With that budget stretching point of view in mind, we move into food storage. Having some additional food kept at home is a wise thing--gets you out of that "3-meals-from-anarchy" demographic for starters.
You can get really fancy with food storage and spend hundreds, thousands on freeze dried stuff. But, that doesn't need to be the case--there are some really great deals out there on foundational food storage stuff (staples!) if you know where to look and who to ask.
For long term, ready-to-put back staples on the cheap, it is impossible to beat the food storage offerings of your friendly neighborhood Mormons (I'm one!). We've been doing the food storage thing for a long time, have our own network of packing plants (canneries) and don't need to make a profit off of what we sell.
These days, you don't even need to talk to anyone or go into a cannery (though don't be shy if you'd like to talk to members about food storage or visit a cannery)--you can order the basics via the LDS.org website, no Church membership needed and shipping is free.
You really can't beat the prices for stuff packaged for long term storage. Here's some examples:
- Case of white rice: $30.75 ($5.12 per #10 can)
- Case of white flour: $32.00 ($5.33 per #10 can)
- Case of quick oats: $21.25 ($3.54 per #10 can)
- Case of pinto beans: $40.75 ($6.79 per #10 can)
The actual canneries have a greater variety and should cost a little less (no shipping costs), but for online ordering, I don't think anyone is going to beat these prices. But, for long term packed food, you'll have a hard time beating those prices, even if you do it yourself. And they also sell oxygen absorbers and mylar bags if you want to DIY stuff, too!
As mentioned, I'm a Mormon (we prefer Latter-Day Saint, but whatevs), but I understand some apprehension around ordering from the LDS.org website. It's not a missionary tool for the Church, and you won't have young guys in suits, ties and a message for your family appearing on your doorstep. If you call a 1-800 and order a free video or whatever, yes, you will have missionaries show up at your door. But food storage in general is not used as a missionary tool. I served a full-time 2 year mission, so I should be fairly savvy to the methods.
On a side note, be nice to those guys & girls, too! They're good, helpful, generally hardworking, and many of 'em are future preppers! If you need help moving something heavy, the guys (Elders) are usually good for that, too. They especially love pianos--and tell 'em I told you so.
Food storage, personal responsibility and self reliance are central teachings of the Church, which is why there are a lot of us in the survival/preparedness community, why there are a dozen food storage companies based out of Utah, and why the Church is glad to offer food storage stuff at cost to whoever wants it. The Church is not out to make a buck, they're out to promote being prepared for hard times (amongst other things of course).
For those starting out, I'd recommend picking up a case of white rice. There's about 5.5 pounds of rice per can, so that gives you 33 pounds of rice to start with. 33 pounds of rice has roughly 54,000 calories in it (yup!). So that's 27 days worth of 2,000 calories per day for one person on rice alone!
Cost is going to be around $34 shipped and with tax. In #10 cans and stored at room temperatures, white rice is usually quoted at around a 10 year shelf life. You can open up individual cans and eat as you need to rotate, and the other cans remain intact.
Here's a link to the Self Reliance page on the LDS.org store. Lots of other stuff at good prices, too.
With whatever cash you've got left over, mosey on down to the grocery store and spend it on protein-y things that would mix in well with rice. Dried beans are obvious (and cheap), but they can be a hassle and fuel intensive to rehydrate, so take that into consideration. Canned beans are open-and-go...Goya red cans are good stuff if you can find 'em. Lots of other good stuff too--canned meats, etc.--that are options.
If you hate rice, look into wheat or just good ol' white flour. Both are about as cheap as rice. Wheat will store longer and can be sprouted, white flour is familiar, easier to use (no grinding) and will store for several years if kept in good conditions.
If you don't trust me and the LDS.org website, mosey on down to the local Costco/Sam's Club/etc. and pick up a 50 pound bag of white rice. Should run you $20-$30 last I checked. Start eating, buy a 2nd bag when you're halfway through the first. Keep rotating, store in a decent place, and you should be fine.