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How to Eat Well on a $40 Weekly Grocery Budget {Tips, Sample Menu Plans, and More!}

You can eat well on a low grocery budget, and this post shows you how! It's really possible! This list of 20 tips is SO helpful -- especially for someone who lives alone and is trying to eat really healthy!

Reader Alyssa wrote in with this great question:

I have about $40-$45 a week for a grocery budget. Right now, I do not have access to a stove/oven and have to rely on a mini-fridge and microwave. I live alone. I try to eat as much organic produce as I can (I stay away from the Dirty 12). Do you have suggestions on how to meal plan and eat well on that amount? Thank you!

My Advice:

I well remember the days of surviving on a $35/week grocery budget in the early years of our marriage. This included all the ingredients to make 21 meals for both of us each week, all household products.

There were so many frustrating days, but we got really creative and made it work for us. Though grocery prices have risen over the past decade and couponing isn’t as generous to us as it once was, I still wholeheartedly believe that you can get by on a very minimal grocery budget.

Here are my top 5 tips to eat well on a low grocery budget without using coupons:

1. Shop with cash and a calculator, so that you’re not tempted to go over budget. When I do this, I find I have to bargain with myself and figure out which things I don’t really *need* and which I can’t put back to stay under budget.

2. Make sure you’re meal planning each week and shopping weekly to shop in-season prices and hit all of the changing sales. Meal planning saves you a fortune. Only buy what you need for the meals you decide on for that week. Keep breakfasts and lunches simple.

3. Try shopping ALDI or a similar discount store in-town. I’m a huge, huge fan of ALDI — even to this day! (Be sure to check out my 25 favorite things to buy at ALDI!)

4. Examine your budget and see if there are other areas you can cut down on so that you can allow yourself more wiggle room in your grocery budget. Maybe your grocery budget is one area that you need to be spending a bit more for your family, and that’s totally okay! Every family is different.

5. Use up what you already have in the fridge and pantry. Get creative with meals and use  or to create meals around what you already have on hand. And staying organized is a HUGE part of saving money on groceries!

I promise if you adopt these five simple tips, you’ll see a pretty significant reduction in your grocery bill!

Reader Tips:

{Thank you to all of our readers for providing these tips in a !}

1. Use a . It can be a lifesaver for your sanity, time management, health, and budget! Look on the Internet or Pinterest for healthy slow cooker recipes. You can easily make a huge meal for $5-$10 in the slow cooker that will last you for several days! You can often find slow cookers at thrift stores or garage sales for a couple bucks. You can also find one-person slow cookers for just $10 online.

2. Buy a rotisserie chicken and make several meals out of it. A rotisserie chicken will stretch a LONG way if you’re creative! chicken salad, chicken with veggies, wraps, chicken quesadillas in the microwave, salad with chicken on top, and more. When you’re done with the chicken, throw the bones in a slow cooker with some old leftover veggies, salt, and seasonings. Cook for 24 hours, strain out the broth, and freeze for some wonderful soup later!

3. Buy a . This will greatly expand your meal possibilities. Cheap meal ideas using a hot plate include oatmeal, beans and rice, spaghetti, and many more. Spaghetti is a super frugal meal because it goes a long way. You can even add veggies in ti for extra nutritional value! Hot plates aren’t very expensive, and it will be for itself very quickly with all the frugal meal possibilities.

4. Start a vegetable garden. Or grow food from what you buy — such as celery and green onions. You can save a fortune by growing your own food!

5. Get creative with your proteins. They will fill you up and make you feel more satisfied on less food. Some ideas might include the rotisserie chicken idea mention above, canned tuna, microwaved scrambled eggs, peanut butter, cheese sticks, nuts, and canned beans. (Eggs are often $0.50 per dozen at ALDI, and a generic brand of peanut butter will last quite a while!)

6. Make soups. They will go a really long way, and can be used for multiple meals. Pack the soup into a few small tupperware containers and eat on them all week long.

7. Get creative with microwave meals. Some of these ideas have already been mentioned above. You can also look up “one cup meals” online for some interesting ideas! You can make omelettes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, popcorn, baked apples, brownies, cakes, pasta, and more in the microwave. I suggest browsing Pinterest with key words to find what you’re looking for.

