30+ Cheap Pantry Staples to Buy When Money Is Tight

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Last Updated on June 24, 2023 by Rebecca Lake

Keeping your kitchen stocked with cheap pantry staples can be a great way to cut your grocery bill and save money. You can purchase staple items that have a long shelf life and use them to whip up dozens of frugal meals from scratch. 

If you’ve been to a grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed that food prices are on a steady upward trend. Cheap pantry staples are a good addition to your shopping list when money is tight or you’re simply tired of feeling like grocery costs are eating up too much of your income. 

Not sure what a well-stocked pantry should include? In this blog post, we’re sharing a list of pantry staples that are perfect for making plenty of delicious, easy meals that won’t break your grocery budget. 

Best Cheap Pantry Staples to Buy on a Budget

​If you’re ready to stock up on frugal pantry staples, a good place to start is by reviewing what you already have on hand. Once you know what you have, you can fill in the gaps on your grocery list to get everything else you need for a well stocked pantry on a budget. 

It’s a perfect frugal food hack! Here are the best cheap staples to have on hand, by category. 

cheap pantry staples
Cheap Pantry Staples to Buy on a Budget

Cheap pantry staples for baking

Flour – Flour is one of the most basic ingredients to have in your pantry. Besides baking, you can use flour in a variety of ways, from creating batters for deep frying to making pasta to thickening up soups and sets. You can stock your pantry with a variety of options, including all purpose flour, wheat flour or rice flour. 

Sugar – No baking pantry list is complete without sugar. White sugar, brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar are a few of the different kinds to have on hand if you regularly bake or make your own desserts from scratch. 

Baking powder/soda – Most baking recipes require baking powder or baking soda, and some require both. It’s always a good idea to have these simple, cheap ingredients on hand whether you’re baking your own bread or making a cake. 

Oats – Oats are one of the best cheap pantry staples to keep around for making simple and filling breakfasts. But you can also use oatmeal to make cookies, oat bread or granola without all of the added preservatives of store-bought. Skip the oatmeal packets and look for a larger container of plain rolled or steel-cut oats. 

Yeast – Yeast is one of the best cheap food staples because you can use it to make all kinds of breads and it’s also a must-have for making your own pizza dough at home. 

Oil – Oils are a staple item because they can be used in baking as well as lots of other recipes. Depending on your preferences, you might stick with vegetable oil or canola oil, or look for coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil on sale. 

Nut butter – Nut butters, including peanut butter, are a good source of healthy fats and fatty acids. You can use them to make traditional pb&j, energy bites or cookies. Whether you prefer peanut butter, sunflower butter, walnut butter or something else, nut butters are a great choice for a cheap pantry staples list. 

Cocoa powder – If you’re ever craving a dish of homemade brownies or a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day, then cocoa powder is a must. You can also use cocoa powder to make fudge from scratch or add it to fresh ice cream for a quick milkshake. 

dirt cheap meals

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​Canned and dry goods to include in a cheap pantry staples list

Beans – You can use beans to make so many amazing dirt cheap meals and side dishes. A can of beans can add flavor to chili or taste delicious by itself with some homemade cornbread and relish. Some of the best bean options to add to your pantry list include white beans, kidney beans and black beans. If you’d rather skip the canned options, you can purchase dry beans instead. 

Tomato sauce and tomato paste – Tomato sauce and tomato paste are perfect for making plenty of frugal meals. You can turn tomato sauce into tomato soup, use it as a base for your own pasta sauce or add it to casseroles. 

Canned tomatoes – Canned tomatoes, whether you prefer them diced, stewed or pureed, are another excellent cheap pantry staple to have. You can incorporate them into pasta dishes, chili and soups or use them to create a filling casserole. 

Chicken stock – Chicken stock (or chicken broth) is a versatile ingredient that can have lots of uses in the kitchen. You can use chicken stock for soups or casseroles and it’s also a good addition in sauces that have a cream base.

Soy sauce – Some of our favorite recipes are Asian-inspired and soy sauce is a staple ingredient in many of them. You can use soy sauce along with other cheap pantry staples to add great flavor to stir fries and other rice dishes or as a base for marinades. 

Pasta – Pasta dishes are some of the cheapest food options and they’re so simple to make. Some of our favorite ways to prepare pasta include angel hair aglio e olio and spaghetti Napolitan

Rice – No cheap pantry list is complete without rice and there are so many great recipes you can make with it. We prefer white rice but whole grain brown rice is a great healthy staple option and both can keep for a long time on the shelf. 

