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$20 Grocery Budget

So you can feed yourself on a tight budget, we've put together a $20 weekly shopping list for one person.

$20 grocery budget: recipe ideas and shopping list

When money is tight, it’s important to know how you can continue to put food on the table without breaking the bank. A weekly food budget of $20 is about $86 a month and can be quite difficult to work with.

So you can feed yourself on a tight budget, we’ve put together a $20 weekly shopping list for one person.


How much food can I get for $20 a week?

The University of Otago estimates that a single adult needs to spend between $59 and $69 a week on groceries to maintain a balanced and nutritionally complete diet. That said, sometimes push comes to shove and you need to get by on $20 for a week. So what could you realistically afford to eat on that type of budget?

Here are a few tips to make $20 go the full distance for a week:


Buy a whole frozen chicken and use all of it

Choice cuts of chicken such as breast and thigh are great for convenience, but they won’t fit easily into a tight budget. Instead, go for a whole frozen chicken. This way, you get breast and thigh, as well as drumsticks, wings and the chicken frame.

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation says you need just one serving of lean protein a day, which is equivalent to two drumsticks or one whole chicken leg. So, a whole chicken to provide you with a few days worth of your protein requirements.

You can also try using just chicken drumsticks. Drumsticks are often only a few dollars per kilo, so they’re a very cost-effective way to put meat on the table.

Get recipe inspiration with our Budget Meal Planners
How to cook a perfect chicken
Chicken RecipesWhen you’re eating on such a tight grocery budget, your best bet is to plan your meals a week in advance and do plenty of meal prep. 


Love red lentils (or other legumes)

Lentils are a legume, which means they’re full of plant-based protein. Other legumes include chickpeas and kidney beans.

The great thing about legumes is that they’re super cheap, especially when bought dried. Red lentils can be bought in bags and added to casseroles or cooked into a dahl to help add lots of protein to your diet. The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation estimates just 135 grams of cooked lentils is enough for a day.

Lentils will expand about 2.5 times when cooked, so for 135 grams cooked, you only need 54 grams of raw lentils.


Eat seasonal fresh fruit

When fruit is in season, it tends to be very affordable. You can spend a dollar or two on a few pieces of fruit to enjoy for lunches.

Bananas are a great option when they’re cheap. A full-sized banana (as opposed to a “bobby banana”) is actually two servings! So buy a few full-sized bananas, slice them up and freeze half of each banana in a separate bag. Then defrost a bag overnight and enjoy with microwave porridge in the morning.

During the cooler months, a lot of fruit goes out of season. So, try buying one or two cans of peaches or mandarin segments and making them last the week instead.


Root for root vegetables

Onions, carrots, and potatoes are generally very affordable. Plus, because they’re sold by weight, it’s easy to buy more or less to fit your budget.

Onion and carrot can both be chopped or grated finely and added to lentils or casseroles. Along with potatoes, they can also be roasted with a whole chicken.

During autumn and winter, keep an eye out for whole pumpkins. They cost just a few dollars and can provide vegetable goodness for the whole week, if not longer.

Go for oats

You don’t need a fancy breakfast cereal, especially when money’s tight. Go for a bag of rolled oats instead.

One serving of porridge uses ½ cup rolled oats, which is about 40 grams. With 750 grams of rolled oats costing as little as $2.50, that’s more than two weeks’ worth of breakfast for less than $3.

Make your oats in the microwave with water, and add a splash of UHT milk to cook them down and make them a bit creamy.

Example $20 budget weekly shopping list

Think you can eat for $20 a week? Print out this shopping list and bring it with you the next time you do your weekly food shop. Or, use it as a guide to see what you could afford on $20 and build your own list.

*All prices are indicative only and may vary according to seasonality, sales, and demand. Product, price, and limits may vary between stores.

Download the $20 budget shopping list.

Looking for more ways to save?

Check out our tips on food budgeting or take a look at our other food budget guides.