Can't imagine how some people make ends meet and still provide nutritional, moderate caloric meals for their families? Here's a terrific exercise I've come up with that was based on an actual experience I've just recently had. Imagine a nearly empty refrigerator and no cash until Friday. There's two of you and one of those people will not eat high carbohydrate or high fat foods.
Let's pretend that you only have 30 dollars and it needs to last for 4 days. In order to do this exercise correctly, you'll have to leave the wallet with the debit/credit card at home. NO CHEATING! If you can whip out more money, it really doesn't give you the same perspective.... you need to be able to remove items from the conveyor belt because you can't afford them and because the grocery clerk is not your mother and she doesn't have to throw in a buck to buy you that perfect peach ($1.99 lb) or spring for your thick slab apple wood smoked bacon ($4.99 a pkg.).
Let's pretend we're adults here and we need to make rational decisions based on practical limitations. I'll give you a minute if you need it.
First, look around the kitchen into all of the nooks and crannies for things like beans and rice and staple items like eggs and flour. Get an idea of the items that you don't need to buy so that you don't waste assets on this stuff. (BTW: My sister's kitchen offers a veritable treasure trove of high end staples from past cooking projects and routinely gathered stocks of gourmet tid bits that offer one the pedigree option here). Get the rice out....it feeds half the planet and is one of the most versatile grains to work with. Do you need to be told that brown rice is a far superior model? Dry beans are dirt cheap and made for survival cooking.
Knowledge is power. See if you can't find the weeks grocery store specials... this can give you an idea about what's on sale and this can help to steer the cooking choices. Pull together a menu and keep each day under $7.50. The meals should overlap in ingredients: Sunday's roast chicken is Tuesday's chicken and rice soup. Oatmeal can have so many different possibilities. Leftover oatmeal can be used to stretch out a meatloaf and meatloaf can be a pretty good school lunch when you make it into a sandwich. We have oatmeal for breakfast with raisin or fresh fruit, at least 3 times a week. My daughter makes her own granola and it is truly the best tasting stuff with nearly zero added fat. Buy the huge drums and keep an eye for this stuff going on sale because it's generally over budget otherwise and because it's one of the key ingredients to have when you go to ground.
Now when you head to the store, keep in mind that cheap isn't always gonna be a good choice. Hot dogs are nasty cylinders of snout and anus. No matter what they call it, it's eating an animals ass. Frozen pizza has less than a half a cup of tomato sauce and is generally like a loaf of white bread rolled out flat and sprinkled with cheese-like flavors. Cheap? Yup. Save the pizza experience for a special occasion when you can get one steaming from the pizzeria, or made with your own two hands using quality products. One of the best bargains ever is the frozen vegetable section. See if you can't find a discount grocery outlet. They have these MASSIVE bags of chunky frozen broccoli, cauliflower, zukes and peppers that are used in restaurants and cover the 5 servings very well. You can take these quality veggies and throw them into almost any recipes to keep the flavor up and the calories down. Plus, frozen vegetables do not go bad in under a week. Tasty, nutritious and inexpensive? This is my theme song. Sauced veggies presented as frozen side dish, really? You can't throw some butter on your own peas.... and save 2 bucks? Do I need to say that frozen dinners are a rip off? Sure, you could get these on sale and take it to work when you're too busy to deal, but it's not a good idea to be dependent on these.
When you have a limited amount of cash to work with and you make it a rule that your choices need to be both overlapping and nutritional, you very well may start to feel that you can see beyond the hocus pocus of the grocery store industrial complex. It's not your fault that you are a target. Just make your own choices before they get a chance to whisper in your ear that they know best.