Tuesday, October 29, 2013

eating clean on a budget: bottom dollar

While I truly believe you can shop at health food stores on a restricted budget (and that "Whole Foods, Whole Paycheck" is not really grounded in fact), it's true that discount grocery stores offer some major bargains. So what if you're trying to eat clean, but you want to reduce your grocery bills? I've been checking out some local stores to see what they offer, and this weekend I went to Bottom Dollar. These stores are popping up all over the Pittsburgh area and boast that they offer the lowest prices around. But what about quality?

My first surprise was the large selection of produce. While they didn't carry any organic produce, they had a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. Even Whole Foods doesn't carry organic produce for every item all of the time, so if you're going to go conventional, it's definitely worth going to a discount store. While I advocate for organic produce, some items are less likely to carry pesticide residue. For example, these onions were only $1.98 for three pounds, and you're going to peel the skins off anyway before you use them. They also carried larger bulk bags of onions and some other items like potatoes, which lowers the price per pound.

After the produce was the meat and seafood area. I didn't find anything in the meat section I'd recommend, since it was all completely conventionally raised. But I was surprised to find frozen fish filets and seafood with a sustainability label. Some of it was sold at a very affordable price per pound - even under $2. While sustainable labels are tricky when it comes to fish, as I learned in this book, this is a good step in the right direction and for a really good price. 

In the dairy section, they offered organic milk, which is a good step forward since organic milk cannot come from cows given rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). (They were stocking it at the time so I couldn't snap a pic.) I also found unsweetened iced tea in the same refrigerated section. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find pre-made unsweetened tea in stores, since most options are full sugar or "diet" with nasty artificial sweeteners. For only $1.98 this Gold Peak tea was a bargain.

The majority of the products in this store were conventional and hyper-processed. The entire section of inner aisles had row after row of chips, cookies, pop, and junk masquerading as good food - canned soups with insane amounts of sodium, breakfast cereals jacked up on sugar. 

But I did find a few snack items that would qualify as 'clean' under my definition. They carried several options for unsweetened/no sugar or sweetener added applesauce - even one for kids on the go. 

One of the best finds was the low price of staple pantry ingredients. It's not always easy to find organic oats, lentils and rice, even at health food stores. Bottom Dollar had brown rice with no additives for 78 cents/pound and you could also get lentils for less than $1/pound. Oats are typically not GMOs, so that's another one that is passable not organic, especially for these prices when you're trying to stretch a budget.

Spices were also relatively affordable there. I prefer to buy spices in bulk so I can buy small amounts at a time and not have them go stale, but their prices were great on small containers here. 

One more positive was the variety of fruits and vegetables available frozen. I prefer frozen vegetables to canned if the cans aren't BPA free (BPA is an endocrine disruptor). While all conventional, the vegetables were incredibly affordable (less than $1 a bag for many types) and the fruits were as well. Frozen fruits like berries can be very expensive, if they are even available at all. 

In addition to the food, I also happened across an isle with a small seasonal section with grilling items and you'll never believe it - canning jars. The display had a note saying it was set to go away this week, but I liked to see the store even carrying the products. Who knows if it would put the thought in someone's head to take up canning!

I found Bottom Dollar to have some good choices for basic pantry staples. If you avoid the processed food in the main aisles and stick to produce, seafood and dry, whole foods, you can get some good, clean products for cheap. Enough that it's definitely worth dividing your grocery list for different stores, even though it might mean more work.

I also checked out Aldi this weekend, and will be trying Save-a-lot and Good Cents over the next few weeks. Look for posts on those coming up!

We also decided to switch our warehouse membership to Costco from Sam's Club. Costco carries a lot of organic staples, like extra virgin olive oil and tomato paste, at bulk/warehouse prices. We'll save money getting some organic staples there. Plus, they carry the natural shampoo/body wash I use now. Win win!

October simplified update: Finished the dining room organization this weekend and now have only two remaining rooms and the dreaded basement. Trying not to let my momentum fade because I'd love this house to be cleaned out by the holidays. Listed my first pair of running shoes on eBay (they were the wrong shoe for my foot) and have continued to sell more books on Amazon.


  1. You would recommend Costco over Sam's Club? I've never step foot into either and was trying to decide....what does Costco charge per year? I was told Sam's is only $40/yr.

    1. Yep, Costco is about $15 more per year, but there were WAY more things at Costco that we would buy than we were buying at Sam's, so we're sure to make up that $15 in savings in no time. We hadn't been buying any food at all at Sam's, and now we can get some things at Costco, which will make a difference.

  2. Costo is more expensive @ $55/year but the quality is better. Plus, if you care at all about your fellow man, Costco pays its employees a living wage.