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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 20, 2012 9:59AM

To be fair, I get what you're saying. Some things at the dollar store cost more per unit then they do in other stores. But the whole article smacks of condescension and you could have gotten your point across just fine without it. By your tone and choice of wording, you'd think that any store with the word "Dollar" in the title is harboring some sort of infectious disease you might catch if you set foot in one.  

You lost your audience entirely when you knocked the quality of things some people can't afford anywhere else. Or when you list 6+ different stores (some requiring a $40 and up membership fee) as alternative places you can find better quality items then what's sold in a dollar store, when not everyone reading has the ability to drive across town to purchase a $4 measuring cup or a $7 strainer.

Not everyone shops in Dollar stores to score cheap stuff. Some shop their because they only have $7 in their pocket until payday and rather then use that to buy a quality strainer, they're going to buy bread, milk and eggs to feed their family. I've been in that situation before. Let's hope you never find yourself there, slicing yourself a big piece of humble pie as you walk into a dollar store out of necessity, not for fodder for a fluff piece on why you're above dollar stores.

Jan 20, 2012 12:23PM
I get really tired of getting money advice from those who have obviously never known what it's like to be poor.  Growing up with 5 kids in the household, I watched my mother pick and choose the things she could buy with the limited money she had to spend.  If she had $10 to spend, how in the world is she going to justify buying an $8 roll of Reynolds foil just so she can get the better deal?  This person has no clue what it's like to HAVE to shop at the dollar stores just to get necessities and make each dollar stretch as far as it possibly will.  Buy in bulk to save why didn't those stupid poor people ever think of that?  This is just one more way that the wealthy get wealthier.  I am fortunate enough to shop where I want to now, and believe me, I prefer the REAL deal to the generics.  Surely there aren't many in the world who prefer inferior products.  But I hope I never forget that not everyone can spend half their money on Sharpies. 
Jan 20, 2012 9:56AM
Wow.  This article is truely amazing!  I don't think I can cover much of anything that has not already been said.  I do agree with the person that said LA's Totally Awsome products are amazing.  I have been using them for years.  They work wonders.  I am an avid Dollar Tree shopper.  Dollar Tree carries many name brand closeouts that I love to purchase (Degree deoderant for men and woman, Lady speed stick, cuddle soft, sauvitel Loreal Vive pro, Loreal Macara) just to name a few.  Lets say I buy degree for woman, a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, fabric softener and mascara.  At Dollar Tree this would cost me $5.00 plus tax.  For the same things at Wal-Mart (same size) I would pay $25.41!  Now please tell me why I would do this when I can get the same exact size, scent, color and brand for $5.00?!  I agree with just everyone else that this person reeks of 'snob'.  I am able to stretch my dollar for me and my family to survive at Dollar Stores. 
Jan 20, 2012 8:55AM
I work in a dollar store and am very upset after reading this article, this is a very biased opinion of one person. True you get what you pay for but that is anywhere, not just dollar stores. And in this economy people shop where they can afford to go, not all of us can go to a larger retail store and shop around, the cost of fuel is the biggest factor, I could go on and on about pro's and cons of shopping but why bother?

 As for this one opinion of this one person not worth my time, I just hope that someday you don't lose your job and have to shop at your local dollar store to be able to afford the things you need in these trying times for many AMERICANS! Most people wouldn't be able to eat if these stores did not exist. We see on average 60% of our customers are seniors, and folks out of jobs, think about that before degrading dollar stores.

Everything in our store is truly 1 dollar or less, if you have the kind of money to waste on more expensive items, please feel free to but don't knock down the people who can only afford to shop in those stores because you you think they can get a better deal elsewhere.
Maybe these people don't want  8 sharpies, only need one, or only need one poster board, or just one tiny card that is only 53.cents just for it to get tossed away. Oh I could go on and on but you get the big picture.

Find something important to report on, not what you think is a bad thing, here's to hoping I don't see you in line at my local dollar store and in the un employment line.

