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Blogging for Change Blogging For Change
by sitecore\kmcgrigg on July 14, 2009

A local drug store went out of business last year leaving a big empty box in our neighborhood. Neighbors hoped that the space would be filled with a health food store—even going as far as creating a Facebook group to promote the idea. But alas, a new sign finally went up last week announcing that we are getting a new dollar store. This will be the third dollar store on a 1-mile stretch of road.

According to, dollar stores have survived the recession far better than other stores. In fact, many are even hiring (and obviously building new stores). In an economy where every dollar counts, stores that promote inexpensive options are attractive to many shoppers. According a study by the Nielsen Company, dollar store spending among high and middle income shoppers increased significantly in 2008.

I have nothing against saving money, but I do wonder if having a dollar store on every block is necessary. I mean, what exactly are we getting for our dollar? points out that dollar store inventory “consists of overstocks, odd lots, buyouts and some inventory purchased from low cost Mexican and Chinese exporters.” Consumer Reports blogger Tod Marks went so far as to state that dollar stores are “notorious for selling cheaply made items that may not meet safety standards, from lead-laden toys to unsafe extension cords to poorly made batteries that leak.”

While there are a number of things to avoid at the dollar stores, not everything at the dollar stores is life threatening. In fact, there are several things that you might consider buying at a dollar store.

Do and Don't Buy

However, don’t just assume that the dollar store's prices are better than the prices at other stores. Even if you do find safe, good quality items at the dollar store, you still want to comparison shop. Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine mystery shoppers compared prices of common items found at dollar stores with the prices of similar items found at supermarkets, drug, and discount stores. The results were mixed. Many items including envelopes, brown paper bags, and birthday candles cost the same at the dollar stores as they did at the other retailers. A few items cost less at the dollar store, including wrapping paper (though I generally find their selection to be poor).

My own mini mystery shopping experience revealed a few things. First, not everythinPhotobucketg at every dollar store is a dollar. Second, the two dollar stores I visited didn’t have what I really needed to buy that day (Bactine and Mitchum deodorant). Instead, I bought things that everyone needs: toilet paper, garbage bags, saran wrap, and aluminum foil.  Then, I went to the discount superstore to compare prices.

Here’s how the dollar store fared against the superstore.
dollar store vs. superstore
Suprised by the similarity? I have to admit that I was. I am certain that I used up more than 10 cents worth of gas and time having to visit two stores to get what I really needed. Plus, I am afraid that if I had more time, I would have picked up some not-so-needed items because they were "only" a dollar. So, there are four main reasons I am going to buck the trend and stay away from dollar stores in the future. 

1. They do not offer many of the products I want or need.
2. I can't trust myself not to waste money.
3. I like things to be inexpensive, but not cheap.
4. I am not convinced of the financial benefit.

What do you think of dollar store shopping?



Are Dollar Stores Really That Cheap? [Saving Money] | says:
July 14, 2009

[...] Really That Cheap? [Saving Money] July 14th, 2009 Vladimir Kim McGrigg at Blogging for Change took a look at the dollar stores in her neighborhood and found that it can take some work to make sure you’re actually saving [...]

Bam says:
July 14, 2009

Not living in the suburbs, it's often inconvenient and expensive to get to a superstore, especially when you just need to run out for one or two items (as opposed to a monthly stocking-up trip). Instead of buying my paper towels and toothpaste at the grocery store (VERY expensive!), or driving 30 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart or Costco, I walk 3 blocks to the Family Dollar and pay $3 for cat litter instead of $6.99. It's also worth noting that when you visit the dollar store every other week or so, the urge to impulse buy fades. The price point stops being a novelty!

Chuck says:
July 14, 2009

The best consumer is the person who is aware of what they are actually buying. I shop at a my local 99 cent store all the time but I am very selective in what I get. Pickles and green olives are a steal. But you have to be very careful with food products or most anything that you would use in your kitchen. Yes, the bags of chips are only $1 as are the boxes of generic corn flakes. But they are also smaller than the ones in the regular store. The rolls of tin foil come 20' to a box, not the usual 25'. Same with the zip lock freezer bags. A number of the frozen food servings are also specially made for the chain and are smaller than the same brand in the regular store. The cleaning supplies offer some great deals at times but, again, you have to watch the sizes. Ajax Dish Soap can be found in a small bottle for 99 cents. Good deal? Well the size twice as big can be purchased at WalMart for $1.89 for a savings of 9 cents. The bars of soap, again name brands, are slightly smaller than the ones at WalMart. So know what you are buying and you should do OK.

