What to Eat When You Have No Money

When money is tight you have to prioritize where you spend your resources. Whether you’ve lost your job or just need to pinch pennies until payday, food is one area where you can likely save some cash if you are intentional and creative with your efforts. There are a few different ways to approach eating when you have little to no money. The first is by getting creative with what and how you cook. The second is to find the cheapest foods to buy through deals at restaurants and grocery stores. If you are in a situation where you have absolutely no money for food, there are some places that you can reach out to for help. If you know where to look, there are a number of creative options that can help you find cheap food to buy when broke and determine what to eat when you have no food.  

Find recipes based on food you already have

The easiest way to find something to eat when you have no money is to look in your own kitchen. If you have any food at all in your fridge or pantry then that is a good place to start. When you are running low on cash it is not always possible to make a trip to the store and get additional ingredients for a recipe. Instead, you need to work with what you have. Fortunately, there are a number of websites that help you find recipes based on what you have on hand. One example is fridgetotable.com. On this site you can put in the ingredients you have on hand and it will provide recipes that include those ingredients. This is a great way to find creative recipes that use the food you already have in the house.

Join fast food loyalty programs

If you are a regular at certain restaurants, ask about loyalty programs. There are several restaurants that allow you to earn points that eventually translate into free food. And nothing is cheaper than free! Restaurants such as Chick-fil-A, McAlister’s Deli, Whataburger, Taco Cabana, Taco Bell, and others have apps that are part of a loyalty program. Whenever you make a purchase through the app or in the restaurant you earn points that can go toward free food in the future.

Many of the food loyalty apps also offer a free item just for signing up on the app. In addition, some of the apps offer discounts and free food from time to time exclusively for loyalty program members. If you have a favorite place that you go regularly then it makes sense to use to app to earn free food.

Shop during special discount times/days

Some restaurants and stores offer special deals on food during specific times or days. For example, Dairy Queen has Taco Tuesday which is a day when tacos are discounted to $1 each. Other places offer discounts based on the time of day such as half priced appetizers late night or low-cost breakfast deals in the morning. Grocery stores often offer deals on food through weekly circulars. For example, Brookshires is a grocery store that occasionally has a ‘penny sale’ which allows you to purchase certain items and get a second identical item for a penny. If you are strategic about your timing you can get food for cheap at restaurants and grocery stores that offer deals for a limited amount of time.

Purchase discount cards/coupon books

In some areas, local groups sell discount cards and coupon books as fundraisers. These cards and coupon books often include discounts or deals for food at various restaurants in the area. You will spend money upfront to purchase the card or coupon book but can typically recover that cost and then some through the savings provided. Examples of deals include a percentage off of a meal purchase, a buy-one-get-one offer, or a free appetizer or dessert with meal purchase. If you are looking to purchase a discount card or coupon book, reach out to the local school district to find out if any student groups are currently doing a fundraiser. A big benefit of getting a discount card or coupon book is that the savings can last for an extended period of time – typically up to one year.

Barter with a friend or loved one

Have you ever helped a friend move and been rewarded with a free meal of pizza and soda? It is common to thank friends and loved ones for their help by feeding them. If you are in need of a free meal then think about bartering with your friends and loved ones. Ask around to see if anyone you know needs some help with an afternoon or weekend project. If your friend or loved one is willing to pay cash then you can use that to make a frugal food purchase. If there is no cash offered, let your loved one know that you are willing to work in exchange for a meal. This is a win-win situation because your friend gets some extra help and you get your next meal.

Find a local food pantry

If you are truly in a place of need when it comes to getting food then look for help in your community. In many areas, churches and community programs provide access to food pantries and meal services. The design of the programs can vary – some offer certain days per week where you can go select the food you need while others put together a selection of food ahead of time that you can pick up. These programs are in place so no one has to face going hungry. If you are facing a situation where you are going to miss your next meal – or next several meals – reach out to a local food pantry program. Feeding America is a program that has a nationwide network of food banks. On the Feeding America website, you can search for local food banks that can help you get your next meal.  

Determining what to eat when you have no food or finding the cheapest foods to buy can feel overwhelming when you are struggling to make ends meet. Fortunately, there are a number of creative ways to feed yourself and your family with little to no money. You do not have to go hungry! Use some or all of the tips outlined above to minimize the amount of money you are spending on food. Freeing up some of your cash by saving on food can help reduce the stress in your life and help you get back on track financially. 

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