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Survive at the dollar store for less than $50 a week

And by survive we mean food and a few sundries. it can be done, and you stand to save a whole bundle if you know what to buy.

By Smart Spending Editor Sep 13, 2013 4:21PM

This post comes from Tahirah Blanding at partner site

MSN Money partnerCollege, unemployment, or an unexpected change in your life situation can mean that a major cut in spending is required as you plan how to survive from week to week. We found that it's possible to take care of the essentials, with a dollop of comfort thrown in, for less than $50 a week by shopping at the local dollar store.

Image: Grocery shopping (© Randy Faris/Corbis)Sure, the dollar store is a pit stop for cheap snacks, cooking supplies, toys, and other small items, but it's also a source for food at one very low price. And yes, there may be a stigma attached to dollar store shopping for all your needs, but can you afford to be snobby at a time like this?

These super-discount chains can sell items cheaply because they buy non-brand items that aren't backed by enormous advertising budgets, stock items in smaller sizes, and buy products in bulk from companies that are going out of business. Most goods sold in dollar stores are perfectly fine, and you'll often find reputable brands such as Minute Maid, Del Monte, and Suave.

Do shop wisely, however: Some items, such as electrical products, may be knock-offs that don't meet quality standards. A few dollar stores now sell meat, so be sure to carefully inspect the packages, just as the Ohio Department of Agriculture suggests.

Breakfast for seven days would cost about $10 using combinations of coffee, apple juice, oatmeal, bread, eggs, milk, cereal, pancake mix and syrup. Outlays for lunch and dinner foods would total slightly more than $30 and involve mixing and matching tuna, pasta, frozen meat, pre-made pizza crust and sauce, canned soup and vegetables, etc.

Our suggested menus and shopping list below presume you have some staples on hand, such as mayonnaise and condiments like pickles. Remember, inventory will vary at every dollar store:

Suggest Grocery List:

1 box cereal -- $1
1 6-ct pack oatmeal -- $1
1 bag coffee -- $1
1 loaf bread -- $1
1 box pancake mix -- $1
1 bottle imitation maple syrup -- $1
1 jar jelly -- $1
1 jar peanut butter -- $1
1 12-ct. carton eggs -- $1
1/2 gallon shelf-stable milk/1 gallon fresh milk -- $1
1 32-oz. jar apple juice -- $1
1 2-ct. pack pre-made pizza crusts -- $1
1 jar pizza sauce -- $1
1 container grated Parmesan cheese -- $1
2 boxes Hamburger Helper -- $2
1 bag pasta -- $1
2 cans meat sauce -- $2
5 5-oz. cans tuna -- $5
1 box instant oatmeal -- $1
3 1-lb. cans soup -- $3
4 10-oz. cans vegetables -- $4
1 box crackers -- $1
1 pastry crust -- $1
1 box New Orleans-style rice -- $1
1 can beans -- $1
1 box dehydrated mashed potatoes -- $1
2 packages frozen chicken -- $2
1 pack Country Time Iced Tea Mix -- $1
1 bag potato chips -- $1
1 6-ct box granola bars -- $1
1 bottle barbecue sauce -- $1
Total: $43

Plan out meals, rather than snacks, and purchase items that can be used in at least two different meal settings; bread and eggs work for breakfast and lunch, for example, and tuna and soup do double duty for lunch and dinner. Some dollar stores contain a frozen foods section (the Dollar Tree, for one, recently began installing freezers) stocked with items such as meat and TV dinners, and some have a refrigerated section filled with dairy products. Canned and boxed goods dominate dollar store shelves, however, so fresh fruit and vegetables will have to be put on hold.

Suggested Menu:

Day 1: Bowl of oatmeal, coffee
Day 2: Pancakes, coffee
Day 3: Bowl of cereal
Day 4: Toast with jelly or peanut butter, scrambled eggs
Day 5: Waffles, coffee
Day 6: Bowl of cereal
Day 7: Bowl of oatmeal, cup of apple juice

Lunch (accompanied by water or iced tea)
Day 1: Tuna salad, potato chips
Day 2: Soup, crackers
Day 3: Hamburger Helper, canned vegetables
Day 4: Pizza
Day 5: Tuna pasta salad
Day 6: PB&J sandwich, granola bar
Day 7: Soup, crackers

Dinner (accompanied by water or iced tea)
Day 1: Spaghetti, canned vegetables
Day 2: Mashed potatoes, barbecue chicken, canned vegetables
Day 3: New Orleans-style rice, beans
Day 4: Tuna pasta salad, canned vegetables
Day 5: Pizza
Day 6: Hamburger Helper, meat
Day 7: Tuna pot pie

Granola bar, toast or crackers with peanut butter, jelly

Living off the dollar store requires careful planning and discipline  Make a list of your needs (and commit to sticking to it) before setting foot inside. Avoid the non-food aisles. All too often a quick browse down the wrong aisle can lead to an impulsive choice of something that seems essential but under the circumstances just isn't.

