The Dollar Store vs Big Box Stores: Which is the Better Deal?

The Dollar Store vs Big Box Stores for a Better Deal Grocery School Supplies Shopping Party Kitchen Storage Paper Goods Food

When money is tight it’s enticing to do your shopping at a store where everything is just a dollar! But is that really the best deal, or are you better off shopping at big box stores? Sometimes $1 is a bargain, and sometimes it’s not. We have taken the guess work out of searching for the best savings (prices may vary by date, location or online vs in-store):

School Supplies:

Back-to-school shopping sneaks up just as fast as the holidays, and while you may assume those cheap, $1 notebooks are a steal, the truth is that you are more than likely overpaying. While you can get a 50 sheet notebook for $1, the better option is to grab an 80 sheet notebook for $.50 at Walmart. Some dollar stores are offering a 5-count pack of Bic mechanical pencils for $1, but Target is offering the same kind at 26-count for $3.99. And while it may be a few dollars more up front, you are saving in the long run. To compare, it would cost you $5 if you bought five packs at the dollar store, and you would still be one pencil short. Both Walmart and Target had other affordable school supplies like $0.29 rulers and $0.50 glue sticks; these items were $1 each at the dollar store. Though the best deal at the dollar store is for composition notebooks, which on average cost $0.50 more at the big box shops.

Kitchen Storage:

Whether we give them away, leave them in the work refrigerator for too long, or wear them out…kitchen storage containers are a necessity that often need to be replaced. The quality of plastic container options that are offered at the dollar store are questionable; plus stores like this will sometimes get sneaky with these kinds of items and add an extra dollar onto the price tag, so double check that you are only paying $1. That being said, Walmart has trusted brand name food storage containers like, Rubbermaid and Ziploc, for less than $3 for a 4-count package. Compare that to the off-brand that the dollar store is offering where you get a 3-count package for $1 and may need to replace them sooner due to improperly fitting lids and cracks in the plastic. So you are paying a little more upfront for the brand and quality at big box, but they last longer and there are many options with BPA-free plastics. It’s hard to know where some of the dollar store plastics stand on toxicity. However, the dollar store won out on glass food storage. The big box stores didn’t offer any glass container options, including Mason jars, for less than $1.80 each.

Party Supplies:

It’s so much fun celebrating a big event, but it can get expensive fast! Decorative paper plates, cups, and tablecloths come in at a $0.80-1.00 more at big box stores. Wrapping paper was sold for around $3-5 per roll at Walmart, and though it’s double the size of what is offered at the $0.99 store, it’s still not the best deal - you are better off getting two regular rolls for a dollar each. Same goes for gift bags, bows, and greeting cards; these items are overpriced at Walmart and Target, so it’s better to pay $1 for them. Steer clear of purchasing these items at party supply stores where the prices are marked up even higher.

Paper Goods:

Walmart is currently offering 12 double rolls of Angel Soft toilet paper for $5.99 in-store. The dollar store is offering the same brand at $1 for 4 single rolls. You can get 24 regular rolls (six 4 roll packs) at the dollar store for $6 or 12 double rolls for $5.99. Same thing? If you don’t have a lot of room to store 24 regular rolls, go for the Walmart deal. The dollar store is selling regular rolls of off-brand paper towels for $1 a piece. Walmart is offering a comparable generic brand of 8-count regular rolls of paper towels for $4.97. That’s just $0.62 a piece. The dollar store has economy 50-count paper plates for $1, and premium 25-count plates for the same price. Compare that to Walmart which is offering the same economy paper plates at $2.42 for a 90-count package, and premium 45-count for $1.84. Walmart wins out on paper plates. Target was offering toilet paper, paper towels, and paper plates for $0.90-1.00 more than the other stores.

Food:

You can get some really good deals at the dollar store when it comes to food, but be careful of the ingredients and sell-by-dates. Something as simple as a container of honey may be filled with high-fructose corn syrup and sugar instead of the real thing if purchased at the dollar store; the best way to avoid this is by avoiding off-brands and checking labels. Also, $0.99 cans of vegetables and sauces sound great, but these items are usually sold at regular grocery stores for much less. Walmart and Target had higher prices for produce compared to the dollar store, but the quality was much better at the big box stores.

You just have to do a little math and shop around to find the savings. Prices change every day depending on where you shop, or whether or not you shop in-store or online. But those appealing “$1 for everything” deals are not always the best. Sometimes paying a few dollars more up front, or for items in bulk, is the best bargain. So whether you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, or just trying to save a buck, taking the time to make sense of how much you are spending can go a long way.