Best Buys For Your Budget

At most markets there are certain foods that are almost always good buys. In different areas of the country these foods will vary, sometimes considerably. For instance Grits are a great buy in the Southern US but in Australia they are impossible to find. Conversely, there are good buys in Australian supermarkets that I will never see here in the States. Regional differences demand that each person customize this list for themselves. To help you on your way I provide my list as an example. These foods will not be right for everyone. Use my list as a spring board for making your own.

Consider all of the stores where you normally shop. For me this includes a discount super-store with a massive grocery section, a warehouse store, natural foods store, small ethnic market and a dollar store. Some of these places I only visit a few times a year, others I may visit as often as once a week. Each store has different products that are available inexpensively on a regular basis. Remember, this list should contain the items that you consistently find at a reasonable price, without a sale.

The point of making this list is to discover the foods that are most available to you. These foods should make up the bulk of your purchases and your cooking week-in and week-out. Once you have a clear idea of which items you can consistently afford, you can begin to collect dishes and recipes based upon these ingredients.

Here’s an example from my kitchen. Sirloin steak is seldom cheap enough for my budget. Even when it’s on sale I can buy 2 pounds of ground beef for the price of 1 pound of Sirloin Steak. Since I know that steak is not in my budget then it would be silly for me to collect 5 or 10 recipes on how to use it. Even if my family loves sirloin, the high price makes it a special occasion meal only. On the other hand ground meat, either beef or turkey, is very reasonably priced. I can afford to serve it several times a week if need be. The family quickly tires of burgers and spaghetti so I owe it to myself and to them to discover new ways to make ground meat appealing. I need to keep my eye out for new ground meat dishes to add variety to our daily diet. When I look for new recipes a quick check of the ingredients will tell me if they call for exotic items that I’m not likely to have on hand, or if they are made from affordable basics that are on my list of budget staples. The recipes that use budget foods are worth trying. The recipes that do not and cannot be adapted to budget foods, should be passed by completely.

Another important note, it is not necessary to buy all of the items on the list. Some of these groceries I keep on hand regularly and others I only buy for specific purposes. The point is that I know the foods on this list are reasonably priced and I can count on them to be affordable on a regular basis. By following this method of identifying my best buys and then developing dishes and menus based on these items, I automatically reduce the money I spend on groceries. The process is ongoing. Your list will change as you discover new resources and decide you can make do without certain items. As you refine your list you’ll be amazed that the products you used to think you couldn’t live without are now needless expenses that you happily do without or make yourself at a fraction of the cost.

Click Here for a printable PDF file of Consistently Low-Priced Foods.

Click Here for information about the extras that I buy when I have the cash.


  • 1 lb “bullets” of ground turkey, frozen
  • 1 lb “bullets” of turkey sausage, frozen
  • 12 to 16 lb Whole Turkeys, frozen
  • 10 lb bags of Chicken Leg Quarters, fresh
  • 1 lb packs of Chicken Hotdogs, fresh
  • 1 lb packs of Chicken Baloney, fresh
  • Large packages of Turkey Ham, various weights, fresh
  • 12-oz packages of Turkey Bacon, fresh
  • 2 lb packages of whiting, pollack or trout fillets, frozen
  • 3 lb packages of Catfish pieces, frozen
  • 6-oz cans of Tuna
  • 14-oz cans of Salmon


  • 20 or 22 Quart Boxes of Instant Nonfat Dry Milk Powder
  • Gallon Jugs of Whole Milk
  • 12-oz cans of Evaporated Whole Milk
  • 12-oz tub of Powdered Buttermilk
  • 2 lb bags of Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese
  • 2 lb bags of Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 lb bags of Colby/Jack Mexican style Cheese
  • 8-oz boxes of Neufchatel or Cream Cheese
  • 5lb blocks of Sliced American Cheese
  • 8-oz jar of Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Small cup of plain yogurt (for culturing my own yogurt)
  • Dozen Medium Eggs


  • 3 & 5 lb jars of peanut butter
  • 1 lb jars of dry roasted peanuts
  • 12 & 16-oz packages of tofu
  • Plain Textured Vegetable Protein, bulk
  • 4-oz jars of Soy Bacon Bits
  • Soy Beans, bulk, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Lentils, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Split Peas, dry
  • 10 lb bags of Pinto Beans, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Kidney Beans, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Black Beans, dry
  • 2 lb bags of small white beans like Great Northern or Navy, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Lima Beans, dry
  • 1 lb bags of Chick Peas, dry & 15-oz cans


