Query: Was that worth a dollar?
Answer: It was worth nothing. Less than nothing, as the effort in buying it was a waste.
1. Don't impulse buy things. At the register, the cashier was "selling" a package of 'personal sized Snickers' for a dollar. Five candy bars for a dollar - not a bad price. But I didn't need or want a candy bar, so in effect it would have been a dollar too much, anyway.
Dollar-types stores are chock full of things that are flashy and delicious and colorful and look cool. And hey, it's only a dollar, you can't afford not to buy it, right? But that sort of thinking ends up with a cart-load of crap and $50 missing from your wallet, one dollar at a time.
If you go to a Dollar-type store, have a list of things you want to buy and buy those things. Avoid impulse-buying stuff, just because it looks appealing and is not very costly. Paying a dollar for something you don't need, is paying a dollar too much.
2. Know Your Prices: At the store they had bottled water for $1 a six-pack. Wow! That's a good deal! The gas station wants a dollar a bottle! (ironically, so does the Dollar Store, if you buy the water from the cooler at the checkout). But Publix has an entire CASE of water for $2.99 (on sale), versus the dollar store price of $4 a case. Which really is the better deal?
And it goes without saying that tap water is free, which beats even a dollar.
On the other hand, things like soap can be cheap. A bottle of shampoo is, well a dollar for "White Rain" brand. The cheapest comparable generic next door at the Grocery Store is $2.39 - for a smaller size.
3. But Don't Forget Quality: Even if something is "just a dollar" be sure it is not poorly made, watered down, past its sell-by date (or close to) or some unheard-of Chinese brand. The broken spaghetti spoon wasn't worth a dollar. The dim chemical party lights were similarly disappointing. The soap may seem like a good price, but if it is watered down, is it really?
My gut reaction is that there are few bargains at these places. They rely on an impoverished customer base that is neither sophisticated or intelligent. They can sell bad bargains for a dollar and make them look like good bargains, as their typical customer doesn't recognize the difference. Moreover, they rely on such customers to impulse-buy more than half their selections, thus consuming more than they intended to, which is not really saving money, but squandering it.
In addition, the flat price of a "dollar" for everything means that some items will be overpriced, and others likely are loss-leaders. Figuring out which is which is the key.
Do you need a set of wine glasses for your vacation rental? Dollar stores might be the place to go. Ditto for cheap dishware for a college student's first apartment. But check prices carefully. Even at just a dollar a glass, you may end up paying too much - for what you are getting.
UPDATE: October 7, 2012
There are marked differences between Family Dollar, Dollar General, Dollar Store, and Dollar Tree stores. My favorite, hands down, is Dollar Tree - as it is one of the stores where everything IS A DOLLAR.
Some of the other "Dollar" stores are just general merchandise stores that don't seem to have particular bargains. We've shopped at a few and walked away. Some were run-down and smelled bad. Others were clean and had nice merchandise - but the prices were nothing to write home about.
There is a Dollar Tree next to our grocery store, and they sell things there - for a dollar - which are good bargains:
1. Pasta - box of spaghetti for a dollar.
2. Pickles - sliced sandwich pickles, for a dollar (made in India, if you can believe that!).
3. Dessicant (for drying out the camper).
4. Toothpaste (name brand, a dollar)
5. Soap - three bars for.... a dollar
6. Shampoo - a bottle of "Breck" for a dollar.
7. Pretzels - a bag for a dollar.
8. Mouthwash - a 16 ounce bottle for.... a dollar.
9. Liquid Soap dispenser (with soap) - a dollar.
10. Dish soap - a dollar.
The list goes on. Most of these items are for same next door in the grocery store for $3 to $4. There is a considerable savings.
However, some items don't seem like bargains, as the quality is not as good as the products sold at the wholesale club. Laundry detergent, for example, is very weak and watery, and does not appear to be such a good bargain. It does come in a small bottle - handy if you are traveling or renting a house for a week.
Like anything else, the key is to know what prices are like, compare and make rational buying choices.
And not all Dollar Trees are the same. We've seen some "mega-stores" that have frozen food sections (if you can believe that!) that have a lot of very nice merchandise.
The only thing that troubles me is that over time, inflation will eat into their profit margin, and they will be forced to raise prices to something other than a dollar. Having a single price does make their shelf stocking a lot easier - just throw the stuff on the shelf, it is already priced by the sign out front.
Maybe it will be the dollar-and-a-quarter-tree or something....