mum grocery shopping with child in trolley

Cheapest Food to Buy when You’re Broke

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The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone right now. Even the cost of shopping at budget supermarkets has increased significantly. So, how can you get your food bill down? I lived on my own when I was in my 20s and was permanently skint, so I’m familiar with making your food budget stretch further! Here we look at some of the cheapest foods to buy when you’re struggling, or just trying to save some more money. 

The Quickest Way to Cut Your Grocery Bill

While snacks and ready-meals might be your go-to option for convenience, it’s surprising how much these items will bump up the total cost when you get to the checkout. Convenience foods are generally high in sugar and additives to ‘improve flavour’, and aren’t always particularly healthy.

As a busy mum, it’s often easy to fill the cupboard with snacks that the kids (and husband!) can grab when they need a quick energy fix. But I also know from experience that cutting these out can save a lot on your food bill!

Plus, if you’ve ever read ‘Good Vibes, Good Life’, you’ll know that processed food isn’t a particularly ‘high vibe’ kind of food either. Junk food and high-sugar snacks can leave you feeling rather ‘flat’, and there are plenty of healthy ways to snack at home which can provide protein, carbs, and vitamins. Below are just some examples of what you could grab from the kitchen: 

11 Cheap Snack Ideas

  • Plain yoghurt with chopped fruit, seeds and honey
  • Oat cakes with cream/cottage cheese and fruit
  • Beans on toast
  • Bread sticks/veg sticks and hummus
  • Popcorn kernels (to make your own popcorn!)
  • Rice cakes and peanut butter
  • Seeded crackers and chocolate spread
  • Bananas on toast
  • Sliced vegetable sticks
  • Cheddar sticks and apple slices
  • Broad beans with garlic salt

Always Meal Plan Before Shopping 

Carefully planning your meals in advance can really cut the cost of your grocery bill, because (in theory) you will only buy what you need. Top tip: If you can help it, don’t go to the supermarket hungry, or do your shopping online using the ‘search’ bar to avoid buying things you don’t need. 

Also, by planning your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you have more chance of making sure you get a balanced diet throughout the day. Try to plan a mixture of at least 5 portions of fruit and veg over the day, with a mix of protein and carbohydrates like potato/sweet potato, rice, oats, pasta, wholemeal bread, etc. 

If you need a meal planner, you can download this one from my Etsy shop for just £0.79 (+vat). If you can incorporate high-protein foods and complex carbohydrates into your menu for the week, you’ll feel fuller for longer and less likely to need snacks. 

Top Places to Buy Cheap Food – Money Saving Tips

  • Aldi
  • Lidl
  • Local market
  • Farmfoods
  • Asda

My favourite supermarket is Aldi, but I’m also a fan of its rival Lidl, too. Generally speaking, most items are a lot cheaper than the mainstream supermarkets. I especially love the supermarket own-brand aspect, as much of the time, they taste almost as good as (if not better!) than the real thing. Items like teabags, tinned beans, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise, and ketchup. 

Purchasing supermarket own-brand items can bring the cost down significantly. 

I’ve listed the local market here. It might not always be the cheapest, but it is more likely to be better quality as it will be grown/produced locally. Local traders might also offer deals on bulk buying (meat/fish/veg/fruit, etc). 

However, depending on how you shop, you might find that there’s not much difference in cost between these supermarkets. Tescos and Sainsbury’s often price-match hundreds of household items like their own-brand apples, bread, beans, tea, etc. The key to keeping the cost of your food as low as possible is to cook from scratch where possible and keep things simple. 

It’s also worth checking out places such as Farmfoods and Iceland, as these often have deals on branded items and household goods. 

Money Saving Apps

If you love branded goods, there are apps that you can use to obtain money off items that are on special offer. So when you’re putting together your meal plan and shopping list, check to see what items might be on offer when you’re planning on doing your shop so you can get money off.

These are the 3 apps I have used in the past:

  • Checkout Smart – these show offers that are available in the big supermarkets, and you can filter by supermarket depending on where you’re planning to do your shop. The offers are usually cashback offers, where you purchase the item and then upload your receipt to claim the money back. Examples might be £1 cashback on branded cereal, or £2 cashback on a meal kit. Some products offer 100% cashback, effectively making the product free. The minimum payout to get your cashback is £1, however payments up to £19.99 will incur a transfer fee of 5%. Anything over £20.00 will not generate a fee. When you claim back your savings, you can pop that money back into your food budget pot. You can cashout via bank transfer or PayPal. Click here to download Checkout Smart.
  • Shopmium – This is similar to Checkout Smart where you get money back following your purchase. They also offer ‘trial’ prices, so you can try a product for £2 where it would normally be £3. Offers like these may require a quick review. When claiming your money back, you need to take a picture of the receipt, scan the barcode, then send the cashback request. Payments can be sent to you via PayPal, and take 3 working day. Click here to download Shopmium (aff) and claim your welcome offer (could be Pringles!).
  • GreenJinn is another app which works similarly to the two above.

