Whether you’re a college student, or you are a family on a budget, there are times when you barely have enough money to pay your bills, much less go to the grocery store. It is during those times, that you need some dirt cheap meals to turn to.
Below are 30 of my favorite cheap and easy meals from over the years. While I now try to stay away from carbs, when you’re on a tight budget, carbs can be a cheap source of nutrition for you and your family. Eating them in moderation is fine. Just don’t fall into the trap of eating only carbs and junk.
Where it makes sense, I’ve included simple instructions for each dish. However, most are very common and self-explanatory. Prices are based on my area in Indiana at my local Walmart. Your prices may vary up or down based on your area and where you shop. I also assume you have a few things in your pantry. If not, feel free to sub them out.
1. Rice and Veggies
At least one day a week, I try to make a meal that is meat free. This really saves on the budget.
To make this dish, you need:
- 2 or 3 eggs – $0.10
- Bag of long grain rice (32 oz) – $1.26
- Deluxe stir fry vegetables (20 oz) – $2.33
- Soy sauce – from pantry
Total Cost: $3.69
Cost Per Serving: $0.92
2. Chicken Noodle Soup
One thing I do that stretches money is to save little bits of chicken, beef and veggies as I go along. I’m going to assume you have none of this, but for future reference, start a freezer baggie or two for these items. When you have a spoonful or two left, save them until you have enough to create a meal.
- Chicken broth (48 oz.) – $1.38
- Shredded chicken from one breast – $1.00
- Egg noodles (8 oz.) – $1.33
- Chopped carrots (2) $0.50
- Chopped celery (2) – $0.50
- Onion (1/2) – $0.50
- Salt & Pepper to taste – in pantry
Total Cost: $5.21
Cost Per Serving: $1.30
3. Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
There are few things as comforting as a grilled cheese and tomato soup. Eating this always reminds me of my childhood. I must have passed this down, because when they walk in the house my kids often ask me to cook them this.
- White bread – $0.88
- American cheese slices – $0.98
- Butter – in pantry
- Tomato Soup (family size – 26 oz) – $1.82
Total Cost: $3.68
Cost Per Serving: $0.61
4. Hot Dogs and Chili Sauce
When it comes to hot dogs, I can’t stand cheap ones. I will spend a little more so that they are a bit healthier and tasty. However, if you are on an extremely tight budget, you can fill your family up cheaply on this. It is also extra food, so you can either feed visitors or have lunch for the next day.
- Hot dog buns (2 packages or 16 buns) – $0.88 x 2 = $1.76
- Hot dogs (2 packages of store brand or Bar S or 16 hot dogs) – $1.00 x 2 = $2.00
- Chili Sauce (2 cans) – $0.48 x 2 = $0.96
- Potato Chips (2 bags – get generic) – $1.25 x 2 = $2.50
Total Cost: $7.22
Servings: 8 (2 hot dogs per person)
Cost Per Serving: $0.90
5. Rice and Raisins
This is a strange meal that my husband makes and the girls like. It is like a cheap, sweet hot cereal. It is very filling. He serves it with toast typically, which if you bought a big thing of bread you should have some left from the grilled cheese day. His grandma had a lot of mouths to feed on a tight budget, so I’m sure she invented this along the way.
- Bag of white rice (32 oz.) – $1.26
- Sugar to taste – in pantry
- Box of raisins (12 oz.) – $1.94
Boil the rice, add in raisins and sugar to taste. You can add a splash of milk if you’d like, too.
Total Cost: $3.20
Cost Per Serving: $0.80
6. Bean Burritos
Bean burritos are very cheap to make from scratch and quite filling. However, because you can buy the frozen ones super cheap and every meal you make shouldn’t have to be completely from scratch, I’m going to recommend you buy the package of 8 frozen ones for about $3.50/package. That will easily feed four people. You can definitely buy tortillas, refried beans, and cheese to make from scratch, but you’ll find it costs more. However, it is still cheap and you would control the ingredients.
