Why I Never Shop at Dollar Stores

Dollar bill
Photo by JIANG HONGYAN / Shutterstock.com

My neighbor told me today she shops at the dollar store because everything is only a dollar.

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 percent convinced I’m not going back. Here’s why:

Quality

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 2-cup measuring cup seemed like a good deal, until I looked closer. The label says, “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, 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.

Here was something I needed: an eyeglass case. The cases were built pretty sturdily and had a decent look, but when I went to put my reading glasses in them, they didn’t fit. Instead, I found a case for $3.99 at K-Mart 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 Reynold’s Wrap for a buck.
  • Better price: 200 square feet of Reynold’s Wrap for $7.98 at Wal-Mart. Break that down, and it costs $0.02 less a square foot.
  • Dollar store price: 1 Sharpie for a dollar.
  • Better price: 12-pack of Sharpies for $8.29 at Office Depot. Break that down and each Sharpie costs $0.31 less.
  • Dollar store price: 1 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 $0.54 less per legal pad.

Sales

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: 2 packs of G2 gel pens for a dollar.
  • Better sale price: 2 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 $0.51 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 – 2 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: 1 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.

Coupons

Most dollar stores – such as 99 Cents Stores and Dollar Tree Stores – do not accept manufacturer’s coupons. So if you want to use them, you’ll have to shop elsewhere. And you should. Many items cost less than a dollar 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: $0.20 off one bottle in this week’s circulars. If you bought it on sale at CVS for $0.99, and used the coupon, you’d save $0.21.
  • Dollar store price: Generic-brand frozen pizzas, $1 each in the grocery section.
  • 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 founder 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 two cents to our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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