Doesn’t it seem like grocery prices are always going up, and yet the packages are getting smaller?

When my husband and I were first married 32 years ago, we were both still in college, and my husband was working as a delivery driver.  I was taking a full load of classes, preparing for student teaching, so I didn’t have a job at the time, and needless to say, we lived on a tight budget.

Thankfully we had come in to the marriage with savings, but we wanted to save it for the time we would need a down payment on a home.  I still have some of my handwritten graph-paper budget sheets from that time, and we had a monthly take home pay of $1,350 to cover our expenses.

I would budget $30 a week for groceries for the two of us.  I remember so clearly making up my meal plan and grocery list each week, and estimating what each item on my list would cost so I could figure out if my list was within the $30.

Back then I didn’t think about stocking up on items when they were at rock bottom prices, or buying organic fruits and vegetables and meats… We ate cheaply and simply, and weren’t on any diets with special expensive ingredients, or loyal to any brands, like we can be now sometimes.

Today, with 2 kids still at home, and a husband who favors a high protein diet, we don’t eat as inexpensively nowadays.  😛

However if the time came again, and certain seasons of life can be tighter on the budget than others, and I had to buy food as cheaply as possible, I know that I could reduce our grocery budget, because  I do know lots of inexpensive meal ideas. 

As I started making a list of our frugal meals, the memories started flowing!  🙂

40 cheap dinners, 40 Extremely Frugal Meal Ideas, Joyful Homemaking

  • Several of these recipes assume that you keep basic supplies on hand like flour, sugar and rice.
  • I estimate, with that taken into account, that most of these meals cost between $1-$4 total for meals that will feed 2-4 people. Update 5/27/2022 Since I published this post 7 years ago, the cost of groceries has gone up a lot, and so $1-$4 per meal may be unrealistic. Nevertheless these are still frugal meals compared to meals with meat included, and they use very few ingredients as well, which will save you money.
  • This is without getting too technical or detailed in my calculations, and with the assumption that supplies like a dozen eggs, or a large bag of frozen veggies, potatoes, or packages of cheese, would be spread out over more than one meal, depending on your family size.
  • For nutritional value, try to add a fruit and/or vegetable to your meals.

I am not a dietitian; these meal ideas are not meant to be nutritional advice. Consult your health care provider regarding health related decisions.

40 Extremely Low Cost Meal Ideas

1)  Quiche with Rice Crust and Banana Bread

40 cheap dinners, 40 Extremely Frugal Meal Ideas, Joyful Homemaking
 2)  Macaroni and Cheese Casserole
 3)  Lentils and Rice
 4)  Eggs and Toast
 5)  Pasta and Sauce
 6)  Pasta with Butter and Parmesan
7)  Brown Beans and Cornbread
 8)  Pasta Salad–with pasta and Italian dressing, and the veggies are up to you
9)  Bean Burritos
10)  Pancakes–can be made with fruit or peanut butter to up nutritional value
11)  Grilled Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich–can make with or without bacon
12)  Canned Soup and  Oven Grilled Cheese
13)  French Toast
14)  Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
15)  Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
16)  Peanut Butter and Fluff Sandwich
17)  Homemade Cheese Pizza
18)  Eggs and Homemade Muffins
19)  Egg Salad Sandwiches
20)  Cheese Quesadillas
21)  Tuna Salad Sandwiches
22)  Tuna Melts
23)  Cereal and Fruit
24)  Oatmeal and Fruit
25)  Baked Oatmeal
26)  Pumpkin Bread and Eggs
27)  Pasta with Alfredo Sauce
28)  Veggie Stir Fry with Rice
29)  Fruit Smoothies
30)  Homemade Waffles and Fruit
31)  Bagels and Cream Cheese and Bananas
32)  Chicken Thighs in Crockpot with BBQ Sauce
33)  Fried Potatoes and Onions–My dad would make this every Saturday night when I was a kid.
34)  Homemade Biscuits and Gravy–I used to watch my grandma make them every time we visited!
35)  Baked Potatoes–with various toppings from leftovers like pieces of meat, veggies and cheese.
36)  Fried Rice–with whatever bits of meat leftovers, chicken, ham or egg, and any leftover veggies like broccoli or carrots.
37)  Potato Soup–a bag of potatoes can be stretched over multiple meals, depending on family size.
38)  Perogies–make a very filling meal, and go well with many veggies, found in the freezer section
39)  Split Pea Soup–the ham/ham bone is optional
40)  Navy Bean and Ham Soup

Some things to keep in mind:

  • The greater expenses come in when you start adding in lots of meat and dairy.
  • Breakfast for dinner ideas are usually inexpensive.
  • Plan a weeks worth of meals that have similar ingredients to efficiently use leftovers (like meat and veggies).
  • When you have super tight finances, it may not be the best time to buy an item in bulk, or you may be eating only that for a week or two.  This may be the time to buy the smallest size you need for your recipe or needs for the week.  When you have some wiggle room in your budget, then take advantage of the savings that can come from buying in bulk.
  • Try to serve fruits or vegetables with your meals.  Apples can usually be purchase relatively inexpensively as well as carrots, and canned fruits and veggies can work too!

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully it gives you some readily available ideas for some tasty yet budget conscious meals!

Here’s a free printable of all of these frugal dinner ideas:40 cheap dinners, 40 Extremely Frugal Meal Ideas, Joyful HomemakingIf you like having plenty of dinner ideas, when you join my email list you receive my 30 Quick & Easy Dinner Recipes ebooklet. A grocery list is included for each recipe.

Click here to join the Joyful Homemaking Email list

23 Comments

  1. What a great list of low cost meal ideas! I’m going to mark this page to come back to!

    I came over today on Titus 2, and I’m glad to find your site.

    Hope you have a blessed day~
    Melanie

  2. 5 stars
    Im very tight on money at the moment and these dish ideas have given me some inspirational ideas to keep the costs down when im creating my dishes… : )

    Many Thanks

    Chris

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, I hope this gives you lots of yummy and inexpensive ideas for your meals! Hang in there, one day at a time! 🙂

  3. Such a great list, and I remember a time when I was definitely eating many of these meals when it was just my husband and I. Easier on the budget and many of these are just simpler to serve to a smaller group with little waste or leftover.

    1. Thank you! Some things sure seemed easier in those early days of marriage. 😛 Now with growing kids and different tastes it’s more challenging to fix dinner! 🙂

  4. Great list! I love that you included Beans and cornbread!!! That is my saltine favorite money saver!!!

  5. These are some great tips! I remember having a very similar budget when first starting out. It’s so comforting to know that I have the resources to go back to that if necessary!

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