I. Love. Dollars stores. (Said in my best Oprah “I love bread” voice.) Specifically, I love Dollar Tree. You might know it as a mecca for affordable crafting supplies. But what you might not know is that the discount chain is also a great spot to supplement your grocery budget.
I’m not just talking snack foods, here. Over the years, whether I’ve found myself on an exceedingly strict budget or have just been my normal penny-pinching self, I’ve often seen the neon green storefront as a beacon of respite from the unnecessarily high prices of grocery stores.
Mind you, I won’t sit here and tell you that every food item stocked on the shelves is worth tossing in your cart. There are some definite misses.
Take the $1 3.5-ounce ribeye steak the chain has proudly touted in several locations. When I saw this, I was admittedly taken aback. But then, curiosity got the better of me, and I gave it a try; let’s say I did this so that you, my friends, don’t ever have to.
While the thin, tough slice of what was technically ribeye was decidedly not worth the money — I’d sooner hit up the McDonald’s dollar menu for a cheap red-meat fix — there are plenty of Dollar Tree items that are.
Before we get started, there is one thing you should note: as with all things Dollar Tree, these things are not guaranteed to be in every location, though this will give you a good idea of what to expect.
While the company’s practice is not to discuss any specifics about its relationship with vendors, the following are items I’ve found are consistently on the shelves.
For around half the price (or less) than you’ll normally find, the boxed pancake mix here is usually the “just add water” type, so the only other thing you’ll have to pick up is syrup, which can usually be found on the same shelf.
Frozen Full Breakfasts
You may recognize Brown ’N Serve as a freezer-aisle staple for breakfast sausages. These single-serving meals include two pancakes, waffles or French toast, plus sausage links and hash browns.
Loaves of bread — and other bread products — abound at Dollar Tree. Of course there’s the go-to sliced white bread, but you can also find hamburger and hot dog buns, flour tortillas and even pizza crusts.
I was surprised the first time I saw fresh eggs, but they’re there, and the price can’t be beat. Carton sizes vary, but I’ve seen anywhere from eight-count all the way up to 18, all for the same low price.
Choose wisely before picking up cereal here. Do buy the 12-ounce boxes of cereal, if available. But don’t be fooled by the mini boxes or bags of brand-name cereals. A 3-ounce package of Fruit Loops is going to cost you a heck of a lot more (by volume) than a normal-size box at full price.
Sliced Deli Meat
This is one of those items that really requires you to have an idea of your local deli prices to determine the value. The four-ounce packs of turkey or ham work out to just $4 per pound. I’ve also seen larger (think: 16 ounces), albeit less nutritious, packages of bologna. (C’mon, perfect excuse to justify making a fried bologna sandwich.)
This is another you’ve got to use a little judgment on. If it’s an immediate need, the price is right for a 1-pound box of pasta, but sometimes local grocery-store sales can score you a better bargain.
Yes, you read that right. Dollar Tree sells cheese! My advice: go for the 6-ounce cheese blocks, when available. This is the real stuff, and for such a good price. You’ll probably find shredded cheese too, but just know it’s not going to be “real” cheese, meaning nothing short of nuclear fire will melt it.
For the most part, when it comes to meats at Dollar Tree, we’re going to be looking at college-student-style dinners. There’s popcorn chicken and meatballs, individual chicken-patty sandwiches and even White Castle hamburger sliders. Kumar was nowhere to be found.
Frozen French Fries
Not gonna lie, I got super excited when I first saw my local Dollar Tree stocked with sweet potato fries, and I just about cleaned them out. I don’t think those are consistently around, but you should at least be able to find shoestring fries.
The brands and varieties are in constant flux, but over time I’ve seen macaroni and cheese, orange chicken, spaghetti and meatballs and even biscuits and gravy. (The latter prominently featured the visage of comedian Larry the Cable Guy… yes, him having a brand of frozen dinners is actually a thing.)
This is my go-to Dollar Tree snack. Just throw one (or two or three) on a cookie sheet and heat it up in the oven for a few minutes. Sprinkle some salt on top and you’re good to go. When I was last there, I even saw a bag of bite-size frozen pretzels, perfect for a gathering.
You read that right. Before you ask, no, I’m not talking about fresh pastries. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) But check out the freezer section, and you can find things like mini iced eclairs and vanilla cream puffs.
Unlike most other dollar stores, this place actually has the brands you know and love: Cheez Doodles, Cheetos, Lays, Funyuns, Doritos and T.G.I. Friday’s–brand potato skins chips.
Without a doubt, Dollar Tree is a mecca of candy. And it’s not just the strange things you’ve never heard of before. They have all brand-name staples, like Twizzlers, Werther’s Original, Skittles, M&Ms, Snickers, Haribo and more.
Soda: It’s not surprising to find off-brand 2-liter bottles of soda on the shelves of any dollar store, but I was a little shocked to find the über trendy La Croix adorning shelves when I last visited.
You know what I mean. All those sauces and spreads you find in every pantry: ketchup, mustard, relish, hot sauce, soy sauce and beyond.
We’re not just talking salt and pepper here, people. (Though both are there.) There’s allspice, chili powder, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, paprika and parsley, among others. And before you ask if these are tiny sample-sized bottles, they’re actually the real deal, just like you would find when shopping for, say, McCormick-brand spices (the larger ones) at a regular grocery store.
I always stock up on cooking spray from Dollar Tree. However, I suggest sticking with the canola or coconut oil sprays and avoiding the butter spray. I’m not a fan of how the latter cooks on higher heat.
I basically live off of coffee (always decaf — I know, I know, but that’s another story) so Dollar Tree’s selection of knockoff Splenda, Equal and Sweet’N Low, plus Sugar in the Raw, is a godsend.
As you can see, this place is not your run-of-the-mill dollar store and, while not a complete substitute for your local grocery store, Dollar Tree can really help soften the blow to your bank account whenever you need some basic pantry staples. (And then some.)
Joshua Pramis is a freelance lifestyle writer and editor with a penchant for all things tech, food and fashion. His work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Digital Trends, Conde Nast Traveler, Daily Meal and more.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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