8. Don’t forget about healthy cold dishes such as veggie salads, pasta salads, and overnight oats.

9. Eliminate all snacks, drinks, juices, and packaged foods. These are filler foods that are usually more expensive and won’t satisfy your hunger.

10. Purchase produce with a long shelf life that doesn’t require refrigeration, such as squashes, onions, potatoes, and bananas.

11. Make your own spice blends to season foods frugally and up the flavor!

12. Always check the manager’s special/clearance section at your local grocery store. This is especially true for meat and produce. You’ll often find the best deals when you shop early in the morning before 8 a.m..

13. Try Asian markets. They are usually much cheaper then a regular grocery store for produce, meat, and spices.

14. Keep meals simple and natural. Think: baked potatoes, rice, roasted chicken, etc.

15. Rethink what a “meal” looks like. Instead of thinking  in terms of meat/veggie/side/dessert, think of the nutrients that your body needs for the day. For example, oatmeal with celery sticks and peanut butter might not be a traditional breakfast, but it’s pretty healthy and filling!

16. Shop at the Farmer’s Market. Shop seasonal at the farmers’ market with cash. You can especially get some great deals during the last hour of the day (prepare to bargain!). You could most likely get a week’s worth of fruits and veggies for $10-$15 using this method.

17. Split produce costs with a friend. If you’re afraid your produce might go bad, consider going in on costs with a friend to pay less and not waste the extra that’s left over at the end of the week.

Looking for more?

Be sure to for a plethora of additional ideas, sample menu plans, and tips! And check out this Sample $30/Week Grocery Budget that includes a full menu plan and grocery list.

Also, don’t forget to sign up for my FREE 5 Days to a Better Grocery Budget eBook that will help you take better control of your grocery budget. It gives you all the tips, tricks, and practical advice you need to create a grocery budget tailored to your family’s needs that you can actually STICK to (because that’s the key!).

What other suggestions do you have for Alyssa? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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18 Comments

  • Jen Obstein says:

    I find making stops throughout the week at various grocery stores helps me stay in budget. For example, I buy milk, eggs, some cheese, and nearly all of my produce at Aldi. I stop at Fresh Market for chicken and beef, Costco for frozen foods and bananas, and other grocery stores for “stock up” deals. Buy doing this, I get the products I like most and are the least expensive (mostly). It takes a little extra time to make multiple stops (but with a mini fridge you are likely doing that anyway).

    I use a mobile app called Flipp to see local adds to determine what deals are worth stocking up on (tp, flour, snacks, etc.).

    Good luck!

  • says:

    If you can manage it, consider getting an electric griddle (maybe a Christmas gift suggestion if your budget is tight?). Even with access to a full kitchen I use mine multiple times a week. I use it cook fried eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese, french toast, quesadillas, etc. Lots of simple, affordable meals.

    • Dagmar says:

      If you have a full kitchen why don’t you use your stove instead of hotplate? I know I have a little toaster oven I use to make salmon for my husband and I or reheat pizza..instead of heating my bigger oven, but turning on a burner on my stove is not more expensive than using hotplate?

  • Suzanne says:

    Some models of rice cookers also allow you to cook other foods at the same time you make your rice. With the model I have, I can make rice (or farro, quinoa, etc) and put cut veggies in the top tray. When they’re done, I toss in a little rotisserie chicken, maybe a sauce of some kind, and supper is ready.

  • Laura says:

    Good post! Our Asian grocery store in town definitely has less expensive produce. The variety is terrific! There are so many interesting foods there.

    I have taken the “non-traditional” food to heart. It is not unusual for me to have a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast. It is easy, inexpensive, filling and yummy.

  • says:

    I would also add clicklist. I am a cash girl. Always have been. But I’ve found that shopping on Clicklist really helps me stay on budget without needing to juggle my list, the cart, a calculator. I can easily delete an item from my list as needed. Sales are already highlighted and I can search at a glance for the cheapest price of any item. And as you add things to your list, the total tallies up at the bottom so you know when you are close to reaching your budgeted amount.