Jan 20, 2012 9:05AM
Quite frankly, I can't remember the last time I put something in a measuring cup that would melt one, so I would love to know what the heck this author is cooking! I also don't need 52 sharpies, I need one. Nor do I care if a strainer has a dent. This article reeks of one thing, a snob. For those of us who are on limited incomes, myself due to an auto accident and now I am disabled, the dollar store is a god send. No one goes there expecting to find a Cadillac, but nine out of ten times I find what I am looking for, and they last just fine. I'm pretty sure I could use the extra eight bucks more than Walmart! 
Jan 20, 2012 12:38PM
I haven't read ALL the comments connected with this aticle, but here's my 2 cents. Now that I have gone to Target, Walgreens, Walmart, Sam's Club, CVS, and Office Depot, my tank needs filling. Oops ... there goes $25.00 that I wouldn't have spent going to one store. The dollar store, for me, is convenient and close. I might not need a 12 pack of legal pads or a 10 year supply of Sharpie markers. I only want 1. I only have space for 1. I'm not about to drive across town with today's gas prices to save .31 on markers. Value is relative to everyone's own situation. I do agree with you that quality is lacking with some products. Then I will forget it.
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 20, 2012 12:41PM

Evidently this woman that went to dollar tree, has way too much money. to think that other places are cheaper.I shop for only food there to make ends meet, and as far as the pens and such, the kids lose them before they can wear out, so no big deal. I cannot afford to pay $7.00 for foil, so i buy the foil squares. So when you only make $800.00 a month you shop where you can afford. and guess what the foil last for over a month for a buck. The idea that it has to last us longer doesn't matter, it is the initial output of money, that we do not have.

Jan 12, 2012 7:29PM
What if you don't have extra money to buy in bulk?  If your trying to live off of minimum wage then that dollar is all you have it makes sense to shop a dollar store.  Yes, the quality isn't as good, you have to take better care of the items you purchase.  Even better are the salvation army and goodwill for pots and pans. Sometimes when your money isn't going far enough you have to settle for what you can get.
Jan 20, 2012 11:15AM
The point of the Dollar Store is to get the things you need without having to pay $8.00 for each item.  Sure, I know I can get 12 pens at Staples for $8.00, however, I need to buy food, laundry detergent, health and beauty aids...  When you live paycheck to paycheck, you don't have the luxury to be able to buy in BULK.  If I did, I would just shop at Costco.  I know not everything at the Dollar Store is high she's telling me something I DON'T know.  I shop for necessity...not for SPORT which is what this writer is doing.  In this economy, I'm lucky I can even afford the Dollar Store.  Give me a BREAK with this article.      
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 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 20, 2012 12:27PM

Dear Angela,

I work for "Dollar General" not the Dollar Store.( Your article shows a "Dollar General".)  We, as ALL retailers have the inexpensive items. Not always is it a case of them being cheaply made. Yes we have many $ items and most are quality items. We except manufactures coupons on everything. Everyday! Our sales are competitive with the "big" stores.(Will not name names.)

See the thing is, you my thrifty shopper are driving all over tim-buck-too are "saving money" doing so....? I don't  think so!!

But OUR customers like the fact that they don't have to deal with the long lines at the "big" stores! We offer what they need all at one place. Our customers are loyal, regular, happy shoppers. 

It isn't always about the ole' mighty $ either. Some prefer the intimacy of dealing with us. As for cleanliness, we are governed by the same health inspectors as the "big" stores. We take pride in our store!

 So please don't be so fast to judge us. I challenge you to come to my store and see if you can't find what you are looking for.

Jan 20, 2012 11:52AM

The article could have been much shorter, she should have just written......


Why I don't shop at $1 stores:


Because I have lots of disposable income.........and I'm a snob.

Jan 20, 2012 12:49PM
You forget some people don't have 5 dollars 8 dollars That is why if a person only has 2 or 3 dollars on them that day they don't go to a Walmart they go where they can survive You are so disconnected from the poor and people that are just trying to make ends meet that it is just amazing to actually see people like you in society
Jan 20, 2012 11:06AM
That was pretty much a one sided story.  Your not saving one red cent shopping other places when you have several other stores that you have to visit and wait for things to go on sale and buy bulk when you only need one item. The Dollar Store gives everybody that shops during the week a $5 dollar coupon on the receipt that is good for Saturday and Sunday shopping on any product in the store. $5 dollars off your total !!!!! no waiting for a sale or driving across town to save .02 cents, no news paper subscriptions that are costly to get coupons from, no gas wasted, no time wasted hunting down that other .02 cent item, come on, you can't keep telling yourself anything except the facts, and I for one have saved tons of money, time, and gasoline just shopping at the dollar store, and I don't have to wait in the check out line with 25 closed lanes and only 1 or 2 checkers nor do I have to do their work for them at the self check out. Who works for free, really?, and there is no discount for doing your checking. Thats like busing your own table and washing the dishes at your favorite place to eat and at the dollar store you can park close to the entrance instead of a quarter mile away in the freezing rain and iced over parking lot. That really breaks my heart about the $1 one cup measuring cup that she thought she to wash by hand. Too bad she didn't see the glass one one step away that only cost $1.99. Instead she paid twice as much for a 2 cup measuring cup and drove no telling how far to get it. Please, do yourself a favor and quit wasting your time and money.  
Jan 20, 2012 2:16PM

