It’s one thing to be able to find cheap food. It’s another to be able to make a decent meal out of it.

That’s where Billy Vasquez, a.k.a. “The 99 Cent Chef”, comes in. Billy frequents the 99 Cent Only Store near his home in Los Angeles. At the 99 Cent Only Store, everything is always, well, 99-cents or less. The store sells food, including meat and produce. Years ago, Billy began having a little fun trying to see what he could make from food purchased only at this store. He discovered that he was able to make entire meals from it – and they tasted pretty good too.

As Billy noted during a radio interview on NPR:

Well, it started with discovering the 99-cent store in my neighborhood. They have junk, but they also have some great things and when you find something great, a good food item, you want to go back and check it out.

When you watch these cooking shows, everything has to be the best ingredients, the finest wine and I’m thinking “This isn’t the real world.” The real world is I have to go to work at eight in the morning and I’m not going to make this great omelet or when I come home at eight at night, there is no time to create this beautiful appetizer, entree and dessert, so what I like to riff on and work with is a very simple meal and the 99-cent lifestyle kind of provides that.

Billy put together a blog, appropriately called “The 99 Cent Chef”, where he provides recipes for all kinds of meals made from ingredients only found for 99 cents or less. Some of his most recent posts include “Scrambled Eggs With Sundried Tomato”, “Pork Roasted With Green Chiles”, “Seafood Paella”, and “Lighter Than Air Meatballs”.

The 99 Cent Chef also has a number of videos up on YouTube, including this one where he and his mom show how they make jambalaya using only ingredients purchased for 99 cents or less:

We also discovered a book written by Christiane Jory, titled “The 99 Cent Only Stores Cookbook: Gourmet Recipes at Discount Prices”. From

This handy guide is filled with sample menus, a glossary of cooking terms, and space for creating recipes of your very own. Each recipe includes an estimated cost and helpful kitchen hints, such as uses for recycled milk cartons and how to freeze egg whites. Never again will finances be an excuse for not entertaining with pizzazz. With The 99 Cent Only Stores Cookbook, feeding a family, playing host to five or six, or even simply cooking for one at home needn’t cost a small fortune ever again!

While 99 Cent Only Stores are only found out west, there are a number of other chains with similar pricing themes, such as Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General.

Also, another money-saving cooking tip (this one’s our own): Consider going to the supermarket you regularly visit and buying only items you find on sale. Then get creative and see what kinds of meals you can make with these discounted ingredients. We’ve found that there are sales in just about every section of the grocery store whenever we go shopping, so the meals are usually well-rounded.

Tell us your tips for saving money when cooking at home by writing a comment below or submitting a tip.

For more money saving tips like this, sign up for our free newsletter.

Photo credit: Jef Poskanzer