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How to Eat Cheap - a Recipe for Survival When You're Low on Money.

Updated on February 28, 2020
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don and his wife love to cook. They enjoy new and different recipes and experimenting with interesting combinations of ingredients.

A Frugal Chef - Some Cheap Recipes

The blog - A Frugal Chef which is a collection of low cost Ethnic recipes.
The blog - A Frugal Chef which is a collection of low cost Ethnic recipes. | Source

Even when Broke, you have to Eat

It really doesn't matter what the cause of your financial problem might be, the fact remains that a person has to eat, and eat regularly, to survive.

You could be a College student that runs out of money a week before you get your next check from Dad and Mom.

You could be a worker who was suddenly laid off for a couple of weeks and you weren't prepared financially.

You could even be the head of a household, with several Kids, and you need to just get a few days of food at the lowest cost possible, until you get your next check.

Whatever the reason, there are times when you need to purchase your family's food with both eyes on the Price Tag.

ADA Complete Food and Nutrition Guide

American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, Rev Updated 4E
American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, Rev Updated 4E
I have found this book to be a great source of information about foods and their nutritional values. If you cannot afford to purchase it, go to your local library and check it out.

To Survive, your body needs energy, daily!

Skipping meals is not the answer.

Going on a Starvation Diet to reduce your food intake is not the answer.

Regardless of your finances, your body must stay healthy, and you must eat regularly.

T do your job well, your body needs regular nourishment to keep your muscles and organs functioning properly. And, more importantly, your brain needs to be fresh and healthy, to keep you working and thinking at your best.

You must make sure you eat foods that provide at least the minimum daily requirement of; Calories, Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals that you (and your family's) bodies require each and every day.

To this end, this article will provide tips for you to use in stretching your money as far as possible.

Some of the tips are just common sense, and you probably already know them, but as a whole, they can dramatically reduce the cost of your foods.

A book on Buying Food Cheap

Food For You: Buying it cheap, using each piece and finding it free
Food For You: Buying it cheap, using each piece and finding it free
I loved this book, It described so many ways that a person can get the most from their foods and how to get cheaper foods.

Buy Cheap to make your money go further

To save money on food, you have to be prepared to "do some walking".

By that I mean either walking through some stores that you may not normally go to, or possibly with the online shopping opportunities some stores provide, you can let your fingers do some walking on the internet.

Take the time to walk through the nearest food stores, from the giant chain supermarket to the local Mom and Pop family food store, looking for that great deal.

You need to know which stores have the basic but nutritious foods you (and your family?) need to survive for maybe a few days, but possibly for weeks.

And, in today's information world, all supermarkets will have web sites, so check these out for these three things;

  • First, what do they have on sale.
  • Second, what foods do they offer coupons on.
  • And finally, on which days do they have their special sales.

And, remember, you are into survival eating, so just pass over those enticing ads for Ice Cream, prepared and heavily processed foods, as well as the big fancy name brands.

Keep in mind, while shopping for that great deal on a food or ingredient, it may be the one that is not only priced cheap, but is actually nutritious.

The World cannot survive on Rama Noodles

Although many single people and College students swear that they lived for days on Rama Noodles, you need to look at other foods for your nutritional needs.

Without going into the technology of selecting foods by their nutritional content, you need to understand that you need a certain minimum number of;Calories, Fats, Fiber, and other basic nutrients as well as Vitamins and Minerals for your body to function properly.

Daily Vitamin Pills

So, if you are going to really cut back on your food intake, and variety, then the first thing you need to purchase is a bottle of Daily Vitamins; if you are not already using them.

These little babies will do more to help you stay healthy during your survival eating than anything else you might do.

Buy a brand that is cheap and still provides all of the Minimum Daily Requirements of the major nutrients you will need. And, take them everyday.

Think about it, you may have a day when you only eat bologna sandwiches, but if you take a multi-vitamin, your body is still going to get most of those other nutrients its needs to not only get the most from the bologna sandwich, but also keep your organs and even your brain functioning.

Calories First

Then, as you shop and search for the better deals on foods, you must read those labels for their actual caloric as well as other nutritional content.

That's, right, Calories are your first concern when shopping for foods..

You see, calories are energy, and your body burns calories all day every day, in order to function properly. So, plan your purchases to maximize your calorie intake until you reach your recommended daily input, then look to fulfill the other nutritional needs of your body.

Of course, when you get back on your feet, so to speak, you can go back to eating nutritious foods and putting your long-term health first.

