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Things You Shouldn't Pay More Than $1 For

Copyright © 2006 Andrew B. Davidson. All Rights Reserved.
Last Updated: December 2006
Do you have a "Dollar Store" in your city? Here in Raleigh, North Carolina there are many dollar stores, from Dollar Tree to the "Upscale Dollar Store". These stores sell everything for one dollar. Even if the price printed on the item is more, it costs one dollar. Don't ask them how much it is. They've heard that a million times. It's a dollar.

Going to a dollar store is a real eye-opener. I highly recommend it even if you buy nothing. You really get to see how staggeringly overpriced merchandise in regular stores is. But, is there something else going on at the dollar store? How can they sell this stuff so cheap? Are other stores markups really that high? You can get things in a dollar store that are $5-7 at a "regular" store. But everything in a regular store can't have a 500% markup, can it?

According to my observations, the mechandise at a dollar store falls into one of 5 groups:

1) Good stuff — some stuff is real merchandise that is just as good as "full price" mechandise. The stuff you buy in a store is really marked up massively! This type of merchandise you should definitely buy a the Dollar Store. You would be a fool to pay retail at a "full price" store. A lot of this stuff is probably "loss leaders", which is a low-profit (or even a negative-profit) item designed to draw you into the store where hopefully you will buy more stuff that will turn a profit.

2) Reduced quantity — some stuff that has a vastly reduced quantity, so that it would be cheaper (per unit volume) to buy it at a "full price" store. This can be a deal, but only if you just need a small quantity to begin with. You'll end up paying more per unit volume, but if it's a rare purchase, you're probably better off not having the extra around anyway.

3) Reduced quality — some stuff that has a vastly reduced quality, so that it would be cheaper in the long run to buy at a "full price" store (i.e. the dollar store item will break or wear out sooner)

4) Irregular Items — this is stuff that is either defective, odd, irregular, mislabelled, inappropriate for a USA consumer, or otherwise too crappy to sell at full price.

5) test market items — these are items that the dollar store is test marketing in certain locations. If it is popular, the item is generally "knocked off" at a much reduced cost and put into all stores in that chain.

You can get these things at the dollar store (in perhaps greatly inferior versions):

  • laundry basket
  • broom
  • toilet brushes
  • small buckets
  • scissors
  • can opener
  • strainer
  • kitchen utensil
  • drinking glasses
  • dishes

A dollar store has to make money somehow. So for many items, the quality will be greatly reduced from "regular" mechandise. However, for many situations, this is fine. For example, Halloween costumes, or any situation where you will be using the item once or twice. You can get a full size toy pistol for your Halloween cop costume. I've even found metal (toy) handcuffs for $1.

I would not trust any merchanise for general use. However, how bad is a laundry basket going to screw up? It breaks in my hallway and dirty laundry is strewn all over the place? I may not use it for outdoor use but the laundry basket is great for bringing laundry from my bedroom to my laundry room. It is not a heavy duty laundry basket but it serves its purpose admirably.

How can you save money by shopping at a dollar store? By buying items according to your real use. Some items are worth getting no matter what. For example, a broom or laundry basket.

Some things may be overpriced at a dollar store, but better because you are not buying more than you need. For example: prepaid phone cards. You can get a 20 minute prepaid phone card for $1. This is probably more expensive than regular prepaid phone cards, but if it's for emergencies only, who needs 500 prepaid minutes? Having a prepaid phone card in your car trunk for emergencies seems like a no-brainer to me.

One of the best times of year to go to a dollar store is when the college students in your area are returning at the start of the Fall semester. This is when students (who are generally broker than broke) will be shopping for cheap stuff to use in their dorm room. This may be the only time of year you will see certain items in the dollar store (like brooms, mops, and laundry baskets). I'm guessing the profit on those is probably so low they are essentially loss leaders, so they don't stock them year-round.

Other things to get at a dollar store:

Gift wrapping paper. I almost never use this stuff but I like to have a bit around just in case. $1 for gift wrapping insurance.

Earbud replacement foam pads. I've seen earbuds sold at the dollar store for $1 that come with foam pads installed, and 2 extra replacement foam pads. So that's 4 ear pads for $1. The earbuds themselves are beyond crappy, but the foam works fine and is much cheaper than the $2/pair or even worse, $3/pair at places like Radio Shack. Not $3/pair for earbuds; I'm talking $3/pair for JUST the foam earpads! Of course I'm sure you could find them in bulk for much much cheaper (these things can't be more than a penny each wholesale) but realistically, how many extra foam pads do you need? A dozen?

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