23 Dirt Cheap Dinners for Tight Budgets


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Sometimes we need to make big cuts to the grocery budget so we can make ends meet or hit big financial goals. But don’t stress, there are so many delicious, simple, and filling meals you can make that cost less than $5 for the whole family! These dirt cheap dinners are going to save you hundreds of dollars on groceries and can help you get through the times when money is tight.

Below I’ve listed my 23 favorite dirt cheap dinners, each one is around $5 or less and can feed a family of 4. Most of these don’t even need a recipe because they are so basic. If a recipe is needed, I’ve linked it for your convenience or described it.

Best of all, these are all yummy! You don’t have to give up flavor to keep the costs down. You are going to love these classic, comforting dinners.

Wait! Before you read on, save this post to your Pinterest real quick so you can find these dirt cheap dinners again later!

Now, let’s get dinner on the table without breaking the bank! Let’s get to those dirt cheap dinners. Here they are.

23 Dirt Cheap Dinners:

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup – You can’t go wrong with this meal! Make it dirt cheap with a $1 loaf of bread and inexpensive cheese.

Pancakes and Eggs – Breakfast for dinner anyone? Who doesn’t love pancakes! You can make the mix from scratch for super cheap or buy mix, like Krusteaz. 

Spaghetti – The cheapest way to make Spaghetti is vegetarian, just using some plain old pasta sauce. But you can also spruce it up and make it more filling with a pound of ground beef or ground turkey for less than $3 more.

spaghetti dinner

French Toast – Another breakfast favorite. Use up bread you have, use inexpensive $1 white bread, or go all out with some thick Texas Toast or Dave’s Killer Bread, it’s still cheap.

Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches – Yum, and so cheap! Pick your favorite jam and enjoy.

Quesadillas – Use whatever cheese is on sale and add any toppings you want. Black beans are particularly inexpensive and filling.

Black Bean Soup – Here’s how you make it: Add 2 cans of black beans and 1 small jar of salsa to a saucepan. Heat it up on the stove, and then blend in a blender until smooth. Add salt to taste. Super yummy, great for dipping or topping, and dirt cheap.

black bean soup

Frozen Pizza – My favorite is from Walmart and it’s only $2.98, but there are dozens of other options all under $5! Cheap, easy, and keeps the kids (or inner kid) happy.

Hot Dogs– Yum! You can buy a package of the cheapest dogs for around a $1, or splurge a little and get the all-beef kind for around $4. Still pretty dirt cheap either way!

Macaroni and Cheese– Who doesn’t like Mac and Cheese? You can make it from a box for less than $1, or around $.50 if you buy an off-brand. Home make it and it will probably cost a little more but still be really cheap and a little heartier.

Ramen Noodles w/Egg + Frozen Veggies – When the ramen noodles are cooking, drop a raw egg in and mix it up until scrambled and then add some frozen veggies. Filling, much more interesting, and brings the cost up from about $.14 to $.60 per serving. Use one package per person.

fancy ramen with toppings

Mac + Cheese w/ Hot Dogs– Don’t forget this childhood gem! Slightly pricier than mac without hot dogs, but much tastier and only adds a little bit to the overall cost.

Baked Potatoes– Add simple toppings like cheese and sour cream. The cheapest meat topping (and one of my favorites) is real bacon bits! You can also fry up some real fresh bacon to top, but it’s spendier and more work.

Egg Salad Sandwiches – Very inexpensive, healthy, and filling. A family favorite for sure!

Korean Beef – This is one of my all-time favorite dirt cheap dinners as far as flavor goes. All you need is 1 lb ground beef, cooked rice, and a few pantry staples to make this delicious dinner and it’s incredibly cheap. Find my favorite recipe here. (Pantry staples include oil, garlic, soy sauce, and brown sugar.)

korean beef

Hard Tacos – Make some taco meat by combining 1 lb of ground beef, taco seasoning, and 1 drained can of black beans. It stretches the meat for very little cost!

Bean Burritos – Use refried beans from a can or to make it really cheap, cook up some dry beans to stuff your burritos with! Once the beans are rehydrated, fry them in a pan with some oil and a little liquid until they have the consistency you like.

Sloppy Joes – Try to find discount ground beef or some ground turkey on sale to make this an extra cheap dinner, and grab some canned Manwich sauce!

Red Beans and Rice – Grab a box of Zatarain’s Red Beans & Rice mix for about $1 (just add water) and Kielbasa sausage, and you’ll have a flavorful dish that’s filling and super cheap!

red beans and rice

Cheese Ravioli + Pasta Sauce – Frozen ravioli from the freezer section plus a can of spaghetti sauce leads to a cheap and yummy dinner everyone will gobble up!

Chicken Caesar Salad – Fry up a chicken breast or two and put on top of a little Romaine! I like the Caesar salad kits because they are so fast and easy but they do cost a little extra.

Rice and Beans – Pinto beans cooked low and slow for a really long time and then served on top of rice, toppings like cheese, sour cream etc. optional to add some flavor and variety!

Tuna Casserole – All you need is 1lb of cooked egg noodles, 2 cans of drained tuna, 1 can of cream of mushroom soup, a dash of milk, salt and pepper to pull together this comforting, delicious, and affordable casserole. Feel free to add some frozen peas for extra nutrition. Heat it all together on the stove until bubbly, and enjoy!

