Thanks to inflation, it’s time to revisit what to do when we’re broke with $20 to buy groceries in 2023. How can we stretch $20 to buy groceries to last a week?
It’s been over two years since I posted Broke with $20 to Buy Groceries for a Week. Have prices changed dramatically since the first run?
In Canada inflation caused eggs to rise 16.7 per cent, bread rose 15.5 per cent and fresh fruit rose 11.0 per cent. Dairy prices keep going up.
On November 11, 2021 I bought Becel Oat Milk Margarine for $4.49. On December 30, 2022, I bought it at the same store – on sale! – for $7.99! I don’t recall the regular price but I think it was a dollar more. At Save On Foods, the Becel Oat Margarine is $9.49. (Edited June 30, 2023 – unfortunately it appears Becel has discontinued their oat margarine.)
Choose lower priced grocery stores
It goes without saying, but if we’re living frugally, we already know what grocery store has the best prices where we live.
Too expensive to buy food
More times than I can remember I’ve stared inside a mostly empty fridge and opened cupboards looking for something to eat. A week or longer until payday, I had to figure out how to buy groceries with $20.
With inflation, many people are in a similar situation.
Once vendors, suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers start putting up the prices on groceries, they’re not going to drop down again. More price increases are predicted for 2023.
And even once the prices begin to decrease from the source, retailers are more likely to offer sales on these items rather than decrease the price. That way customers think they’re getting a deal. Just like me and the “sale” on the Becel margarine that has increased by $3.50 in just over a year. That’s a 78% increase!
My younger self kept a few packages of instant noodles, Jell-O, bread, margarine, tuna, popcorn, milk and cereal in the house. That was everything I needed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and a snack.
This is about surviving. Not about eating tasty, gourmet meals.
It’s also about how to make do with less.
Check your fridge, freezer, and cupboards for anything that can be eaten. Maybe you can eat down your pantry while waiting for money to come in.
You might already have items in the house like condiments and seasonings to help make a meal less bland.
In the past year food banks have seen anywhere from 25% to 60% increase of people who need their services. Food insecurity is on the rise. This is directly related to no or low income and food banks are struggling to keep up with the demand.
Many clients work jobs but are unable to make ends meet and a bag of groceries from the food bank helps them immensely.
If you need food bank assistance, do a Google search for “food banks near me” or “food banks” and your city.
If you’re not in need of food bank services, please consider donating extra food or cash to your local food bank.
What did you find when you looked in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer? Any foods that you can add to something you buy with that $20 in order to make a meal? Or at least a tastier meal.
If you have frozen vegetables in the freezer, you can make soup. No soup stock? Use water and herbs and spices you have on hand. If you have lentils or barley in the cupboard, put them into the soup. Do you have an Instant Pot? Throw everything inside and press the Soup button on the program menu. If not, put the ingredients into a pot, put it on your stove top, bring to a boil, and then let it simmer for half an hour or so.
Soup always tastes better the next day, so make enough for at least one more meal.
Check out the dollar store for cheap groceries. In the states, many dollar stores sell perishable items like eggs, cheese, milk, bread and frozen foods.
We’re still waiting for that to happen in Canada!
The dollar store will usually have cans of soup and beans for a dollar, pasta, pasta sauce, and canned vegetables. You can probably spend $20 and buy enough food to last the week. Many of these foods can be made into more than one meal. Put it in the fridge and reheat the leftovers for your next meal.
Campbell’s soup tastes the same whether you buy it for a buck at the dollar store or spend more money at a grocery store.
US dollars versus Canadian dollars
For the purpose of this article, the price is in Canadian dollars.
I’ve shopped at a lot of grocery stores in the states over the years and one thing I’ve noticed is the prices are about the same. Which means I can eyeball a product I can buy in Canada and due to the US/Canadian dollar exchange, it’s cheaper for me to buy it in Canada when the price is about the same.
However, there are tons of grocery products that are sold in the states that aren’t available in Canada. That’s my quest when I’m shopping for groceries in the U.S. I’m buying what I can’t get back home.
Although not exactly healthy, or keep you feeling full for a long time, instant noodles are usually economical, around 25¢ each. I used to hard boil an egg and slice it onto my noodles.
