My mother in law swears by her local dollar stores. It is where, on her pensioners budget, she was able to stock up on coloring books and crayons for my daughters when they came to visit. Most recently she has discovered that her local dollar store is a great place to pick up inexpensive packs of tissues, which I tuck in my daughters’ backpacks, and number two pencils that are always handy when it comes to standardized tests. (When you have kids in high school like I do, your kids take a lot of standardized tests–SAT, ACT, AP Exams, etc.)
Last year I went on a press trip on behalf of Family Dollar in Charlotte, North Carolina, and picked up a bunch of tips on how you can decorate your home on a budget by visiting a store like Family Dollar. While there I discovered that you can also do some pretty cool extreme couponing for household products and food, especially when you are able to stack a manufacturer’s coupon with a Family Dollar coupon (available online and in the circulars you find at the door).
Now ShopSmart magazine has confirmed what I discovered last fall on that trip to Family Dollar–that consumers can find many brand name products–particularly grocery items–at big bargains in dollar stores.
At Dollar General, the largest of the big three chains, aisles are stocked with brands like Crayola, Folgers, Hanes, Huggies, and Tide. At Family Dollar look for L’Oreal, Maybelline, Nabisco, and Pepsi. And at Dollar Tree you can buy Ajax, Dial Soap, Reynolds Wrap, Scope and Softsoap, among other brands.
If you want to add dollar stores to your shopping routine, keep these 6 tips in mind:
- Not every product costs a dollar. Most dollar stores sell stuff at a variety of prices. At Dollar General about 25 percent of the items are $1 or less. Most items cost less than $10. But you’ll find exceptions, often on specialty or seasonal goods, like an $85 inflatable swimming pool or $35 fan.
- They’ll save you a bundle. ShopSmart compared prices on 38 items including food, cleaning supplies, paper products, drinks and other everyday staples and found that Dollar General had the lowest prices on many items.
- You can shop online. All of the big dollar-store chains have a retail website, but many products are sold by the case only. Ordering large quantities of products you use regularly, such as toilet paper, can be an economical way to stock up.
- Consider private-label or store brands. Store brands are great bargains, but no retailers beat dollar stores when it comes to these low-budget alternatives. Buying a dollar store’s private-label brand can save shoppers 29 percent on average over national store brands. For example, on my trip to Family Dollar, I discovered that the store brand caramel cookies were an exact replica of the Girl Scout cookie Caramel Delights, but you can bet they didn’t cost $4 a box–I think it was $1 or $2 a box.
- Avoid off-brand vitamins and electrical products. ShopSmart doesn’t recommend buying off-brand vitamins from dollar stores. Also, watch out for electrical products without UL labels, or with fake ones, vouching for their safety.
- Check expiration dates on food and medication. Be sure to check the date when buying food or medication in a dollar store to make sure the product hasn’t expired. Items with expiration dates such as perishable and frozen foods, topped ShopSmart’s poll respondents’ list of things that they never buy at a dollar store.