Home > 2015 > Personal Finance

The Dollar Store Experiment: 10 Products Put to the Test

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 1 Comment

CHICAGO — As I write this story, I’m stuffing my face with delicious, inexpensive popcorn I purchased from a dollar store. I don’t usually shop at such stores (in fact, I can’t remember the last time I was in one prior to my trip last week), but as a generally frugal person, I found myself curious about the sort of deals I might find there.

During the recession, sales soared at the three major dollar stores (Dollar General, Dollar Tree and the Family Dollar — the latter two companies announced a merger early in 2015). Even as the country moved out of recession, these discount retailers continued to grow, opening new stores, expanding product lines and maintaining sales increases that show dollar store shoppers aren’t going anywhere. Part of the sustained appeal is the increasing availability of name-brand merchandise, as opposed to the generic products usually associated with discount retailers.

The Experiment

I wanted to see if it made more financial sense to run errands at a dollar store or go to a big-box store (like Walmart or Target). I went to a neighborhood where, if I lived there, I could easily walk to either a dollar store or big-box retailer, so it was really a choice of which place would serve my budgetary needs best. I went to both stores on the same day — first to the dollar store — to see if I saved money by choosing the dollar store or if I would have fared better by shopping at the larger chain. It was a decision anyone living in that neighborhood might make on a weekly basis.

I went into the dollar store with an idea of a few things I wanted, but I didn’t end up sticking to my list for a couple of reasons. For example, I needed a lightbulb for an overhead fixture in my apartment, but the dollar store didn’t have the bulb I needed in stock. I like to keep scented candles in my home, and even though there were some inexpensive ones available, I didn’t like any of the scents, so I couldn’t compare those, either. I ended up buying an assortment of small things I often or regularly get when running errands. Here’s the list I used:

  • Paper towels
  • Dog treats
  • Popcorn
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Chocolate
  • Hair elastics
  • Sponges
  • Pens
  • Flip-flops

I didn’t do any price comparison with ads or on my phone; I went on my instinct of what I thought was a good deal, and in the moment, I really thought everything I bought was cheaper than what I’d find at the other store. If I bought a generic brand at the dollar store, I compared it to the big-box generic version. I compared name brands to the same brand at the other store.

What I Found

Yes, dollar stores have a lot of low-cost stuff, and I was surprised how many name-brand items were available. That being said, price comparison wasn’t the easiest thing, because nearly every name-brand item I bought was sold at a different size at the dollar store than it was at the big-box retailer. Oftentimes, a price that seemed like a good deal actually wasn’t, once you calculate the price-per-unit or price-per-ounce.

I didn’t buy several things (because I didn’t need them) that would have been good deals, like plastic cutlery, dish soap and picture frames. If I’m ever throwing a party and I want disposable dishes or serving trays, I got the sense that the dollar store would be the place to go.

Keep in mind that this was a random sample of goods, but my general conclusion from this experiment is that generics can be a great bargain at dollar stores, if you’re cool with the quality you get in return. I didn’t see any good deals on name brands, but I didn’t compare prices on every name-brand offering in the store. My advice is to go in knowing what things cost elsewhere. Here’s how the price comparison of my shopping bill breaks down:


A few notes:


The sponges I got at the dollar store weren’t the same size as the ones at the big box store, but that didn’t really make a difference. I don’t have a dishwasher, and I used one of the dollar store sponges to do dishes for a week, and it was fine. The scrubby part started to detach from the spongy part faster than with other sponges I’ve used, but it wasn’t falling apart to the point of throwing it out or leaving debris in my sink.

Hair Elastics

They were cheaper but weren’t as stretchy as the ones I normally get. The first one I pulled out of the pack broke immediately. Still, I used the dollar store hair ties to hold my (long, thick) hair back during multiple runs, swims and bike rides throughout the week. They felt lower quality to the touch, but I couldn’t tell the difference when they were in my hair.


I wore these around my apartment building and neighborhood when taking out the trash, walking the dog or doing laundry. They’re flimsy, but comfy. As far as cheap, throwaway flip-flops go, these are definitely worth a dollar.



I make my popcorn on the stove and season it myself, and I didn’t notice any more or fewer unpopped kernels than I normally get with other store-brand kernels. All of the food I bought was well within whatever “best by” date the package showed.

Paper Towels

I’ve always thought generic paper towels are not as strong or as absorbent as brand-name paper towels, and these were no different. If you’re going to buy generic anyway, these were good enough and worth the savings.

Hand Sanitizer

I feel no more or less germy than usual.

My entire trip to the dollar store cost $23.54, which felt good for the amount of stuff I purchased. Cutting everyday costs is often crucial to staying on budget and out of debt, so I’d encourage anyone who’s really pinching pennies to explore what their local dollar store has to offer. At the same time, it’s important to consider the selection differences among stores, compare prices ahead of time or know what quantity you usually buy things in. Despite the fact that I have a constant supply of Hershey’s Kisses in my apartment (seriously), I didn’t realize that a 9-oz. bag wasn’t what I normally buy, and I mistakenly thought I was getting a deal when I wasn’t. Smart shopping goes a long way in keeping your finances on track, so it’s worth it to pay attention to details.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Images: Christine DiGangi

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • http://www.wildcashback.com CashBackQueen

    Hi, Christine! I enjoyed your article! I have a Dollar General store just down the street from me. Did you know that their store brand toilet paper – DG Ultra Soft and Strong – is as good as Charmin, but much cheaper? And did you know that Dollar General has free shipping on orders of $30 or more? Why would I shop online at DG if there’s one down the street? Because DG gives me 9.2% cash back on everything I order online. Now that’s a great deal! Go to WildCashBack.com (I assume you’ll have to remove this link before posting my comment, which is fine – wasn’t sure how else to contact you) and you’ll get $10 just to sign up for a free cash back program! I find this extremely budget-friendly, since Dollar General is just one of many participating stores (Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc…) Have a lovely day!

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team