Well since I do shop at a dollar store, and what SHE DOES NOT REALIZE sometimes I only have a buck for a pen or a buck fifty for tin foil et......Wal-mart where I live is 14 miles round trip thats a gallon of gas in my van. For people who dont make allot buying that cheap item in the moment is exactly what they needed, I believe dollar stores do provide a valuable service, If I had the money to buy everything in bulk and or drive around to many stores i would, I know when I get to my dollar store, what I need will probably be there at a cost I can afford in that moment. We dont all have the same paychecks or needs, I dont even have a problem with dollar store alkaline, work fine in my portables. So I guess its all about who you are, what you make, what your needs are, and whats realistic in YOUR budget. Sometimes a buck for detergent is the best price possible for me.

Get of your high horse dora, come live with the common folk

Jan 20, 2012 11:06AM
what if you don't need a 12 pack of legal pads .What if you don't need 4 pens .what if all you have is one dollar and don't want to use another three dollars in gas to find the supposed great you figure in the cost of extra trips to different stores, I have a dollar general 3 miles from my house ,the closet tj max is 22 miles the closest walmart is 21 miles and who wants to spend 40 dollars extra when you have to buy 24 cans of chicken noodle soup and all you need is one.
Jan 20, 2012 4:57AM
You? Annoy me. I love your little 'break that down' segment. Do you realize, like on the measuring cup? If you weren't lazy! and washed dishes by hand, (saving water, and electricity) your measuring cup would be fine. Also, i've never had to put one in the microwave. I'm sure hot liquids would be perfectly fine in it. My dollar store measuring cup is definitely enough for me. I also love that you only pay a dollar for ONE thing. In todays economic times? many familys can only AFFORD ONE gatorade, They don't need two twelve packs or whatever for an extra 12 bucks. Maybe they only need a small amount of tinfoil? they don't wanna decorate the whole house in it. I think you're giving dollar stores a bad wrap. Esp when it comes to cleaning products. You're basically throwing  money down the toilet on those anyway.....So I'd rather only pay a dollar for liquid drain opener, or some kind of toliet scrub. There are certain! few select items you may find elsewhere for less than a dollar, but how about where I live? We do not have a walmart, an Office Max, all these other stores you mention. I also see you paying like 3 to four dollars more per! item. That adds up. I don't think you're in touch with the reality of todays economic times, and how hard it is for some families even to afford food, clothing, shelter. I'm sorry if you're so grossly offended by people looking for a good deal. I could tell by your dishwasher/microwave comment that you obviously don't get that MOST people do not have a small luxurty like a dishwasher. Some may not even have a microwave. My mom has a dishwasher, ME! lol. I think you are way too hard on stores that help needier families, and people on hard economic times, and are a godsend to people making only 5 dollars per hour. I love the dollar store for wrapping paper, cards, bags for parties, etc. Why pay 5 dollars for something I sign, and will probably go in the garbage. As will wrapping paper, gift bags, etc. Although I do reuse things if in pristine condition. I'm just a regular person, on a regular average american wage, and I adore dollar stores. You enjoy keeping corporate america fed. I'm glad you have the money to do that. I don't. Nor do half the americans in todays society. Good to know advertising still works on people like you. I'll keep my dollar store, and the pennies in my pocket. We shall agree to disagree.
Jan 20, 2012 9:03AM
The issue is that if you do not have the money to spend $7.99 on a stainless steel kitchen strainer then you have to use less than quality products from dollar stores and resale thrift type stores . People on a low and fixed income such as some of our disabled and senior citizens or unemployed that have to shop the dollar store due to not enough money to shop some where else. They go to dollar stores and deal with less than quality items. I know people that shop for groceries there just to survive. Try buying groceries at the dollar stores. People that shop there are not stupid like your article makes them sound. They know if they had the money they can get better quality somewhere else. Maybe you should put yourself in their shoes and try and survive on little or no income coming in. I don't think you will see MS Macy shopping at the Dollar store. I make enough money now to go and buy the $7.99 strainer but I have been in the situation where I had to shop Dollar Stores and Thrift Stores and I know how it feels to be poor.
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