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A week on the dollar-store diet leaves me queasy

Here's the sad state of affairs I found myself in last week: I had to go to the dollar store to see if it sold knock-off Pepto-Bismol because the stew I bought there the day before was making me queasy. Living on dollar-store bargains was turning out to be literally stomach-turning.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

A few weeks ago, I was walking through the aisles of the dollar store near my house when I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff for sale, everything from household cleaning items to dishware to stationery to toys. Then I hit the food aisle - yes, the food aisle - and the thought struck me: Could I live out of the dollar store, and save a bundle doing so?

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After a week immersed in this experiment, I can say without any doubt that you do indeed save plenty of cash shopping only at the dollar store. You also risk becoming malnourished.

Let's do a little price comparing. On the first day, I bought two small bags of chips, four cups of inferior-brand pudding, a can of chick peas, four drinking boxes of apple juice, one can of tuna, a bag of Butter'n Cream candies, a can of Chef Boyardee Mini-Bites and the aforementioned can of stew. Total cost, with tax: $10.19. The cost of the same basket of items at my local grocery store? $18.78.

Frankly, I was amazed. I seriously considered dropping $20 for an entire cupboard full of chocolate pudding. I would never have to worry about my pudding needs again.

But when you're living out of the dollar store, the initial glow of saving so much money soon gives way - for me it was day 3 - to the realization of just how much stuff you can't buy there: fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, cheese, food that doesn't come in a can or a box, baby food, diapers (oh, how I wish it sold diapers!) or, unfortunately, anything to relieve an upset stomach.

You also realize that while you can technically survive on the dollar-store diet, at least for a week, making it your only food source would probably kill you in a month or two. Bargain-basement beans and stew aren't exactly a great source for all your daily vitamins and minerals.

Living out of the dollar store also makes you realize there are a few things worth paying a few extra bucks for. Have you tasted dollar-store coffee? While it isn't bad enough to make you do a spit-take or gag, nor is it all that great. Starting the day with a crappy cup of coffee makes for a crappy day.

But then, there are countless items for which crappy isn't even a consideration. As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as a crappy broom. It either sweeps stuff up or it doesn't. Dropping $10 or so because it has an ergonomic handle or comes in aqua blue is a giant waste of money when you can buy a broom for $2. And drinking glasses: They either hold liquid or they don't.

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So, yes, some things are to be avoided like the scurvy-inducing goods they are. But that's not enough reason to write off dollar stores entirely as sources of junk you don't want or need, especially at this time of year.

It's crazy to me that anyone would pay more than $1 for gift-wrapping paper. Why invest any more than that on something that's meant to be torn off something else and thrown in the garbage? You might as well go into the street and start feeding toonies into the sewer.

And at most other places, Christmas cards cost $4 or $5 each. If you plan on giving out 10, you will have to pay at least $40. That's $40 on things people read once. Or you could drop $10 at the dollar store and put the extra $30 toward a better gift, or your bank account.

There's no doubt in my mind which is the better route because, frankly, the idea of having to spend $40 or more on Christmas cards makes me sicker than dollar-store stew.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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