Total Cost: $3.50
Servings: 4 (2 burritos each)
Cost Per Serving: $0.88
7. Eggs and Toast
You can’t get much simpler than throwing together some eggs and toast. Personally, I love to make a scrambled omelet. I just scramble eggs and add in bits of cheese and veggies that are either leftover or getting ready to go bad and need used up. You can also serve them plain.
- Loaf of bread – $0.88
- Butter – should have already
- 18 count large eggs – $2.62
- Splash of milk, cream, etc. – in pantry
- Salt and pepper to taste – in pantry
- Leftover veggies or cheese bits – in pantry
Total Cost: $3.50
Cost Per Serving: $0.58
8. Whole Chicken
There is nothing easier than throwing a chicken in the crock pot with some veggies and letting it simmer all day.
- Whole Chicken – $6.00 appx.
- Carrots (1 pound) – $0.88
- Seasonings of choice – in pantry (I like salt, pepper and savory)
Total Cost: $6.88
Cost Per Serving: $1.15
9. Pork Loin
Note that this meal is going to use a pork loin. You will save half of the cooked loin for the next meal, # 10, below. The price of the loin is reflected in that with only half the cost showing in each recipe. This will also save you money on electricity as you’ll only cook once and then quickly heat up leftovers on the next day. Serve with a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes.
- 3-5 pound pork loin – $5.00 (half the cost – can sometimes find on sale)
- Seasonings – Pantry
- Head of Lettuce – $0.94
- 2 Tomatoes – $1.78 (appx)
Total Cost: $7.72
Cost Per Serving: $1.93
10. Leftover Shredded Pork BBQ Sandwiches
You’re going to shred the other half of the pork loin from yesterday. This is an easy and yummy meal to throw together. I sometimes throw this in the slow cooker, so it is ready when we are ready to eat. Eat with leftover potato chips or veggies.
- Half of porked loin from # 9 – $5.00
- Hamburger buns – $0.88
- BBQ Sauce – $1.06
- Leftover Chips or Veggies – in pantry
Total Cost: $6.94
Servings: 4 – 6 (depends upon how much meat you pile on and how many each person has)
Cost Per Serving: $1.73
11. Spaghetti and Pasta Sauce
This is a classic cheap meal. If you want to keep it super cheap, you can just have pasta sauce with it and nix the ground beef. If you have a little extra in your budget or leftover beef, sausage or turkey, dress it up a bit. Just a note here about super cheap bread to go with this. I always have bread leftover from other recipes, so in the past, I would butter it, sprinkle on some garlic salt, perhaps add cheese and bake in the oven. You can also brush with olive oil and herbs. Get creative. I usually cut into triangles. It’s cheap!
- 1 package spaghetti noodles – $0.80
- 1 jar pasta sauce – $1.06
- Leftover garlic bread – in pantry
Total Cost: $1.86
Cost Per Serving: $0.47
12. Ham & Beans with Easy Cornbread
Let me make a note here that I would only make this with ham if I had leftover ham. For example, we had a ham at Christmas. I chopped it up and froze in individual baggies for soups, beans, and egg bakes. You can season beans without it with some bacon grease, strip of bacon, or just onions. Your choice. You can also save by making your beans from dry, but since the key is easy and cheap, we will use jarred beans for costs. Same with the cornbread. You can save by making from scratch, but we’re using Jif as our pricing.
- 1 Jar Randall’s Northern White Beans (48 oz.) – $2.84
- 2 Boxes Jif Cornbread Mix – $0.48 x 2 = $0.96
- 1 egg – you should have already from above recipes
- 1/2 onion – use from leftovers or just use seasoing
- Ham – if you have leftovers only
Total Cost: $3.80
Servings: 4 +
Cost Per Serving: $0.94
13. Taco Soup Supreme
This is one of my favorite recipes to make my family. It makes a huge pot that provides plenty of leftovers for a second meal or lunches. I also will freeze it if we aren’t going to eat it right away. It freezes and reheats beautifully.
