Last year, shortly after gaining (temporary) full time employment again, I started a post on surviving financially lean times through shopping at Dollar Tree.*
It soon became clear that the post would be a book, so I decided to break it into sections and then abandoned, well, everything. Jumping back into writing-life with one of these posts seems a low-pressure way of dipping my toes back into the proverbial blog waters.
This first post will focus on the almighty fuel of writers, cooks, and busy ‘forced to be a morning person’ folk everywhere: coffee and tea.
First, you may be wondering: Why Dollar Tree? Or Why a Discount/Dollar store at all?
Well, primarily for me, it’s out of necessity. Most of last year I was restricted to a weekly food budget of $25, sometimes less. This meant I had to get super creative with purchasing. Also, money didn’t always come regularly, so holding out for sales or buying in bulk in advance wasn’t really an option. However, I will admit it’s also convenience. There’s a good Dollar Tree across the street from my apartment.
It’s true, there’s a lot of crap at dollar stores. There’s a lot of crap at antique and vintage and charity shops, too. People go back again and again, though, because there’s also gold, if you know where to look. I’ve learned where to look, and am here to impart some of that knowledge.
Coffee & Tea:
I’m a coffee snob. Even in my bleakest, brokest times, I don’t skimp on coffee. I’ll go without rather than drink what I not-so-affectionately refer to as swill — which includes everything from basic Starbucks and diner coffee to store brands and major name brands. There is coffee at DT, but you will never find me reviewing it (unless someone pays me to — and even then it’s going to be the review of a Coffee Snob). There’s often instant coffee, flavored powdered coffee packets, and small ground bags.
What I rely on for coffee-related items at Dollar Tree are ‘accessories’ — primarily filters, creamer, sugar, mugs, assorted kitchenware, and snacks.
Basic filters usually come in packs of 100. For someone who does pourover on almost a daily basis, a pack of these is marvelous and lasts a long time.
Powdered creamer is available, but I don’t do powdered (allergies). However, liquid Coffee Mate creamers in Vanilla and Hazelnut are often stocked, too. I don’t use creamer much, so the small bottles are fantastic for me. Also, dairy free and shelf stable (until open) are big pluses. If those are out of stock, there’s often a generic knock off, and it’s almost as good. I also use the vanilla creamer in baking as a milk substitute. Boxes of white sugar are good if, like me with creamer, you don’t use/need white sugar much. There’s also boxes of sweetener packets, often name brand stuff. I go for the Sugar in the Raw. These are great for when you’re having a brunch party or like having various sweeteners on hand for when friends drop by for a cuppa.
Mugs (and all dishware) at Dollar Tree are great. My kitchen is in a black/red/white theme, and I’ve found marvelous items to compliment that.
But whatever your theme, you’ll likely be able to find something that coordinates at DT.
General kitchen ware is a bit more hit and miss, but here’s some good stuff I’ve found.
DT items: creamer, sugar canister, cinnamon sugar, coffee scoop, filters, napkin, tray.
Sidenote, my pourover came from Daiso, which is a Japanese discount store. There’s only a handful of stores in the US, primarily in California, but if you find yourself near one I highly recommend checking them out.
Below is my coffee display shelf, with the following featured DT items: latch-top jars, ombre mason jar, plastic tealight candle, and the labels for each type of coffee.
As for tea, many of the coffee items crossover, but I want to mention a couple other things.
Tea itself. I don’t drink green tea, but I do use the tea bags for everything from adding to baths to deodorizing shoes. The black tea isn’t great on its own, but if you’re budget-stretching, it’s great for combining with other teas (particularly for iced tea). There’s also often herbal and/or fruit teas, which I haven’t tried — mostly because when it comes to those I am also a bit of a snob.
Silicone mug topper. This was one of those things that was there and gone and even though it doesn’t ‘match’ my kitchen theme, I’m glad I snagged one when I did.
In a search for a kitchen-coordinating breakfast tray, I ended up fashioning this one. It’s a sturdy DT basket, a cut-to-fit placemat (two guesses where it’s from), and ribbon ties for handles. I was patient waiting for a sturdy enough basket, but then I bought another so one could hold well, more tea.
Last, but by no means least, something as essential to coffee and tea drinking as the drinks themselves: snacks.
Food at DT is notoriously difficult to navigate. That and cleaning/personal care items are probably the most hit or miss. And it’s often big hits and big misses, so you have to be up for some major trial and error.
Cookies. I’m a sucker for soft-baked cookies and the DT chocolate chip soft bakes are really, really damn tasty. Definite win.
Shortbread. These lemon shortbread cookies are as good as any brand short of Walker’s. And you’re not going to be able to make your own for the cost of these.
These are my two favorites. Many good-sized DT stores have a pretty wide selection of biscuits and cookies. If they intrigue you, try them out. The lovely thing about DT is if it’s terrible, you’ve only wasted a dollar. I’ve spent more money and returned more ultimately disappointing things to Trader Joe’s (black pepper chocolate, anyone?)
So that’s the coffee/tea rundown. If you bought everything I’ve mentioned here, it would set you back about $25. Some people spend that much on a two-mug set. I spend that much on two pounds of my snobby coffee. Point being, whether you’re strapped for cash or just looking for quality at bargain prices, check out your local dollar stores to help supplement – you don’t always have to spend lots of cash to get quality products.
* Disclaimer: I am in no way being compensated by Dollar Tree for these posts. All opinions are my own, and offered with no sponsorship or brand loyalty aside from my personal bias.