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Does Shopping at the Dollar Store Really Save You Money?

In the wake of the recession, millions of Americans have found themselves looking for ways to trim their budgets. With the economy still recovering, many consumers continue to rely on frugal tricks like clipping coupons, scouring bargain bins and shopping secondhand to save.

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More shoppers are also cruising the aisles of the dollar store, where you can find sales on everything from groceries and clothing to toys and household items. While discount stores advertise lower prices than the big chain retailers, you’re not always guaranteed to get the best deal. How much you save ultimately depends on savvy a shopper you are.

Dollar Store Differences

There are several retail chains that have “dollar” in their name but they’re not all the same, especially when it comes to how they price their merchandise. At the Dollar Tree, for example, you won’t find anything that costs more than a buck but stores like Family Dollar and Dollar General feature a wide range of prices.

Aside from pricing, dollar stores also tend to differ when it comes to what they sell. Certain stores specialize in things like household items, hygiene products, seasonal products and party supplies while others may sell food, clothing and toys. Before you make your next shopping trip, take some time to look over each store’s sales ad so you know who’s offering the best deals for the items on your list.

Related Article: 5 Things That Will Cost You More in 2014

Good Buys vs. Bad Buys

Dollar stores are attractive to shoppers because they promise lower prices but you need to be able recognize whether you’re really getting a bargain. When it comes to certain dollar store items, the price ultimately corresponds to quality (or lack thereof) but there are some real deals to be had if you know what to buy.

Related Article: 4 Sneaky Ways Retailers Trick You Into Spending More

The biggest savings usually comes from buying things like party supplies, wrapping paper, seasonal items, books, utensils and other kitchen items. You can also score bargains on greeting cards, picture frames, storage containers and name-brand cleaning products.

Generally, you want to avoid buying things like batteries and electronics since you don’t know how long they’ll last. Cleaning supplies, vitamins, toothpaste, medicines and personal care products may be less expensive at the dollar store but there’s no guarantee on the quality. Buying food is a toss-up since certain things, like bread, can be cheaper but you should always pay attention to the expiration dates before you load up your cart.

Size Matters

Just because an item is priced lower at the dollar store doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving anything. Discount stores may offer what looks like the same product for less but they may actually be more expensive. Doing some comparison shopping before you buy can ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

The easiest way to compare prices is to look beyond the sticker price at what you’re paying per unit. For example, let’s say the dollar store is advertising a 75-ounce bottle of laundry detergent for $10.95 but the big-box store is charging $11.95 for a 100-ounce bottle. On the surface, the dollar store looks like the better deal but when you figure out what you’re paying per ounce, it actually makes more sense to spend a dollar more for the larger size.

Final Word

Shopping at the dollar store is a good way to keep more cash in your pocket but it pays to be smart about what you buy. What looks like a great deal could actually end up costing you more in the long run.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Saving More

Photo Credit: PicDFW

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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