6 Frugal Meal Ideas You Can Make on a Super-Tight Budget

Jaime Bacon
by Jaime Bacon

Are you on a super tight budget this week? Here are six easy frugal meal ideas to help get you through! A lot of these have pantry ingredients and are easy to make on busy weeknights.

My husband and I have learned how to eat on a really small budget. We’ve gone down as low as $30 a week for our family of three. So, I’ve had to learn how to get really creative with the money I had and try to make as many cheap meals as possible. Here are my favorites:

Baked potatoes and toppings ingredients

1. Baked potatoes and toppings


This is such a simple, filling, and nutritious frugal meal. But you can get really creative with the toppings and add a salad if you have it in the budget. These are large Russet baking potatoes, plus oil, and seasonings. Wash and scrub the potatoes while preheating the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Pouring oil on the potatoes

1. Prep the potatoes

I like to slice my potatoes in half because they bake more quickly. If you bake them whole, poke holes in them with a fork. Put the baking potatoes on a baking sheet. Then use your hands to cover them with olive oil. The olive oil helps to crisp up the skin. Then, sprinkle salt and pepper over the potatoes.

Baking potatoes

2. Bake them

Baked potatoes sliced in half will bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Whole potatoes can take 40 to 60 minutes to bake. Once they are done, you should be able to easily stick a fork in them. 

Baked potatoes and toppings

3. Create toppings

Some favorite toppings are sour cream, shredded cheddar, and baking bits. Top with chili for an extra protein boost. 

Bean and cheese burritos ingredients

2. Bean and cheese burritos


This is a filling meal and rice, salad, or roasted vegetables all make great side items. All you need is fried beans, tortillas, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Heating up canned refried beans

1. Heat up beans

I used canned refried beans for convenience, but you can save money by cooking your own dried beans. One can of beans makes about four servings. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to heat them up in a pot. I also added some taco seasoning.

Adding cheese to tortillas

Bean and cheese burritos

2. Fill tortillas

Add a spoonful of beans onto two tortillas, then sprinkle with shredded cheese, and fold the tortilla up.

Goulash ingredients

3. Goulash


This warm, hardy, delicious dish is more of an American style of goulash versus a traditional goulash. It makes a ton of food. You need ground turkey, cheddar cheese, pasta, sauce, vegetables, and seasonings.

Cooking turkey with green peppers

1. Cook turkey

I use ground turkey, but you can use marked-down meat to use, instead. Start by cooking the meat in a large skillet on the stovetop. Add frozen or fresh diced green peppers to the skillet as you are cooking the meat.

Cooking macaroni

2. Make macaroni

Boil water to make macaroni.

Mixing tomatoes and seasonings

3. Add tomatoes

Add one can of diced tomatoes once the meat is cooked in the skillet. Add basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. 

Mixing the macaroni in the pan

4. Add macaroni

Add the pot of cooked macaroni into the skillet and mix.

Goulash with macaroni

5. Melt cheese

Melt shredded cheese on top of the skillet. Fill up a bowl and enjoy.

Pasta bake ingredients

4. Pasta bake


This is a super easy and simple dish. All you need is penne, pasta sauce, and shredded mozzarella cheese. You can add more to the dish, like meat or vegetables. I like to serve a side of vegetables with the pasta bake. 

Pouring sauce on pasta

1. Make pasta

Make the pasta in a pot of boiling water, then pour the pasta into an 8x8 baking dish and top it with a jar of sauce. Mix well.

Pasta bake with cheese

2. Add cheese

Top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes or just enough for the cheese to melt. 

Red beans and rice ingredients

5. Red beans and rice


This is just a quick meal, and not meant to be a traditional dish in any way. It is also a great quick vegetarian meal. The recipe calls for two cans of kidney beans, tomato sauce, rice, olive oil, and seasonings.

Mixing kidney beans and sauce

1. Mix kidney beans and sauce

Add the kidney beans, tomato sauce, olive oil, and Adobo seasoning to a skillet on the stovetop. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes.

Cooking rice with Adobo seasoning

2. Make rice

I used instant rice, but you can use any favorite rice. I seasoned my rice with some Adobo seasoning. 

Red beans and rice

3. Plate the rice and beans

I divided the rice into four bowls and added the bean mixture on top. You can top this with sour cream, shredded cheese, or avocado. 

Tuna melt sandwich ingredients

6. Tuna melt sandwiches


Sandwiches are my go-to when I’m low on both energy and money because they are so easy. You’ll need bread, two cans of tuna, cheddar cheese slices, mayonnaise, butter, and seasonings.

Seasoning tuna

1. Make tuna

Mix two cans of tuna, 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, some garlic powder, and paprika. You can add pickles or relish to the tuna if you like.

Buttering bread

Assembling a tuna melt sandwich

2. Prep the sandwich

Butter two slices of bread. Add a slice of cheese and a spoonful of tuna between the two pieces of bread. 

Making tuna melt sandwiches

Frugal meal ideas

3. Grill the sandwich

Then cook them like you would a grilled cheese sandwich until they’re toasted to your liking.

Frugal meal ideas

Frugal meal planning can be easy. Have you made any of these frugal meals? Let me know some of your other favorite frugal meals.

Join the conversation
2 of 7 comments
  • Ella Ella on Jul 10, 2024

    Walmart carries the Alfredo sauce under $2 bucks.

  • Hou34536709 Hou34536709 on Jul 11, 2024

    Great ideas! Can save even more by buying and cooking a large batch dried beans instead of the canned refried ones. Can be placed in appropriate sized containers and frozen until needed. A little more time/work but really pays off…