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What You Can Still Buy at Dollar Stores for Just $1 (Spoiler: Not Much!)

These days, you’ll spend more than a buck for most items on sale

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AARP; (Source: Getty Images (9))

With inflation putting pressure on household budgets, many consumers have turned to dollar stores in search of bargains. Where else can you stock up on everything from greeting cards to canned food for $1?

The trend is clear when it comes to food, which has seen a 25 percent increase in cost since the pandemic. Last year, dollar stores were the fastest-growing food retailers in the U.S., with market share doubling in rural areas, according to Tufts University research.

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For older adults, especially those on a fixed income, finding ways to beat rising food costs is critical given that in 2022 nearly 11.8 million Americans 50 and older faced food insecurity and the threat of hunger. But buyers beware: These days “dollar” stores are more like “$1.25-and-up” stores.

“Dollar stores have seen profits shrink, apparently, so they have tried to find ways to make more money,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of Consumer World. “My sense is the wholesale price of many goods that they used to sell for a dollar has gotten close to or is now over a dollar, so they can’t make any money on them.”

A shift in strategies

Dollar stores may once have had shelves filled with items priced at a dollar, but that is no longer true — and it’s not just because of inflation.

To meet rising demand, they’ve expanded their inventory beyond personal care and craft items to include food, paper products, cleaning supplies and cosmetics. They’ve also added name brands such as Clorox, Glade, Lubriderm and Tide — all selling for more than $1 or even $1.25.

Dollar General has long sold a mix of products but continues to have about 20 percent of inventory priced at $1. Meanwhile, Dollar Tree raised its base price to $1.25 in 2021 and is adding over 300 items this year with prices ranging from $1.50 to $7. The store previously capped prices at $5.

“Dollar Tree just announced their top price would be $7. Even Five Below is now carrying some goods above their prior maximum. I expect this trend to continue as long as inflation is as evident as it has been,” said Dworsky. 

What’s still a dollar

A recent check of dollar stores in New York state in late March found a limited stock of $1 items for sale.

Dollar Tree had greeting cards, iodized salt (26 ounces) and a can of Vienna sausages for $1 or less at a store in Levittown. There were plenty of items for $1.25 from wrapping paper to cleaning products.

Family Dollar was a little better. Party goods, wrapping paper, greeting cards, sewing kits, kitchen tools and spices cost $1 at the store in Huntington Station.

Dollar General had the most items priced at $1, including utensils, tin-foil baking pans, kitchen tools, soup, candy, snacks, seasonal items, greeting cards and crafts at its store in Lindenhurst.

Stores are restructuring

Dollar stores are also finding that they need to tighten their belts to stay ahead of rising costs.

Dollar Tree recently announced plans to shutter approximately 600 of its Family Dollar stores in 2024. It expects to close an additional 370 stores in the coming years.

The discount retailer 99 Cents Only Stores, with 371 locations in Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas, is closing all its stores.

Dollar General, which opened its 20,000th store in February, is taking a different approach. This year, it plans to open an additional 800 stores, remodel 1,500 others and relocate 85 stores.

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There’s also more competition

As more consumers turned to low-budget outlets seeking savings, big-box stores have responded by expanding their offerings of cheaply priced items. Walmart, for example, has a variety of items $1 and under, including cake mixes, gelatins, makeup sponges, cotton swabs, tissues and nail files. In February, Target launched its Dealworthy brand of nearly 400 low-priced everyday items such as cotton balls, cotton swabs and toothbrushes. Some items are priced at less than $1.

Are dollar stores still worth it?

Bargains can still be had at dollar stores, but given the competition, it’s wise to shop around for the best price. That’s easy to do online or through a mobile app. The dollar stores also have circulars. Joanie Demer, cofounder and co-CEO at The Krazy Coupon Lady, says she always checks Amazon and her loyalty apps to make sure she’s getting a bargain.

“Don’t just expect to see the best deals at dollar stores these days. Retailers are fighting for your foot traffic and will sometimes drop better promotions than what we see at dollar stores,” says Demer. “Cost compare as much as possible, and don’t be fooled by dollar store messaging.”

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