Do You Really Save Money at Dollar Stores?

Dollar stores are a great concept ? at least in theory. They have almost every conceivable item, and all of it on sale for one dollar. Compared to the typical grocery store, or even the big box retailers like Walmart, there?s a lot of savings to be had. But do you really save money at dollars stores?

I?m still debating the answer to that question! After two or three years of frequenting dollar stores – at least on occasion – it seems that they have their uses. But at best, they can be a supplement to your regular shopping spots, but don?t come anything close to being a complete replacement.

Dollar stores – why even bother?

Do You Really Save Money at Dollar Stores?
Do You Really Save Money at Dollar Stores?
Despite the official claims of zero or near zero inflation, the price of groceries has been rising relentlessly over the past few years. True, they bounce around, giving the outward appearance of price flexibility. But it?s more along the lines of a 10% price increase, followed by a 5% decrease, followed again by yet another 10% increase. Over the long run, you?re always paying more. And have you noticed that grocery stores are getting stingy when it comes to coupons?

That forces you to seek other options in an effort to keep your grocery bill from going through the roof. This is especially true if you have children. My wife and I can say ?no? to buying cereal and soda, but it?s hard to abstain when you?ve got kids. That forces us to look for less expensive alternatives.

Given rising prices, dollar stores can hardly be ignored in that effort – they?re always worth checking out. You can find some bargains ? and I mean some ? but you have to be really careful what you buy. Unfortunately, most of what?s available in dollar stores is of poor quality. At least, that?s been our experience.

There are some items worth buying in dollars stores?

As I said, dollar stores are always worth checking out. There are at least a few items that are worth buying ? sometimes even on a preferred basis. Here?s a list of items that we?ve found a be satisfactory, and that has allowed us to save money not only on groceries but on shopping across the board.

Bread. This one is a the real find! We normally shop at Publix and Sam?s, but we discovered that Publix moves their day-old bread to some of the local dollar stores. Nature?s Own Honey Wheat Bread – that normally sells for $2.79 at Publix, and $2.19 at Sam?s ? is available for $1 at some of the dollar stores in our area. Since we buy about eight loaves of bread each month, that saves us almost $10 a month, or about $120 per year. Yes, the bread is day-old, but we always freeze it anyway so we never eat ?fresh bread? – if that term even ever describes packaged bread!

Brand name snacks. If you?re looking to buy impulse snacks, like individual servings of soda, candy, cookies and chips, you can usually buy them a lot cheaper at dollars stores. Most of those items are priced well above a dollar ? and often two dollars ? at traditional retail outlets. And since they?re single serving portions, dollar stores usually have them in brand names.

Greeting cards. The cheap greeting cards in grocery stores and pharmacies usually start at $1.99 and go way up from there. At a dollar store, they?re all $1. They aren?t the best quality, but if you have a few dozen people you buy birthday and Christmas cards for every year like we do, you can save quite a bit of money. This is especially true if you are just looking for a card to be a holder for either money or a gift card. This is just me, but I can?t see paying $3.99 for a card that will mostly act as an envelope for a gift card. And who reads greeting cards anyway?

Christmas stocking stuffers. We have a lot of people on our Christmas gift list, including stocking stuffers. You can often find inexpensive stocking stuffers at dollar stores. This can cut down substantially on the cost of holiday gift giving.

Single use items. If you are looking to buy serving dishes for a party ? or even containers you need to hold food to bring to another location ? dollar stores can be the perfect source for these. If you?re going to bring a casserole to someone?s house, and not expecting the container to come home with you, paying just $1 for it makes a lot of sense.

Supplemental shopping in a pinch. There have been times when we have run out of certain items in between shopping trips, and supplemented by going to the dollar store. A couple of rolls of cheap paper towels or facial tissues works in a pinch. It?s an inexpensive way to bridge more substantial shopping trips.

?and some that aren?t

As I said earlier, most of what?s available at dollar stores isn?t even worth buying. This is a short list of the items we found to fit neatly into that category.

