresh vegetables. And they’ll be safe to use in the freezer for a long time.

Ideas for using frozen veggies:

  • Use them as a base for stir fry or soup.
  • Add them to rice or pasta dishes.
  • Roast them in the oven or air fryer for an easy side dish.
  • Make an egg and veggie scramble for a healthy breakfast.
Frozen vegetables in bags in the freezer.

Grains

18. Ramen

Ramen noodles are the quintessential go-to when you’re broke and hungry. A package of ramen noodles costs less than a dollar, and all you need to do is add water to cook them. If you’re feeling up to it, there are lots of fun ramen recipes out there that will help you bulk up the meal and add more nutritious ingredients.

Ideas for using ramen:

19. Rice

A bag of rice costs under $1 a pound at most grocery stores, and it is versatile for so many different meal ideas! Plus, who doesn’t love a bowl of buttery, salty white rice as a snack? (Just me?)

Ideas for using rice:

  • Rice and beans! The quintessential budget dish. Add a can of diced tomatoes and green chiles for a balanced and filling meal.
  • Use leftover rice, assorted veggies, and soy sauce to make an easy fried rice dish.
  • Make rice pudding for a sweet treat.
  • Use rice as the base for any bowl meal. Rice + veggies + protein + flavorful sauce = winning dish!
  • Add cooked rice to soup or chili to bulk it up.

20. Grits

Grits are another cheap food option, and they make a great base for a hearty breakfast or dinner. You can find a 1 ½ pound canister of grits for around $2 at most stores, and they will last a while.

Ideas for using grits:

  • Add some cheese, an egg, and chopped tomatoes on top of cooked grits for a simple but satisfying breakfast.
  • Make cheesy grits as a side dish for BBQ pulled pork or BBQ chicken.
  • Mix grits with chorizo, veggies, and a fried egg.
  • Try a curried chicken and grits casserole.

21. Pasta

Pasta is always a good option when you need a cheap meal – it’s easy to cook, filling, and can be “done up” in a variety of ways. A one pound box of pasta usually runs around $1 to $1.50 (but you can stock up when it’s cheaper on sale!), and can feed a crowd.

Ideas for using pasta:

  • Make a classic spaghetti with marinara sauce – add ground beef or Italian sausage for an extra protein boost if you have the funds.
  • Try a cold pasta salad with whatever chopped vegetables you have on hand and Italian dressing.
  • Make macaroni and cheese – the ultimate comfort food – for a side dish.
  • Add pasta to soup to bulk it up and make it extra filling.

22. Oatmeal

Not only is oatmeal a great cheap food when you’re broke, but it’s also quite nutritious! According to the Mayo Clinic, oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber that can help regulate blood sugar levels, regulate cholesterol levels, and support gut health.

A big canister of store-brand oats will only run you $2-3, and provides many servings for frugal breakfasts.

Ideas for using oatmeal:

  • Cook up a batch of oatmeal and add some nut butter and chopped apples for a filling breakfast (I eat this at least 4 mornings of the week – so good!).
  • Use oatmeal to make homemade energy balls – like this easy 5 ingredient recipe.
  • Mix oats with ground beef when making meatloaf or meatballs.
  • Make these healthy banana oat pancakes.
  • If your family doesn’t drink regular milk or wants an alternative, you can make homemade oat milk very easily at home with oats and a blender and strainer. (This is so much cheaper than buying oat milk at the store).

23. Cereal

Cereal can double as breakfast or a snack, and tastes oh-so-good. A big box of cereal provides several servings. Be sure to look for store-brand cereals that are less expensive, or stock up on the name-brand stuff when it’s on sale. You can usually get cereal deals for around $2/box, sometimes even less.

Ideas for using cereal:

  • Enjoy a bowl of cereal with milk for breakfast or as a snack.
  • Make snacks with extra cereal – like homemade Rice Krispies treats using puffed rice cereal, butter, and marshmallows. Or try peanut butter Cherrios bars using toasted oat cereal, peanut butter, honey, and oil.
  • Use crushed up cereal to make a breading for chicken – this is especially good with corn flakes. (I often coat chicken in greek yogurt or mayo, cover it in cornflake crumbs, then bake it. So good!)
  • Add some dry cereal to yogurt to add crunch and texture.

