Sticking to a Tight Food Budget

A photo by Webvilla.

Even if we weren’t poor post-grads, I’d stick to food budget. It’s amazing how much moolah food costs, and, though I’ve tried it on days when I’m too lazy to cook, cutting out food from one’s life just doesn’t work.

We give ourselves a $200 per month budget. It’s tight, but we’ve got some secrets to keeping our small budget.

We shop for two or three weeks at a time. It’s nearly impossible to make wholesome meals out of a $50 weekly budget, but it’s more than doable to drop $80-$110 dollars on one shopping trip that stretches for several weeks.

This means we buy in bulk as much as possible, hunting for the lowest price per pound on almost everything. The few cents we save adds up. Anything that spoils quickly, we freeze. (This does cause problems when it’s 8 PM and I remember that food is a thing but all we have to eat is frozen solid. Just a forewarning.)

We’re still using our gigantic bag of rice we bought as newlyweds. Rice, potatoes, eggs, beans, and huge bags of Great Value cheese are our staples. It’s mind-blowing how many yummy, filling recipes you can cook up with those ingredients and a few dashes from your spice cabinet. By the end of week 3 (maybe into week 4, if we’re lucky), we’re chowing down on potato cheese scrambles, bean burritos, and seasoned rice.

That’s another secret to sticking to our budget — we don’t do much meal planning. Sure, we’ll think ahead if we’re craving something in particular, but we just buy flexible ingredients that work with each other. We’ve always got some tomato sauce and ground beef to whip up a noodle dish or a chili, tortillas for fajitas and quesadillas, and veggies for stir fry, salad, or snacking with some ranch dressing.

When our food starts dwindling, I Google recipes involving whatever random ingredients I want to pair until we’ve eaten through everything and the  backup potatoes, eggs, and beans. No food gets left behind — except the bare bones staples like flour and oil, and condiments.

I might make another run or two to buy fresh milk or butter (or Japanese cookies), but we’re pretty much done shopping for the month. All of this for under or at $200, no problem.

What are your tips for shopping or cooking on a budget?

10 thoughts on “Sticking to a Tight Food Budget

  1. wifemotherfriendblog

    We almost stick to a very specific food . We are a family of five so we spend quiet a bit more. Costco is great! We get things like bread, eggs milk, cheese yogurt there. The kids eat a lot so that is where most of our money goes . Now for me I find meal planning to be a life saver, I often have to plan for the meal the day before so it really helps to know I have everything I need for a recipe and it means I don’t have random stuff laying around I usually plean for several meals that take similar ingredients.


  2. Steph E

    Mealime. It’s the BEST app ever. (And it’s free). It plans 4 meals for you, and it builds the meal plan so that it uses up weird ingredients (so you don’t have random cilantro left over), it creates a shopping list for you, and since we use it on the “flexitarian” option (less meat) our groceries come out at $50/week using it. We just started using it a few months ago. We’re obsessed.


  3. Bethany

    You’ve already heard my mealtime woes! :) We’re in a weird limbo where we are hardly ever home to eat, so breakfast burritos and tuna salad are staples here! I recently started cooking bigger portions so we ALWAYS have leftovers. That just about fixes lunch and weird nights I might not get around to cooking. I always shop at Aldi’s, or snag the latest Pick ‘N Save deal (coupon cards are the best!) since I’m preggo, I have to get a lot of fresh produce…which gets pricey and doesn’t last long. But we make it work. :)


  4. Allison Caylor

    We did $200 a month for about our first year of marriage — it was tricky (especially since we’re both really into food), but we did it. It’s gone up a little since then, but I still use a lot of the same strategies. I buy meat and cheese at Sam’s at the beginning, then make one more big trip in the month, with two small runs for milk and fresh fruits & veggies. Shopping at Aldi, freezing extra of whatever’s on sale, always cooking enough for leftovers, and meal planning are my main lifesavers. I also keep sandwich ingredients around just in case — egg salad on tighter weeks.

    Let’s see, what are my other favorite tricks? I like to plan tikka masala and enchiladas in the same week — the same $0.59 bunch of cilantro can take both meals up a notch. (Absolutely grow herbs yourself if you can!) If you have some time on Saturday and a cooler for insulation, you can turn out a gallon of your own yogurt for next to nothing; let it drain over a cheesecloth for Greek yogurt, way better than store-bought. If you buy a whole chicken instead of pieces, you can stew it, use the chopped meat for 4 or even 5 meals, and flavor them with a pot of easy, super nutritious broth. And of course, make good use of potatoes! For the best-ever thick fries, cut them into wedges, drizzle them with oil and season generously with garlic salt and pepper, and bake them at 375 for around 30 minutes. My husband craves those with fresh Cole slaw — dirt cheap sides that balance out the cost of some crock pot barbecue chicken or pork.

    This was a really fun post!


    • Bailey Steger

      I love all these suggestions! You sound far more organized and adventurous than I…and now I’m craving thick fries. Your comment is inspiring me even as I’m actively avoiding grocery shopping right now! :)


  5. Chelsea

    My husband and I do a grocery budget of 40 dollars a week. We eat mostly plant based (me all plant-based as I’m a vegetarian) so that saves a ton of money (not to mention aligns with my faith and ethics around the planet and animal rights). We buy brown rice in bulk from the Asian market and I make a big pot most weeks that we can then pull out and use as a base for vegetarian chil, black beans and corn rice bowls, vegetarian “fried” rice (pan fry defrosted mixed veggies and rice with soy sauce, ginger, a little oil, garlic, maybe rice vinegar and you are good to go), in rice bowls with greens and veggies and dressing (we make our own, including hummus with a nutribullet it is super easy and cheap), Thai curry dishes (veggies (peas and potatoes are the best) plus coconut milk and curry powder and a few other spices to taste, Aloo Gobi (rice, peas, potatoes and certain spices with tomatoes and tomatoes), tabouli (rice, parsely, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, lemon), the possibilities are endless. Rice can also be used as a base for soups. Sometimes if there is a can of soup we like that is on sale, we make it into a whole meal by adding some rice and spinach (maybe another can of beans). You don’t have to go completely vegetarian/vegan, but eating more plant foods is a great way to save money. Also, my husband gets a BIG smoothie every morning for breakfast (two to three bananas, a little greens, whatever other fruit we have (orange juice, frozen berries) and maybe peanut butter) it is super cheap and make sure that he has fruit he needs for the day in case he doesn’t eat any later.


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