- 1 pound 90% lean ground beef – $4.84
- 1 small onion chopped – $0.50
- 1 serving homemade taco seasoning – pantry
- 1 package of ranch dressing mix – $0.50
- 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies $0.48
- 1 can whole tomatoes – $0.46
- 1 can kidney beans – $0.57
- 1 can black beans – $0.57
- 1 can pinto beans – $0.57
- 1 can creamed corn – $0.44
- 1 cup water
- 1 beef bullion cube or beef base for 1 cup water – in pantry
- 1 bag Fritos scoops (get off brand) – $1.25 (I get these at Kroger)
- 1 container sour cream – $1.58
- 1 package shredded Mexican cheese – $1.54
Total Cost: $13.30
Cost Per Serving: $1.66
Note: If you want to cut the cost a bit more on this meal, you can half the ground beef and use just half a pound, lose the sour cream and cheese. However, I really think the sour cream and cheese make this soup so filling and wonderful, so if you can afford them, please use them.
14. Homemade White Castles
My family loves White Castles – those tiny little tasty burgers you can’t get in every state. Years ago, a friend’s mom showed me how she made them at home and I’ve used the recipe ever since. It just so happens to be fairly cheap, too.
- 1 pound grass-fed ground beef (I get this locally) – $6.00
- 1 small white onion – $0.50
- 1 package white hamburger buns (I get the Psst! or Walmart brand) – $0.89
- Pickles – $1.00 (you won’t use the whole jar)
Total cost for recipe is $8.89. You will get 8 large burgers or about 24 slider’s worth, making them only $0.37 each. My estimates are high here. You can definitely do this even cheaper than that by buying the beef on sale. You can add cheese if you have extra money in your budget.
Total Cost: $8.89
Servings: 4 (2 large burgers each)
Cost Per Serving: $2.22
15. Baked Potato Bar
Potatoes are super cheap and even by adding toppings you are going to save a ton of money by using these as the basis for a meal. The key with this meal is to use up leftovers and things you have on hand for the toppings. You have sour cream left from the taco soup, right? Maybe you have a small cup of soup left. That makes a great topping? A little broccoli? Throw it on there. We are just going to buy the potatoes and the cheese.
- 5-lb Bag of potatoes – $2.57
- 1 bag cheddar cheese (16 oz.) $2.56
Total Cost: $5.13
Cost Per Serving: $0.86
Note: You’ll have plenty of potatoes left to fry up with your pancakes or as a side for another meal or potato bar a second day!
16. Pancakes and Toppings
Personally, I hate pancakes. They are chewy and mushy at the same time. The texture is just off for me. However, everyone else in my family loves them and they are cheap to make. You can also cut up leftover fruit, use ice cream toppings, drizzle on some leftover chocolate chips, etc.
- Complete Pancake Mix – $1.97
- Syrup (24 oz) – $1.53
Total Cost: $3.50
Cost Per Serving: $0.58
17. Crack Slaw
This is one of my absolute favorite meals. It is so very easy to throw together and yummy! It is like an egg roll in a bowl but without all the bread.
- 1 pound ground beef (brown it first) – $4.16
- 1 bag cole slaw or angel hair slaw if you don’t want carrots – $1.48
- Soy sauce – in pantry
- 1/2 onion – $0.25 (you may have some leftover)
Total Cost: $5.89
Cost Per Serving: $1.47
18. Homemade Pizza
You have a couple of options with homemade pizza. Personally, I use a bread maker and throw in some flour, oil, water, and yeast to make my own, but you can buy a mix, too. You also could just buy a frozen pizza or go to Sam’s Club and get a giant pizza for $9.99 and bake in your own oven.
Even though I love to make from scratch, that adds a lot to the cost because of all the toppings. So, I’m going to advice getting Sam’s or frozen pizzas on sale and baking at home. If you’d like to try making your own, check out my recipe for a bread machine pizza crust.
Total Cost: $9.99 (less if you can find frozen pizzas on sale)
Cost Per Serving: $2.50
19. Cheese Quesadillas
One of my daughters love cheese quesadillas and they are pretty cheap to make, too. This is a filling meal. We always have salsa on hand, so I rarely have to buy it, but I’ll include it in the list. Do you still have sour cream on hand? I found a quesadilla maker at the Goodwill for $3, but you can make these on the stove top. You just flip them over.
