Broke and Hungry: Getting Groceries on a Strict Budget

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

Let's face it. Everybody deals with hunger on a daily basis. No matter how much money is or isn't in your wallet, you're still going to find yourself realizing, "Hey! It's time to eat!" And even if you're barely getting by, you still have to eat! This holds true whether you're a college student living on minimum wage or less, looking for a way to feed yourself economically, or a mother of three that struggles to make food last on a meager budget.

No matter what your situation, there are ways to stretch your dollars further and get more good food for less money. We are not going to give you tips on which Dollar Menu to shop, but we will give you the tools to buy and create meals that could get you through a difficult time.

Do Not Sacrifice Nutrition

You may be hungry, but you do not want to make a situation worse by eating the wrong foods. Stocking up on bread, chips, or cookies is not going to keep you going. The vast majority of snack foods, and carbohydrate rich foods, will actually make you hungrier in the long run.

These foods will also take more to fill you up in just one sitting. It is ok to have these foods as a side dish to a more filling meal, but avoid them if you can. A lot of nutritious and filling foods are just as inexpensive and will help you through each day.

Look for canned foods like beans, vegetables, and meats that are not too high in sodium. A lot of canned foods are significantly less than a dollar for a good amount of food. Beans are especially a good source of protein and fiber.

Rice, pasta, and tortillas are much less expensive than pre-made breads and snacks as well. You could prepare spaghetti, sauce, and cut up hot dogs to feed a family of 5 for less than $5. Add a side of veggies from a can, and you have a meal that will fill everyone for less than a value meal eating out.

Bare Essentials

The key to saving money and stretching your budget even further is to buy the basic staples of food rather than premade items. If you buy things like individually-wrapped fruit, it will cost a lot more per ounce than buying the fruit and cutting it yourself. This same principle applies across all foods.

With just a little more effort in the kitchen, you can make meals that satisfy for even less. Dry, whole foods like beans, oats, or eggs can be purchased by the pound for less than premade options. A good recipe with these staples is only a Google search away.

Try to find a few meals that you are good at making and use some of the same foods in different ways. One night make soft tacos with beans and tortillas, and the next night make a stir fry with frozen vegetables and bean. No matter what dishes you make, if you start with whole foods, you will get way more food for a lot less money.

Inexpensive Meals

Here are some ideas for inexpensive meals that taste great:

Breakfast Tacos: Eggs, tortillas, and cheese to make a healthy start or end to your day.
Shepherd's Pie: You can make this dish with beans instead of beef, but either way, make sure you start with the basics—potatoes, carrots, corn, and peas.
Oatmeal: Start with basic no flavor oats and add fruit.
Spaghetti: Hot dogs are much less expensive than beef or chicken and make a great protein addition to this dish.

The keys to a great, inexpensive meal are to limit the number of items that go into it, while keeping the cost of each of those items low. With an eye towards nutrition, you can make any of these with very little cash.

Eating Out Makes Things Worse

It may be tempting to take your last few dollars, run to a fast food restaurant, and try to feed yourself or your kids. But you are paying for someone to make the food and the cost of them running a business. Those dollar menu items will not get you as far as good, whole food from a grocery store.

The fact that it is easy to run in and out quickly with food in hand, does not mean it is your best option. Most fast food is loaded with salt, sugar, and fats that make your body crave more of those same things. Those low nutrition items will not only make you hungry for more, but you will get less overall food.

Get Real Help

If you truly do not have the funds to buy and make your own meals, you may be beyond the help of budgeting tips. There are community charities that can help to feed you and make sure that you get what your body needs. Please do not be ashamed to reach out and find one, especially if you have children.

Make Good Food Decisions

Changing the way you spend money on food probably won't be an overnight success. You will have to develop the skills of cooking and buying items that stay fresh longer and keep bellies full. Drive past the fast food and head to the grocery store.

One last tip to keep your budget in line. Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, but it isn't a great way to feed your family. To keep your budget in line, only buy enough for the week's worth of meals. Or less. People get tired of the same foods over and over, and you don't want to have food go to waste because you changed your mind on what to eat next.

Make sure to research your meals ahead of time and buy the ones that will keep you and your family full and healthy. Ramen may be super cheap, but it will not get you through all of life's demands. Your food budget will go a lot farther with real, whole foods that satisfy.