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Family Dollar, Dollar Tree or Dollar General: Which Is Cheapest?

Shopping at dollar store
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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

In theory, the dollar store seems like it might be a one-way ticket to paradise. A store full of all of the items you need and, yes, some of the items you want — all for the price of a dollar. What could be better?

Most Americans seem to agree. In the last four years, the number of dollar stores in the U.S. has gone up, totaling more than 34,000 in 2022.

In fact, there are more dollar stores in the United States than McDonalds, Starbucks, Target and Walmart retailers — combined. Almost half of the new stores opened in the U.S. in 2021 were chain dollar stores, based on a 2023 report.

Still, it’s important to distinguish real dollar stores from their mere imitations, of which there are many. At the end of 2021, popular chain Dollar Tree announced that it would be raising the price on most of its products from $1.00 to $1.25.

The traditional dollar store was becoming a dollar store in name only. There may only be one true dollar store left in America: Mighty Dollar, which says it still sells goods for only $1.

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

Woman considering options in a dollar store or grocery store
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Other businesses like Dollar General and Family Dollar might sound comparable, but they just sell their items for less. Dollar Tree was the last of the major behemoths to inhabit the true ethos of a dollar store. And this year, even that last shred of vintage Americana died.

Still, we’ll leave you with a silver lining here: Dollar stores remain an inexpensive alternative to the big box stores where you’ll typically find your essentials, like laundry detergent, trash bags and body wash.

In fact, you might be surprised by what you can find for a discount at the dollar store, items like socks, vases, greeting cards and even party supplies.

But is it really cheaper — and worth the potential inconvenience — than simply going to your local grocery store, Walmart or Amazon?

We crunched the numbers to find out how each dollar store compares on the variety of products you need—and how they compare to the big box stores themselves.

When we say crunch the numbers, we mean compare prices. We can’t ultimately decide which option will be best for you based on location, access and products. But we can tell you which will give you the most bang for your buck.

What I Bought (and How Much It Cost)

Woman shopping for groceries
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Our methodology is simple: We picked 10 items you need around the house and compared prices at three dollar stores, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree and Dollar General.

In some cases, we couldn’t find the exact same product at each, but this should give you a good basis of comparison.

Here’s what we found.

1. Toilet Paper

Scott bathroom tissue
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2. House Cleaner

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3. Body Wash

A man lathering his shoulder with body wash in the shower
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4. Canned Vegetables

Canned green beans
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5. Pasta

man buying food for a stockpile
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6. Spices

Man putting spices on meat
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7. Laundry Detergent

Man shopping for laundry detergent
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8. 13-Gallon Trash Bags

Woman changing a trash bag in her kitchen
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9. Coffee

Man drinking coffee
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10. Cereal

Dad and son eat cereal
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So, Which Dollar Store Is Best?

A smartphone displays Dollar General's Android app in the Google Play Store
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Here are our grand totals, bearing in mind that these aren’t exact product comparables.

  • Family Dollar: $38.10
  • Dollar Tree: $12.50
  • Dollar General: $36

Rather than declare an outright winner, I think it’s fair to call a tie between Dollar Tree and Dollar General.

It ultimately depends on the kind of experience and items you are hoping to find. At Dollar Tree, all of the items are $1.25 in price — reflected by the fact that the grand total for 10 items was $12.50.

But that also means that you have limited options from which to select. Instead of a name-brand body wash, like Dove or Suave, you’ll find SpaSoap. In general, the sizes are smaller and don’t come in bulk.

Digging Into the Comparison

Dollar general
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If your goal is to stock up for a veritable army, then Dollar General is likely your best bet. While we didn’t do a current in-store comparison, our writer’s previous experience at Dollar Tree was lacking.

Some of the containers were so small, she said, that she’d have to buy 10 bottles of laundry detergent to make up for the size.

Her best store experience was actually at Dollar General, which she found to have the friendliest employees.

Given how this chain fared based on our numbers crunch, it seems to be the obvious winner.

One More Consideration

Senior couple upset about money issues
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Still, there’s one last metric to run this all through: how do all three stack up compared to some of our non-dollar-store favorites? Let’s take a quick look at how much these items would run you at Walmart and Amazon.

Here’s how much we would have spent for roughly the same items:

  • Walmart: $43.29
  • Amazon: $54.62

The number crunch shows that you pay for convenience and experience when you buy from Walmart and Amazon versus a more humble dollar store. The price difference with Amazon, in particular, is surprising.

That, of course, doesn’t include shipping or a Prime membership. It’s easy to get lulled into the ease of Amazon, but the prices aren’t always actually cheaper.

What we have shown is the practicality of the dollar store. So if you were ready to haul these institutions off to a museum, don’t write them off just yet. One of these dollar stores just might help you stock up your house in a way that doesn’t break the bank.

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