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Why I never shop at dollar stores

Are you a dollar store detester or devotee? You won't catch me in one. Here's why.

By Stacy Johnson Jan 10, 2012 2:08PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyMy neighbor told me today she shops at the dollar store because everything is only $1.


In my opinion, that's not reason enough. After all, what if the item wasn't worth a dollar in the first place? What if you could get it cheaper somewhere else? But, nope -- she's convinced the dollar store is universally a great deal.


I'm not. In fact, based on past experience, I stopped shopping dollar stores long ago. But since it had been a while -- and persuaded by my friend -- I recently thought maybe it was time for another look. Maybe she was right. Maybe I'd find great deals when I got there.


I went. I didn't find great deals, and now I'm 100% convinced I'm not going back. Here's why:


I'm a firm believer in "You get what you pay for." While you can find a few good deals on generic meds or store-brand groceries, many things have a low price point because they're cheaply made and won't last very long.


I noticed quality was lacking in the products at the dollar store I visited. For example, a plastic 1-cup measuring cup seemed like a good deal, until I looked closer. The label said, "Not recommended for microwave or dishwasher use." So, yes, you can get a measuring cup for a dollar -- you just have to wash it by hand and never put anything hot in it. Forget that. I just bought a glass 2-cup measuring cup at TJ Maxx for $3.99, and I can put it in the dishwasher and the microwave.


The store had a mesh kitchen strainer that seemed OK on the shelf. Upon further inspection, I saw that the handle was cheap plastic and the mesh already had two pretty serious dents I couldn't pop out. Wal-Mart sells a stainless steel Farberware strainer for $7.99. While it costs more, it isn't as likely to dent, rust or break. Post continues below.

Here was something I needed: an eyeglass case. The case was built pretty sturdily and had a decent look, but when I went to put my reading glasses in it, they didn't fit. Instead, I found a case for $3.99 at Kmart that looked the same, but actually held my glasses.


Price vs. quantity

A dollar isn't always the cheapest price you can get when you break something down into unit cost. Several things I found in small amounts just didn't add up. For example:

  • Dollar store price -- 18 square feet of Reynolds Wrap for a buck.
  • Better price -- 200 square feet of Reynolds Wrap for $7.98 at Wal-Mart. Break that down, and it costs 2 cents less a square foot.
  • Dollar store price -- one Sharpie for a dollar.
  • Better price -- 12-pack of Sharpies for $8.29 at Office Depot. Break that down and each Sharpie costs 31 cents less.
  • Dollar store price -- one legal pad for a dollar.
  • Better price -- Pack of 12 legal pads for $5.46 at Sam's Club. Break that down, and you'd spend 54 cents less per legal pad.

Sale prices often cause the items you buy to drop below a dollar, making it a better deal to shop the ads. For example:

  • Dollar store price -- two packs of G2 gel pens for a dollar.
  • Better sale price -- two packs of G2 gel pens for $1.49 each. On sale this week at Walgreens -- buy one, get one free. Break that down, and you'd save 51 cents buying the pens at the sale price.
  • Dollar store price -- 12-ounce Gatorade for a buck.
  • Better sale price -- 12 packs of 12-ounce Gatorades on sale this week at Target -- two packs for $13. With the sale price, you'd get 24 Gatorades for $13. If you bought them at the dollar store, you'd pay $11 more for the same amount.
  • Dollar store price -- one pair of women's active-wear socks for $1.
  • Better sale price -- six-pack of women's active-wear socks on sale this week at Wal-Mart for $4.77. At the sale price, you'd save $1.23.

Many dollar stores do not accept manufacturer's coupons. So if you want to use those coupons, you'll have to shop elsewhere. And you should. Many items cost less than $1 with a coupon, especially if you stack them with a sale price. For example:

  • Dollar store price -- Dove dish soap for a buck.
  • Coupon price -- 20 cents off one bottle in this week's circulars. If you bought it on sale at CVS for 99 cents and used the coupon, you'd save 21 cents.
  • Dollar store price -- generic-brand frozen pizzas, $1 each.
  • Coupon price -- Smart Source has a coupon for $1 off five Totino's frozen pizzas. Since Wal-Mart sells those pizzas for $1 each already, you'd save $1 if you shopped there and used a coupon.

