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Food costs add up to one of most people’s highest living expenses outside of rent or mortgage. It’s common for a single person to spend between $150 and $250 per month on groceries, and the average American spends $3,000 per year on eating out.
As eating is a necessity for survival, it makes sense to find ways to cut back spending when money is tight, without sacrificing nutrition, of course. Fortunately, there are many avenues you can take to not only save money when you buy groceries, but also specific foods you can buy and prepare, which will help you eat for less.
In the most extreme of cases, when you have to spend as little as possible on food, whether because money is tight or because you have a giant family, you might be happy to know that there are ways to eat for around $1 a day.
In this article, we’ll discuss just that; how to eat for just $1 a day.
Let’s jump right in.
Tips for Eating on $1 a Day
You might be wondering if it’s actually possible to eat on $1 a day without starving yourself. The answer is, “yes, it’s quite possible with some creative thinking and smart planning.” By choosing to slash your food budget, you’ll have more money for other aspects of your life, whether that’s paying down debt, saving for a big purchase, or investing for the future.
Below, we’ll talk about some tips to help you save money on buying food. After that, we’ll go over inexpensive food you can buy to eat for under $1 a day. Lastly, we’ll discuss cheap meals that are tasty, nutritious, and cost fractions of a dollar per serving.
Shop Generic at the Grocery Store
Storebrand and generic food cost less than name-brand food, so whenever possible, always buy generic. In most cases, generic brand food is often identical or very close to identical to the name brand version, so why not save some money by buying generic?
Buy in Bulk
Buying food in bulk will often save you money long-term. Just make sure that the food you’re buying won’t spoil. Many canned and dried foods will last for a year, if not longer, and you use your freezer to store meat and other foods that you plan to use later.
Shop During Sales
Perhaps the best time to buy food is when it’s on sale as you’ll get to take advantage of saving money. While stores have sales at various times of the week, Wednesday is the most common day for grocery stores to start sales. Sales also rotate throughout the year, so if you can buy things that you can freeze or store for some time, stock up while they’re on sale.
Use Cash Back Apps
With cash back apps, you’ll get a percentage of money back based on what you spend. Apps like Ibotta and Swagbucks are perfect for saving a few percent on everyday grocery store items and on your total purchases overall. Both Ibotta and Swagbucks are free to use, so sign up for an account today and start earning cash back.
Don’t Waste Food
This might sound obvious but only buy what you plan to use and save and reuse leftovers whenever you don’t finish eating a meal. According to Rubicon.com, the average American wastes one pound of food per day. When you think about how much certain foods cost by the pound, you can see how food waste costs can add up quickly.
Cook Everything Yourself
Premade meals cost a lot more than food you make yourself. The same is true for foods like canned beans, as an example, where it’s much cheaper to buy dried beans and to cook them yourself. This is also true for rice, where you can buy a bag of rice for very little, but a premade rice pouch costs much more.
The lesson here is to buy raw ingredients and cook things from scratch whenever you can. Some opt to prepare meals for an entire week by prepping for a couple of hours one day a week and then freezing the food, using it throughout the coming week.
Planning meals in advance cuts down on prep time and food waste. Additionally, if your mealtime is chaotic in your household due to having a large family or other reasons, having a meal plan can create some ease.
If you’re not sure where to start, many meal plans exist online, and you can often download them for free or for $15 or less.
Eat Simple Foods
Eating simple foods is one of the main ways to save on your grocery costs. That means forgoing the fancy cuts of meat and other high-cost items and sticking to what you can make from scratch. Of course, treating yourself now and then is just fine, but for everyday cooking, stick to simple foods when you’re trying to minimize how much you spend on food.
Affordable Foods to Eat for Under $1 a Day
Now that you have some ideas for shopping, here’s a list of foods and ingredients that can be used to make meals that total up to cost $1 a day or less. This list isn’t exhaustive, and you can find similar foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.) that cost very little simply by shopping at your local grocery store or through their website.
