When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was go to the drugstore and buy penny candy.
Today, I’ve found something even better: dollar stores.
One chain, Dollar Tree, prices everything at a dollar. Two others — Dollar General and Family Dollar — offer many items for that amount.
Most of you are probably saying, “Where’s she been?” These discount stores have been around for years. I know that, but the pandemic prompted me to give them a second look.
At one point last year, these stores seemed to have cleaning supplies that the big stores were out of — plus one or two cheaply priced items that brightened an otherwise dim time.
Granted, some of what they sell may be a little weird, tacky or downright unnecessary. On the other hand, they carry a little bit of everything. They’re certainly easy to find — maybe too easy for some people’s tastes. Even tiny towns generally have at least one. Indeed, a dollar store may be the only retailer in sight.
For those living in a small household or on a fixed income, dollar stores offer smaller-sized items with smaller price tags. Most I’ve been in are clean and well-organized, with friendly, competent employees.
Here is a breakdown of some of what you can find at these stores. They all carry items such as dry goods, canned goods, basic health and hygiene items, greeting cards, soft drinks, arts and crafts items, baby products, pet food and toys.
A larger line of clothes and linens than the others. A selection of beer that the other stores do not carry. A “Smart Coupon” program to help you save money.
Extensive seasonal and holiday items. Get there fast as they go fast. Helium-filled balloons that employees blow up as you wait. Bacon for $1. The best selection of greeting cards, two for $1. A great selection of candy (no penny candy, though).
A nice selection of packaged foods, mixes and one-of-a-kind treats. Grilling items and yard needs. Large selection of frozen foods.
It wouldn’t be a trip to a dollar store without talking about food. If you are a little creative and like to cook, you’ll almost certainly find something you want to try.
The Dollar Tree has funnel cake mixes, six servings to a box. One egg, ¾ cup of milk, the mix and oil for frying and you have a great dessert. I added 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the mix and voila, we had chocolate funnel cakes served on a bed of chocolate sauce with chocolate ice cream topping.
Another creation – Blueberry Cornbread Loaf with Streusel topping — came from a blueberry muffin mix that I crossed with a box of Jiffy cornbread mix. The cinnamon streusel topping made it smell so amazing we could hardly wait to let it cool before trying it. Everything but the optional fresh blueberries normally can be found in dollar stores.
For dinner, look for these ingredients to make a Baked Penne dish: Pasta, sauce, mini frozen meatballs, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, mushrooms, Italian seasonings and some diced sun-dried tomatoes. That’s a meal for two plus leftovers for under $10.
It’s not quite as cheap as penny candy, but shopping at a dollar store makes me feel like a kid again.
Contact Beth Bower at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blueberry Cornbread Loaf
2/3 cup milk
1 7-oz. pkg. blueberry muffin mix
1 8.5-oz. pkg. Jiffy corn muffin mix
3 tablespoons melted butter
1½ cups fresh blueberries, washed and dried, optional
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
¼ cup ground toasted walnuts or pecans, optional
¼ cup cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter or coat a loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly, add milk and stir. In a small bowl, stir together blueberries (if using) and a tablespoon of the blueberry mix.
Add both mixes to the egg mixture and lightly stir until combined. Add melted butter and stir. Do not overmix. Gently fold in blueberries. Pour into prepared loaf pan and let sit for 5 minutes while preparing streusel topping.
To make streusel: Combine sugars, flour, cinnamon, salt and nuts (if using). Cut butter into sugar mix until it resembles the texture of coarse meal. Do not overmix.
Top loaf with streusel mixture. Bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. If top browns too fast, cover lightly with aluminum foil.
This mixture can also be used to make muffins.