- Soft tortillas (16) – $1.48
- Queso Fresco Cheese – $2.53 (or cheese of choice – daughter likes Cheddar Jack)
- Butter – should have
- Salsa – $1.33 (we pay more and get Chi Chi’s brand when on sale and have coupon)
Total Cost: $5.34
Servings: 4 (2 quesadillas each serving)
Cost Per Serving: $1.34
20. Easy Chicken Alfredo
I made this for the first time the other day and it was AMAZING. I grill up my own chicken ahead of time, break into pieces and flash freeze and store. This is what I used in my recipe. You can cook fresh, too.
- 1 package dry fettuccine noodles – $0.80
- 2 grilled chicken breasts cut into strips – $2.00
- Jar alfredo (I made mine from scratch) – $1.98
- Remember my trick with the bread
Total Cost: $4.78
Cost Per Serving: $1.20
21. Bacon Potato Cheesy Soup
Hmm… Do you still have potatoes left? If so, this meal becomes crazy cheap. If not, it is still cheap enough. Here is a great recipe for a simple potato soup:
A note here, sub leftover ham for the bacon if that is what you have on hand.
- 4 large baking potatoes (Idaho or russet) – $2.00
- 6 slices bacon – $2.00
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour – in pantry
- 6 cups milk – $1.99
- 5 ounces sharp Cheddar – $1.00 (about half the bag)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper – in pantry
- 4 ounces sour cream – $1.00
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives – $1.00
Total Cost: $8.99
Cost Per Serving: $1.50
22. Deconstructed Cheeseburger Casserole
This is the perfect dish whether you low carb or not. Add bread for anyone in your house not low carbing, and this can feed the whole crew. I use this recipe but leave out the bacon because my daughter and husband don’t like bacon in it – I also use real onion and garlic if I have on hand:
- 2 Pounds ground beef – $8
- 2 Garlic cloves – in pantry
- 4 Eggs – $0.50 (I halve her recipe’s eggs)
- Onion powder – in pantry
- 1 Small can tomato paste – $0.49
- 1 Cup heavy cream – $1.00
- Salt & Pepper – in pantry
- 12 ounces grated cheddar cheese – $1.99
Total Cost: $11.98
Cost Per Serving: $1.50
23. Everything but the Kitchen Sink Soup
One big way you can save money is by not wasting food. What I’ve learned to do over the years is keep those little scraps in my freezer until I have enough to make a soup. So, if there is a spoonful of green beans left, which isn’t enough for lunch, etc., I throw them into a tub I keep in the freezer. I keep a separate bag for meat, such as spare pot roast (I pre-shred before freezing) and so on. When I get enough, I make a soup out of it.
Total Cost: $0
Cost Per Serving: $0
24. Smoked Sausage and Potatoes
To me, this is comfort food. This is something that you throw on the stove on a cold day and the whole family enjoys along with some great memories. It is at every church potluck, too, so that brings back memories of great-aunts and church ladies who have gone on to Gloryland. Some people throw green beans in there as well, but I like those separate.
- 2 Packages of smoked sausage – $5.00 (you can get on sale for $2.50 each)
- 4 Large potatoes – $2.00
Total Cost: $6.00
Cost Per Serving: $1.00
25. Easy Corn Chip Taco Salad
My family loves any type of Mexican food. This one is so easy to throw together. In recent years, I’ve started to make my own taco seasoning, but for this recipe I’ll price a cheap packet of it. If you want to try your own, which is healthier, here is my post on it:
- 1 Pound ground beef – $4.99 (depends on what type you buy)
- 1 Bag corn chips – $1.25 (Kroger has corn chips for $1.25 every day)
- 1 Packet taco seasoning – $0.50
- 1 Package shredded Mexican cheese – $1.99
- 1 Can diced tomatoes (or can use salsa) – $0.59
- Sour Cream (optional if you have on hand or extra in your budget)
Total Cost: $9.32
Cost Per Serving: $1.55
*Note: I make this by making the taco meat just as you would for tacos. Then, I line a casserole dish with corn chips, top with the meat, add the cheese and bake on 350-degrees for about 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Let people add toppings if wanted. You can even add lettuce to get some veggies in. This is super easy and fast to put on the table and very inexpensive to make.
