I get the ease of use, but is rice really so difficult to cook? All you really need is a small saucepan (one with a glass lid is best). The added benefit (aside from cost savings) is that you can cook other stuff in the pan when not making rice. It takes a bit more practice, but it's not that hard.
I'll also agree that cooking for one (ie: single servings) is pretty useless if not nearly impossible. Assuming you can stand to eat the same meal several times in a row (or can share cooking duties/costs with roommates), it's better to cook food in the usual 4-6 servings sizes and then reheat for future meals. I've also found that if you're making anything with rice or pasta, if you can keep the two parts separate, you should. This adds to the volume of the meal, while keeping the portion you're reheating smaller. For example, instead of making a big pot of spaghetti sauce and pasta and dumping that into a bowl, just make the sauce, and then cook the pasta in single serving amounts as needed (and put sauce over that and reheat). There's a pretty endless variety of rice and pasta dishes you can make using this concept. Bonus is that the rice/pasta doesn't dry out or turn to mush since you're making that fresh at each meal.
One super ridiculously easy example: Chicken Picante. Take one container of chicken breast tenders/whatever (usually come 4 or 5 to a package). Brown chicken in a pan with a small amount of oil. Dump jar of picante sauce over chicken and cover the pan. Let that bubble on simmer for 10-15 minutes while you cook a serving of rice. Pour one chicken part and an portion of sauce over the rice. Enjoy!
You can also take a gander at some of the recipes on campbells soup cans (or their web site
) for all sorts of relatively easy meals to make. Some are more cost effective than others (and some easier than others), but you should be able to find some that work for you.
As you get more comfortable cooking it doesn't hurt to buy an actual cookbook and then start experimenting with some of the recipes. You might be surprised at how much easier some of those meals are than they look at first. Especially important is learning how to make various sauces out of base ingredients. I've just found that the pattern of "sauce over protein/veggies over rice/pasta" is a pretty solid one that you can use in a lot of ways, and if you can make the sauce from scratch, it's a **** of a lot less expensive than buying something pre-made.
Another key concept is introducing "fillers" to your meals. For example, you decide to make a big pot of chile (which is relatively easy to make with a huge varieties of recipes out there). It's something you can store and reheat and eat as desired, so it works pretty well. But a single bowl might not be enough for a meal, so you'll be tempted to eat two, which cuts in half the number of meals you'll get. So make something that goes great with chile: Cornbread. Sounds hard, right? Nope. It's super easy and ridiculously cheap for the volume that results.
Fillers are anything you make on the side that goes well with the main dish. This could be some form of bread, or a salad, or whatever. ****. Stick some crackers on the side of your plate, a few pieces of fruit, anything. When cooking on a budget, think in terms of which parts of the meal are the most expensive and which are the least expensive. Try to stretch the more expensive components across more of the less expensive components. This is really just an extension of the "put something over rice or pasta" idea I mentioned earlier.
Also, while this may not be your initial goal, you'll also find that for the most part buying base ingredients and cooking stuff from scratch is not only less expensive than buying pre-packaged food, it's also a **** of a lot better tasting *and* better for you. Yes, you could simply stock up on stacks of cheap microwave dinners or top ramen, but trust me, your insides will thank you years from now if you don't do that. How far you take this is up to you, but it's never a bad idea to learn how to cook, and the more you do it the more you'll find it's really not that hard (and that stuff is a lot less expensive than you thought). I have a friend who makes his own bread from scratch, his own pasta from scratch, pretty much everything. The flavor difference alone between a store bought ravioli and one you made and stuffed yourself is pretty much night and day, for example. The fact that it's cheaper is just icing on the top.