Continuing with my series on 99 Cent Store Deals and Steals and Stay Aways, today I will be looking at food. If your house is anything like mine and you have a teenage boy, food seems to just disappear. Its there one second and I turn back around and its gone! This can be murder on your budget! Ironically I discovered all the amazing deals the 99 Cent Store had because someone said they carried fresh produce. The skeptic I was said, well I will just check this out and see for myself…I will confess I expected food on the verge of expiring. Boy was I in for a major surprise! Now not everything in their food shelves is a good deal or even worth it as far as flavor is concerned, but its still worth stopping their first.
Food Deals and Steals
As I mentioned, it was the produce that got me in the doors at the 99 Cent Store, so of course its going to be what I share first. I am constantly impressed with the variety and freshness of the produce they have. Now it does vary and you just have to except that but the money saved is awesome! As a tip: Check out your weekly ads first. There are times that weekly specials or Von’s “Just For You” can give you an even better deal. Once you determine whether or not cucumbers are on sale at Albertsons, then check out the 99 Cent Store for produce you need before hitting your regular grocery store. I have found fresh strawberries (normally $2.99 to $4.99 a box), blackberries (ditto to the strawberries), carrots, tomatoes, avocados, eggplant, bananas, butter lettuce, romaine, iceberg, onions, celery, radishes, peppers, and so much more! All fresh!
I am lumping this rather broad category into one because the 99 Cent Store tends to get a lot of regular sized brand name products in their store. Over the last 6 months I have seen Triscuts both brown rice and regular flavors, New York Style Bagel Chips, Better Cheddar, Quaker Granola Bars, Quaker Cereals, Kellogg bars and snacks, Pop Chips, Progresso, Hunts, Kraft, Campbell’s and so many more. These usually move fast so if you think you want it, grab it.
I love to bake, especially around the holidays but my pocketbook would prefer that I not. Anyone who has bought baking goods know they can cost a pretty penny. Baking Soda caught my eye first and it was only $0.59 a box! They carried a wide variety of sugars – light and dark brown sugar, powdered sugar, cane sugar, and even raw sugar. I was able to pick up custard powder, baking powder, flour, cornmeal, artisan baking flour, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and even pure vanilla. Granted the vanilla is a small bottle but even the small bottle prices out better than the large bottle I had found at Costco. Occasionally they will also carry specialty items like shredded coconut, marshmallows, graham cracker crusts and baking chocolate.
Kids Lunch Items
Juice Bottles – They consistently carry juice boxes like apple juice in a 3-pack.
Bottle Water and Flavor packets – They consistently sell 6 packs of Crystal Geyser or 24 packs for $2.99. Couple this with their boxed water flavors such as Snapple Peach Tea and Hawaiian Punch, these are great for teen lunches.
Granola and Fruit Bars – As I mentioned earlier, they carry quite a few name brands and this is true for granolas and fruit bars. However, their generic brand, Mrs. Freshley’s, is actually pretty good and cost effective.
Fruit Cups, Pudding Cups and Jello Cups – same as the granola and fruit bars.
Chips – Occasionally they do sell fun brand name chips. I personally really enjoy when they have PopChips since I prefer then to regular chips. However, their generic Poore Brothers’ brand is rather flavorful. I just suggest that you make sure the bag of chips you buy is over 5.5 ounces or its not worth the buy.
Cookies – There are so many kinds available, including brand names, that you can definitely make out like a bandit. My boys really like the Vanilla Crème and Peanut Butter Crème by Lil’ Dutch Mini.
Candies and Munchies – Okay, let me say I am not a big fan of giving kids candy all the time but I do get they like it, even the big kids like my husband who has to have a “candy drawer”. If your kids are like mine, then you can fine so good deals on movie theater size candies like junior mints, nerds, sugar babies, etc. Plus, for those of who prefer salty, then the array of salty snacks will meet that craving. They carry Corn Nuts, variety of nuts, oriental crackers and more.
Milk – Granted it not $1 but, they do generally beat out Wal-mart, Vons, Albertson’s and even Costco and Sam’s by about $0.10 a gallon. If your family drinks milk like mine, that $0.10 a gallon adds up FAST! They carry Whole, 2%, and Fat Free and even Almond Milk!
Eggs – Again, not a $1 but definitely a good buy. I would say I save anywhere from $0.50 to a $1.00 a carton. Plus they come in either 12 count or 18 count.
Bread – Again another great buy. They carry hearty white, wheat, 9-grain, Pita, hot dog and hamburger buns, Texas toast, French and steak rolls, dinner rolls as well as pita bread, English muffins and bagels. I don’t know about you but the last time I bought a 6 count of bagels, it cost me almost $3.
Spices – Probably one of the biggest rip off in stores, spices can cost $5 to $10 for a small little bottle. I was through the roof ecstatic when I say the wide variety of spices they carried. I was able to get regular sized spices jars that included dill weed, onion salt, powder and bits, garlic salt, powder and parsley garlic, cumin, and more.
Salt – For a $1, grab a canister of either iodized or sea salt.
Pastas, Rice, and Beans – Okay, definitely impressed that I could find a wide variety of pastas – spirals, orzo, linguine, lasagna, spaghetti, wheat pasta, penne – as well as dried beans of all kinds and rice too. I think I was surprised the most that I found real, unrefined brown rice…the kind that has to cook for 45 minutes and is filled with all its wonderful nutrients. Occasionally, they will also carry jasmine rice. All of these are normal sized bags.
Canned Goods – You name it and they have it. I already mentioned named brands and that definitely applies here. But they also have pretty good canned veggies and beans in generic brands. However, I suggest checking local ads first to see if you can get a better deals at your local grocery store. As silly as it sounds, their canned meat selection is pretty good and it comes in handy for emergency food kits, casseroles, and hungry kitties. I have been able to get canned tuna, chicken, turkey, ham, and even clams.