26. Baked Whole Savory Chicken
A whole chicken is a great deal, because you will almost always be able to pick off enough meat to create a second dish, such as chicken noodle soup or #27, chicken pot pie. You can also buy a chicken inexpensively. If you have extra veggies on hand, throw them on into the pot with this chicken and you’ll have your sides ready to go.
- 1 Whole chicken – $6.37
- 1/2 Stick butter – $0.50
- Savory seasoning – $5.32 (this will last for a long time, but in case you don’t have in pantry)
- Salt & Pepper – in pantry
Total Cost: $12.19
Cost Per Serving: $2.03 (tomorrow’s meal makes up for the higher cost here)
27. Chicken Pot Pie
This is another meal that is so easy to throw together and gives you a chance to use up leftovers. You can reduce costs even more if you’re saving your veggies and you have a nice mix to use. However, I’m going to assume you already used them all up in your soup as I price this.
- Leftover shredded chicken from Meal #26 – $0
- 1 Can mixed vegetables – $0.59
- 1 Package refrigerated pie crusts (make from scratch to save more) – $1.46 (Great Value brand)
- 1 Can cream of chicken soup – $0.50
- 2 Tablespoons milk – in pantry – use what you have, even if it is heavy whipping cream
Total Cost: $2.58
Cost Per Serving: $0.43
I bet at that price you now are thinking pot pie sounds pretty good.
28. Peppered Beef
When you add veggies to beef, you can afford to eat it every once in a while. This is a dish we just recently discovered and we are in love. It is super simple to throw together. The key is in marinating the beef overnight. Get a cheap cut, such as thin sliced sirloin and then cut up yourself for the biggest savings. Serve with rice if you need a filler.
- 1 Pound thin steaks – cheapest cut available – $6.82
- 2 Green peppers – $1.00
- 1/2 Onion – $0.25
- 1 Cup soy sauce – $1.32 (this is for whole bottle)
- Ground ginger, salt and pepper to taste – in pantry
Marinate the beef overnight in soy sauce and seasonings. Cook in a pan on stovetop with onion and green peppers until cooked to done-ness. Also, I like to coat the beef with the salt to help tenderize it. You could use tenderize instead, but don’t use both or will be too salty.
Total Cost: $9.39
Cost Per Serving: $2.35 – not bad for beef
29. Pot Roast
I like to get our roasts from some friends of ours who raise grass fed beef. It only costs me a couple of bucks more, and I’m supporting the business of a friend. However, I’m going to base cost off of Walmart prices. You also will be using leftover roast to make hobo stew below, so the overall cost will be less than it appears when you factor in #30.
- 1 Chuck roast 2.5 pounds – $10.00 (price will vary)
- 4 potatoes – $1.00
- 4 large carrots – $1.00
- Salt and pepper – in pantry
Throw everything into your crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours until tender. You can put a little water or beef broth in if you’d like. I don’t.
Total Cost: $12.00
Cost Per Serving: $2.00 – reduced when you factor in #30
30. Hobo Stew
Hobo stew is a bit similar to how I make my kitchen sink soup. I save veggies and then when I have a pot roast, I throw them in. However, I’m going to assume you don’t have any veggies saved and price it from there. This make a huge pot you can eat on at least 2 days, too, or freeze for a meal later.
- Leftover roast beef from meal #29 above (shredded) – $0
- 1 Bag frozen mixed vegetables 32 oz – $2.22
- 2 Potatoes diced – $1.00
- 1 Can stewed tomatoes – $0.46
- Salt and pepper – in pantry
- Dried rosemary – in pantry
Throw everything into your crock pot and cook all day. Great with some crusty, homemade bread or hot rolls.
Total Cost: $3.68
Cost Per Serving: $0.31
You probably noticed that I utilize leftovers a lot. I hate to waste food, so the freezer and soups are my best friends, especially before I was doing low carb. I can still adapt most of these meals to the way I eat now, but some are more challenging. I hope this list allows you to stick to your budget. Happy eating and saving!