Cheap Foods That Last a Really Long Time

On a tight budget, and need to make every dollar you spend at the grocery store count? Then, focus on filling your cart with these cheap and nutritious foods that have a really long shelf life. You'll spend less at checkout, and have considerably less wasted food hitting your trash can at the end of the week.

1
Potatoes

Roasted potatoes
Gillian Vann/Stocksy United

A 5-lb bag of potatoes is — without question — one of the biggest bargains in the produce department. For around $3.14, you'll get enough potatoes to make a ridiculous number of meals. Bake them; toss them into soups; add them to casseroles; make potato salad or a big batch of oven fries. Potatoes are incredibly versatile, and if you store them properly, they'll easily keep for 4-6 months.

Here are some tips to ensure your get maximum storage life out of your potatoes:

2
Beans and Other Legumes

Dried Beans
Dried Beans. Matt Meadows/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Beans cost a lot less than meat, and are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and minerals. Load up on canned beans, or save even more by purchasing dried beans and cooking them yourself. One pound of dried beans (which will run you about $1) is enough to make six cups of cooked beans. That's the equivalent of four cans of beans! 

Don't want to fuss with soaking dried beans? Then, make more meals with lentils. They don't have to be soaked first, and cook up fast.

Dried beans are best used within a year, but can be stored longer. Be sure to add extra cook time when starting with older beans.

Learn More About Beans:

3
Rice

Rice
Rice. Savany/E+/Getty Images

A 1/2 cup serving of rice costs just $.05, and is the perfect base for a filling meal. Use it in Asian dishes and to make rice bowls. Toss it into soups, and add it to casseroles. Rice is an important staple most the world over, so you won't have any trouble finding recipes to put it to work in.

White rice has an incredible shelf life. It'll keep for 4-5 years in the pantry. Brown rice has a much shorter shelf life, lasting 6-8 months in the pantry and 8-12 months in the refrigerator. Since brown rice is more nutrient-dense, consider keeping it in the freezer, where it'll keep forever.

4
Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter. Image Source/Getty Images

Peanut butter is another cheap and versatile source of protein. Use it as a spread for sandwiches and bagels; add it to shakes; whip up delectable desserts, like peanut butter cookies and fudge; or use it to make savory Asian dishes, like Thai peanut chicken.

Unopened peanut butter is good a year past the best-by date printed on the jar, so it's worth stocking up when you find it on sale. Once you open the jar, you have three months to use it. One exception to this rule: natural peanut butter. It's good 2-3 months past the printed best-buy date, when stored in the pantry. This stretches to 3-6 months, when stored in the refrigerator.

5
Apples

Apples
Apples. Des/RooM/Getty Images

Most fruits have a high water content, so they're notorious for going bad quickly. If you're tired of finding science experiments in your fridge and fruit bowl, make apples your go-to fruit. Under the right storage conditions, they'll keep for up to five months. This means you can safely stock up when you find a deal on your favorite variety. And when your apples start to go soft, all is not lost. They can still be used to make applesauce or apple butter.

More About Storing Apples:

6
Carrots

Carrots
Carrots. Alexandra Ribeiro/EyeEm/Getty Images

Baby carrots don't have a very long shelf life, but whole carrots do. Tuck a bag in the veggie bin in your fridge, and it'll be good for at least 4-5 weeks past the best-buy date printed on the bag. And really, as long as they don't feel soft or slimy, they're still perfectly fine to eat. Enjoy carrots as a snack; roast them for a side dish; or chop them up, and add them to soups. You can even use them to make a carrot cake, if you're craving something sweet.

Tip: If your carrots still have their long, leafy tops when you buy them, be sure to cut them off. They'll pull moisture from the carrots, and cause them to dry out.

7
Pasta

Pasta
Pasta. Martin Novak/Moment/Getty Images

A box of pasta is a great meal starter on a busy day. Just whip up a quick sauce, or pour one out of a jar (no judgement here), and you have a complete, meal.

Dried pasta is always a good deal, but it'll be an even better deal if you catch it on sale, buy it with coupons or do both. Aim to pay $1 a box or less. Pasta is good for 1-2 years past the date printed on the box, so you have plenty of time to use it up.

8
Oatmeal

Oatmeal
Oatmeal. Image Source/Digital Image/Getty Images

Oatmeal is a steal, at just $.21 per 1/2 cup serving, and it has an equally impressive shelf life. Quick oats (also known as one-minute oats), can be kept for 2-3 years past the best-buy date. Instant oats and steel cut oats have a shorter life span of 1-2 years past the best-buy date, but that's still plenty of time to use them up. 

Enjoy them for breakfast, but don't overlook all of their other uses. Oats are an excellent addition to cookies and breads, and can even be used to stretch ground beef. Add up to a cup per pound of beef to make your meat purchases go further.

9
Flour

Using Flour to Make Dough
Using Flour to Make Dough. Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

Flour costs $.70 a pound (or less). Toss a bag in your cart, and there's no end to the things that you can make. Sweet or savory — it does it all. When stored properly, all-purpose flour is good for 6-8 months past the date that's printed on the bag. Whole wheat flour and specialty flours, like self-rising flour (which have additional ingredients mixed in) have a shorter life span of 4-6 months past the printed date.

To stretch the shelf life even further, just keep your flour in the freezer. There's no need to bring it back to room temperature before you use it.

10
Frozen Veggies

Frozen Veggies
Frozen Veggies. Frank Bean/Upper Cut Images/Getty Images

Get more veggies into your diet, and avoid having them go bad before you're able to use them, by loading up on frozen veggies at the store. They usually cost considerably less than fresh produce, and since they're frozen soon after being picked, they tend to pack a bigger nutrient punch.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsUSDAEatByDate.com