Want to save money on household products like cereal, napkins, soap and toothpaste? Then maybe you should check out your local dollar store.
According to a just-released survey of dollar store prices by ShopSmart magazine (from the publisher of Consumer Reports), you can save a bundle there on grocery products and household items.
"Dollar stores are no longer the junky outlets they used to be and there are big savings to be had – even on brand-name products," said Lisa Lee Freeman, ShopSmart’s editor-in-chief.
Big-chain dollar stores like Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree are bright and cheery. They have a wide variety of merchandise. Some even accept coupons. Maybe that’s why more people – and not just those on a limited budget – are shopping at dollar stores these days.
“Upscale shoppers are going to the dollar store, too,” said ShopSmart’s senior editor Jody Rohlena. “They’re looking to save money just like everyone else.”
By the way, not everything at a dollar store is a $1 or less. At Dollar General, it’s about 25 percent of the merchandise. Most items cost less than $10, although you may find a few seasonal items at a higher price.
ShopSmart surveyed 1,500 women and found that about 76 percent say they shopped at a dollar store in the past year. Three out of four are going there more often than they did in the past.
Their favorite things to buy are party supplies, paper and plastic goods (such as napkins, cups and flatware), cleaning supplies, toiletries (like soap and toothpaste) and storage containers.
ShopSmart’s mystery shoppers went to Dollar General and Family Dollar to check prices on 38 everyday products. Then they compared those prices with Target, Walmart and some supermarkets.
“Walmart had the lowest prices on most items,” Rohlena said. “Supermarkets had the highest prices by far. But dollar stores were really competitive.”
ShopSmart found big savings – as much as 28 percent – on some brand-name products at the dollar stores when compared to supermarket prices. The best deals were on two-liter bottles of Coke, Lipton tea bags, Planters mixed nuts, Heinz ketchup and Jif peanut butter.
But you can save even more on the store’s private-label brands. That’s right -- dollar stores are developing their own brands of oatmeal, cereal, bathroom cleaner, flour, even cranberry juice cocktail.
ShopSmart found that these store brands are 29 percent less, on average, than national brands. That’s a better deal than the 25 percent you can save on store brands at Walmart and supermarkets or the 15 percent savings at Target.
But not everything at the dollar store is a bargain.
“Don’t buy coffee and don’t buy Tide detergent there,” Rohlena tells me. “We don’t know why, but those were the worst deals.”
The Maxwell House Original Roast ground coffee (11.5 ounces) was $5.06 at Family Dollar versus $3.89 at Walmart. The 100-ounce Tide detergent was $14.31 at Dollar General and only $11.97 at Walmart.
Note: ShopSmart suggests you check the expiration date before buying food or medication in a dollar store. Items with expiration dates (such as perishable and frozen foods) were the No. 1 thing survey respondents said they never buy at a dollar store. The editors advise against buying off-brand vitamins at these stores.
The bottom line
Dollar stores have come a long way in the last few years. If you haven’t been in one recently, you may be missing out on significant savings. The merchandise is better, the selection is greater and the shopping experience is significantly improved. To get the most bang for your buck, check the store brands.
The big dollar stores have retail Web sites, but many of the products sold online are only available by the case. The editors at ShopSmart say if it’s a product you use regularly, maybe toilet paper, buying a large quantity can be an economical way to stock up.
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