A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Friday, January 7, 2011

Freaky Food Friday - Eating well on a tight budget

Well, I've got the Sunday 'fess up and my Wednesday Writing posts.  I decided to go ahead with my other idea and start putting up some of the recipes and tricks I've learned having to figure out how to eat on $100-$150/mo for groceries for me and my husband.  Let me tell you...it SOUNDS easy enough.  But it isn't easy at all.  Have you seen the prices for things lately?  *shudders*

--First tip: Ramen, Rice, Beans, Pasta.
I can't tell you how sick I am of ramen.  But it's a staple when you're dirt poor and too broke to buy pasta on a regular basis.  If you can, buy a case or two of ramen.  A full case, for us, generally runs us about $4 or $5 and lasts us a full month.

To buy rice, go to an Asian market if you can find one in your area.  You can usually find the 25 lbs. bags of rice there for anywhere from $2 to $10 cheaper than at your regular grocery store.  The only exception to this is if you've got a WinCo in your area.  Then their prices are usually right on par with each other.  Once you get the rice, take old gallon pickle jars, large plastic containers, anything you've got that you can seal tightly and break the rice down.  I don't recommend using Ziploc (or any generic knock off) bags because they don't work as well.  Plus mice can chew right through them, if you're in an area where you might have to worry about that.

Beans.  Beans and rice are a perfect protein.  Together they can supply your body with a good dose of fiber too.  A few stalks of celery, an onion, and some garlic powder or a few cloves of fresh garlic - along with cheap bacon or some leftover ham - can really spice things up.

Another good staple is lentils.  They're not actually a bean.  They're part of the pea family (I think...I'm too lazy to go look it up right now).  A quick batch of lentil soup or lentils and rice can fill you right up.  They're also pretty cheap too.  You can buy them in bulk or buy the smaller packages.  You'll find them with the beans in the store.

Pasta.  Spaghetti is another meal that I'm hugely tired of.  But again, it's cheap and can be spiced up in so many ways.  A can of cream of mushroom soup, some leftover beef roast, and some egg noodles mixed together gives you fake Stroganoff.  It's not too bad if you have some garlic and onion powder and/or some chili powder to toss in.

--Second tip: Spice cabinet
I can't stress this enough: fill your spice cabinet.  Staples are garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme, and sage.  Cinnamon if you're a fan of cinnamon toast is good.  But get the savory herbs and spices first.  If you're like us and have a trained chef in the house - hubby went to culinary school and then discovered he didn't want to cook for a living - you're going to want to buy the GOOD stuff.  The stuff that's $8-$15 a bottle.  That's okay.  Spring for the cheap stuff for now and save your pennies.  Replace it one bottle at a time with the good stuff.  You don't need a lot of it to season food and the more expensive spices tend to keep longer.

--Third tip: Buy in bulk if possible
This seems odd when you consider how short our budget is and buying in bulk is so expensive most of the time.  But what I mean by buying in bulk is buy the 20 lbs of flour, 20 lbs of sugar, 25 lbs of rice, etc.  You'll only be buying them once every 2-3 months, and if you plan ahead you'll be able to work your budget out to be able to afford them when you need to restock.  If you have to, plan ahead and stagger them so you're buying your rice one month and your sugar the next.

Same goes for meat.  Buy in bulk.  Buy the large quantity of hamburger.  Separate it out into meal sized portions and freeze it.  Buy a beef roast, a whole turkey or chicken, a large ham, etc.  They're spendy but they can be broken down into smaller pieces to last you for that month.

--Fourth tip: Save a few bucks for treats
I'm a major chocaholic and I LOVE me my Mountain Dew.  My husband is into chips and salsa and energy drinks.  We always set aside a small portion of our food budget for those kinds of treats.  If you don't treat yourself you could end up impulse buying and wipe out your food budget for the week.  Limit yourself to a few treats and splurge every once in a while when you've got some extra cash.  It doesn't hurt you (unless you go overboard) and a reward can go a long way in making you feel better about making your decisions to live on your strict budget.

--Fifth tip: Factor in snacks
I'm a grazer.  So is my husband.  We like to have easy, convenient things to eat during the day.  We usually eat one larger meal and 2-3 smaller meals.  Both of us are huge chips and salsa fans, and we also love pita chips and hummus.  These things can add up quickly if we're buying them every week (which we do).  We look for the large bags of chips - again, buying in bulk once or twice a month - and trying to find something we can both agree on for the dips.  We also buy ingredients for baking and I make cookies, flat bread, etc. to help keep our snacking budget to a minimum.

--Sixth tip: Don't go to the grocery store hungry or tired
The first one is a no brainer.  If you go to the store hungry you're more likely to break your budget by buying whatever looks good to you at the time.  The second one, oddly enough, is bad for you too.  If you go to the grocery store while you're tired, you're more likely to buy stuff that doesn't take a lot of time to cook - i.e. the frozen dinners or convenience foods like canned dinners.  This eats up your budget and you're out of food before the month is up.  Buying them occasionally, or if they're on a major sale is one thing.  But don't make them a staple.  Go to the grocery store after having eaten and being somewhat rested.  It's going to make your shopping trip a whole lot easier.

I'll be back again next Friday.  Next Friday I'll share a few of my recipes with you all, and offer a few more tips and tricks to eating well on a shoestring budget.


  1. Hmm, maybe the tired thing is my problem...

  2. I'd like to add that rolled oats can make a good, cheap breakfast, esp. when bought bulk size. At my local store, oats cost as much as two bags of generic cereal, and last at least twice as long.

  3. @KD Sarge - I found going shopping right after work (I get off at 10 pm) was a lot harder on me because I wanted the quick and easy food. When I go shopping during the day, I'm usually a lot better about getting what I really went for and not a bunch of nuke-and-eat foods.

    @Anassa That's a good point. My husband and I don't go in much for oatmeal. We usually do rice and milk or cinnamon toast and juice for breakfast. But that might be a good thing to keep in mind.