- Dried Beans
- Peanut Butter
While some of these foods cost more than $1 to buy initially, when you factor in the cost per serving in meals you’ll be making, you’ll find that you’re spending a lot less.
For example, consider a pound of pasta, which serves 8 and can generally be purchased for $1 or less. Then consider Walmart’s Great Value tomato sauce, which can be purchased for around $1.28 for 24 ozs, or less than 5.5 cents per oz. If you eat two servings of pasta at 12.5 cents per serving, then you’re paying 25 cents for the spaghetti and 5.5 cents for the sauce. That’s 30.5 cents for dinner.
But what about breakfast, lunch, and a snack? For breakfast, consider oatmeal, which you can purchase a 42 oz Walmart brand for just over $2.50 or around 6.1 cents per oz. Assuming you eat 2oz of oatmeal made with water and you season it yourself, you could likely pay less than 14 cents for your breakfast.
According to TheStreet, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can cost as little as 46 cents with the right brands of peanut butter, jelly, and bread. So, adding that all up, your three meals would come out to just under $1, leaving some room to make a snack at home.
Of course, there are many other meals you can create to eat for $1 a day, so let’s break it down by meal in the following sections.
For the sake of argument, we’ll stick to basic ingredients in the next few sections. To make these meals more appetizing, feel free to use whatever seasonings and spices you stock at home. Since most seasonings and spices last for some time and don’t cost much per meal, we’ll assume that you can add them as you like and that it won’t offset the cost of the meal by more than a few cents.
Cheap Breakfast Ideas to Eat for Under $1 a Day
First, let’s focus on breakfast ideas:
- Egg and potato hash: A single egg and a single potato, made into hash, is a super affordable way to have breakfast. Creating this meal will cost you around 27 cents per serving.
- A half of a cup of oatmeal made with milk will cost you around 33 cents. If you make the oatmeal with water and season it, you’ll spend closer to 14 cents. Add a slice of toast, and you’ll spend approximately 26 cents total.
- O’s cereal and a half a cup of milk is a quick and easy breakfast to make and will cost you approximately 23 cents. Add a banana for 20 cents for a serving of fruit.
Cheap Lunch Ideas to Eat for Under $1 a Day
Now, let’s go over lunch ideas that can be added to your $1 a day meal plan.
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: Possibly the most affordable sandwich out there, you’ll pay around 46 cents for this meal.
- Check out this homemade burrito lunch that you can make for under 45 cents per serving.
- Here’s a pancake meal that costs only 31 cents per serving.
- You can make brown rice with some seasoning for less than 11 cents per serving, estimated if you buy a 2-pound bag.
- Have a simple serving of cooked dried beans for 16 cents per serving or mix it with the brown rice for a meal that has 27 cents per serving.
Cheap Dinner Ideas to Eat for Under $1 a Day
For dinner, you have some extremely cheap options that still taste good.
- Check out these three vegan-friendly dinners that will also cost you 50 cents or less per serving.
- Here’s a list of dinner meals for under $1 a day. You might go over your $1 a day budget for all food, but you shouldn’t pass $2, which might be a worthwhile compromise.
Cheap Snacks for 25 Cents or Less
Here are some quick and easy snacks that you can eat for 25 cents or less.
- Cheese stick
- Raisins (1/4 cup)
- Carrot and celery sticks
- Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter
- Hard-boiled egg
Wrapping It Up
Eating for $1 a day or less may be challenging, but it’s possible if you eat the right foods. It’s also possible to up your budget to $2 a day, and that will give you more wiggle room to try additional foods, seasonings, and extra ingredients. No matter how tight your budget is, make sure that you get enough nutrition daily.
At the end of the day, following a $1 to $2 per day grocery budget will help you save loads of money on your food expenses, which will leave more money for other things, such as paying down debts or saving for an upcoming major purchase.