The items I found aren't the only duds at the dollar store. Check out "10 dollar store duds" from Money Talks News' Stacy Johnson.


Of course, you should always do your own detective work to find the best deals wherever you shop, and for some, dollar stores may be where you find them. But me? No thanks.


What about you? Are you a detester of dollar stores or a devotee? Add your 2 cents below.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Jan 12, 2012 5:27PM
Wow what an article.

TLDR version. If you buy quality stuff it wont be cheap garbage. Also if you buy quality stuff in bulk it will be cheaper than individually. Also works for bulk cheap garbage.

Can I have your paycheck now. You know since I can do this highly educated research and have mad writing skills.

Another arts degree at work.

Jan 12, 2012 4:25PM

This article is all sizzle and no steak. The whole point seems to be if you buy in quantity you save. The only other point being made is buck store merchandise is low quality.


"...Well imagine that seargent...sha zaam sha zaam sha zaam."



Jan 11, 2012 12:38PM

Not everyone needs or wants to buy a dozen of anything in order to save a few cents.

Granted the quality isn't there when comparing a one dollar item to an eight dollar item.....

duh. The fact is that dollar stores do provide a need and offer value, but consumers need to

be aware.

Jan 11, 2012 11:39AM

I like dollar stores.  I agree that dollar stores are not always the cheapest, but they're sometimes the cheapest and rarely significantly overpriced. 


For the office supplies comparison - yes, the office supply stores are cheaper if you buy in bulk, but maybe I don't want a dozen of something.


For the most part, I think their health & beauty products, cleaning products and gift wrap/cards/party supplies are a good value. 

Jan 11, 2012 10:28AM
I am wary of statements that say "never" or "always". The human universe is seldom that black or white.
Jan 11, 2012 8:01AM
The comparisons by far are true, however the comparison only relates to the entire dollar store experience as a shopping trip.

I find that going to the dollar store is like going to the local convenient store. Its a quick trip to grab a few of those spur of the moment essentials and off you go.

If i wanted to really compare prices and do some serious shopping then yes I go to the bigger stores and value shop. You cannot compare the two at the same level.

Jan 10, 2012 7:49PM

First of all it seems to me like she's comparing a single location of a dollar store to eight separate retail chains (Sam's Club, Wal Mart, K Mart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, TJ Maxx, Office Depot) in 4 different retail categories (warehouse store, department store, drug store and office supply store).  This seems a bit unfair to the lonely little dollar store.  Maybe if you compare it flatly against one store like Wal Mart it would be more fair.  Also there would be a greater cost of time, gasoline and opportunity by driving to 8 stores instead of 1 that is not accounted for here.


Secondly, she claims that saving 2 cents per square foot (the dollar store foil is approx 40% more) on aluminum foil is a good deal (which seems like it's just a per-unit savings for buying the foil in a higher quantity - an advantage that will always go to Wal Mart over any other retail chain) but then she also says that spending $7 (approx 700%) more on a strainer is a good deal based solely upon the fact that she perceives a greater value in a brand name and cursory glance of each strainer and not by any sort of empirical measurement.  Even by her own words, the Faberware "isn't as likely to dent, rust, or break."  She does not claim that it would last 8 times longer than the dollar store strainer, which would be the Faberware strainer's break-even point as far as value goes.


She does make some good arguments and I'm not saying that dollar stores are always a great deal (they have higher and lower margin goods like every other retail store) but this article seems to smell pretty badly of confirmation and selection bias'.

Jan 10, 2012 4:07PM
Time spent in a store is must be included in the price. I can't get out of a Walmart in less than 30 minutes. Buying an item in a small store takes half that time, or less.
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