Ways to Save Money

Family Dollar, Dollar Tree or Dollar General: Which One is Cheapest?

March 18, 2016
by Susan Shain
Contributor

My grandfather’s favorite place to shop was the dollar store.

Whenever I visited, we’d go on a field trip and he’d stock up on everything from over-the-counter meds to bananas.

Before accompanying him, I never realized the breadth of items available at the dollar store. I was amazed by all the things you could buy — for much less than at other retailers.

Ever since then, I’ve told myself I should start going to the dollar store, but I always forget. I still do the bulk of my shopping at the grocery store, Walmart or Amazon.

That is, until, I read this post about what to buy at the dollar store — and got all fired up.

Why wasn’t I shopping at the dollar store? I was wasting money!

But before I turned over my new bargain leaf, I had to figure out which one would become my go-to.

Of the three major dollar stores — Family Dollar, Dollar Tree and Dollar General — which is best?

And by best, let’s be honest: I mostly mean cheapest. To find out, I went on a mission and shopped at all three.

Here’s what I discovered…

What I Bought (and How Much It Cost)

I decided to compare prices for 10 staple items at each dollar store.

Here are the results:

1. Toilet Paper

  • Family Dollar: 12 rolls of Cottonelle = $6
  • Dollar Tree: One roll of generic = $1*
  • Dollar General: 12 rolls of Cottonelle = $6

*Since everything at Dollar Tree costs $1 or less, its items are often much smaller. In the totals at the end of the post, I account for size discrepancies.

2. Cleaning Spray

  • Family Dollar: 32-ounce bottle of Formula 409 All-Purpose Cleaner = $3
  • Dollar Tree: 22-ounce bottle of Spic and Span Antibacterial Cleaner = $1
  • Dollar General: 32-ounce bottle of Formula 409 All-Purpose Cleaner = $2.40

3. Body Wash

  • Family Dollar: 12-ounce bottle of Suave Essentials Body Wash = $2
  • Dollar Tree: 12-ounce bottle of White Rain Body Wash = $1
  • Dollar General: 12-ounce bottle of Suave Essentials Body Wash = $1.85

4. Canned Vegetables

  • Family Dollar: 14.5-ounce can of Libby’s green beans = 65 cents
  • Dollar Tree: 14.5-ounce can of generic green beans = 79 cents
  • Dollar General: 14.5-ounce can of Libby’s green beans = 65 cents

5. Pasta

  • Family Dollar: 16-ounce package = $1
  • Dollar Tree: 24-ounce package = $1
  • Dollar General: 16-ounce package = $1

6. Spices

  • Family Dollar: 1.25 ounces of Italian seasoning = $1
  • Dollar Tree: 1.23 ounces of Italian seasoning = $1
  • Dollar General: 0.75 ounces of Italian seasoning = $1 ($1.66 for 1.25 ounces)

7. Laundry Detergent

  • Family Dollar: 2.95 liters of Gain = $6
  • Dollar Tree: 0.306 liters of Tide = $1
  • Dollar General: 2.95 liters of Gain = $8.95

8. 13-Gallon Trash Bags

  • Family Dollar: 26 Glad bags = $5.50
  • Dollar Tree: 8 generic bags = $1
  • Dollar General: 26 Glad bags = $5.50

9. Coffee

  • Family Dollar: 30.65 ounces of Maxwell House = $6
  • Dollar Tree: 6 ounces of generic coffee = $1
  • Dollar General: 30.6 ounces of Maxwell House = $5.95

10. Cereal  

  • Family Dollar: 12 ounces of Cheerios = $3
  • Dollar Tree: 6.8 ounces of Tootie Fruities = $1
  • Dollar General: 12 ounces of Cheerios = $3

So, Which is the Best Dollar Store?

Now for the grand totals…

Here’s how much I spent at each store:

  • Family Dollar: $34.15
  • Dollar Tree: $36.53 (adjusted for size discrepancies)
  • Dollar General: $37.96

So, though the prices are fairly similar, it looks like Family Dollar is the winner!

It had brand-name items for a cheaper price than the other two stores. However, it was also the least friendly and most cluttered of the stores I visited. It might just have been that one location, but it’s worth noting.

Even though Dollar Tree came in second, I don’t think I’ll return. The items were generic and in such small containers you’d have to buy 10 tiny bottles of laundry detergent at a time.

Yes, mini everything is pretty cute — but it’s annoying to buy and store, and the extra packaging is wasteful.

Despite the fact Dollar General rang in as the most expensive, I’m not writing it off: Its store was clean and well-stocked, and also had the friendliest employees.

Lastly, I price-checked my shopping list at the two retailers I shop the most: Walmart and Amazon.

If I’d made the same purchases at these stores, here’s what I would’ve spent:

  • Walmart: $45.19
  • Amazon: $61.88

Wow. I can’t believe Amazon’s prices are 81% higher than the least expensive dollar store — for the exact same items.

That’s not counting shipping, or the fact some of those prices are only available to Prime users. I don’t usually shop at Amazon for household goods, and after seeing these numbers, I’m definitely not going to start.

My grandpa’s gone now, but the more time that passes, the more I realize he was right about a lot of things: You should be nice to everyone, marry someone with the same views on money, dance to get your exercise…

And shop at the dollar store.

Your Turn: Do you frequent the dollar store? Which one is your favorite?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.

by Susan Shain
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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