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3 ways to save more money at the dollar store

Dollar stores have become so popular that some are even looking to expand into fresh food and pharmacy items.
/ Source: TODAY

As more Americans try to stretch their dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's no wonder that we've seen a boom in dollar stores. These popular retailers have been popping up everywhere in recent years and if you think they only sell party items and off-brand condiments, it's time to take a second look. In fact, many dollar stores are expanding into offering fresh food and pharmacy items. Some are even offering COVID-19 vaccines.

Dollar stores made up nearly half of all retail openings last year and so NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle shared the best ways to save even more when shopping these stores — and how to avoid some of their pitfalls (hello, dollar bins!).

"Since 2017, over 9,000 of these stores have opened in the U.S. and they're still growing fast," said Ruhle. "You know them — Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar." Ruhle said that these retailers are not your grandma's dollar store with many moving into fresh produce and possibly even pharmaceuticals. Their strategy is to partner with big brands to create "dollar store items" with the aim of becoming consumers' mainstream stores — and it's working.

"It makes sense," said Ruhle. "People have been struggling over the last few years. It's gotten harder. And people also like to get deals, so boom! It is the golden age of dollar stores."

And while inflation has affected all stores and customers, the dollar stores have a different strategy on how they handle it.

"There are shortages and price increases across the board, but for dollar stores, they can't just pass those price increases on to their customers," said Ruhle. "They're dollar stores." Instead, these stores are eating the cost or trying other tactics such as changing their distributors or changing what they are selling.

"What they have going for them is they're so popular," said Ruhle. According to Dollar General, 75% of Americans live within five miles of one of their stores. Many of these stores are in so-called "food deserts" so they are by default the only option for those customers. So even though the prices are low, the stores make up for it in volume.

When Hoda Kotb asked Ruhle if there are even more ways to save at the already rock-bottom dollar stores, she pointed out that Dollar Tree is the only one where everything is actually a dollar.

Ruhle said that you can always do better and that coupons are a great way to get more bang for your buck. There are store coupons that you'll find in the weekly ad or through the store's app or membership program and manufacturer coupons which you can sometimes combine for an even better discount.

"But you've got to read the fine print," said Ruhle. "Because it might be limited in terms of how much you can buy. If you've got a dollar off manufacturer's coupon and the item is 50 cents, check the store they may say, 'Sorry Hoda, we're not giving it to you for free.'"

Ruhle offered more tips for shopping and saving at dollar stores:

  • Sign up for loyalty programs to take advantage of those coupons and deals.
  • Bring a list and stick with it.
  • Set a budget before you go— everything adds up.

Especially when shopping with your kids, who will most certainly be enticed by the dollar bin items, it's essential to stick to your shopping list and avoid impulse buys.

"Watch out for those dollar bins," warned Ruhle. "We're all like, 'Oh my goodness, only a dollar.' That works if you're only buying one thing." Ruhle said that if you're going to buy 10 things it might make more sense to wait and buy in bulk.

As dollar stores become our go-to grocery stores, Ruhle said we can only expect to see them continue to expand.