Are you a dollar store shopper? I definitely was when I was leading a Girl Scout troop and needed quick, easy, and cheap supplies for crafts we had to do during our meetings. The only other time I shopped purposefully in a dollar store–it was Dollar Tree, I think–was when I was co-leading an Odyssey of the Mind team when my daughter was in middle school. They needed supplies for their performance, and we figured we’d get the best bargains at the dollar store.
We did all right, that’s for sure, but that’s because we were in the store to buy items for which we had a single purpose. The kids got things like pipe cleaners, felt, tissue paper, and costume jewelry–literally, jewelry you would wear with a costume. Think gangsta necklaces made from gold plastic!
Since then, though, I haven’t had much reason to hit up my local dollar store–most likely because there isn’t a dollar store that is local to me. But the other reason is that because I’m wary about shopping in a store that might be selling expired foods or counterfeit personal care products that may not be at all what their label says they are.
But I also avoid the dollar store so I don’t end up buying something I don’t need–because it’s a great price: $1–or because what I thought was a great deal really isn’t. Or I did find something that was a great price but then I ended up picking up a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t well priced, thus negating whatever cost savings I might have enjoyed. Or I bought something, simply because it was a good price, but it didn’t hold up–there are no lifetime guarantees on products from dollar stores as there are from other retailers and manufacturers.
Turns out I’m onto something. According to a recent article on the site The Street called “The Insidious Secret of the Dollar Store,” you often get what you pay for in most dollar stores. That article points out that when you spend $.45 on a pair of shoes, you really can’t expect them to be worn outdoors or to last a long time. The espadrilles that my mother in law bought for my daughters at her local dollar store quickly turned into a dog toy–there was no way those shoes would hold up on a walk around the block.
The article also uncovers some other “secrets” from dollar stores–such as the fact that dollar stores are kept messy on purpose so you feel like you’re on a “treasure hunt” for the best deal possible. Then when you find something you think is a great price, you get it. You’re also likely to go into a dollar store with a certain item in mind that you want to buy but, because of this “treasure hunt” atmosphere, come out with more than you’d planned to buy–and more money spent than you’d budgeted.
That’s why if you choose to go shopping in a dollar store, not only should you do it with a specific purpose in mind, you should write that purpose down. You don’t go grocery shopping without your list and your coupons; treat dollar store shopping the same way. Get what you need and get out.
What’s your opinion of dollar stores? Do you make them a regular part of your shopping?
Leah Ingram is the founder of the Suddenly Frugal blog and the author of 14 books, including Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less (Adams Media, 2010) and Toss, Keep, Sell: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Clearing Out Clutter and Cashing In (Adams Media, 2010). Leah appears regularly in frugal-living segments on the “10! Show” on NBC10 in Philadelphia and is a blogger for the NBC Universal website Home Goes Strong. Recently, Leah launched a new frugal venture called Philadelphia on the Cheap. This site focuses on deals, discounts, and freebies in the Philadelphia area—where she lives with her husband, two teenage daughters, and dog. Follow her on Twitter @suddenlyfrugal