  • 5 lb bags of broccoli, frozen
  • 1 lb bags of Brussels sprouts, frozen
  • Cabbage, fresh
  • 5 lb bags of carrots, fresh
  • 1 lb bags of cauliflower, frozen
  • Celery, fresh
  • 5 lb bags of corn, frozen & 15-oz cans with no added salt
  • Cucumbers, fresh
  • Garlic, fresh or in 16-oz jars
  • 5 lb bags of green beans, frozen & 15-oz cans with no added salt
  • Green Bell Peppers, fresh & frozen
  • 1 lb bags of Greens: Collards, Kale, Turnip, Mustard & Spinach, frozen
  • Heads of Lettuce; fresh
  • 5 lb bags of classic mixed vegetables, frozen
  • 1 lb bags of mixed vegetables, frozen:  California & Italian styles
  • Mushrooms, 4-oz cans & fresh
  • 3 & 5 lb bags of onions, fresh
  • 5 lb bags of Oriental style mixed vegetables, frozen
  • 5 lb bags of peas, frozen & 15-oz cans with no added salt
  • 1 lb bags of peas & carrots, frozen
  • 10 lb bags of potatoes
  • 5 lb bags of frozen french fries
  • 1 lb boxes of instant mashed potatoes
  • 15-oz pumpkin, canned
  • Radishes, fresh
  • 26-oz Spaghetti Sauce, canned
  • 1 lb bags of Seeds for Sprouting
  • 29-oz sweet potatoes, canned
  • 15-oz & 29-oz tomatoes, canned with no added salt
  • 6 & 12-oz tomato paste, canned with no added salt
  • 8-oz tomato sauce, canned with no added salt

Fruits & Juice

  • 50-oz jars of unsweetened Applesauce
  • Apples, Fresh
  • 12-oz cans of Apples Juice Concentrate, canned or frozen
  • Bananas, Fresh
  • 12-oz cans of Mixed Berry Juice Concentrate, canned
  • 4 lb bags of Blueberries, frozen, no sugar added
  • 12-oz cans of Grape Juice Concentrate, canned or frozen
  • 12-oz cans of Grapefruit Juice Concentrate, frozen
  • 32-oz bottles of Lemon Juice from concentrate
  • 29-oz cans of Mixed Fruit, no sugar added
  • 4 lb bags of Mixed Fruit, frozen, no sugar added
  • Oranges, Fresh
  • 12-oz & 16-oz cans of Orange Juice concentrate, frozen
  • 29-oz cans of Peaches, no sugar added
  • 29-oz cans of Pears, no sugar added
  • 20-oz cans of Pineapple, no sugar added
  • 8-oz boxes of Prunes
  • 16-oz boxes of Raisins
  • 4 lb bags of Strawberries, frozen, no sugar added

Grains & Starches

  • 5 lb bags of Unbleached All-purpose flour
  • 5 lb bags of Unbleached Self-Rising Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Whole Wheat Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Whole Grain Cornmeal
  • 5 lb bags of Rye Flour
  • 5 lb bags of Quick Grits
  • Bulk Wheat Germ, from health food store bins
  • Bulk Wheat Bran
  • Bulk Bulgur Wheat
  • Quick and/or Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
  • 2 lb boxes of Farina
  • 5 lb sacks of Converted Rice
  • 5 lb sacks of Long Grain Brown Rice
  • 1 lb bags of Pearl Barley
  • 1 lb boxes of whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 lb boxes of whole wheat macaroni
  • 1 lb boxes of whole wheat egg noodles
  • 2 lb bags of popcorn kernels
  • 18-oz boxes of cornflakes
  • 12-oz bags of puffed wheat
  • 15-oz boxes of Toasted O’s
  • 1 lb boxes of Saltines with unsalted tops
  • 1 lb boxes of Graham Crackers

Baking Supplies

  • 5 lb bags of white sugar
  • 2 & 5 lb bags of powdered sugar
  • 2 & 5 lb bags of brown sugar
  • 4 lb jars of honey
  • 12-oz jars of molasses
  • 32-oz bottles of cornsyrup
  • Imitation Maple Flavoring
  • 24-oz bottles of Reduced-Calorie Maple Flavored Pancake Syrup
  • 2 lb packages of Yeast
  • 8-oz cans of baking powder
  • 1 lb boxes of baking soda
  • 1 lb boxes of cornstarch
  • 8-oz tubs of unsweetened cocoa
  • 8-oz boxes of unflavored gelatin
  • 8-oz bottles of imitation Vanilla flavoring
  • 2-oz bottles of imitation Almond flavoring


  • 1 pound boxes of 70% oil stick margarine
  • 1 & 3 lb tubs of Smart Balance margarine
  • 3 lb cans of Smart Balance vegetable shortening
  • 1-Gallon bottles of Canola Oil
  • 48-oz bottles of Corn Oil
  • 2-quart bottles of Olive Oil
  • 8-oz spray cans of Nonstick Spray