24. Bread

Bread is another cheap food that makes a hearty standby for sandwiches and toast. A loaf of store-brand bread usually costs around $1-2. Whole wheat varieties are a little pricier than their white bread counterpart, but do provide more fiber which can increase the sticking power of the meal.

Be sure to check the “Reduced for Quick Sale” section at your grocery store for even cheaper prices on bread, bagels, and baked goods. You can always freeze these to use another time!

Ideas for using bread:

  • Slather some peanut butter and jelly between two slices of bread for an easy lunch or snack.
  • Make fancy grilled cheese sandwiches – for example, a cheddar, apple, and onion grilled cheese, or a mushroom grilled cheese.
  • Make croutons out of stale bread to add texture and flavor to salads or soups.
  • Soak the end piece of bread in a little milk, and use that to help bind together meatballs or burgers. It’ll keep them unbelievably tender and juicy.

25. Corn Tortillas

This is a go-to cheap food in our house. A big pack of corn tortillas usually only costs $1 or so – what a bargain!

Taco bars are actually one of my favorite options for hosting a birthday party on a budget.

Other ideas for using corn tortillas:

  • Make tacos with your favorite fillings, from authentic to out of the box.
  • Whip up some quick and easy breakfast tostadas by frying the corn tortilla, then topping with refried beans, eggs, and salsa.
  • Create homemade chips by cutting the tortillas into wedges and frying in oil. For a healthier option, spray or brush with a little olive oil, then bake or air fry them. Either way, a nice sprinkle of salt afterwards tastes delicious.
  • Try this recipe for black bean and sweet potato enchiladas.
A stack of corn tortillas.

Protein

26. Beans

A can of beans usually costs $1 or less, and bags of dried beans are even cheaper! They are one of the best nutritious cheap foods you can buy, since they provide a combination of protein and fiber.

If you’ve never cooked with dried beans, don’t be intimidated – they are actually very easy to use. Just soak them in water overnight, and then cook them in fresh water the next day.

Ideas for using beans:

  • Make homemade refried beans and enjoy them with breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • Toss together white beans, chopped celery, and chopped red onion with a little lemon juice, olive oil, and seasonings. Such a great side dish or even a main meal.
  • Add beans to soup or chili. You can cut the amount of meat in these dishes in half and use extra beans to save money.
  • Use chickpeas to make homemade hummus.
  • Add beans to grain & veggie bowls.

27. Canned tuna

Canned tuna (or canned salmon) is another cheap food option that provides protein and healthy omega-three fatty acids. According to Cleveland Clinic, those omega-3s can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower inflammation. You can find cans for around $1 each at most major supermarkets.

Ideas for using canned tuna:

  • Make a tuna salad and enjoy it on crackers, in a sandwich, or on top of a salad.
  • Add canned tuna to pasta dishes.
  • Try this recipe for healthy and delicious tuna cakes.
  • Mix roasted potatoes with canned tuna, cooked spinach, and chopped tomatoes. Toss in a honey mustard dressing.

28. Lentils

Lentils are a great source of protein and fiber, and they are very versatile. You can find them for around $1 per pound for a dried bag at most stores.

Unlike beans, lentils don’t need to be soaked prior to using them. You can just cook them from dry directly in the dish you’re making.

Ideas for using lentils:

  • Make a simple lentil soup by simmering cooked lentils in broth with chopped veggies.
  • Add cooked lentils to grain bowls or salads for extra protein.
  • Stretch ground beef by mixing in lentils with the meat for dishes like tacos or sloppy joes.
  • Process cooked lentils with peanut butter, cocoa powder, and maple syrup for a healthy chocolate dip that you can enjoy with apples.
  • Try this red lentil curry recipe – it’s total comfort food.

29. Chicken

While prices have gone up, you can still typically find chicken breast on sale for $1.99/lb, and chicken thighs or drumsticks on sale for $0.99/lb. Stock up during the sales and freeze them for later use.

Or, buy a whole chicken when it goes on sale, and butcher it down yourself into the various parts. When you do this, be sure to save the bones to make your own homemade stock.