Bot when you're desperate? It's all about Calories.

Potatoes - They don't call them a Food Staple for nothing.

Buy potatoes and make the most of the nutritional values of this cheap food source
Buy potatoes and make the most of the nutritional values of this cheap food source | Source

Where to look for deals on food

You see, you need to find the "real deals" on food, not some advertised, price reduction by the big corporate supermarkets just so they can alleviate an overstock situation.

Often, these "sales" are still priced high relative to what you can get the same food for at another cheaper store.

This other store may not be as grand as the big supermarkets, it may even seem small and poorly lit, but it can contain some real treasures, if you are willing to look.

You see, while you liked shopping in that enormous and expensive supermarket that has such a wonderful variety of foods to select from; around the corner there was that little family run food store, that you always shunned.

Well guess what. That little store has survived by selling less products, cheaper, to people who couldn't afford to shop at the big supermarket. This means that if you look closely, you will probably find some great deals in that little out-of-the-way market.

And, please, avoid thoise hole-in-the-wall QUICK stores.

They survive because they know many people are just lazy and the convenience of popping into a small store, right on the side of your road home and quickly purchase an item offsets the higher price. Typical items sold in these stores are; Beer, condiments, soft drinks, milk, bread and lunchmeats, etc.

Of course, you'll will find that their prices are very high on anything they sell, but they are convenient.

Other Cheap Food Sources

There are a number of places where you can purchase cheap foods, and here are a few that you can check out;

Neighborhood Food Stores

I already mentioned these, but you can often find some cheap prices on many foods in these stores , so check them out.

Discount Stores

You know those stores with the words Dollar in their name and their like? These stores will often have, in addition to snacks, canned and packaged basic foods that are priced cheaply.

But, take care, often the larger chains of these low-cost stores purchase foods packaged in smaller volumes than what you normally see. These 'special" foods are often more costly when you do the calculations and look at Price-per-Ounce.

Bulk Food Stores

These stores are usually membership stores, and they sell foods that are packaged in large uantities. I think you will find that they have very few what I call "Basic" foods that you can use, and often, if you do your "price-per-Ounce" calculations, they can cost more than if you purchase them elsewhere.

Damaged Food Stores

Actually, these stores can provide some great deals. They purchase foods that the packaging design has been changed by the manufacturer, or foods where the packaging is damaged. Damage may be as simple as torn labels or it could be bent cans.

A bent can is not a bad thing, if you are going to consume the food right away, or within a few weeks, Do not store these foods for long periods of time, as the inner liner of the can could also be damaged on a bent can.

Out of Date Food Stores

These stores are great for finding cheaply priced foods. Bread can be purchased at these stores, and there is nothing is wrong with the bread other than it may not be as fresh as when it was on the supermarket shelf.

They are just a snutritious as the day they were made, just not so soft. I have found that a toaster takes care of this problem when making sandwiches.

There are other foods that are put on sale for being Out-of-date. This means that the "sell by" date has been reached. This date is not a regulated requirement and most manufacturers use them for their customers convenience. Nearly always, these foods are fresh and wholesome if consumed within a few days. And, they are great deals.

Fresh Food Stands

If you need vegetables and can swallow your pride, go to a Fresh Food stand, and ask the manager if they have any vegetables that they are throwing away. Just tell them the truth, that you don't have the miney to purchase their fresh foods, but you want to eat healthy foods. And, you know that their wilted or drooping foods are still good.

They are very likely to give you some vegetables that they were throwing away because they did not look good enougn to sell.


There are other places that you can find cheap foods, but these are just a few that you might want to consider.

Survival Tips to Eat Cheap

Here are some random tips for you to follow when shopping for cheap foods.

Off-Brand Canned foods

Some canned Foods are great sources of calories, Protein and other nutrients for the survival buyer.

Supermarkets will usually have not only name brands of foods on their shelves, but they will also have their own store brands. These are usually not any different than some of the name brands, and many supermarkets actually purchase from the name brand companies and have their labels put on the cans.

Off Brand Cereals

Cereals provide fiber and certain basic nutrients as well as Carbohydrates at a relatively low price.

Do not buy those expensive name brands, but look for the cheaper generic or store brands. These cheaper cereals are usually on the lower shelves where you have to bend over and read their lables.

They are just a nutritious as the name brands.

Buy Bulk Root Vegetables

Root Vegetables are great sources of Starch, Sugar and Fiber, which the body will convert to energy, Also, they keep well, for weeks, even months if stored properly. Of course, you still have to shop around for the best price-per-pound, but by eating them you can really help your budget.

