The thing about a dollar store—a traditional dollar store, that is, as opposed to the "$1 and up" stores starting to pop up in various areas (what kind of selling point is that, anyway? Everything in the store costs at least a dollar? How is that a bargain?)—at a traditional dollar store, everything costs a dollar, regardless of what it would cost elsewhere. A dollar is such a small amount these days that it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that this is the best deal you can expect to find on anything, but in many cases, it just isn't so. Consider:
- At the dollar store, a one pound-box of baking soda costs a dollar. At Aldi, a discount grocery chain, it costs 50 cents.
- At the dollar store, canned goods of all kinds cost a dollar apiece. At the supermarket, some of those items might cost more than a dollar, but others might cost as little as 75 cents. (Not to mention that supermarkets have sales and dollar stores don't—so if you bought a dozen cans of veggies at your local dollar store this week, you'd pay twice as much for them as you would at the Shop Rite, currently in the middle of its annual "Can-Can Sale" on all types of canned goods.)
- At the dollar store, a bottle of aspirin costs a dollar—but it may contain as little as 20 tablets, for a per-pill cost of 5 cents. At your local chain drugstore, you could pay as little as $4 for a bottle of 500 tablets, which works out to less than a penny a pill.
None of this is meant to knock dollar stores. Dollar Tree is one of my favorite chains, and I'll frequently poke my head in there when I'm just passing by, even if I'm not looking for anything, just to enjoy scavenging through the shelves for unexpected bargains. But while I think dollar stores are great for treasure hunting, I wouldn't treat them as a one-stop shop for all my needs. I'd still expect to find better prices and selection for groceries at the grocery store, drugs at the drugstore, and hardware at the hardware store. I'd only make the dollar store my first stop for household doodads—picture frames, coffee mugs, shower curtain liners—that don't need to be of particularly high quality. Because let's face it, while it may be possible nowadays to find some decent-quality merchandise at dollar stores, it's still a lot easier, even now, to find useless plastic junk.