Dollar stores are everywhere, which makes them an easy place to shop. They promise cheap. And they often do have lots of cheap stuff. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t cost people struggling to make ends meet more in the long run. Here are four reasons shopping at a dollar store actually costs struggling consumers more.
1. Dollar stores might not actually have the cheapest price
Quite often struggling shoppers don’t realize the prices at a dollar store aren’t the lowest around. Dollar stores count on the proliferation of cheaper items filling the store to create an impression that everything is cheap. But those same items at other stores may be the same price or even cheaper, it’s just that a regular store might have a wider set of items for sale.
That $1 bottle of off-brand soda might actually be 80 cents at a regular grocery store. Dollar stores are known for higher prices on items like soda, canned goods and pasta. All things that are fairly common staples among people trying to make every calorie count. It takes time to comparison shop and shoppers with little money and long hours might not have time to do that. That puts them at an information disadvantage that dollar stores count on.
2. Cheap build quality
A set of chairs or a book shelf at a dollar store will be an inexpensive purchase compared to something snagged at a furniture store. But the cheap nature of the materials inside mean the item will need to be replaced sooner. The constant need to replace cheap items in the long run costs more. Items often come without warranties or the backing of companies that support the quality of the item built.
3. Limited choices
Unlike a big retail box store, the neighborhood dollar store has a limited selection of items. If a consumer needs something specific to feed or clothe their family there’s a chance a dollar store may not have it. That forces disadvantaged consumers to spend time looking around cheaper stores for that item to see if they can still find it, before looking at more expensive locations. That eats up time, something that people who make less often have to ‘spend’ as they might not have the money.
Dollar stores tend to have processed food that lasts on their shelves. Lots of sugar, lots of refined carbs. Some frozen food. All of this adds up to a limited selection that might not be all that healthy. There aren’t bananas for sale at the dollar store, or oranges. That adds to unhealthy diets, which adds to health expenses and issues further on down the roads. A secret tax on those who make the dollar store their main avenue for food, particularly if the dollar store is the only store in their neighborhood.
4. Dollar stores take money out of the community
Almost half of every dollar that is spent at a local business stays in that community, moving along to other local businesses and keeping jobs and investment local. Non-local businesses suck money out of a community and only leave about 14% of the money behind (they do have to hire some local workers, after all). While shopping at a dollar store doesn’t lift money directly out of pockets, in the long term, it reduces local investment. That has secondary effects in the long term, as without local business getting local dollars, they eventually die. This reduces the number of jobs in an area, which reduces the amount of money available, and contributes to a decaying spiral.
There are clearly some things that are obviously cheaper at a dollar store. They make sense to buy. Particularly seasonal items on sale that are out of season. But the benefit goes to shoppers who have the time to comparison shop and know for sure that they are saving. Shoppers with time and patience. Things disadvantaged shoppers don’t have. Obviously shoppers who desperately need to save money can’t be faulted for trying their best to save. But it’s easy to see how these factors that dollar stores depend on to make good money back at corporate headquarters further disadvantage both the communities they’re in and the people who need to shop there, all for the benefit of companies that are based elsewhere.
The High Price of Cheap Clothes – Ecopreneurist
10 Items That Are More Expensive at the Dollar Store – BargainBabe.com
The High Cost of Poverty – Washington Post
Shopping Local vs Shopping Locally – Forbes.com