After purchasing all the necessary food stuffs, you may have a few dollars left over for a 6-pack of tissue or a stick of deodorant. Some dollar stores accept manufacturer's coupons, so don't be shy about checking the store's policy. Saving a few extra cents here and there adds up to dollars that can be allocated toward other expenses, such as bills or transportation.

More from

Sep 14, 2013 9:58AM
Several years ago I lived a few blocks away from an Aldi's.  I shopped there before I did any major shopping.  Each week I spent $13-$15 for my stash at work.  5 breakfasts, 5 lunches 5 snacks and 5 beverages.  My coworkers were slaves to the vending machines and ordered out their breakfasts and lunches - SMH. 
Sep 16, 2013 10:06AM

Food Stamps are one of the most abused and wasteful social program this country has ever developed. A family of four receives more money monthly then my family of five spends a month on food. The amount paid out each month should be cut by at least one third. Purchases by food stamps should be (if not already) restricted to the following: Fresh/frozen non prepared meats & fish, fresh/frozen non prepared vegetables, deli meats/cheeses, canned goods, breads, non sweetened dairy, and non sweetened juices. The following should always be banned, and processes need to be in place where not already, to restrict: Soda, bottled water, power and energy drinks, sweetened juices, coffee, tea, ice cream, candy, energy bars, any pre-prepared meals or sandwiches, snacks/junk food, or any food that is mail ordered or shipped anywhere. If these rules would be followed, and recipients would learn how to shop and properly eat, no one would be hungry and we the taxpayers would save billions.

            Tobacco and alcohol should be banned from purchase by welfare funds. No cash should be allowed to be pulled off of any assistance cards except at banks and should be limited to a very low percentage of funds.

Sep 15, 2013 7:35PM
I spend $50 at Whole Foods instead of Dollar Store.   Gives me ALL my meals for one day.    Then, it's 6 days of fasting.
Sep 16, 2013 5:29AM
I got news for the author of this piece.  Eggs, peanut butter, coffee, and other items are no longer a dollar at the dollar store.  Some are as much as $2.75 each.  The dollar stores here carry mostly flour and sugar items with empty calories and no nutritional value.  A great way to add to the obesity problem that already exists.  Farmer's markets and the local butcher shop makes more sense.
Sep 16, 2013 11:53AM
Dollar Tree is my go to for all cleaning supplies. You can save real $$$.  I don't buy food there tho.  Aldi has reliable quality and competitive pricing.
Sep 16, 2013 10:25AM

If you live or grew in central Pa. this is a way of life. I live in a nice development and we all have gardens. If I grow more of one thing that I use I let a neighbor know and it gets used up. We all take advantage of buy one get one free and pass it on if we don't need it. We also buy the  whole cow and spit it up for $2.17 per pd.

I never buy boxed anything. I make my own pasta and noodles and dry them or use them fre**** fast and easy.

I carry cash. If something is a bargain and I (need) it I get it. It's a great life style and everyone should give it a shot.

Sep 16, 2013 10:37AM
Where are the fruits and vegetables?!

This should be named the Carbs GMO diet.

Sep 16, 2013 11:55AM
I LOVE the 99cent only stores!!!  I get most of my fresh fruits and vegetables there and they are FRESH.  Raspberries 99 cents a walmart they are 3.49 .. I buy ten or twelve packages and FREEZE them...Apples, salad, peaches, onions.  all much cheaper than anyone else in town, and I live in Houston...Of course you have to know when to get it fresh......I have now bought over 40 quarts of strawberries and froze them all as well as blueberries too!!!!!!  and absolutely DELICIOUS!!!!  You have to be SMART!!!!!!!!!
Sep 16, 2013 4:29PM

People, people...

Jeez...calm the "f" down.

The title is: "Survive at the dollar store for less than $50 a week".  It is not "How to make gourmet meals from the Dollar Store" or "How to ensure your family eats healthy from the Dollar Store". 

Get a grip.  This article will likely never reach he intended audience as it is on MSN Smart Spending.  This is like expecting Kalahari Tribesmen to watch Survivorman before going out into the bush. 

Pack up the soap boxes, grab a snack and get comfy.  Most of you will never have to worry about using this information, it's just here to pass the time and give you ideas to save money. 

