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99 Cent Store: Shopping Tips

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Homeschool Mom gives her two cents on how to make grocery shopping at the 99 Cent store a breeze.

Executing my 99 Cent store experiment has been interesting on many levels. First of all, I learned that I spend way too much on food. Second, I found that saving money on food demands a lot of thought and preparation, so you have to have respect for those women who do it on small budgets, and many do it well.

I frankly am not interested in endorsing or denigrating the 99 Cent Only Store -- I have no vested interest in where anyone shops. What I do know, however, is that there is healthy food out there. If you are sending your kids to school with a bag of Cheetos and a soda, you are not making the most of the money you do have. As a teacher, I witnessed some of that, and I had peanut butter and jelly supplies at my desk for those kids that were hungry. Food is most important when you don't have enough of it. So, I hope some of my observations might be useful to anyone who wants to use the 99 Cent store for some of their grocery needs.

1. Location, Location, Location
Not all 99 Cent stores are created equal. I went to several before I found my favorite, so I have started to concentrate on shopping there. They all receive a variety of products. Something you find at one store may not be at another. They can vary in their cleanliness. They also vary in their turnover. If produce sits there, it can become unpleasant, and fruit flies arrive. If the store nearest to you is gross, find another, or shop somewhere else. If you are a smart shopper, as many people have pointed out, your dollar can go even farther at other stores.

2. Read the Expiration Dates
A reporter told me she wrote a story about the 99 Cent store because a man bought a chocolate bar there that had worms in it. Of course, it was over its expiration date. If it says "use by," use it by that date. If it says "sell by," use it within a few days.

3. Plan Some Menus Ahead of Time
Use your own creativity or cookbooks or search for recipes online. I have looked at the "99 Cent Store Cookbook" and I did not find it helpful. A) They do not carry a lot of the ingredients they listed, and B) they used canned meat or some other ingredient that I found distasteful. So I made up my own. I would think of some things that might be possible, and then look for those ingredients.

4. Plan On Shopping Several Times a Week
In order to make the whole thing work, you really need to buy small quantities and go often. The quantity thing is kind of built in for you because the packages are sparse. Because they have different things all the time, you have to go often to get a good selection. The expiration dates are usually close, so you need to use it, and then purchase more often.

5. Eggs and Vegetarian Food Are Best
The grossest thing I found and made were frozen ground chicken patties. They were so disgusting on every level that I am feeling sick just thinking of them again. They smelled bad, and they looked like someone's thinly sliced liver made into a patty. They tasted like a creepy dead thing left lying on your lawn by your cat. I'm sure someone will be outraged by this statement, and accuse me of thinking I'm too good to eat things left on the lawn by cats, and guess what? You're right. So is everyone. So, please don't bother commenting, "Some people are forced to eat ..." blah, blah, blah. Just avoid the chicken patties. The other fresh unprocessed meat is very rare, and when you do find it, it is tiny, expensive, and not very good. So, if you buy only from the 99 Cent store, I would stick with legumes, rice, eggs, and dairy products. We had boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, and quiche. Any way you can eat an egg, we ate it this week. We found lots of yogurt and sour cream, and there was milk every day. As I've said before, the produce is great and it is a wonderful bargain. Canned tuna and salmon are a bargain as well. If you like canned chicken or turkey, they have that too.

There are moms out there who are a lot savvier than I. You all probably have great ideas you can share with me about possible recipes and ways to use the 99 Cent store. I'd love to hear them!

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