Finance

What’s the Best Dollar Store? I Tried the 3 Biggest Chains

A sign for the dollar tree is shown next to a clear blue sky.


Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

In theory, the dollar store seems like it might be a one-way ticket to paradise. A store full of all of the items you need and, yes, some of the items you want — all for the price of a dollar. What could be better?

But at the end of 2021, popular chain Dollar Tree announced that it would be raising the price on most of its products from $1.00 to $1.25. The traditional dollar store was becoming a dollar store in name only.

Other businesses like Dollar General and Family Dollar might sound comparable, but they just sell their items for less. Dollar Tree was the last of the behemoths to inhabit the true ethos of a dollar store. And this year, even that last shred of vintage Americana died.

Still, we’ll leave you with a silver lining here: Dollar stores remain an inexpensive alternative to the big box stores where you’ll typically find your essentials, like laundry detergent, trash bags and body wash. In fact, you might be surprised by what you can find for a discount at the dollar store, items like socks, vases, greeting cards and even party supplies.

But is it really cheaper — and worth the potential inconvenience — than simply going to your local grocery store, Walmart or Amazon? We crunched the numbers to find out how each dollar store compares on the variety of products you need — and how they compare to the big box stores themselves.

And when we say crunch the numbers, we mean compare prices. We can’t ultimately decide which option will be best for you based on location, access and products. But we can tell you which will give you the most bang for your buck.

What I Bought (and How Much It Cost)

Our methodology is simple: We picked 10 items you need around the house and compared prices at three dollar stores, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree and Dollar General. In some cases, we couldn’t find the exact same product at each, but this should give you a good basis of comparison.

Here’s what we found:

1. Toilet Paper

2. House Cleaner

3. Body Wash

4. Canned Vegetables

5. Pasta

6. Spices

7. Laundry Detergent

8. 13-Gallon Trash Bags

9. Coffee

10. Cereal  

So, Which Dollar Store Is Best?

Here are our grand totals, bearing in mind that these aren’t exact product comparables.

  • Family Dollar: $45.60
  • Dollar Tree: $14.75
  • Dollar General: $38.10

Rather than declare an outright winner, I think it’s fair to call a tie between Dollar Tree and Dollar General.

It ultimately depends on the kind of experience and items you are hoping to find. At Dollar Tree, because the goal is still to keep the price as close to $1.25 as possible, the items you’ll find are smaller and less likely to be brand name. For example, you’ll find Zest body wash instead of Suave. If you want to stock up for a veritable army, then Dollar General is likely your best bet. And while we didn’t do a current in-store comparison, our writer’s former experience at Dollar Tree was lacking. Some of the containers were so small, she said, that she’d have to buy 10 bottles of laundry detergent to make up for the size.

Her best store experience was actually at Dollar General, which she found to have the friendliest employees. Given how this chain fared based on our numbers crunch, it seems to be the obvious winner.

Still, there’s one last metric to run this all through: how do all three fare compared to some of our non-dollar-store favorites? Let’s take a quick look at how much these items would run you at Walmart and Amazon.

Here’s how much we would have spent for roughly the same items:

  • Walmart: $48.80
  • Amazon: $68.88

The number crunch shows that you pay for convenience and experience when you buy from Walmart and Amazon versus a more humble dollar store. The price difference with Amazon, in particular, is surprising. That, of course, doesn’t include shipping or a Prime membership. It’s easy to get lulled into the ease of Amazon, but the prices aren’t always actually cheaper.

What we have shown is the practicality of the dollar store. So if you were ready to haul these institutions off to a museum, don’t write them off just yet. One of these dollar stores just might help you stock up your house in a way that doesn’t break the bank.

Writer Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.


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