Courtney says:
July 16, 2009

Enjoyed this post! My mom is notorious for making trips to the dollar store and spending more than $50 on stuff she really doesn't need.

Data_Diva says:
July 14, 2009

Shopping experience HAS to be figured in this equation also. If one of my two convenient dollar stores carries my products, they will always be my first choice (even with slighter higher price points) simply because of the shopping experience. While certainly not true of all dollar stores, my local Family Dollar is relatively new, exceptionally well-merchandised, and so much more pleasant to shop than my big box discounters (especially if 3-yr old is "helping" me".

JoeTaxpayer says:
July 14, 2009

I had better luck. A set of tiny screw drivers, 11, total, $5 at home depot, $1 here. Goggles, $6.95 HD, a $1 here, same thickness, good elastic. An assorted pack of sandpaper, same $1. When I pass by, it's worth stopping in, and grabbing a few things, but of course only if needed and you know the regular price. Joe

Kim McGrigg says:
July 14, 2009

Thanks for all your great comments! Seems as though many of us agree that the dollar stores can be good places to shop as long as you shop smart. Meg, your comment make me laugh out loud. Wish I had written that! MoneyMateKate, thanks for sharing. Very interesting comments.

Kim McGrigg says:
July 16, 2009

Marchellete, I agree that it depends on the dollar store. (And as Nell pointed out, it might also depend on where you live.) My only problem is that there are so many of them near my house that I don't have the time or energy to try them all out!

Marchelette says:
July 15, 2009

A shop at the local Dollar Tree store in my neighborhood and I actually save a lot of money. Everything there really is only a dollar. I buy my aluminum foil, paper towels, dish washing liquid, toothbrush and tooth paste, garbage bags, and other household items from there. I think it depends on the type of "dollar" store. The Family Dollar store in my neighborhood is almost as expensive, if not more expensive, than my local grocery store.

Meg from FruWiki says:
July 14, 2009

Our local dollar store has great prices -- on all the stuff I neither need nor want.

MoneyMateKate says:
July 14, 2009

I've cut way back on my dollar store shopping since I picked up a serious coupon habit - it works out cheaper. I go there for crafts supplies, greeting cards/wrapping paper, and socks (I donate to a teen shelter, which has a constant need for socks in winter and I can't do better than 3 pairs for $1.29!). I wrote a post asking what people would NOT buy in a dollar store earlier this year, which attracted some useful comments:

Name? Indeed! says:
July 14, 2009

Our own Dollar Tree has nothing over $1.00. My mainstays there are 40oz bottles of Arizona Iced Tea and party favors for Holiday gatherings. Stay away from the Sofatel TP, though. $1 for 4 rolls of TP? It's like using wax paper....

Naomi says:
July 16, 2009

In Canada, I find I can really save on bath/beauty products at dollar stores. Shampoo prices are crazy and the bottles keep shrinking, but I get a 1L bottle of unscented shampoo for a buck! The soap bars (including Dove and other higher quality soaps) are full sized, too.

nell says:
July 14, 2009

I think that dollar stores are GREAT for small towns where there are not any super-stores.... but I agree with you that you can't find everything you need, forcing you to shop two places.

Robert says:
July 19, 2009

I personally do not shop at the dollar store but… What I recommend to consumers and do myself to save hundreds of dollars per year on grocery expenses is purchase generic brand products, for example; I shop at Kroger’s and purchase the Kroger’s (generic) brand products and have saved myself hundreds of dollars over the years… instead of purchasing the expensive brand name products! My web site gives many more ideas and tips on saving money.

Tanisha says:
July 14, 2009

I agree that the dollar store may not be a great shop for the impulse shopper, but for those who have already done their homework – the dollar store may help to save money. The dollar store on my block has a great selection of greeting cards and I can pick up a cute bag for my gift. I agree – paper products probably offer the best savings. Coloring books and arts and crafts supplies seem to be priced way better than arts and crafts specialty stores. Though I cant get everything I need, I am able to stretch my dollar pretty far.

Wholesale Dollar Merchandise says:
June 30, 2011

This post is a must for every dollar store buyers. No one should buy things out of impulse and even if an item is cheap, it doesn't mean you should always buy it, unless you mean to sell it again to others.

Winston Thriller says:
July 14, 2009

One thing I DO buy in Dollar-type stores is spare reader glasses. At 3 for $10, I can afford to lose them or break them or have the dog run off with them...

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