Ideas for cooking with chicken:

  • Add chicken breast and a jar of salsa to a crockpot. Cook for a few hours, then shred the chicken. Add to tacos, burrito bowls, salads – you name it!
  • Make this easy recipe for baked honey garlic chicken thighs.
  • Cook chicken with a little Italian dressing on the stovetop. Serve alongside a vegetable of your choice, or over a salad.
  • Bulk up your stir fry with some diced chicken.
  • Saute chicken with peppers and onions, then add a jar of tikka masala sauce (one of my favorite ALDI finds). Serve over rice!

30. Eggs

Eggs are a cheap and easy way to get protein, and they can be used in so many different dishes. While food costs have been increasing, you can still find a 12-pack carton of eggs for around $2-3. That makes each egg just over 20 cents, which packs in 6 grams of protein along with nutrients like Vitamin D and choline.

Ideas for using eggs:

  • Make a frittata or quiche with eggs, veggies, and cheese.
  • Hard boil eggs and enjoy them as a snack or add them to salads.
  • Scramble some eggs with diced potatoes, chopped onions, and shredded cheese for an easy breakfast burrito filling.
  • Bake a batch of egg muffins for quick breakfasts throughout the week. (Feel free to use any veggies, cheeses, and/or meats that you like – egg muffins are easy for modifying to whatever you have!)

31. Peanut butter

Peanut butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats, both of which are good for keeping you full and satisfied. A jar will run you around $2-3, and can be used in a ton of different ways.

Ideas for using peanut butter:

  • Is there anything more satisfying than a PB&J sandwich? Fast, easy, filling, and delish!
  • Add peanut butter to smoothies for more sticking power.
  • Use it as a dip for apples, bananas, or pretzels.
  • Make homemade energy balls by mixing peanut butter with oats, honey, and shredded coconut.
  • Swirl peanut butter into oatmeal.
  • Make a tasty peanut sauce for chicken or stir fry.

32. Ground turkey

Ground turkey is hearty, versatile, and often cheaper than other meats. You can usually find it for $3/lb when buying in larger packages. Of course, if you spot some on sale, stock up and freeze for later use!

Ideas for using ground turkey:

  • Use ground turkey to make chili or burgers.
  • Brown ground turkey, add a little hoisin sauce or soy sauce, then enjoy over rice with quick pickled cucumbers.
  • Create an easy breakfast hash with ground turkey, bell peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes.
  • Try making a ground turkey shepherd’s pie.
Ground Turkey on a plate next to a knife.

Dairy

33. Plain Greek yogurt

When it comes to buying Greek yogurt on a budget, go for the large tubs which can easily be portioned out for snacks and used for cooking as well. You can find large containers for just $3-4 at most grocery stores.

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium, and it’s also very versatile for both sweet and savory cooking.

Ideas for using Greek yogurt:

  • Top with fruit, granola, or honey for a quick breakfast or snack.
  • Use as a healthy and creamy base for dips in place of sour cream.
  • Add to smoothies for extra thickness and protein. (You can also freeze smoothies in popsicle molds to make a frozen treat for the summer).
  • Make homemade tzatziki sauce by mixing with shredded cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil, and dill.
  • Swirl into tomato sauce to add a little creaminess and extra protein for pasta dishes.

34. String Cheese

String cheese is an easy and cheap snack option that provides protein and calcium. You can find a 12-pack for around $3, which comes out to about 25 cents each.

Ideas for using string cheese:

  • Enjoy as a quick snack on the go.
  • Chop string cheese and add to salads for extra protein.
  • Wrap string cheese with slices of deli meat to make an easy snack or mini-meal.

35. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is another easy dairy option that’s packed with protein. You can find a container of cottage cheese for around $2 at most stores.

Ideas for using cottage cheese:

  • Top with fruit or jam for a quick breakfast or snack.
  • Make cottage cheese protein pancakes.
  • Use alongside ricotta cheese in dishes like lasagna or stuffed shells.
  • Make a “Texas lasagna” where you layer beef, tortillas, tomatoes, and cottage cheese in a delicious casserole.

36. Milk

It’s not as cheap as it used to be, but you can still find a gallon of milk for around $3-4. Milk is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Ideas for using milk:

  • Drink it by the glass! (Preferably alongside some homemade fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies).
  • Use it to add creaminess to soup recipes.
  • Make oatmeal with milk to boost the protein content.
  • Use milk in smoothie recipes.
Milk being poured into a glass.