​Vinegar – Vinegar is a common ingredient you might already have in your pantry. It’s ideal for salad dressings, marinades and sauces. You can keep a mix of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar on hand to whip up a quick dinner, depending on what you’re in the mood for. 

Spice, seasonings and dry herbs – Dry seasonings and herbs are an inexpensive alternative to their fresh counterparts. As long as you’re storing them in an airtight container, they can taste just as good as fresh herbs when it’s time to use them. Some of the best cheap seasonings and herbs to have in your pantry include onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, oregano and basil. 

Maple syrup – Maple syrup is an easy way to add some sweetness to your morning oats or pancakes but you can use it in lots of other healthy meals, too. The key is to shop for quality maple syrup on sale and to remember that just a little bit can go a long way when using it. 

Condiments – Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise are just a few of the condiments you might want to have around for making sauces, marinades or dressings. You can also add hot sauce, chili sauce, barbecue sauce and Worcestershire sauce to the list of cheap pantry staples to buy. 

Lemon juice and lime juice – If you can’t afford to splurge on fresh fruits, then lemon juice and lime juice are perfect for adding a dash of flavor to your favorite recipes. They’re great for seafood dishes, marinades and sauces or baking. 

Potatoes – Potatoes are a must-have fresh produce item since there are so many ways to use them in the kitchen. They’re great for potato soup, potato pancakes or old-fashioned mashed potatoes. And if you get tired of white or yellow, you can always swap them out for sweet potatoes instead. 

Onions – Onions are another cheap pantry staple that you can use in so many different ways. There are tons of recipes that incorporate onions, whether you’re making a savory stew, homemade pasta sauce or quick and easy chili dogs with slaw.

Garlic – Garlic bulbs have a decent shelf life but if you’re worried about not using up what you have, you could buy the minced kind that comes in a jar instead. Of course, fresh garlic typically has the best flavor. 

Tortillas – Tortillas work well for quesadillas, tacos and fajitas. I like flour but white corn tastes just as good and they can cost less, too. 

Bread – Bread is a must for sandwiches but it’s also good for making bread crumbs or croutons. If you want to save money buying bread, you can always learn some simple recipes to make your own at home. 


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Cheap pantry staples for the fridge and freezer

Sour cream – Sour cream works as a topping on chili or baked potatoes but there are so many other ways you can use it. For example, you can use it to make sour cream sauce for chicken enchiladas or whip up a soft and fluffy sour cream pound cake

Ricotta cheese – Ricotta cheese is a staple for many pasta dishes but you can also use it to make some tasty desserts. These lemon ricotta pancakes are simple to make and are sure to please the whole family. 

Cream cheese – Cream cheese is a go-to ingredient when you need to make white sauces, dips or cheesecake. It’s also great as a topper for toast or bagels. 

Half and half – Heavy cream is ideal for white sauces but it can be expensive. Half and half is a low-cost substitute when you’re on a tight food budget. 

Yogurt – Yogurt is a basic ingredient that’s got plenty of uses. You can add fresh fruit and granola to Greek yogurt for a simple, healthy snack. Or you can make yogurt pops, smoothies or even cakes. 

Eggs – I love eggs because there are so many ways to prepare them. And if you’re not comfortable with the prices your grocery store charges for eggs, you can always try to find a backyard homesteader who sells them for less locally. 

Butter – Butter (not margarine) is another item to have in your pantry at all times. Butter has so many different uses, whether you’re spreading it on toast, adding it to oatmeal or using it to saute veggies. 

Milk – Breakfast cereal doesn’t work without milk but there are plenty of other ways you can put it to use in the kitchen. If you’re looking for milk with a long shelf life, you might skip the carton and choose powdered milk instead. 

Cheese – Cheese is good on sandwiches but it’s also a solid addition to pasta dishes, casseroles, burgers and just about anything else. I like to keep a mix of sliced and shredded cheeses on hand for different recipes. 

Ground beef – Ground beef is excellent for making quick meals on a budget. For example, if you’ve got some green peppers or red peppers, seasonings and shredded cheese, you can add ground beef for quick and easy stuffed peppers. 

Chicken – Chicken is another great inexpensive staple item for the fridge. Chicken breast and wings are usually the most expensive options but you can make plenty of tasty, cheap meals with chicken thighs or drumsticks instead. 