Soda. You can find great big bottles of your favorite flavors of soda for just a dollar each. The problem is that they taste like crap! Too much sugar, and no real flavor.

Most food items. Most of the food items at dollar stores are off brand ? like way off brand. Taste-wise, they bear only the slightest resemblance to the real thing. And since size and quantity are scaled down to fit within the $1 parameter, they may not necessarily be cheaper than what you get at the grocery store.

Batteries. Batteries seem unnecessarily expensive, but you can get cheap ones at the dollar store. The problem is they don?t last. Anytime we bought batteries at the dollar store, they?re spent within one week. Unless you?re looking to buy a battery just to get through the moment, buying one at the dollar store is a complete waste of money.

Anything you need to last more than a few uses. I wrote earlier that single use items at dollar stores can be a bargain, but that?s only because you?re specifically buying something that you don?t expect to last. If you need an item that you want to last for more than one or two uses, you?ll be wasting your money buying anything at the dollar store.

Anything you need to buy in quantity. This is especially true of food items. Again, in order to set the prices of each item at $1, the quantities are scaled downward. That means buying a quart of milk for $1, that if you were to buy four of them would be $4, and that?s no bargain. That seems to be true across the board when it comes to food.

Creating a ?portfolio? of retail outlets

With dollar stores being such a mixed bag, why might you even consider adding them to your shopping itinerary? Let?s call it portfolio theory being applied to grocery and retail shopping. In addition to using various other methods to save money on groceries, you also want to have several places where you do your shopping, so that you take advantage of the best deals in each of them.

My own personal preference is to keep life simple by doing all of our grocery shopping at one store. But the price spiral makes that practice a luxury. You have to have a strategy to deal with high and rising food prices. Our grocery shopping portfolio makeup looks like this:

  • Sam?s Club – a grocery discount warehouse – for bulk items like milk, eggs, cereal, chicken, fish, some meats, cooking oils, rice, potatoes and most non-food items (warning: Sam?s isn?t the bargain it used to be and we?re on the active hunt for a replacement store, which right now is looking like ALDI – post to follow).
  • Publix – a traditional grocery store popular here in the Southeast – for meat, produce, cold cuts, packaged items, personal items, over-the-counter medicines, specialty items, and in general, any product where quality matters.
  • Various dollar stores – for bread, greeting cards, snacks, single use items and the occasional in-between supplement to major grocery store runs.

It looks complicated, but it does save us money, especially when shopping for a family of four.

Do you ever shop at dollar stores? Do you see any value to them?

( Photo by Fan of Retail )

6 Responses to Do You Really Save Money at Dollar Stores?

  1. I shop at dollar stores (though most are now A Buck or Two stores) mainly for party supplies. I needed mugs for favours for my kid’s first birthday, and the dollar store had the cheapest selection. I also buy some household organizers, like baskets, there; I can get them for a dollar vs $3+ from other places.

  2. Hi Emily – I can see that with party supplies. They’re cheaper than Party City on most items. And since party supplies are single use items it makes perfect sense.

    Interesting about “A Buck or Two” Stores. I’ve been wondering how long dollar stores would be able to keep a lid on the one-dollar-for-everything format, and I guess they can’t. A buck or two (or three) gives them more price flexibility, which is good for us because it enables them to stay in business.

  3. I agree, dollar stores aren’t always money-savers. But I like to buy my gift wrap from here – a huge money saver especially during the holidays!

  4. Oh yeah, gift wrap. I forgot all about that one! How can you go wrong with cheap gift wrap? It’s a single use items and has “dollar store” written all over it!

  5. I buy mostly “paper products” at our local dollar store. Besides a good deal on their brand of toilet paper and paper towels, I find greeting cards, notebooks, party supplies, and storage bags to be very good deals. Also some cleaning products and personal hygiene items are nicely priced.

  6. Hi Kelli – I completely agree on paper goods, you can’t go wrong with those at dollar stores. Greeting cards, absolutely! Let’s see, do I spend $3-$4 on a card at a grocery store, or $1 on one at a dollar store… It’s a no-brainer!

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