Sep 16, 2013 4:31PM
sheesh, you guys don't want the working poor to even get ground coffee for a cup before they go out and do REAL work?  Is it ok if the kids wear shoes and get to go to school?  I suppose having a TV in the house is out of the question.  and any self-respecting freeloader better be cleaning their clothes on the perfectly-good rocks in the many handy streams in this country.  A little elbow grease and you don't need hardly any soap too.
Sep 16, 2013 10:10AM
There's a difference between a true 'dollar store' where everything is only $1, and the low-cost dollar stores, such as Dollar General and Family Dollar.  Also in small rural towns, such as mine, the Dollar Tree doesn't stock frozen or refrigerated products.  Still, I can buy small jars of pickles, olives, and many other shelf foods much cheaper than I can at Save-A-Lot or Wal-Mart.
Sep 16, 2013 12:06PM
It's a good way for the needy to stretch their food dollar. 
Sep 16, 2013 7:44AM
We have Save-A-Lot stores in our area and lots of products are under a dollar, such as canned veggies, frozen pizzas, some cheese and some fresh veggies.  This is the first store I shop for weekly/monthly food.  It pays to have a comparison list of products/stores you regularly shop, so you can see the prices of items and shop accordingly.  I can purchase more food this way, from this one store, and then go to Wal-Mart (I know many of you don't like this store) to finish my shopping.

Our area grocery chains are limited to (from the lowest/highest priced): Save-A-Lot, Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie and Publix.  We do have the Dollar Tree chain and it does have a freezer of frozen food and yes you do need to be aware of what you buy for freshness.
Sep 13, 2013 11:10PM
I draw the line at buying perishables from the dollar store. If I don't have to, I won't.
Sep 16, 2013 2:31PM
Dollar stores have a place in your budget...but not for food. Snacks & drinks, sure. I hit one every time I move. I set up a new apartment in one afternoon for WAY less than if I had gone to a place like Walmart or Target. For the small things you need around the house...curtain rods, storage containers, garbage cans..they are great. Also good for cleaning supplies & paper products. I can make a killer centerpiece for a table for any occasion for $5 lol. I just found a Dollar store that is now carrying my brand of hair spray. They charge $3 for it...CVS charges $7. You'd really be surprised what you can find there for way less than the big name stores. Worth a stop at least once a month for a look around & to stock up on common essentials.
Sep 16, 2013 12:38PM
check the per ounce prices at these junk shops...also food quality is very low...esp. imports from india
Sep 16, 2013 5:12PM
Some of that stuff listed is junk and not needed if one is living on a budget.  

Hamburger helper!  Go buy some hamburger and a big bag of pasta a can of tomato sauce, add some spices to the salt, and garlic...and make your have 2/3's of a bag of pasta left over for something else later on.  

No one needs potato chips if they are poor.  (I'm Poor!  Believe me you can live with out them).
Rice...again with the packages of small servicing of rice and a spice package.   Go buy a large bag of rice and invest in a few bottles of spices and you can make a better meal, probably with less salt...and use either hamburger or chicken to add to your rice.  

Also with chicken.  If you boil the broth...and freeze it., you  have several quarts of broth.  You can use that to add to bean soups, rice dishes and other things later on, rather than buy a salt loaded can of chicken broth that cost cost well over a dollar and you only get like 6 or 8 ounces of it. 

Smart shopping isn't all about just getting things for a dollar.  Spend $5.00 on some spices and make your own meals from basic like rice, beans,  pasta/noodles,  meat and  veggies. 

Sep 14, 2013 2:34AM
A co-worker of mine just missed work for a few days due to food poisoning. She had bought a bag of shredded cheese at the dollar store. It was cold when purchased, she said, and looked all right - but now she wishes she had paid more at a regular grocery store and avoided the illness. Personally, I never buy anything at a dollar store that must be refrigerated or frozen.
Sep 16, 2013 12:58PM
yes, by all means purchase stuff at the dollar store. I guess the author forgot how not to long ago most of the dollar store toys were found to have huge doses of lead! lets not forget the counterfit toothpaste and mouthwash that looked like a name brand but in reality was from china and had antifreeze etc in it!
Sep 16, 2013 1:48PM

When it is shopping day, we first stop at the Dollar store.  We find good cleaning agents, and personal hygiene products, as well as basic vitamins and minerals, spices and over the counter health remedies.  There are soups and vegetables in 15-16 ounce cans versus 10.5 ounce cans for nearly the same price elsewhere.  Cooking utensils and storage containers are good in quality and much cheaper than elsewhere.  Once we check off the shopping list what is reasonable to get at the Dollar store, then we go to the grocer for main stables, such as meats, fish, poultry, milk ect... We also use bulk stores to stock up with none perishable items (which when broken down, equals what the Dollar store prices are, but the Dollar store may not carry).  We also buy fresh produce and spend a day canning or dehydrating for longer storage (and it is fun working together on the project). 


By selectively shopping this way (on a planned shopping day), we have been able to cut our monthly shopping bill from $500.00, to $300.00, yet still have the same quality and quantity of items needed to maintain a family of five.  And we are not starving or unhealthy by a long shot ;-))

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