sattahipbeach/ShutterstockIf an alien were to land in a strip mall in Anytown, U.S.A., find a $10 bill in the parking lot, and walk into one of the many stores with “Dollar” in its name, he might be outraged to find that his money might not go as far as he expected. For example, according to this week’s Family Dollar circular, he could only afford one bag of Doritos, a bottle of dishwashing liquid, and a string of sparkly holiday lights. Three items, at varying prices, not 10, all $1 each.
Unless he happened to walk into Dollar Tree, where everything is in fact $1. At other dollar stores, while you will find some items for a buck, others might cost $1.50 or $3 or even $12.95.
That’s because in most cases, today’s “dollar store” is now just another place to shop. Of the three big national chains—Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar—only Dollar Tree is a true “dollar store.” At Dollar General, with the most stores nationwide, only about one quarter of its products sell for an even dollar. And even though Family Dollar is owned by Dollar Tree, its prices also vary. At the many local bargain emporiums, you might not know how much things cost until you walk in—unless you happen to hit a store helpfully titled Everything $1 or something like that. Or better yet, 99 Cents Only.
So if you’re a purist—or just bad at math and on a budget—look for one of those or a Dollar Tree. Just steer clear of the items you should never buy at a dollar store. Instead, look for these hidden gems.