Cheapest Foods to buy for Students – shopping list and meal ideas

Whether you want to save your money for day-to-day expenses or would just like to be able to have a social AND eat as well, shopping for food can be a challenge when you’re studying full time. With a little savvy, it’s totally possible to rustle up some nutritious, filling meals as a student. Here are some top suggestions on what to buy to keep you fuelled and make your money go further:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Pasta
  3. Rice
  4. Eggs
  5. Tinned tomatoes
  6. Mushroom soup
  7. Cheddar
  8. Plain yoghurt
  9. Honey
  10. Mushrooms
  11. Beans
  12. Bread
  13. Oats
  14. Tuna
  15. Frozen fruit (blueberries/raspberries etc)
  16. Frozen peas and sweetcorn
  17. Sausages or chicken thigh fillets

Meal Ideas for Students

Most of these meal ideas can be made using basic ingredients, but for some you will need cupboard/fridge staples like milk, cooking oil and garlic. Here are some ideas for you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast/lunch ideas:

  • Porridge with bananas and blueberries
  • Yoghurt topped with oats, honey, and banana
  • Beans on Toast
  • Soft boiled egg and soldiers
  • Cheese and mushroom omelette
  • Eggs on Toast
  • Mushrooms on toast
  • Beans on Eggy Bread (French toast)

Lunch/dinner ideas:

  • Jacket potato with cheese and beans
  • Jacket potato with tuna and sweetcorn
  • Spaghetti puttanesca
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and grated cheese
  • Tuna pasta bake
  • Chicken & vegetable pasta
  • Sausages, mashed potato, and beans
  • Mushroom risotto
  • Savoury rice
  • Special fried rice

Most of these meal ideas require little effort and have a mix of protein, carbs and nutrients. It helps to mix it up a bit but for those weeks when money is a real squeeze, these suggestions should help you out and keep you optimally fuelled.

What Is the Cheapest Food to Buy in Bulk?

Buying in bulk can really make your money go further so if you’re a fan of cooking with staples like pasta and rice, it makes sense to buy these in larger packs. You could visit a wholesaler like Costco, but you may find that it’s cheaper to purchase items in bulk at a supermarket in the ‘world foods sections’ or sometimes just in the usual spots. Foods to buy in bulk include:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Lentils
  • Dried beans (for soaking and cooking first instead of tinned)
  • Oats
  • Canned items (large tins more likely to be found somewhere like Costco)

Cheapest Food to Buy – Categories

I come from a long line of family where money was tight, so saving money on groceries and finding the cheapest food to buy is something I have a lot of experience in! I’m also a fan of healthy eating, and like to make sure we all get a good mix of protein, carbs and vitamins, so hopefully you’ll find this list pretty useful.

Meat/Protein Alternative

Whether you’re a meat-eater, vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan, there are plenty of ways to save money when it comes to your protein choices. Here are some ideas:

Meat/Fish

Look for cheaper cuts of meat, such as chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts, beef mince instead of ready-made beef burgers, pork shoulder instead of pork loin. Whilst a lot of the cheaper cuts may take longer to cook, the flavour is incredible. It takes a bit of advanced planning when cooking this way, which is why it’s advisable to have a meal plan each week.

Fish can be quite expensive, but it can often be cheaper to purchase what you need from the frozen section. You can pick up a bag of salmon fillets, cod, or smoked haddock for a lot less than in the fridge aisles. Plus, it means you’ve got a stead supply for when you want to make something like a fish pie, a kedgeree, or a simple dish of cod with tomato. Many of them can also be cooked from frozen, which makes life a lot easier!

Grains and Pulses

This is one of my favourite ways to add low-fat protein, carbs and minerals to food dishes, and is definitely one of the cheapest foods to buy.

You can add lentils to things like bolognese, chilli, or other sauce-based dishes. Pearl Barley makes a great addition to a beef or chicken stew, and chickpeas taste wonderful in a salad. (You could also have a go at making your own houmous!)

I like to keep a supply of dried beans in the cupboard, and soak and cook these for when I need them. Canned beans are cheap, but dried beans are even cheaper. They do require a little more work upfront to prepare them for cooking, so it depends on your preference.

For example, red kidney beans in a meat or vegetable chilli, white beans in a sausage and bean stew, or even add some tinned baked beans to your lasagne to bulk it out! (Sounds weird but it’s delicious and a trick I learned from a friend when sampling her cooking).

