Hi! I’m new here, and since I’m a grad student (i.e. an expert on living cheaply), I figure this would be a good place for my first post.
First of all, there are a lot of odd little niches you should check out to get cheap healthy food:
Scratch and dent stores. Obviously, you shouldn’t buy any cans that look like they have botulism, but sometimes the merchandise is vastly discounted just because it isn’t pretty (like slightly beat-up Clif bars) or didn’t sell well.
Trader Joe’s. Yes, the majority of the stuff there is expensive yuppie food, but they sometimes have deals–I recently bought pasta sauce and frozen spinach there for a dollar each.
Organic community farms. I once volunteered at one for a couple of hours, and got huge garbage bags full of free salad greens that the paying subscribers didn’t want. If you have one of these farms in your area, see if you can work something out.
Discount groceries. If you happen to live in Chicago, I can tell you which grocery stores have ridiculously cheap produce. They’re different from scratch and dent stores because there’s nothing wrong with the merchandise–it just happens to be really cheap.
Dollar stores and pharmacies. Most of the food here is crap food, but both of these places occasionally have good deals on dried fruit or nuts.
If you must shop at a grocery store, get a discount card and coupons. Also, pay attention to getting a lower unit price (it helps if you bring a little calculator). Sometimes, frozen produce or frozen fish has a much lower unit price than fresh (and you don’t need to worry about having wasted your money if it spoils, because it won’t!)
Things that are usually cheap anywhere are: canned tuna, eggs, dry beans (60 cents for a whole pound!), brown rice. In general, whole foods cost less than prepared (unless you’re shopping at a health food store, in which case it’s all expensive). So a big sack of brown rice is much cheaper than getting Success boil-in-bag brown rice, for instance. Real eggs are cheaper than Eggbeaters. Etc.
And if it’s at all possible, make friends with hunters. They can’t actually consume those huge amounts of venison in their industrial freezers, and are subsequently pretty generous with it.
And if you have a yard, try growing some produce. Not tomatoes, because the bugs will eat them. Other foods are easier.