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Dollar days

I hate to admit it, but I bought dollar-store underwear.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:46AM
I've gone about as low as frugal can go: I bought underwear at the dollar store.

It was name-brand, though "slightly irregular" merchandise, a three-pack of Hanes Her Way briefs. Three-for-a-buck drawers are a good reason to love the dollar store.

These emporia have had some negative press lately, notably the tainted toothpaste scare. Another potential problem with dollar stores is that you might buy stuff you don't really need because, well, it's only a dollar. I’ve been miserably tempted by flavored potato chips, for example.

And of course you sometimes do get what you pay for -- but really, how much do you want to pay for a dish drainer? 

Ninja accessories, rawhide donuts
If you're as lucky as my daughter and I are, you may encounter thrift nirvana: a clearance bin at a dollar store. "A new level of happiness," Abby observed. Among other things, this particular rack held lacrosse sticks and the Bible on CD. Don't ask.

A further stroll through a neighborhood dollar store revealed a mind-boggling mix of good, bad and just plain weird.

Halloween costumes for a dollar were pretty basic: witch, ninja, doctor, "playful pirate." You could also flesh out a homemade costume with items like face paint, princess wands, "Ninja accessories" (throwing stars and black masks) or a truly offensive set of fake-jewel-encrusted teeth called "Rap Grillz" ("More 'bling' in your bite!").

Where else can you buy a vampire-themed guest towel for a dollar? A beer-can holder emblazoned with a barbecue grill and the slogan, "The grill of hickory, the agony of burnt meat"? Lip-gloss rings, glitter glue, chip clips, Lion Brand boucle yarn, boxed Christmas cards (funny or religious), modeling clay, wooden clothespins or 3-D Spider-Man cups?

For those setting up house: dishtowels, shelf liners, small frying pans, trash bags, detergents and just about every kitchen tool you can imagine, from silicone spatulas to apple corers.

For do-it-yourselfers: Goo Gone, assorted nails and screws, Orange Goop and, if the job doesn't go as planned, ibuprofen.

For the compulsively clean: Breck for Kids Bubble Bath, three bars of Palmolive or Ivory soaps, or two-packs of Zest, Irish Spring, Dial or Coast.

For Fluffy or Fido: five pounds of cat litter, Meow Mix, a Milk-Bone Rawhide Donut.

For you, after you've finished changing the litter box: an 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer.

The price of cheapness
Some people point out that a lot of dollar-store merchandise is manufactured in countries paying criminally low wages. 

That's true. But that’s a system-wide problem. Where do you think most mainstream retailers get those ultra-cheap men's shirts and children's PJs? Probably not at a unionized American factory that pays a fair salary. You can thank globalization for that.

Right now, plenty of people can't afford to have ethics. They're increasingly squeezed by the rising costs of housing, food, child care and medical coverage. According to Elizabeth Warren, author of "The Fragile Middle Class" and "The Two-Income Trap," basics like food and housing can eat up nearly 75 percent of your wages.

People are going to do what they can to stretch their buying power. For plenty of us, that means thrift shops, rummage sales -- and dollar stores.

I've bought Christmas gifts at the dollar store. I've bought kosher salt, gingersnaps, gloves, a bath mat and a pancake turner there, too. For a 5-year-old relative embarking on a long plane trip, I splurged on all things Spider-Man: coloring book, magic slate, playing cards, even a math workbook. (Spidey as a mathematician? Who knew?)

And now I've bought underpants at the dollar store. Well, it could have been worse: I could have bought underwear at the thrift store.

Published Oct. 24, 2007


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