Vegetables

Vegetables aren’t actually that expensive, particularly if you buy what’s in season (grown locally). Produce that is imported from other countries are likely to be more expensive due to the cost involved in the supply. You could also try growing your own if you’re particularly green-fingered.

Carrots and onions are great staples for many dishes (like cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese, chicken stew), and they cost pence, so they’re always good to include in your shopping list.

The cheapest place to buy vegetables is generally from the frozen section in the supermarket, especially for things like peas, sweetcorn, spinach, etc. The amount of spinach that you get packed into tight little pre-cooked bundles is significantly higher than you would get from a packet of fresh spinach.

While fresh spinach is nicer in salads and sandwiches, spinach which has been cooked and frozen makes a fantastic healthy addition to curries. Alternatively, you could fry some off with an onion, pop between two tortilla wraps with some grated cheese, and grill both sides for a delicious and cheap quesadilla.

Some vegetables just taste better fresh than frozen, so it takes some trial and error, but it’s definitely worth checking out the freezer!

Fruit

Again, fruit from the frozen section is a surprisingly cheap food to buy compared to fresh. Not only that, but it retains a lot more nutrients as they’re frozen at source rather than left to go stale while in transit. Things like frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries etc make great additions to breakfast (when defrosted the night before, or quickly in the microwave).

You can also add them to smoothies and can get designated ‘smoothie mix’ bags from the freezer. It’s a cheap and convenient way to help you on your way 5 a day (and is also cheaper than buying a ready-made smoothie!)

Dairy

Making simple changes to the dairy items you buy can have a big impact on your food bill. If you’re a fan of buying snack, sliced, or grated cheeses, you could save a fortune by buying a large block of ‘value’ cheddar from the supermarket. If you need it for lunch boxes, just cut a finger-sized chunk off the end. It tastes just as good (we buy the ‘mature’ cheddar – it costs around £4 for just under 1kg).

Another way to save money on dairy and ensure you’re still getting enough protein is to buy a big tub of natural or greek yoghurt, and add some honey. You can buy ready-made yoghurt and honey, but buying them separately will save you money. It’s great as breakfast, as a snack with some fruit, and perfect for adding to sauces and curries instead of sour cream.

You can also buy creme fraiche to use in cooking (in place of cream for a sauce), and it makes a lovely breakfast dolloped on some crumpets with honey and strawberries.

Feta cheese isn’t expensive and tastes great added to salads with olives or kale and some toasted seeds.

You can pick up a box of 15 eggs in Aldi for less than £2 – that’s just over 13p per egg. 2 eggs can make a cake, 2-3 eggs can make an omelette, 5-6 eggs can make a quiche. And if you like a boiled egg with soldiers, you have a breakfast for less than 50p!

Cupboard Staples – Which are the Cheapest?

If you have keep these basics in your cupboard, you’ll always have something to make a meal from:

  • Potatoes
  • Pasta – supermarket own brand is cheapest (Aldi penne is 29p for 500g)
  • Rice – great as a side to curries, chilli, or as special fried rice, savoury rice, risotto, paella (you can get specific risotto and paella rice but I have used long grain rice for these dishes in the past)
  • Carrots (keep these in the fridge)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Eggs
  • Bread – buy the supermarket’s own brand
  • Flour – for sauce bases, Yorkshire puddings/pancakes, pizza bases, making your own flat bread, cakes, bread
  • Tinned tomatoes – perfect for tomato-based sauces like bolognese, lasagne, chilli. Buy supermarket value brand for the cheapest deal.
  • Baked beans (Again, supermarket own brand is cheapest. See above for some meal ideas)
  • Tuna – a pack of 4 tins of tuna chunks costs around £2.50 at Aldi
  • Kidney beans – great in a chilli or with courgette quesadillas
  • Chick peas – delicious added to a salad with some tuna

Make Money from Grocery Shopping

Now that you’re armed with your list of some of the cheapest food to buy when money is tight, it’s time to make some money. There are various task apps (including some I’ve mentioned above) where you can make a few pounds here and there. For example, you might simply take a photo of a product and upload it to the task app, or check a product is in stock and then purchase (for reimbursement).

Visit this post to find out how to get started with mystery shopping.

I hope you’ve found this post useful in knowing where to source the cheapest food to buy, and it can help to keep your grocery shopping down.

Do you need help saving money in other areas too? Download my FREE PDF guide to better money management here.

4 thoughts on “Cheapest Food to Buy when You’re Broke”

  1. Great post Fiona. I love the healthy snack ideas and the money saving app suggestions – I had never heard of these before. I’m also a fan of Aldi! Thanks for sharing.

    Jade – MumLifeAndMe

  2. There are so many interesting ideas on here and food ideas, I’ll have to write them down. I love the snack ideas.

    Thanks for sharing!

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