12 Budget-Friendly Meals to Get Through Tough Times

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Food and groceries typically consume a significant portion of most households’ monthly budgets. In times of soaring inflation, it is not uncommon for people to find themselves running short on funds before payday. Reddit users have proposed a simple solution: rely on cheap meals and recipes to tide you over until your next paycheck. Here are some of the best responses we gathered from the thread.

1. Spaghetti

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Buying cheaper grades of pasta is a smart way to save money. The best part is that you can prepare large family meals and use various sauces to add flavor to your spaghetti. One user shared, “My mother could feed all of us on under $10 spaghetti. Pasta, cheaper grade prepackaged beef, and a jar of sauce. On tight days, she’d cook pasta and mix in some garlic and powdered Parmesan cheese. So when I grew up and was trying to save money, I did the same.”

2. Lentil Soup

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Cutting down on meat and fish in favor of plant-based proteins is an excellent budget-friendly choice. Lentils are among the best options for plant-based proteins, with various ways to cook lentil soup. Plus, they require a short cooking time, saving on electricity. One commenter stated, “Lentil soup. A bag of dried lentils costs like a buck at a cheap grocery store and will give you three filling meals worth of lentil soup. Unlike most dried legumes, they cook for 30-40 minutes of boiling. And pretty much any savory vegetable or cheese will go well with it. There are many ways to spice it.”

3. Oatmeal

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Oatmeal is the ultimate budget-friendly breakfast. Not only is it cheap, but it’s also an excellent choice for anyone on a weight loss journey. There are countless nutritious recipes you can try with oats. One commenter recommended, “Oatmeal all day, every day. My roommate from China introduced me to savory oatmeal: soy sauce, green onion, and a fried egg make it feel more like ‘dinner’ to me.” Oatmeal breaks the stereotype that cheap meals are less nutritious.

4. Pancakes

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Who doesn’t love pancakes? Luckily, they are cheap and quick to prepare. They make a great breakfast but can also serve as a delightful dinner option. As one user suggested, “Pancakes are very cheap and soul food on top of that, which should not be neglected when going through hard times. Just some ground hazelnuts and sugar as filling, delicious.”

5. Noodles

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Noodles and ramen should be at the top of your list when money is tight. They are incredibly affordable, easy to prepare, and versatile in various recipes. One user shared a simple noodle recipe, “Noodles with vegetables. Fry the vegetables in a pan, season them, and mix it with noodles. Simple, healthy, and also very cheap.” Another commenter recommended a nutritious alternative, “Stir fry the noodles and add some peanut butter. It’s a little more nutritious and tastes good with the chicken flavor. I usually throw the obligatory fried egg on top, too.”

6. Rice and Vegetables

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Rice is an inexpensive staple that can be cooked in various ways. Pair it with delicious veggies for a budget-friendly and tasty meal. “You can make some cheap meals with delicious veggies and rice. It’s a bit of an upfront cost for the right spices, but it’ll save you a boatload in the end,” suggested one commenter. Other comments proposed rice with beans, scrambled eggs, canned corned beef, or chili-flavored potatoes and rice.

7. Pork Shoulders

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While being on a budget often means forgoing meat, opting for cheaper cuts like pork shoulders can be a viable alternative. They are affordable and incredibly versatile in various dishes. One user shared their experience, “I recently got ~9lb whole pork shoulder for $1.25/lb, and it made just about 7 lbs of pulled pork after adding a bunch of barbecue sauce plus 4-6 servings of crackling from the skin. We froze 4lbs and ate the rest for several meals as sandwiches, mac and cheese, and pulled pork tacos and quesadillas.”

8. Homemade Pizza

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Though time-consuming, preparing homemade pizza can help you save money compared to ordering takeout. Even when considering electricity costs, it remains cheaper. One commenter offered a homemade pizza recipe, “Use whole grain pita as the base, top with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and vegetables on hand. Bake until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.”

9. Sandwiches

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Prepare sandwiches at home instead of buying pre-made ones to save money. They are also filling and can sustain you for longer periods. “Sandwiches. Cheap bread, cheap meat. Cheap cheese. And any other cheap third thing. Heat it all on a stove, and you are good to go. Bologna sandwiches keep my belly full while being extremely cheap to acquire” recommended one commenter.

10. Costco Hotdogs

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Costco’s hotdog and drink combo has remained unchanged in price despite inflation. For just $1.50, you can enjoy a quick and cheap meal. A satisfied customer shared, “Costco hot dog and drink: $1.50. I always stop by on my way home from work, even during payday.” Another suggested “Costco rotisserie chicken for 4.99. So big and juicy, and I make bone broth with the leftovers.”

11. Potatoes

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Potatoes are incredibly versatile and can stretch your budget. With numerous cooking options, they are a perfect choice for affordable and filling meals. One user recommended “Potatoes and basically whatever else is on sale/cheap. Potatoes and cabbage, potatoes and beans, potatoes and peppers, potatoes, and leftover chicken.” Some potato recipes are also suitable for the whole family, including toddlers.

12. Canned Tuna

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Opt for canned tuna when on a budget instead of fresh tuna. While not as nutritious, it offers a longer shelf life and is easier to manage. Try a Tuna Salad Wrap: “Mix canned tuna with some light mayo, chopped celery, and onions. Serve it on a whole grain wrap with lettuce and tomatoes,” suggested one commenter.

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I am deeply passionate about making money online, saving money, investing correctly, traveling affordably and living frugally.