See more from Banking

Advertiser Disclosure

“I Spent How Much?” 5 Frugal Recipes For Your Grocery Budget Reset

Spread the love
Makenzi Wood Article 1

After my husband and I decided to get out of debt in the summer of 2015, we made a pledge to spend less on food. 

Now, that’s no small feat, especially when you’re a finicky eater with a persnickety palate. After counting up the totals, we were spending a heart-stopping $1,500 on food every month for two people. 

To make matters worse, every time we went to the grocery store, I still had a $150+ bill. And that was with me trying to shop conservatively. 

After poring over the receipts, I realized the problem: we weren’t planning frugal meals. Steak, TV dinners, packaged foods—they were all draining our bank account. 

I channeled my frustration into researching frugal recipes that were not only ridiculously cheap, but picky-eater approved. 

Five years later, my husband and I are happily debt-free and eating well on a budget. 

Whether you’re on your own debt freedom journey or just need a little boost until payday, I’ve got you. Stay fed in frugal style with these 5 delicious and cheap dinner recipes. 

My 5 go-to dinners on a budget

1. Fancy hot dog night

Rough cost per serving: $0.50, plus the cost of toppings

This isn’t a recipe, per se, but it’s a frugal meal you’ll want to know about. Hot dog buns are $1.50 for a pack of eight. If I get the nicer, all-beef hot dogs, it’s $4 for 10 at my grocery store. 


Hot dogs
Hot dog buns
Toppings of your choice


  1. Microwave a single hot dog for, like, 30 seconds. If it explodes, that’s just life. You could also steam the hot dogs if you’re feeling fancy. 
  2. Toast the bun in your broiler or eat it raw; I won’t judge. 
  3. Put the hot dog in the bun, add your toppings, and enjoy a very fancy dinner. 

Now, if you want to get even fancier with your hot dogs, add toppings. They take hot dogs from “depressing dinner” to “frugal and delicious meal.”  A few of my go-to’s are: 

  • Crumbled bacon
  • Kimchi
  • Avocado
  • Potato chips
  • Pulled pork
  • Chili and cheese
  • French fries

The options are endless. If you’re feelin’ fancy, turn it into a buffet-style affair where everyone tops their own ‘dog. 

2. Salisbury steak

Rough cost per serving: $2.00

I normally don’t like Salisbury steak, but this recipe is bangin’

Steak ingredients:

1 pound ground beef
⅓ cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Gravy ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, sliced thinly
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 ½ cup beef broth
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 tablespoon cornstarch


  • Heat butter or oil in a pan over medium heat. 
  • Mix all beef ingredients together in a large bowl until it’s uniform. 
  • Press the meat into 4 identical patties. 
  • Place the patties in one layer of the pan and cook for 6 minutes on each side. They should be golden brown and completely cooked through. 
  • Remove meat from the pan and place on a plate for right now. 
  • Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in your pan. 
  • Add the onion and mushrooms and cook until they’ve softened. 
  • Whisk in the beef broth, ketchup, and Worcestershire. Bring to a simmer. 
  • While that’s going, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water in a separate bowl. Add it to the pan and whisk. Let the gravy cook for 1 minute to thicken. 
  •  Add the patties back to the pan and spoon the gravy over them. 

This calls for a mushroom gravy, but if mushrooms aren’t in the budget, you can always omit them. I like to serve this dish with roasted carrots (cheap) and baked potatoes (also cheap). 

If you prefer to pre-cook and freeze your meals, this Salisbury steak and gravy stand up great to freezer storage. 

3. Instant Pot Tuscan chicken

Rough cost per serving: $2.00

My husband is an Instant Pot fanatic. If you’re also zany about Instant Pot recipes, here’s a tasty one for you: Tuscan chicken. This one-pot recipe is quick to cook, freezes well, and most importantly, won’t hurt your wallet. 


2 raw chicken breasts, cubed
2 15 ounce jars storebought alfredo sauce (I use Classico)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 bag sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
5 ounces frozen spinach
250 grams of pasta, cooked separately


  1. Combine the chicken, alfredo sauce, Italian seasoning, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach in the Instant Pot. 
  2. Pressure cook it for 30 minutes on low, then do a quick release. 
  3. Pour the chicken mixture on top of your pasta and enjoy.

4. Vegetarian Chickpea Curry

Rough cost per serving: $0.50

I’ve developed a hearty love of Indian-inspired flavors, and this chickpea curry hits the spot. It’s a vegetarian recipe, but if it’s in your budget, you can top it with shredded rotisserie chicken. I love to eat this with homemade naan bread!


15 ounces of cooked, canned chickpeas
1 cup freshly chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne


  1. Mix everything in a big pot over medium heat. 
  2. Allow the cilantro to wilt. 
  3. Once it seems warm enough to eat, eat it!

5. Tortellini minestrone

Rough cost per serving: $1

This makes a ton of servings. If you’re hosting a family gathering but need to rein in expenses, this minestrone recipe is a winner.


1 pound ground Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
14.5 oz tomato sauce
14.5 oz fire roasted tomatoes
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups beef broth
6 ounces dried cheese tortellini


  1. In a large soup pot, cook the sausage over medium heat until no longer pink. 
  2. Add in the onions and cook until translucent. 
  3. Add the celery and carrots. Cook for 4 minutes.
  4. Add your tomato sauce, fire-roasted tomatoes, and seasonings. 
  5. Pour in the beef broth and bring to a boil. 
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. 
  7. Add your tortellini and simmer for another 20 minutes. 
  8. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

Pro tip: if you want to freeze the leftovers, cook your tortellini and green beans separately. I’ve found that they get slimy when frozen and reheated.

The bottom line

Who says you have to eat ramen every night? Find a little joy on your journey to save money by eating well on a budget. 

Contributor’s opinions are their own. Always do your own due diligence before investing.


Get Richer Sleeping eBook & Financial education emails

Written by Makenzi Wood

Kenzi is a writer obsessed with frugal living. She's a reformed shopaholic who's now happily debt-free and working towards FIRE.

More From Banking