Every now and then I spot a package of noodles in the store, and if I have money to spare, I’ll put it in my cart. At Walmart a 12-pack of their Great Value vegetable noodles used to cost $2. Now the same product costs $2.97. They also come in chicken and beef flavors, but that’s not much interest to vegetarians like me.
Instant noodles are also sold in single packs at grocery stores and dollar stores for 25¢ to 50¢.
A local produce store sells 10 pound sacks of potatoes for $2.99 to $3.99. As a single I can’t always eat them all before they get mushy and start growing eyes.
If you’re feeding more than yourself, I recommend a bag of potatoes because it’s the cheapest way to buy them and they’re filling. If you have $20 and can’t eat a bag of potatoes before they turn, don’t buy them singly.
I recently needed one potato for a casserole. and it cost me $1.13 at Walmart!!! A can of diced potatoes would have been about the same price.
If you have peanut butter in the house – excellent! Here’s a tip: always buy another jar of peanut butter as soon as you open a new jar.
It’s kind of like the royal family – an heir and a spare.
I always have a spare jar of peanut butter on hand, so even if things get really tight for me in the money department, that peanut butter can take me through a few meals until the next time I get money.
Watch for sales. If everything is at the regular price, I recommend the Great Value brand. It tastes as good as name brands.
$20 grocery list
If you have $20 in your wallet and need to buy groceries to last a week, first of all, look around your pantry and see what canned goods, dry goods, and frozen food you have that can be used for meal preparation. Maybe you can even put off grocery shopping for a few days and eat what you have on hand! Here are some suggestions for low cost groceries to tide you over:
1. Pasta – all types of pasta have gone up in price over the past year, but you should still be able to find pasta for under $2.
2. Beans – canned beans now cost over a dollar. I recommend dry beans to get more meals. Check the international section of the grocery store. The dry beans might be cheaper than the ones in the soup or canned foods aisle.
If your store has a bulk foods section buy dry beans and weigh them before you take them to the cash register, to make sure you’re under budget. Beans are filling and a good source of protein. If using dry beans, make enough to cover two or three meals.
3. Rice – you can buy rice in the bulk aisle and get as much as you need, using the scale to match your budget. Again, check the international section of the grocery store or visit small produce/grocery stores that stock a lot of Asian groceries. Sometimes you can buy several pounds of rice for less than $5.
4. Oats – seeing as how you’re in the bulk aisle, buy oats and cook them for breakfast with brown sugar, cinnamon, or fruit if you have any.
5. Milk – in Canada powdered milk has gone up in price, and at least in my opinion, doesn’t taste so good. You can buy a 2 liter carton of milk cheaper than powdered milk, unless you buy the mix in the bulk section. I recommend buying plant based milk. In Canada it’s slightly cheaper than milk from cows and doesn’t turn sour before the expiry date.
6. Potatoes – another filling food item. You can either buy potatoes singularly, or look for any specials in a bag. Sometimes you can buy a 10 pound bag of potatoes for $3 or $4. I find small produce or ethnic stores often have better prices than big grocery chains.
7. Popcorn – Need a snack? A bag of generic popcorn costs about $3. Use a hot air popcorn popper or put a little oil in a pan and a bag of popcorn will make many batches.
8. Bananas – they fill you up and are usually not too expensive. Depending on the store, I’ve seen the price stay solid at 69¢/lb up to 89¢. You can weigh them in the produce section before you buy and keep it around $2.
Frozen fruit and vegetables – as a single I tend to buy a lot of frozen produce because it beats buying fresh produce that goes bad before I can eat it. Cruise past your frozen section and look for items on sale.
Add them up
Broke with $20 to buy groceries for the week
This is an example of keeping the groceries to $20 when times are hard. You might be able to drop the cost a bit by shopping the bulk bins for smaller portions or making the dollar store your $20 shopping challenge.
If you have enough money to do so, try keeping a bag of apples and potatoes in the house. Often they’re sold cheaper by the bag, they last longer than other perishables, and they’re filling.
When you get more money coming in, just about all the items on this list can be purchased in larger bags, bringing down the cost and making them last longer. I keep oats in the freezer and I buy the largest bags of frozen vegetables when I go shopping, All items on this list are in my house right now, and I recommend you also keep them on hand.
As your financial situation improves, add a couple extra canned goods or frozen vegetables to your shopping cart, especially sale items. The day will come when you’ll be grateful for your little stockpile.
Published by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs on January 14, 2023.