Whether we like it or not, food prices are going up. For some, it might not seem like a big deal. It’s just a couple of bucks in the end, right?
At the same time, package sizes are getting smaller. Whole grain pasta comes in a standard 12 or 13.5 oz box, instead of the traditional 16 oz (one pound) box of enriched pasta.
Put the two together and it’s apparent that in order for us to continue to afford whole foods without going broke, we’re going to have to get creative and think outside the box.
Earlier in the year I conducted an experiment to see if cutting the tips off of toothpaste really saved any money. The result? Absolutely yes! It appears many of you are saving by applying the same concept to your facial lotions, body lotions and even tubes of artist’s paint! Kudos on stretching those pennies guys!
That experiment spawned the Crumbs Community “Money Saving Ideas To Try” board on Pinterest. It’s the virtual repository for those random money-saving ideas that you often wonder if they really do work, but don’t have the time nor energy to test out yourself.
Let me be your guinea pig! I’m testing out those ideas and sharing the results with you guys. In fact, today’s post was inspired by one of those pins!
Anyone is welcome to pin to the Crumbs Community “Money Saving Ideas To Try” board. Here’s how you can join us in gathering ideas:
- Follow me on Pinterest.
- Leave me a comment on one of the pins on that board, asking for an invite.
- I’ll add you as a pinner within a day or two!
So the next experiment in question is this:
Can You Save Money by Shopping for Healthy Food at the Dollar Store?
The kids and I took our time browsing the aisles at our local Dollar Tree and came up with a HUGE list of real food items that were available. Obviously what’s available in my area may not be exactly the same as yours, and the selection will vary between Dollar Tree and Dollar Store and Dollar General and Just 99¢ (and whatever other local dollar stores you might have), BUT – the concept remains the same: Think outside the box and keep your shopping options open!
Here are the type of foods you might find in a dollar store:
- regular tea
- green tea
- green beans
- mixed vegetables
- pumpkin puree
- canned tuna
- canned salmon
- frozen pollack
- frozen tilapia
- yellow mustard
- deli mustard
- brown mustard
- white sugar*
- brown sugar*
- pasta (not enriched)
- extra virgin olive oil
- pepper stir-fry
- California vegetable blend
- corn on the cob
- corn kernels
- kosher salt
- iodized salt
- sea salt
- chili powder
- onion powder
- Italian seasoning
- bay leaves
- dried whole chilies
- baking soda
- rubbing alcohol
- hydrogen peroxide
- toilet paper
- dried prunes
- sunflower seeds
- popcorn kernels
* Some would argue that granulated white sugar is not a real food. We have cut refined sugar out for the most part but still use it to make kombucha and occasionally for baking. I listed it here since we are all in different places on our real food journey and sugar may still be on your list.
** I’ve only included foods whose ingredients do not contain additives or preservatives. There were a lot of canned fruit like pineapples, pears and peaches, but many contained additional ingredients and sugar so I did not list them here.
Note that this is NOT an all inclusive list. I could have easily spent another hour or two writing down every single thing my store had, but it won’t do any good if you’ve got to get out and check to see what your own store has anyway!
Three Things to Keep In Mind
Many of the foods found in dollar stores are not main-stream brands, which can be both good and bad. It’s a bad thing because you’ll have to do your own research on the brands to see if they’re reputable or not.
Personally, it doesn’t matter much to me in terms of baking soda, vinegar, most spices or even foods from the Clean 15 list. If I didn’t buy these items at the dollar store, I’d be buying the generic brand anyway! However, it does matter to me though when it comes to fish (is it wild or farmed?), canned food from the Dirty Dozen (i.e. spinach and corn) and “specialty” items like olive oil.
I’m a bit more particular about the quality of those foods, so it’s up to me to research the brand, parent company and the farming practices of each. What matters to you will depend on where you are in your real food journey.
Most things in the store are $1, however some things were marked as less. In either case, make sure that it’s really a good deal on a price per ounce level. This is where having a price book comes in handy. For example, some packages of pasta contained only 12 oz. My regular “buy price” for pasta is $1 for 16 oz. In this case, it’s not the better deal to pay a full $1 for less pasta.
Another example are the canned goods. Warehouse stores often sell canned vegetables in bulk for 50-75¢ per can, so paying $1 each is not a better deal. On the flip side, canned pumpkin is very hard to find for under $3 in my area, even more so when it’s not September or October. Paying just $1 per can is a steal!
Another good deal for me is the beans. I’m having a hard time finding beans for under $1.50/lb, so I almost always snag a bag when I see them on the shelf for just $1! Evaluate the cost per ounce (especially for smaller packages like the nuts and dried fruit) and compare to other store while you’re out and about shopping. Then the next time you’ve got nuts or fruit or bandages on your shopping list, you’ll know where you can get the best deal.
Ingredients Don’t Lie
Remember that real food is supposed to be as unprocessed as possible. There was quite a bit of food on the shelves that was processed with additional acids (whose source is not known to be natural or man-made), sugars and preservatives. Remember to always read the ingredients. Always! Never assume a food is “safe.”
Update: Some readers raised concerns about the source of some foods found at the Dollar Store. I explore those questions in my follow up post here: Dollar Store Dilemma: Does Your Food Come From China?