Thanks for stopping by to read 21 Budget Meals when Money is Tight. Many of us are watching grocery prices go higher and our salaries not going higher. Upwards at least, to keep up with the cost of living.

Most of us know what it’s like when there’s more month than money. It’s a disaster if groceries still need to be purchased. We need to figure out some cheap eats.

In my post, never buy food on credit, I urge my readers to always use cash to buy groceries. Or a debit card if you don’t like carrying large amounts of cash with you. Make sure there is money in the bank account that debit card is attached to. You don’t want to be at the cash register and get an insufficient funds message on the machine.

That post also offers suggestions on looking in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer to see if you have anything you can put together for a meal.

If you have $20 in your wallet to buy groceries to last a week, groceries you should look at are: eggs, beans, rice, oatmeal, skim milk powder, potatoes, bananas, and frozen fruits and vegetables.


Most of the items on this list you can also eat for lunch or dinner, too.

Pancakes – you can either buy a box where you add water to the mix, or make them from scratch.

Waffles – if you have a waffle iron, that box of pancake mix works here, too. Or buy frozen waffles in bulk at your grocery store. I buy the Great Value waffles at Walmart, 48 in a box. A box costs about $7, so that’s 15¢ a waffle. Tip: remove the waffle packages out of the box to store in the freezer. Saves space!

Eggs and toast – you can prepare the eggs however you like (about 25¢ each). If you bake your own bread, the ingredients probably work out to less than $1 a loaf.

Super Easy Overnight Trail Mix Oats

Oatmeal – either cook it in the microwave or make overnight oats.

Skinny Blackberry Muffins – you saved money by picking wild blackberries. You can also substitute fresh or frozen blueberries. Click here for the recipe.

Smoothies – combine whatever frozen fruit or bananas you have with yogurt, milk, or even iced tea. See my recipe for spicy apple green tea smoothie.


Most of these cheap meals are good for either lunch or dinner, but generally I look at them as lunch items.

I love sandwiches even though I don’t eat them so much any more. If you buy rice paper wraps, they’re much cheaper than bread, and any sandwich fixings can be used in a rice paper wrap or even a tortilla wrap.

If you’re not into baking bread, check out this recipe for whole wheat tortillas.

Grilled cheese sandwich – I rarely make this anymore (sob!). Before I cut back on cheese, I always kept a jar of Cheez Whiz in the fridge to make grilled cheese sandwiches.

Peanut butter sandwich – Oddly enough, I didn’t like peanut butter sandwiches as a kid. Once I grew up – yum! I’m all for the open face peanut butter sandwich. I slice up a banana and put them on top of the peanut butter.

Stock Up on Soup for Cheap Meals

Can of soup – this is why we stock up on a case of soup when we see them on sale! Instant lunch or dinner for less than a buck a can. PS – There’s just something about a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup to make you feel all warm and cozy inside.

How to make a Chick Pea Sandwich

Chick pea sandwich – If you’re following my recipe for a chick pea sandwich, it also goes great in a rice paper wrap. Hint: put the chips on the side of the plate – not rolled up in the wrap!

Tuna sandwich – my all time favorite! Also goes great in a wrap. Unfortunately, tuna isn’t as good a budget meal as it used to be, but watch for the cans when they go on sale and stock up.

Homemade soup – the super easy Instant Pot veggie barley soup works out to pennies per serving. You can use a crock pot or even a pot on the stove. Throw in vegetables or meat leftovers.

Spinach salad – A bag of spinach costs $2.29 and lasts me a week. That usually includes having a smaller spinach salad at dinner, too. I buy a bag of mini carrots for $1.59 and call it a salad. You can put whatever toppings you have on hand, but that might put this salad out of the range of being a budget meal!

21 Budget Meals when Money is Tight

Everything on this list can be eaten for lunch or dinner, but when I make these meals, it’s primarily with dinner in mind.

Tomato soup baked beans – another great recipe that costs pennies per serving.

Spaghetti – you don’t need meatballs because that’ll cost more money. A can of pasta sauce or tomatoes is handy to keep in the cupboard. I often throw in a handful of frozen peas while cooking spaghetti, drain, put on a plate, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Macaroni and cheese – pastas of any kind are a cheap meal. You can make macaroni and cheese from a box, buy a frozen one when it’s on sale at the grocery store, or make it yourself from scratch. Here’s the recipe I use from the Kraft Canada kitchen. Tip: keep shredded cheese in your freezer for moments like this.

Baked potato – five minutes in the microwave and it’s a meal! Add margarine, a little shredded cheese, or other toppings.

Tuna casserole – check out my easy Chopstick Tuna Casserole.

Veggie burgers or hamburgers – here it depends on your food preferences and what you have on hand! Meat is more expensive.

Beans and rice – easy to find in the bulk aisle when money is tight, just buy what you need. Otherwise, buy large bags to keep on hand. Tip: check the international aisle of your grocery store – beans and rice are usually cheaper there and come in larger bags!

Super Easy Veggie Lentil Loaf

Meatloaf or Meatless Loaf – again another cheap meal idea. See the recipe for my veggie lentil loaf. Cheap lentils substitute for ground hamburger.


The remnants of a casserole, pizza, or any other meal you made that wasn’t eaten in one sitting goes great for lunch or dinner the next day.

Still hungry?

Apples and bananas help fill you up. Maybe a spoonful or two of peanut butter.

I’m always hungry! Popcorn to the answer. Not microwave popcorn. Buy a package of kernels for your air popper or on the stovetop. It’s cheaper to buy that way and you control what oil and toppings go on them. Check out my popcorn reviews.

Published by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs on March 11, 2020.

Review of Orville Redenbacher Popcorn
Instant Pot Popcorn Fail!
More reading:
Low Cost Homemade Meals and Baking
Eat Cheap and Healthy on a Budget

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