Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bargains at the Dollar Tree

There are some things that you should buy at the Dollar Tree

Some folks refuse to set foot in a Dollar Tree store, much less a Wal-Mart, on the grounds that they are "too good" to shop at such places.   But why pay three to five times as much for basic staple items?  It makes no sense.

The following are some things that I think are good bargains at the Dollar Tree, and some things I think are not such good bargains.   Again, the difference between Dollar Tree and other "dollar" stores is that everything is a dollar at Dollar Tree.  Other stores are just "discount" stores and often their stuff isn't really very competitively priced.

Dollar Tree, on the other hand, makes a great markup on some items, and breaks even on others.  So depending on what you buy, you can get some real bargains.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

1.  Mouthwash.   A basic bottle of brand-name mouthwash at the grocery store can run from $2 to $4.  All mouthwash is, is a solution of alcohol and water, with some flavoring in it.  As Dr. Lister discovered a Century ago, alcohol will kill germs.  There really is no high-tech science to this, and no, the "brand name" isn't any better.   The bottle at Dollar Tree costs..... a dollar.

On their website, they do have "brand name" mouthwash, but brand names you may not have heard about  for decades, such as Lavoris.   These are actually larger bottles, too.  However, I have not seen them on the local store shelves. 

Their toothpaste selection is a bit odd - brands from yesteryear once again. But if you aren't brand-conscious, Colgate for a dollar is not a bad bargain.

2.  Dish Soap:  Large bottles of dish soap at the Dollar Tree are a dollar.  Next door at the grocery store, a smaller bottle is $2.99.   Do the math on this.   And no, the more expensive dish soap doesn't "clean better" or anything else.

Their dish soap is a little harsh for using as hand soap.  I had used it to refill hand soap dispensers, but found it made my hands a little rough.   Dollar Tree sells hand soap, $1 for a dispenser and $1 for a larger refill bottle, both also very good bargains (the grocery store wants $3.99!)

3.  Car Wash Soap:  The Dollar Tree "wash and wax" car wash  soap may be a little watery, but it will wash your car two or three times, and it will leave it very shiny (like hot wax at the car wash).   It works well, and they sell car wash sponges, gloves, and buckets, also for a dollar.

4.  Pretzels:  This giant bag of salty pretzels is a buck.  Next door, at the grocery store, they want $2.99.  Of course, snack foods are rarely a bargain and are not good for you.  But in moderation....

And some of their cookie products are not bad bargains - a bag of windmill cookies for tea time, for a dollar.  Can't beat that.  Their cracker selection is limited, but also a bargain.

5.  Pickles:  While traveling, I met someone from the UK who remarked that we have very high prices on pickled items.  Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the goods from Mt. Olive or Mezetta.   But pickled items in the USA can run as high as $8-$10 a jar (!!!).  Dollar Tree has good dill pickles (eschew anything with sugar in it) or things like banana peppers or pepperoncini peppers or even jalapeno peppers, pickled.  You have to look, but sometimes you find some real gems.  (UPDATE:  ON a recent trip, they had Mezetta peppers, I bought every bottle they had, for a dollar each!).

6.  Hot Sauce:  Tapito or Louisiana brands, both a dollar.  A real bargain considering they are at least $1.99 to $2.99 elsewhere. Their "wing sauce" is also a bargain and fairly mild.

7.  Tortillas:   Yes, buying food at the Dollar Tree seems at first to be an act of bravery.  But they push a lot of product through there and their food is fresh.  A stack of tortillas is a dollar, about half what the grocery store charges.

8.  Pasta:  No, really.  OK, so it isn't gourmet hand-made pasta.   But if you are just looking for everyday spaghetti or noodles, well, you can't beat the price - a dollar.

9.  Pasta Sauce:   At first, I was skeptical about this, but their sauce has no sugar added and is really quite good, albeit in a small jar.  However the small size is perfect for two people or when traveling.

10.  Spices:  Again, another "no, really" item.   And you have to be selective.  No, garlic salt is not a spice.   But some other items can be a real bargain.

11. Glassware:   You'd be surprised how nice the wine and martini glasses are, and if you are furnishing a rental property, well a buck-a-glass certainly is an attractive price, particularly when renters tend to break/steal things.

12.  Personal Soaps:  Shampoos (often archaic brands like "White Rain" or the like) are a good bargain at a buck, as is bar soap, often three bars for a dollar or specialized soaps for a buck-a-bar.  If you are convinced that a certain brand of shampoo makes your hair bouncier, I can't help you.  Ditto for you youngsters out there who think that AXE body wash will help them get laid (why is it so difficult to get laid when you are young, and so much easier when you get older?  Perhaps the subject for another posting!).

Some less-than-stellar bargains:

1.  Laundry Soap:  While soaps in general are a good bargain at Dollar Tree, laundry soap seems to be the exception.  It comes in small bottles and is very watery and doesn't seem to clean very well.   For some reason, Dollar Tree can rock the car wash soap world, the shampoo world, and the dish soap world, but can't make a decent laundry soap.  Part of the problem is the pricing structure.  At a dollar a bottle, the most expensive component of the product is the packaging - and shipping.  Maybe powdered soap?

2. Paper Towels:  They are a buck-a-roll which isn't a bad price, but not a great one, either.  The local wholesale club can beat this, if you are astute.

3.  Toilet Paper:  Ditto here.  They have four very small rolls for a dollar, or sometimes the large 1,000 sheet rolls for a dollar.  Both are not stellar bargains and can be beat by the wholesale club.

4.  Bottled Water:  Of course tap water is the best bargain to be had.  But Wal-Mart will sell you 36 bottles of water for as little as $4.99 or so.   Dollar Tree has a six-pack of 16 oz bottles for a buck.  Not the best price around. 

5. Impulse Goods:  Dollar Tree sells a lot of stuff made in China, and usually by the checkout are some impulse buy items, like little solar daisies that dance when exposed to sunlight, or solar lawn lights that might last a season.  This sort of gimcrackery is no bargain, no matter what the price.

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That's about it.  We started shopping at Dollar Tree in 2009 when the recession hit and we had to re-examine our spending habits.   And shopping there is a habit that will be hard to break, just as cutting our own hair will be a hard habit to break (I cannot see spending $20 for a haircut - or more - when my hair clippers cost me that much!).

It seems like a good company, although their stock pays no dividends and with a P/E ratio of 47 may be a bit overpriced.  The real challenge for the company in the future is that as the dollar devalues, there may reach a point where it becomes impractical to stick to their "everything a dollar" mantra.  Eventually, they will have to break the dollar barrier and either abandon the pricing structure, or go to $1 and $2 items (much as the "five and dime" did, back during the depression).

But once you go, well, you'll keep going back!