Pantry Staples

37. Flour

Whether you’re a whiz in the kitchen or just learning your way around, a bag of flour gives you infinite possibilities to create baked goods. A five-pound bag of all-purpose flour costs less than $3 at most stores, and is a great pantry staple to keep on hand.

Ideas for using flour:

  • Bake some homemade bread.
  • Make pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Making these from scratch is often cheaper than buying prepared mixes.
  • Use flour and butter to create a roux and thicken sauces and soups.
  • Make homemade pizza dough – this is my favorite quick recipe!
  • Use flour along with other kitchen staples to make homemade cookies.
  • Whip up a batch of biscuits to go with your dinner.

38. Basic Spices

A well-stocked spice cabinet is a cook’s best friend. Even if you don’t use them all the time, having a variety of spices on hand can help you turn boring dishes into flavor explosions.

My best tip for spices is to skip the conventional spice aisle at the grocery store. Instead, look for spices in the “International” aisle. Typically the Badia brand is there and offers up spices at a fraction of the cost of other brands. You can also check for spices at local Asian or Indian markets; these are also usually quite cost effective.

You don’t need every spice out there of course; start with a few basics that you expect to cook with and use them often.

Ideas for using spices:

  • Add cinnamon to oatmeal, baked apples, or smoothies.
  • Use garlic powder and paprika to season chicken.
  • Use chili powder and cumin in your favorite chili recipe.
  • Keep curry powder on hand to easily add a ton of flavor to chickpeas, lentils, or chicken.

39. Sugar

While too much sugar isn’t ideal in anyone’s diet, sugar is a helpful ingredient for making nutritious foods more palatable. A little sugar can go a long way in whole wheat muffins or a bowl of oatmeal. And of course, it’s always fun to bake some sweet treats on the weekends!

Currently, a 4-pound bag of granulated sugar will run around $2-3, while a 2-lb bag of brown sugar will run around $1.50-2.

Ideas for using sugar:

  • Make a lightly-sweetened homemade lemonade or limeade.
  • Bake cookies, cakes, muffins, or other sweet treats.
  • Add a little brown sugar to spice rubs or soy-based sauces.
  • Sprinkle a little brown sugar on top of oatmeal.

40. Oil

Oil can get pricey, but a little bit of oil goes a long way in cooking. It’s essential for many cooking applications, from roasted vegetables to stir fry.

If you have the funds to splurge on a bottle of olive oil – typically around $5 for a smaller bottle – it makes for a great all-purpose oil for cooking, dressings, and dipping bread.

If that’s too expensive, cheaper canola oils or soy oils – usually around $3-4 for a large bottle – are both nice options. Both of these have relatively high smoke points which make them great for cooking applications (though the flavor is a bit lacking compared to olive oil for recipes like dressings).

Ideas for using oil:

  • Sauté vegetables in a stir fry.
  • Make homemade salad dressing, like this lemon olive oil dressing.
  • Roast potatoes or other vegetables in the oven.
  • Use oil instead of butter in certain baked goods.

41. Baking soda (and baking powder)

Baking soda is a must-have for anyone who likes to bake – but it’s also amazing for cleaning sinks or stove surfaces. A small box of baking soda costs less than $1 at most stores, making it an extremely cheap item to keep on hand for both your cooking and cleaning needs.

Baking powder is also great to keep on hand for baking, as it functions a bit differently than baking soda. Different recipes will use different leavening agents.

Ideas for using baking soda:

  • Make homemade soft pretzels – they’re so good! (The key to good homemade pretzels in a baking soda bath.)
  • Use it when baking cookies, cakes, or muffins.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of cheap foods that you can buy even when you’re on a tight budget. From apples to eggs, peanut butter to oatmeal – you’ll find tons great options that will help to keep you full and satisfied throughout the day.

Next time you’re at the grocery store, be sure to pick up some of these budget-friendly foods! You can save even more on some of these by using apps like Flashfood or Ibotta.

And if you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to get help. You can apply for SNAP benefits if you meet income eligibility requirements, which will provide you with a debit card to help you buy food. You can also find local food pantries in your area that can be used if needed. And of course, you can also find new ways to make money when you’re broke to help bring in some additional income.

Cheers to delicious, nutritious, and affordable meals!

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