Non-Nutritive Beverages

  • Ground Coffee, in the big can
  • 8-oz jars Instant Coffee
  • 100 count Tea Bags
  • 3-oz jars Instant Tea
  • Herbal Tea
  • Non-Dairy Powdered Coffee Creamer


  • Low Sodium Bouillon Cubes
  • Dry Onion Soup Mix
  • Hot Sauce
  • 100% Fruit Jam or Jelly
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Pickles
  • Salsa
  • Soy Sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Worcestershire Sauce

Herbs & Spices (arranged this way to save space)

  • Salt & Pepper
  • Onion Powder & Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder & Cumin
  • Cayenne Pepper & Paprika
  • Basil & Oregano
  • Cinnamon & Nutmeg
  • Ginger & Cloves
  • Poultry Seasoning
  • Curry Powder & Turmeric
  • Dry Onion Flakes & Dry Celery Flakes

Extras I buy when I have the Cash or when they are on super sale

  • Chicken Breasts
  • Whole Turkey Breasts
  • 3 lb bags of dried Apricots
  • 12-oz bags of Chocolate Chips
  • 16-oz bags of Marshmallows
  • 12-oz bags of Coconut
  • 14-oz cans of Coconut Milk
  • 6-oz cans Water Chestnuts
  • 6-oz cans Bamboo Shoots
  • 4-oz cans Green Chilis
  • 15-oz cans Refried Beans
  • 4 & 8-oz jars Pimiento or Roasted Red Peppers
  • Chow Mein Noodles
  • Egg Roll Wrappers
  • Liquid Smoke Seasoning
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Thai Fish Sauce
  • Green Curry Paste
  • Bottled Lime Juice
  • Dried Mushrooms
  • Dried Chili Peppers
  • Canned Chipotle Peppers in adobo sauce
  • Bulk Sesame Seeds
  • 1 lb bags of hulled Sunflower Seeds
  • 8-oz bags of pecans
  • 8-oz bags of walnuts

About the Extras
You’ll notice at the end of my list that there is a separate category for foods I buy when I find them on sale or when I have extra cash on hand (not very often).  For example, my family and I eat chicken-leg-quarters because they are so cheap.  We like breast meat though, and when chicken breasts are on sale I stock up.  At their normal price I can’t afford them, but on sale they add another dimension to our meals.

Aside from sale meats the rest of these foods add variety and exotic flavors to our diet.  Goodies like coconut, chocolate chips, marshmallows and nuts are yummy for baking.  A new ethnic foods market opened up nearby so I’ve been able to add foods like coconut milk, chipotle peppers and green curry paste.  These make even the most boring meals exciting and new.  Most of these flavorings last for a long time so they seldom need replacement, and at the new market they turn out to be quite affordable.  A few of the canned vegetables in this category don’t add much nutrition but they do add variety.  My local Dollar Store has begun carrying green chili peppers, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts for 50¢ a can.  When I’m experimenting with new dishes these little extras are nice to have.  I can’t afford to use these types of things in every meal, but now and then they liven things up at a reasonable price.

If you have favorite foods that you can only afford under specific circumstances then write them down in this category.  You will not always be able to buy them, but when they are affordable you’ll be one step ahead of the game.  This also eliminates or at least diminishes feelings of deprivation that sometimes crop up on a tight budget.  You know that when the time is right you will make room for something special.

After completing your list put it in your kitchen binder and refer to it as needed.  It’s a great help for making menus, evaluating new recipes and making out your shopping lists.

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  1. says

    i noticed you used imitation vanilla extract. is this just as good as the pure? i know its cheaper, but i’ve never tried it. i have started doing a lot of my own baking and pure van. extract can be pricey.

  2. Gaynor says

    Bulk grains are not a bargain when you figure in the shipping price. You can usually find what you need closer to home for a slightly higher unit price…but no shipping and handling fees. used to be a good resource but now they charge for shipping…still good for bulk spices though.

    If you can find a wholesale warehouse/restaurant supply house close to where you live (or one that delivers to restaurants/schools etc, close by) you can see real savings, otherwise best to wait for a good store sale and stock up.

    In my part of NYS I find January a good time to stock up on pretty much everything. They assume that most people are broke after the holidays – but not we frugal folks, we bought our gifts at the end of last January when they went on deep sale :)

  3. Melissa says

    I like to go emergency essentials to buy my grains in bulk, and if your order is over $120 its only $12 shipping no matter what you buy! Its:

    If you are buying a few months worth of grains it works out really great plus they do group specials so if you can get a few friends to go in on it with you you can make it really cheap. Also all of their products are packaged in a way so that they are shelf stable for a really long time.

  4. Tawna says

    I noticed you listed the large bulk jars of peanut butter. I find that the medium 16 to 18 oz. size usually has the cheaper unit price. This seems counterintuitive but true. It seems to be on the best sale in the fall and I try to buy a years worth.

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