That’s it! Do you have another suggestion I should add to this post? Please send it my way so I can add in even more dirt cheap dinner ideas to this list!

Did you enjoy these cheap dinner ideas? Save it to your Pinterest so you can find these dirt cheap dinners again later!

dirt cheap dinner options
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19 Responses

    1. Well, the title didn’t say “healthy dirt cheap dinners for tight budgets.” There are some reasonably health options here: black bean soup is low in fat, high in fiber, low in calories. Spaghetti can be healthy, especially if you use whole wheat pasta and lots of veggies. Quesadillas don’t have to be bad for you, depending on what you put in them. Ramen noodles: probably high in salt, but depending on the veggies you use, not so bad. There are also healthier ramen brands out there with less salt and fat. Baked potatoes can be extremely healthy: I’m having that for dinner tonight, topped with vegetarian chili and a little bit of sour cream and cheese. Filling AF, too! Egg salad: not too bad if you go light on the mayo. Bean burritos: lots of fiber, low in fat if you watch the cheese. I make lentil sloppy joes–cheap, healthy, and tasty.

    2. Unfortunately in these times affordable rarely means healthy. It almost always costs a few extra dollars to eat cleaner, and I understand that some people cannot afford an extra dollar or two, they are trying to get the most food they can for a certain amount of money which leaves little to no room to worry about the healthiness of a food. Inflation is a joke!

  1. I can’t get a pound of any meat for $3. The cheapest ground beef I can get is around $5.50-6.00 a pound and it’s just normal ground beef. Hot dogs are definitely more than $1, plus I would only eat all beef hot dogs. Sorry, but food is not this cheap; at least not this cheap where I live. I also find this article somewhat misleading and the quality of the food lacking in taste. I prefer wholesome, from scratch food that is healthier. Sorry, just my opinion. I am sure some people would find this very helpful, just not me.

    1. It depends a lot where you shop, and yes, where you live makes a difference. I shop for a lot of things at Aldi–I purchased ground turkey yesterday for $3 a pound, and I use that in place of ground beef. Ethnic grocery stores are a great source of cheap and interesting ingredients, especially beans. My regular store has dry black beans, pinto beans and navy beans–my ethnic store has way, way more options for a buck a pound. (Pro tip: lentils can be a great substitute for ground beef in a lot of recipes–I make lentil sloppy joes all the time). A pot of beans is a great budget item that hearkens back to our grannies’ and great-grannies’ times. My grandma used to put drop dumplings in her beans. OMG: so good. You can buy a ham bone at Honey Baked for around $10. There’s enough meat on there to make a big bowl of ham salad (ham, celery, mayo, onions if you like them) plus 2 big pots of beans. Ultimate thrift. I agree: cooking from scratch is the ultimate in budget friendly food. I have cut back a lot on meat, and buy those cheap chicken thighs and legs now instead of breasts. Way cheaper and frankly tastier.

      There are good ideas in this article: take what’s valuable to you and leave the rest.

  2. I found this post helpful too. The prices you have listed are the same where I live. These are great ideas to throw in a few times a week. I definitely see how these meals would help lower a food budget.

  3. One of my favorite cheap meals is crepes. I know, sounds fancy, but a crepe is just flour, eggs and milk, and you don’t really even need a special pan, though it helps. You can make crepes in advance and freeze them. They are great if you want to make a “fancy” dessert: crepes filled with a little jam, topped with a bit of powdered sugar or whipped cream–easy, peasy. Savory crepes: fill crepes with leftover chicken, maybe, or ham, a little spinach or asparagus from last night, maybe mix it all with a homemade white sauce or some mushroom soup if you want to cheat, and top with a little cheese. Crepes a a GREAT way to extend food–only have one chicken breast for three people? or to use up leftovers in a new way. Highly recommend, and they cost PENNIES to make.

    1. This is a great idea! I have some leftover chicken I’m not sure what to do with. Some white sauce and crepes is a great idea!

  4. This is awesome! I am really excited to try the Korean Beef recipe, I will omit the red pepper flakes and green onions, as I have a semi picky 3 year old! But I am loving this so on nights that life gets crazy I can whip one of these up super fast. Is it the healthiest, maybe not, but they are easy, fast, and most importantly CHEAP! Perfect for me and my son who are on a limited income! Thank you so much Merilee!!’

    1. It’s one of my favorites, it’s so flavorful I could eat 3 bowls!! And I love how you can customize it too with veggies, spices, or just enjoy it plain!

  5. My family likes Mac n cheese as a side but I learned they consider it a wonderful meal as long as I add one can of mushroom soup and one can of tuna, it’s still under 5$ Even if for my large family I have to fix two boxes cheap Mac n cheese, one can generic mushroom soup and one can of tuna. I always try to cook under a 8$ budget with a family of 7 to feed and it can be done under 5$ Often. Thanks for the article.

  6. Finally an article with real suggestions for stretching the penny. Also, totally agree on the best pizza. Hands down the Walmart brand. Thanks for the article!

  7. So happy I came across this post! Times are a little tough right now and feeding a whole family can cost a lot of money. Totally forgot about how cheap some meals like quesadillas and sloppy Joes can be! Thank you for sharing!

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About the Author

Welcome! My name is Merilee and I’m the creator of Easy Budget. I started this blog to help other families like mine crush debt, budget, manage money, and meal plan like pros!

Everything you find here will be useful, motivating, and always easy. Need to contact me directly? Reach me here!

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