  • Angela says:

    A few other ideas:

    1) If you use Swagbucks, you can redeem them for a giftcard to a store that has groceries- such as Target or Walmart. This may not increase your weekly food budget but could be a great way to buy some long lasting staples or stock up during a sale.

    2) Depending on where you live, you may be able to ask a neighbor, friend, or coworker if they get a weekly newspaper and would be willing to share any coupons they don’t use/can’t use.

    3) I know it can be hard to share with others your current situation, but many people often have extra food that they can’t use either from their garden or that they simply bought too much of. People also throw food away before a vacation or trip, so may be open to sharing the food with you instead of it going to waste.

  • says:

    One thing that has helped keep my grocery budget low is cutting back on desserts, especially prepared bakery items like cakes and pies. Not only are those treats expensive, but they’re full of sugar and extra calories most of us don’t need. Right now, my family is only having one dessert a week, served on the Sabbath, and it’s working really well for us.

  • Cherry says:

    Menu planning is critical, but I do it after I look at the ads. If peaches are a good price, we buy those and not something else out of season or too costly. We have a big family, so the price per pound is a big deal for us. For example, we don’t eat bacon as it is rarely less than $4 a pound.

    I would think those principles would help even if you are just shopping for one.

  • Aubrie says:

    I order from imperfect produce once every 2 weeks and can customize the box. We have fun with some of the fruits and veggies, but most don’t look that funny and they always have labeled why it is in their stock (sometimes it is just an over abundance so you get a deal). You can sign up here:

    Organic is sometimes a little more, but I watch for the deals and based on what is available, I make my meal plan. Fall and Winter is soup and salad season, which I have found if I make from scratch can usually feed me multiple meals and is very inexpensive.

  • says:

    This wouldn’t apply in your situation with a mini fridge, but we buy a whole hog each year from a friend who farms a few hogs on the side and even after paying for processing, it is much cheaper than buying pork at the grocery store. A friend wanted to buy 1/4 of our hog this year, so we split it with her. She didn’t have space for a whole hog, but wanted in on the deal. It worked for us too since we still had some pork from last years hog. My Dad gives us deer meat each year too which is always nice. I still buy chicken, beef, and fish from the store, but only when it is on sale or marked down.

    It is hard to work with a smaller budget, but can be done. We lived for many years on a tiny budget while my husband was in graduate school. I still work to keep us in a budget so that we can save for other things.

    Like someone mentioned before, my slow cooker has saved me many times, but I have a family of 6. I also have a small slow cooker that I think runs $10 to $15 new in which you could have or quarter recipes to make in smaller batches.

    Some of my favorite slow cooker meals we have been eating for years.

    Butter bean soup: I created this recipe modeled after our favorite butter bean soup from Taylor’s Chili Parlor in Carlinville, IL. It is always a family favorite and budget friendly.

    Hearty, delicious and very budget friendly, Split pea and ham soup.

    These slow cooker Cuban black beans are a favorite, but it makes a lot so you would probably want to halve the recipe or you can make simple burritos that could be microwaved with leftovers, a little cheese, and tortillas. These also freeze well and can be warmed in the microwave straight from the freezer. The recipe here uses chorizo sausage, but I haven’t made it with chorizo in years. It just doesn’t need it so one less thing to buy.

    This slow cooker chicken dinner is so simple and could be made on a much smaller scale by using any pieces of chicken (use marked down or sale chicken to save money) a few potatoes, and carrots and an onion and you are done. You can easily leave the celery out and carrots, potatoes, and onions are usually pretty cheap. You could even leave the onion out if you don’t want to mess with it or buy one more thing. Instead add a little inexpensive onion powder or just leave it out all together. I like garlic and herb seasoning in this, but use whatever you like. So easy and you can custom make it however you like and have a delicious, filling hot meal ready when you get home.

  • J says:

    Alyssa, I ,too, rely on a mini-fridge & microwave (due to strong food sensitivities so I can’t share with my mom & brother). I try to stick to my weekly food budget , but sometimes I tend to go over if I catch one of my “safe” food staples on sale. My advice is do what works for you!

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