Potatoes - Buy them by the large bag and make them your main dish, if necessary. You can bake them, peel and boil them, even slice and fry them. However you prepare them they can help you get to your minimum calorie intake for each day.

Beets - Like Potatoes, Beets can be stored for a long period of time, and can be purchased as cheaply as potatoes and are not only a decent starch but they supply a high level of sugar for energy.

Carrots - Carrots are another cheap root vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked.

Other Root Vegetables - There are other root vegetables that are nutritious and at times, seasonally, can be purchased at a cheap price. Look for these and stock up.


When you are cooking, you can always use Onions, They are nutritious, add a nice flavor and can be a good source of fiber. And, they store for long periods of time if stored in a dry place. And of course, they can be purchased in bulk for a cheap price.


If you want to save money and eat some meat in your meals, watch the price of whole chickens. At times you can purchase these very, very cheaply. If you have a Crock Pot, or if not, a Dutch Over, or if not that, a large Pot with a top, you can make a great meal.

Put the whole chicken in the pot. Split and add several Onions. Also, if you have them, add some split Carrots and quartered potatoes. Add plenty of Salt and Pepper, and then cover the whole mixture with water plus a couple of inches of extra water over everything.

Cook the mixture on Low for several hours until the chicken is almost falling off of the bones. Once done, remove all of the vegetable for eating separately. Remove the chicken and pull all of the meat from the bones for separate serving.

The liquid that is left in the pot is a great Chicken stock that is not only tasty, but when cooked over other vegetables and meats provides extra nutrition.

Buying whole chickens is not only cheap but they can also be cut up and baked or fried easily.


Beef is usually an expensive meat to purchase when you are watching your money and should only be purchased when it is on sale. Watch for sales on the cheaper cuts. It might not be as rasrt or as tender, but you are looking for Protein and money savings.

On thing that you can try, is to go to the butcher and ask him if he has any beef trimming that you can serve to your dog. If they are pet lovers, they just might sell you some out-of-date meat that you can cook. Be sure to cook this out-of-date meats until well done just to be safe.

These are just a few of the things that I know of that youcan do to save significant money on your food costs, when your budget is tight.

Desperation Food Sources

Even knowing how to do these things to save money, at times you are just flat broke and just need a couple of meals to get you by for a day or so.

Even if this is the case, there are sources of food that you can revert to in order to keep from starving. They may not be good for your pride they are ways for you to eat.

Food Banks

Every City or Town has one or more Food Banks, where people have donated food for distribution to the poor and needy. If you go to one of these, It is almost guaranteed that they will provide you with some food.

Church Meals

If there is no other way, check out the local churches.Many of them provide free meals for the needy on certain evenings, and if you go there, they will provide you with a nutritious meal for the day.

Supermarket Dumpster Diving

OK, Ok, I know I shouldn't list this, but the category is desperation, so here goes.

If all else fails, you will find that a lot of the supermarkets, even the ones who told you earlier they had no out-of date foods, will have dumped their out-of-date foods in the dumpster at night. And, they will also have thrown away their wilted or damaged vegetables.

If the dumpster is unguarded and unlocked, a quick examination of its contents can provide you with several meals worth of these not so great, but still good foods to get you by for another day.

Like I said, it is a desperation move, but a growling stomach has no pride.


Try making some Hobo Soup. A lot of College kids have eaten this Gourmet delight for a meal to quieten their stomachs down.

Did you know that a bottle of Ketchup is a great food source.

You see,1-tbs. of Ketchup has; 20-calories, 4-grams of Sugar and 5-grams of Carbs.

And, did you know that 1 single Saltine Cracker has 10-calories,

So, to make Hobo Soup, just add enough Ketchup to 2-cups of boiling water until you get the consistency you want, and then add some saltines, salt and pepper, and you have a nice and cheap meal that will keep you going for a while and fill your stomach.

It aint Tomato Soup, exactly, but I have had Tomato Soup that wasn't any better.

In Summary

So, what you have here is a pretty detailed list of things that you can do to continue to eat nutritious foods, on a dramatically reduced budget.

Follow these tips and you can get through the bad times of having very little money and with a llitte forethought and work, you can still eat nutritious meals.

Good Luck!

How to get more Protein in your meals, cheaply.

How to tell if Meat has Gone Bad

How to buy healthy foods cheap.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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