Crackers – Outside of the brand names, our family really likes the Busy Baker Brand. They carry cracker similar to wheat thins, cheese-its, and chicken and veggie flavors. There are also so many other brands that are there, you can find fun things for everyone.
Beverages and Beverage Helpers
Half and Half – Usually a pint or half gallon, they can carry both half and half and the fat free version. Half and Half has gotten expensive lately so its nice to know that I can get it for less.
Sugar Substitutes – Sweetmate is their generic version of Sweet-n-Low and Equal. It is a good substitute for both and fits nicely into the budget.
Tea – They carry a wide variety of bagged teas including green tea. Unless you are a tea lover (which I am), then the variety will work well for the average tea drinkers (my boys).
Coffee Flavors – If you are looking to spice up your coffee, then these little guys from Sunny Acres can do it. I personally like hazelnut but they also come in vanilla and caramel.
Mazel – These are instant coffee packets. I personally have never tried them but my husband loves them. They are no Nescafe but they do the job when you are in a hurry. Add some coffee flavors from above and you have a tasty treat.
Soda – Generally, our family opts for soda stream for a lot of reasons. However, not everyone has a soda stream but loves soda. If so, then know they do on occasion carry Pepsi and Pepsi product 2-liters of soda. However, they also carry Shasta products. If you are going name brand, its hard to find 2-liters for less than a dollar. However, if you are adventurous, then give their Stars and Stripes 3-litter in Lemon Lime a try. It has a good flavor and is surprisingly only 20 calories!
Meals and Meal Items
Hamburger Helper – They care a pretty steady and pretty varied selection of Hamburger, Chicken and Tuna Helpers.
PastaRoni and RiceaRoni – same as above with hamburger helper.
Scalloped and Mashed Potato Boxes – Generally speaking, they carry a varied selection of Betty Crocker and generic Idaho Supreme boxed potato side dishes. I have tried both. I would say opt for the Betty Crocker as they consistently cook up smooth and delicious with a natural potato texture. The Idaho Supreme has been hit or miss in flavor and consistency in cooking. Often, the Idaho Supreme never really sets and has an odd texture to the potatoes. That said, in a pinch, they do work.
Salad Toppers – I have been pretty impressed with their wonton, crouton and tortilla strip toppers for salads. They add just the right flavor filled crunch to salads.
Hotdogs – On a pretty regular basis they care Foster Farms and other name brand hotdog 8 count packs. Also, they come in standard beef, pork and even chicken and turkey.
As I have been building our emergency kit, I have been pricing dried fruit. Plus I love dried figs and mangos and my husband likes prunes. Generally these can be pretty expensive, especially figs. The 99 Cent Store carries a rather wide selection. In fact, I snatch a mega load of figs when they are in stock.
Food Stay Aways
I will be the first to say that Beef Jerkies, Turkey Jerkies, Pork Jerkies and even Chicken Jerkies are pretty expensive. You would think that $1 would be a good buy. However, a $1 for one ounce isn’t. You will get more per ounce buying on sale bags at the grocery store.
Occasionally you will get brands in full size boxes like Quaker Hearts (these are a sweeter version of Cheerios) or Captain Crunch or Honey Bunches of Oats and these are definitely a good deal since generally they can cost about $2.50 to $4.00 a box. However, on a regular basis their brands are not the best buy. They tend to be only 6oz which is about a little under half a normal sized box of cereal. Generally speaking Costco, Sam’s Club and Bulk bags at grocery stores are a better per ounce buy. So skip the cereal.
Spray Oils and Olive Oil
These are definite stay aways. Olive Oil is pretty expensive so a $1 for whatever size might sound good. But you need to read the fine print. Every olive oil I have seen there is a blend of olive oil and something else. So I say pass. Watch for good deals at grocery stores and you can get a great buy.
I have found little success with spray oils from there. My experience has been they have a weird aluminum taste to them and within two or three sprays they leak…badly. If you look for an on sale price you can generally get a good quality between $2 to $2.50. I would say its worth the extra cost.
Here is another case of having to read the fine print. They have this cute little bear which is traditionally synonymous with honey. But when you read further, it says honey flavored syrup. So if you are looking for honey, this isn’t it.
Shredded and Sliced Cheese
This one might be a matter of taste but I personally am not a fan of imitation cheese. I have found for my purposes it does not melt or brown properly. So instead of a stay away, this is more of a “be cautious and make sure you know what you are getting” tip. The majority of the cheeses are imitation so just be sure to read them carefully. They do carry real cheese – usually Sargento – in small bags. Now these can be a good buy.
Ranch, Onion, and Guacamole Style Dips
Again, this may be a personal choice but the brand sold at 99 Cent Store appears to be too chunky yet separated side rather than smooth and creamy as dips should be in my opinion. Plus, they lack flavor. So for me they are a pass.
Duncan Hines Mixes
Okay, on their face you might be saying, “What? But its a brand name!” True but the boxes generally sold at the 99 Cent Store are smaller snack size boxes. The reason I consider this a pass is because you can generally get a good deal at the grocery store when they are on sale. They go on sale for about $1.00 for the regular size boxes. When they do, stock up then.
Hope you are finding this series beneficial to your budget. Next post I will talk about where to save and where to pass on household supplies. In the meantime, if you have items you have bought from the 99 Cent Store that you think are deals and steals or stay aways, please share. See you then.
*Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with 99 Cent Store in anyway. I am only a patron who has found that shopping there has aided my budget and I am passing on my experiences and opinion. The statements above are my opinion and my opinion only and is based on my experiences and/or those directly related to me by others. You may find different results or find you do not agree with my opinions.