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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dollar Stores: Worth It?

Fortune mag on-line has a story on Dollar General and how after being taken private by the famous (in other words, I've heard of it) private-equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis,Roberts in 2007 was re-offered to the public in 2009; since then, the stock has more than doubled. Well, it's pretty funny that Henry Kravis, whose houses, art collections, wives, and philanthropy have been featured in tony mags over the years, should spot the investment opp in the "new frugality." Fortune mag suggests that the stock may--even after its recent doubling and the improvement to the economy (I hope)--still prove a good investment. Well, it figures that the uber-rich have already made scads and that the regular people, late to the party as usual, may have a few crumbs. MAYBE.

My interest today is more prosaic and appropriate to those of us whose frugality has led to the increase in the vast fortunes of Kravis and his peers: do the various dollar stores offer good value? I am always game for checking out the possibilities for life in the frugal lane. Most things in dollar stores are NOT worth a dollar! Food is often in mini-packages or packages somewhat smaller than the norm. Also true for many health and beauty items.

Dollar General: The one whose stock has soared. Most things are more than a dollar, by the way. The one where I live is so disorganized and dirty that I don't bother. I used to buy big packages of sponges here. I also used to get Alpha Hydrox lotion. UGH.

Dollar Tree. Everything IS a dollar. I wouldn't make a special trip, but it's in my lineup (Rouses, Goodwill, Big Lots). I buy frozen fruit here: 10-16 ounces of frozen fruit for a dollar is a good deal. I've seen Muir Glen tomato sauce here; quart aseptic packages of soymilk and regular milk. Good ingredient sunscreen was here for $1/6 oz. I bought the 8 that remained. You can get 10 crummy toothbrushes for a dollar--good for travel. And toothpaste (no, not the Chinese kind with antifreeze: Aim).

Big Lots. This isn't really a dollar store, but it is responsible for my grocery savings. Lots of organic items from Muir Glen, lots of Italian artisan pasta, lots of aseptic Pacific soups. Most people are buying snack items and cereal, which are usually not that well-priced. How do you know when something is well-priced? When there is a big space where the item used to be. There are many savvy shoppers in my area, some of whom are the dreaded shelf-clearers. If something is a good price, it will not be there for more than a day. I bought 9 packages of Quaker oat groats: 24 oz/90 cents! It was cheaper than regular oatmeal. The groats are denser and so the package was smaller and the pricers were tricked. Two days later--all were gone.

So my basic purchases are organic food, "gourmet items," and generic health and beauty--who cares if you're buying name=brand vaseline? or ibuprofen?

Do you frequent the dollar stores? What do you buy?


metscan said...

First. We do have the same phenomenon here too. A family friend ( some sort of relative ) made a fortune with a cheap store chain. He is now concentrating in collecting art, and lives in a house which resembles a castle and bought a large building in the middle of Helsinki for his town home.
I have never visited these € stores. They look ugly. In general, my hb brings home the essentials we need. I have difficulties going to a grocery store, as I hate the fact that everything is so expensive. I am aware that lots of euros could be saved by sensible planning, but I just can´t do that. I do, however, admire the way you stretch the cents. The less expensive shops are not near the place we live, so we would have to buy a lot at one time, and then there is no storage place in our house. I only buy something reduced, if I need it in the first place.

Duchesse said...

Great topic, Frugal!

People selling cheap goods can make big money, especially on items produced in, or sold to, the developing world. This is the politics of cheap labour. I go to dollar stores for two things: tissue paper and kids' party decorations.

I try to buy things made by people who earn a living wage or I do without.

I'd rather make a silly pop up card (from my book "How to Make Pop Up Cards) than pay $1 for a horribly printed dollar store product.

Funny about Money said...

I went into a dollar store once. Shelves appeared to be stocked mostly with junk. The friend I was with, who shopped dollar stores, advised not buying food there, because (she claimed) it tended to be out of date. But some things, like dish scrubbers, looked like good buys. Most of what appealed, though, I wasn't in the market for that day.

Ru said...

When many of the "dollar" stores suddenly became 5-dollar stores without changing their name, a lot of the point was lost wasn't it? The American technique of getting people addicted to something and then raising prices mercilessly lives on.

Anyway, not all of these stores are alike. Some of them have better values than others, though all are stocked to the gills with cheap Chinese crap, and most of them overcharge for basics like toilet tissue, because they are happy to victimize anyone who makes the incorrect assumption that everything will be cheaper than at a regular retail store.

That said...I love Big Lots specifically for many of the gourmet treats that end up there because they weren't apparently appreciated at retail. However, not all Big Lots stores have a great selection of such treats, even in the same area, so you have to look around.

And, you have to get used to the wabisabi of Big Lots. You may fall in love with a particular brand of pasta or chocolate or Asian condiment, only to be faced with the heartbreak of vainly searching for refills that you'll never, ever find.

see you there! said...

Once. That was enough.


Frugal Scholar said...

@metscan--I saw some euro shops when I was in France a few years ago. We didn't even go it! I think the concept is alien to the European ethos--though the concept is starting to infiltrate. I LOVE grocery shopping, so if I ever visit Finland again, I'll do it for you if your husband is too busy.

@Duchesse--Thanks again for emphasizing--more than I did--the ethical issues involved. We had that pop-up making book too.

@Funny--I keep urging--go to Big Lots--food section only.

@Ru--True--about many staples being overpriced. But a fellow Big Lots appreciator! True too about never seeing some things again. Karmically, something just as good should come along eventually, right?

@Darla--Generally, I agree. But again, I must express my love of Big Lots.

SarahB said...

I'm relatively new to your blog but want you to know I LOVE it! Weird, I found you a couple days after I started using my OLD stick blender and you had just wrote about them! So today I was in the mood for Big Lots after reading about them on your blog. I am ticked, they were closed for inventory for a few hours. WHY do stores close during regular hours and we waste our time driving over there!!! That makes me mad! But I still really love your blog and its moving up to the top of my blog list!

Frugal Scholar said...

@sarahb--Thanks for commenting. Maybe the Big Lots inventory means that they will be getting new stuff in soon. So frustrating for you--I live very close to one.

Shelley said...

We have 'Everything a Pound' shops here and a few similar. If I know I need say computer paper and I'm passing, I'll go in and see what they are offering. Cheap stationary items, fancy glitter pens for craft projects, that sort of thing. They aren't on my regular places to shop, but I'll not turn my nose up. It just always pays to compare prices. One thing I won't buy there again is glue sticks...they are try before you get them!