Pork chops – Pork chops can be one of the cheapest foods to buy in the meat department if you’re able to catch them on sale. There are plenty of low-cost pork chop recipes you can try to create different flavors for every night of the week. 

Related post: 55 Best Cheap Foods to Save Your Grocery Budget

cheap pantry staples pinterest image
Best Cheap Pantry Staples to Save Money

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you stock a pantry on a budget?

Stocking a pantry on a budget takes some planning and strategic shopping. Some of the best ways to stock a pantry on a budget include:

  • ​Grocery shopping with a list
  • Planning meals around what’s on sale (check out $5 Meal Plan for simple, healthy meal plans!)
  • Buying in bulk if you can get the lowest unit price
  • Comparison shopping
  • Using coupons at checkout or an app like GetUpside
  • Buying generic instead of name-brand items
  • Cutting out convenience foods
  • Using canned or frozen options in place of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • ​Growing your own herbs
  • Repurposing leftovers

Remember, building up a supply of cheap pantry staples on a budget is a gradual process. You can start by purchasing essential items and gradually build your pantry over time. 

Where’s the cheapest place to buy pantry staples?

The cheapest place to buy pantry staples can vary depending on your location, as well as the specific stores available to you. Some of the best places to buy cheap groceries include:

  • Discount or warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club
  • Local grocery stores
  • Supermarkets with their own store brands
  • Farmer’s markets
  • Online retailers like Amazon
  • Ethnic or international grocery stores
  • Co-ops

Finding the cheapest place to buy pantry staples may require a bit of research and comparison shopping. Consider visiting multiple stores or exploring online options to compare prices and find the best deals. 

How long do pantry staples last?

The shelf life of pantry staples can vary depending on the specific item, storage conditions, and packaging. Here are some general guidelines for the shelf life of common pantry staples:

  • Rice: White rice can typically last for 4-5 years when stored in a cool, dry place. Brown rice has a slightly shorter shelf life of about 6-12 months due to its higher oil content.
  • Pasta: Most dried pasta has a shelf life of 1-2 years when stored properly in airtight containers or packaging.
  • Canned goods: Canned goods like beans, tomatoes, and vegetables can have a shelf life of 2-5 years or more, depending on the product and the condition of the cans. It’s important to regularly check for signs of bulging, rust, or damage to ensure the safety and quality of the canned goods.
  • Flour: All-purpose flour can typically last 6-12 months when stored in a cool, dry place. Whole wheat flour has a shorter shelf life of about 4-6 months due to its higher oil content.
  • Sugar: White granulated sugar has an indefinite shelf life when stored properly in a sealed container to prevent moisture absorption. Brown sugar can last for 6-12 months if stored in an airtight container.
  • Oats: Rolled oats can last 1-2 years when stored in a cool, dry place. Instant oats have a shorter shelf life of about 6-12 months due to their more processed nature.
  • Spices: Whole spices generally have a longer shelf life of 3-4 years, while ground spices may last for 1-3 years. However, their flavor and potency diminish over time, so it’s best to use them within the recommended time frames.

It’s important to remember that these are general guidelines, and it’s always a good idea to check the expiration dates, use-by dates, or best-by dates on the packaging. 

And regularly rotating your pantry items and practicing proper storage techniques can help you maximize the shelf life of your pantry staples and minimize food waste.

dirt cheap meals

Need help with meal planning?

$5 Meal Plan is a weekly meal planning and prep tool that can help you save money and time in the kitchen. For just $5 per month, you can get a made-to-order meal plan to feed your family for less than $2 per person, per meal!

​Bottom line: Cheap pantry staples can save money when you grocery shop

Buying fresh ingredients to make your own meals at home is a good way to save money on food if eating out is costly. The best part is that you can purchase staple healthy foods for less and keep them in your pantry until you’re ready to use them. You can get all of the enjoyment of making a home-cooked meal and plenty of extra flavor, without the extra cost. 

Need more money tips? Read these posts next:

What cheap pantry staples are must-haves for you?

About Rebecca Lake

Rebecca Lake is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance, freelance writer and homeschooling single mom of two. Since 2014, she's paid off nearly $100,000 in debt and grown her net worth to seven figures. Her work has appeared online at top personal finance websites, including Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Investopedia, The Balance, CreditCards.com and U.S. News & World Report. Find out more.