Sunday, April 13, 2014

$25 vegan dollar store challenge :: part 2

A relatively healthy, abundant grocery haul that cost less than $25
I learned a lot by participating in the first $25 Vegan Dollar Store Challenge. The concept in a nutshell:  how healthily and frugally can you eat using a $25, shopping only at the dollar store?

Family Dollar Haul
Family Dollar Haul: Raisins, oats, almonds, lentils, navy beanbrown rice

Coincidentally, Melody and I purchased our items from Dollar Tree dollar stores. Realizing that not everyone actually has access to Dollar Tree stores – and wanting to prove a point about being able to eat healthier within a budget regardless of where you live – I decided to shop at another discount chain called Family Dollar. [Frugalistas take note, they occasionally offer coupons] Unlike Dollar Tree, prices vary in this store but they are generally cheaper than average – and I was surprised to find that many items were actually cheaper than at Dollar Tree. Canned veggies, for example, cost under $1, while other items, like oat and tortilla chips [my weakness, with salsa] cost a bit more than $1.

Tomato sauce [Spoiler alert: SO good!], salsa, diced tomatoes, japapeƱos, Italian seasoning
My shopping rules were simple: $25 or below, no preservatives, additives or artificial colorings; whole foods only. 
Yes you CAN eat better on a budget: Black beans x 2, corn, carrots, and 'shrooms (x2)
My main frugalista takeaways:
  • Whether you shop at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Whole Foods or online, you need to know your prices. Take note of the per pound or per unit price of items you usually buy. Empower yourself with knowledge.
  • You may need to shop at several different stores to get the best price. This does not mean you need to run all over town to buy groceries. But try working various stores into your usual errand routes so save money and time.
  • Buy in bulk, within reason. When you see a great deal, snag it. And store it, keeping in mind your own storage situation. We don't want to turn into hoarders, so buy only what you will use up in a few months.
  • Some items purchased at discount stores taste as good as, or better than, those purchased at overpriced health food stores [Watch for specifics on upcoming posts. But – SPOILER ALERT, I am loving Family Dollar Tomato Sauce] 
  • Reading labels is more important than ever. As optimistic as this challenge may appear, finding healthy dollar store foods is like looking for a needle in a haystack [hence the name "challenge"]. More than 90% of the food in discount stores is just plain nasty. Frankenfoods. Read labels and don't put crap in your body, regardless of your budget. Everyone deserves whole foods.
The details....not bad for $23.70

Here's what I bought. Keep in mind, it's not Whole Foods, so try not to be too critical, understanding that not everyone has access to fancy-pants markets. I'll share how I use these items in some upcoming posts, in combination with fresh vegetables and pantry staples.
  • 1 container Quick Oats
  • 1 small box raisins
  • 1 bag brown rice
  • 1 bag slices almonds
  • 1 bag dried lentils
  • 1 bag dried navy beans
  • 1 can Family Dollar tomato sauce 
  • 1 jar salsa
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small container Italian seasoning
  • 1 small can hot chiles [jalapeƱos]
  • 2 cans black beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can sliced carrots
  • 2 small cans mushrooms
  • 1 can sauerkraut
  • 1 bag nachos
  • 1 can spinach
  • 1 bag gingersnaps

I'm happier if I enjoy occasional treats like these in moderation.
Healthy? Not exactly. But they are vegan and made from whole foods. 

What's your favorite, money-saving trick for healthy meals?

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Lisa | Je suis alimentageuse said...

I totally agree: everyone deserves whole foods, regardless of their economic bracket. Great post, great ideas, and points to you for avoiding a classist mentality *thumbs up*

Renee said...

I loved when Melody did this and I love yours too. So important to remember that not everyone has access to fresh markets. It's cool to see how healthy and cheaply you can come out at a grocery store. Inspiring. Thanks!

Theresa said...

Knowing the per-pound price is a really good tip. A few years ago Australia introduced legislation that grocery stores have to display the unit price on all their products. It's MUCH easier to find the best value now that you can easily see the price per kilo (or per 100grams) without getting out a calculator!

carovee said...

Hi, I just found your blog. I'm a carnivore at heart but I am trying to eat more vegetarian/vegan in part to save money. I'm also trying to find cheaper food options in general, so I'm really interested in this challenge. I've been reading through Melody's old posts. Are you going to be posting your menus as well?

Andrea said...

You've really shown us how careful shopping can net great value. The knowledge of knowing what to look for, and the ability to read and evaluate labels are crucial, as are the patience to wade through all the junk, and the will-power to buy mostly the good stuff.

urban vegan said...

Carovee, I won't be posting menus – I'm not that organized. But I will post about how I used up this haul along with a few recipes.

Tina Muir said...

Interesting Dynise! I am impressed you were able to get that many whole products from a dollar store, just shows it can be done. I try to stay away from cans as much as I can though.

I try to make as much as I can homemade, I find that saves a lot of money.

urban vegan said...

Commendable, Tina! Me too. But the point of this challenge is to raise awareness that not everyone has ready access to fresh produce (like many people in inner cities). I want to provide some $-saving tips for everyone. Fresh is always best, but canned CAN be a an alternative if there are no preservatives.