How low do you think you could go with your grocery budget? What if you only had $15 to feed yourself for the whole week? What would you buy? What if there was only one place to buy groceries in town, and that place happened to be a nontraditional establishment to purchase groceries from?
I decided to put this idea to the test and see what kind of meals I could get out of $15 at the Dollar General. This is to feed myself for an entire week: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Why the Dollar General?
I do these extreme budget meal plans at various stores where people go for groceries, and this time happens to be Dollar General. Dollar General has over 18,000 stores in the United States, with almost 1,000 of them being in my state of North Carolina. Dollar General exists in many rural and urban locations where there may not be another grocery store. Many people don’t have reliable transportation to a traditional grocery store and thus have to rely on stores like Dollar General for some or all of their grocery needs.
What about pantry items and groceries already bought?
For the purposes of these demonstrations, I utilize only the ingredients I purchase within the weekly budget, with only a couple exceptions. I allow myself the use of cooking oil and a very limited selection of spices and condiments. The goal is that the pantry items I use should only add flavor to the food, but not be a requirement to create the meal.
These demonstrations are ultimately just for informational purposes and as a personal challenge. If you are struggling, please reach out to the resources around you.
If you are in the United States, the United Way runs a confidential helpline that can be accessed simply by dialing 211 from any phone, and they can help connect you with community resources (this includes assistance needs outside of food access too).
Additionally, I make no claims about the nutritional value of this meal plan and recognize that different bodies have different needs, allergies, preferences, etc. It would be impossible for me to create a meal plan that could accommodate everyone’s dietary needs, especially at a $15 price point.
So what did I buy from Dollar General?
My local Dollar General doesn’t have the fresh produce and expanded grocery selections that some locations do. Overall the number of shelves dedicated to food was similar that what the Dollar Tree offers, but with many more options for brand and size. The downside of this was that Dollar General seemed to have fewer overall types of grocery items. In comparing to the Dollar Tree, since they are similar stores, Dollar General had better pricing on some items, especially canned items, but more expensive pricing on other items, the 2lb bags of dried rice (which they were out of) being one specific example. If you follow my content, you know I have a great love of beans, and Dollar General had a very limited selection of dried beans. The Dollar General I visited did have a refrigerated section, but it was very limited, expensive, and they did not stock any frozen vegetables.
- 5lb Bag of Flour
- 1lb Bag of Pinto Beans
- Instant Mashed Potatoes
- Mac & Cheese
- 8oz Block of Cheese
- Cream of Chicken Condensed Soup
- 16oz Peanut Butter
- Ham & Bean Soup
- 1 Can Mixed Vegetables
- 1 Can Peas
- 1 Can Carrots
- 1 Can Diced Tomatoes
- 5 oz Tuna
This was my major prep night for the week, featuring a lot of pasta making! I used the flour, cheese, and mashed potatoes to whip up 4 servings of pierogi. I fried up one of these servings for dinner. I also used my batch of pasta dough to make a type of tubular pasta with ridges called garganelli. By then I was starting to get burnt out of pasta making, so I rolled out the remainder of my dough and cut it into simple flat noodles. All of the pasta and pierogi that I didn’t eat that night went into the freezer (freeze in a single layer and then once frozen, the pasta can be transferred to another container for more convenient storage). Taking the time to do this gave me several “ready to go” meal options that I could pull from my freezer.
I’m not a huge breakfast eater and I really just didn’t love any of the options that the Dollar General I stopped at had available that day, so I decided to do simple peanut butter tortillas for breakfast. To do this I first had to make some tortillas. These are very quick and simple. I mixed a cup of flour with enough water to form a soft dough, let that sit covered on my counter for a bit, and divided into 4 balls which I rolled out and cooked on a hot pan for just a couple minutes each. I made more tortillas throughout the week as needed. I also started my dried beans in my pressure cooker since I’d be using some of the beans for lunch!
When lunch came around I took around half of the pinto beans I’d cooked and turned them into refried beans. I used a portion of them, along with some cheese and one of the tortillas I had made, to make a refried bean quesadilla. Delicious! I also made an extra quesadilla for my Tuesday lunch, then put the extra refried beans and cooked beans into the fridge for later meals.
I’d been doing a lot of prep and more involved meals, so for dinner I made a simple tuna mac using the box of mac and cheese, can of tuna, and can of peas. I portioned half of the pot for another meal.
Breakfast was a peanut butter tortilla and lunch was the refried bean quesadilla I’d already made.
For dinner I cooked the garganelli pasta from my freezer and ate it with a pan of tomatoes and carrots. I used the full can of tomatoes and half my can of carrots. The carrots did a great job of tempering the acidity of the canned diced tomatoes. This was my least successful dish of the week. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. I felt it only needed some butter or parmesan or some other basic additional ingredient to make it great, but given my limited ingredients I ate it as it was.
Breakfast was the peanut butter tortilla. I ate the rest of my tuna mac for lunch.
For dinner I used some of the mashed potatoes and some of the flour to make gnocchi. After cooking the gnocchi I heated the cream of chicken soup and added the can of mixed vegetables to it. I mixed the gnocchi in and split the entire pan between 2 meals.
Breakfast was one again a peanut butter tortilla. For lunch I had my gnocchi leftovers. The gnocchi meal was fantastic after having left it in the fridge overnight. All of the flavors really melded together and infused the gnocchi with flavor. I enjoyed the meal as dinner the night before, but not nearly as much as lunch the next day!
Because I had been eating leftovers for a couple days for lunch, I made myself a hefty refried bean quesadilla for dinner.
Peanut butter tortilla for breakfast and refried bean quesadilla for lunch. Then for dinner I wanted to stick with something quick because I had plans to go to a friend’s house. I pulled out one of my servings of pierogi for an easy, fast dinner.
I was out late the night before and had a bit of a sleeping, so for a late breakfast/early lunch I made some more refried beans from the pinto beans I’d made earlier in the week (I froze them earlier in the week and had pulled them from the freezer the day prior to keep them fresh).
For lunch I cooked a portion of my pasta and made a simple peanut sauce to toss the pasta in. This was one of my favorite meals of the week and I wished I’d eaten it for more meals.
Dinner was a quick easy meal. I heated up the can of ham and bean soup, adding the other half of my can of carrots as well as about a cup of cooked pinto beans. I served the soup over the last bit of mashed potatoes I had left. I had a little cheese left also, so I topped the soup with some of that and it was an excellent final dinner of the week. There was enough to divide this into 2 meals.
Breakfast was a peanut butter tortilla and lunch was the second portion from my Saturday dinner.
As someone who loves rice, I realize how much having rice really makes these very low budget weeks easier for me, and I definitely missed it this week. I found the lack of vegetable options from Dollar General to be one of the most challenging aspects of the week.
In comparing Dollar General with the Dollar Tree, I felt like the Dollar Tree was actually easier to shop on an extremely low budget due to the wider variety of basic staples at $1.25 each. Dollar General had some larger sizes of staples like flour and pinto beans that were a better value per ounce if you had the larger budget to buy those items once and have them last several weeks. Dollar General also had better prices on canned items since most were less than $1.25 and many were less than a dollar.
Dollar General also offers a $5 off $25 coupon on Saturdays that is a great deal if you can get there on a Saturday and if you have at least $20 to spend. I will note though that my local Dollar General is often poorly stocked on Saturdays. And this particular week I had stopped by on Saturday and they had closed early for the day.