Dollar store wars: Which is the best value?

Dollar Tree Store,
JeepersMedia/Flickr

Shoppers these days are abandoning expensive stores at the mall, evidenced by the thousands of store locations closing in the past year.

Many are turning to bargain stores like Marshalls, TJ Maxx and the biggest bargain retailer of all: dollar stores.

But which provides the best bang for your buck?

Shoppers love the deals

We decided to compare stores in one central shopping district, where Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Dollar General are all located within a half-mile of each other.

At Dollar Tree, Amy McInehimer and her daughters were stocking up on pool supplies.

“They had all sorts of floaties and inflatable things,” she said. “It’s crazy, just a dollar. And anywhere else it’s 10 bucks.”

Lisa Webster was buying goods for a girl’s sleepover. Her haul included beach balls, glow sticks, flashlights and M&M’s.

And all those supplies cost just $1 each.

“I think it’s great because it usually lasts just one summer,” Webster said.

But dollar stores are for more than toys and beach balls.

At any of them there is a good chance you can find Glad bags, Ajax cleaner, Wonder Bread, drain cleaner, picture frames and lots of party supplies, all for either $1 or just slightly more.

Shopper Nicole Rivera says she saves hundreds of dollars a month on her household basics.

“It’s way cheaper because you get everything for a buck,” she said.

Some now charge much more than $1

You may notice that inflation has taken a toll at some dollar stores, where you’ll find a lot of products at $5 and even $10.

That’s not the case at Dollar Tree, where everything is still just $1 (though it is now experimenting with higher prices in some markets).

Travel and shopping blogger Susan Shain recently did a comparison for “The Penny Hoarder.”

“Dollar Tree sounds great in theory,” Shain said, “but it means that almost everything comes in really tiny packages, and a lot of it is generic.”

For instance, the only way to sell liquid Dawn detergent for $1 is to sell it in a very small container, which is perfect for a single person, but not practical for a large family.

Shain decided to compare the big three stores, shopping for a basket of household items including pasta, laundry detergent, cleaning spray, toilet paper, trash bags and more.

And the winner is….

“All of the stores were pretty close in price,” she said. “Family Dollar edged out Dollar General a tiny bit in price, which is why I declared it to be the winner.”

Dollar General had “the cleanest, best stocked stores” but was the most expensive, echoing Shain’s findings.

Dollar Tree was cheapest due to its proliferation of $1 products.

Krista Fields considers herself a dollar store pro, buying many household items there, from laundry baskets to cleaning products. She likes them all.

“Everything’s a dollar, you can’t go wrong,” she said,

And Fields has it exactly right: for $1, or slightly more, you can’t go wrong. If it turns out to be junk, just throw it out. It’s not worth a drive to the store to exchange a $1 bottle of soap you don’t like.

Meantime, their prices can’t be beat for party supplies, beach and pool items, detergent, cleaners, even greeting cards and wrapping paper.

So give one a try, so you don’t waste your money.