Dollar Store vs. Drugstore: How Much Can You Save on These Everyday Items?

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During this time of skyrocketing inflation, consumers are hungrier than ever for ways to save. This means being ultra selective about where they shop. They may buy bulk groceries at Costco, but head over to Walmart for kitchen appliances. Then there is the dollar store, where items are generally (but definitely not always) priced at or around a buck.

More: 21 Dollar Store Items That Give You the Best Bang for Your Buck
Also: Should You Buy Groceries at the Dollar Store?

Dollar stores typically tout significant discounts, especially when compared to drugstores. So how is this possible, and what items are always going to be a bargain at a dollar store? Let’s explore.

How Dollar Stores Can Charge Less Than Drugstores 

“Dollar stores are able to keep prices cheap because they typically have a selection of liquidated or overstock items from regular retailers/brands,” said Andrea Woroch, a personal budgeting expert. “In some cases they may also buy items in massive quantities and can price lower (think how you can get a better deal when you buy toilet paper in bulk from Costco).”

Make Your Money Work for You

Furthermore, dollar stores often buy in bulk from private brands. “These private labels exclusively make products for dollar stores,” said Chloe Choe, owner of the personal finance and side hustle blog offhourhustle.com.

Find: 34 Dollar Store Secrets You Need To Know Before You Shop

How Dollar Stores Can Be Pricier Than Drugstores 

Because dollar stores can buy their inventory in a discounted fashion, they have the opportunity to charge consumers less and still turn a profit. Finding a lower price at a dollar store than at a drugstore isn’t a guarantee, however.

“You may be paying less when it comes to the sticker price, but if you look closer at the price per unit — whether that’s by individual item, ounce, fluid ounce, pound, etc. —  it may be more expensive than what you’d pay elsewhere,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews.

Additionally, a dollar store may corner you into buying more than you need.

Make Your Money Work for You

Check Out: 10 Valentine’s Day Gifts You Can Find at the Dollar Store

“For instance, if you try to shop at Dollar Tree’s website, you’ll see plenty of items that are still listed as $1,” Ramhold said. “However, the kicker is that you may have to buy far more than you want. A 1.69 ounce of M&Ms — what you can expect to find in any checkout aisle at a grocery store — is only $1, but if you’re shopping online the minimum amount you can purchase is 72, which means in order to get that price, you’ll have to spend $72.”

Ultimately, the onus is on the consumer to distinguish between a smart buy and a dud deal.

Dependable Dollar Store Deals

To help you out, here’s a list of several staple dollar store items you are basically guaranteed to find cheaper there than at a drugstore.

Greeting Cards

“Odds are good you’ll pay anywhere from $4 to $5 for cards at a drugstore, if not more, while at dollar stores you should be able to get them for around $1 each,” Ramhold said. “These are items that you’ll basically overpay for if you purchase anywhere but the dollar stores, in my opinion. They can be so expensive and most often the recipient will look at it once and then toss it in the trash, so why spend more on something to convey a sentiment you could do yourself with a card that costs way less?”

Make Your Money Work for You

Related: 10 Things You Always (and Never) Should Buy at the Dollar Store

Cosmetics

“Cosmetics will vary, but you can expect drugstores to charge around $9 to $13 for well known brands like Essie or Sally Hansen,” Ramhold said. “Meanwhile, you can get brands like Maybelline for as little as $2 and change at some dollar stores.”

Ramhold added that consumers can definitely find makeup and other beauty products at both drugstores and dollar stores, although the available brands may differ. “As a general rule though, you should probably stick to the big brands that you recognize and can buy elsewhere when shopping for these items at dollar stores,” she said.

Learn: Best and Worst Things to Buy Generic

Toothpaste 

Toothpaste — including popular name brands like Crest and Colgate — is generally cheaper at a dollar store than at a drugstore. Dollar General sells Colgate Max Fresh Knockout Toothpaste with Mini Breath Strips, Electric Mint – 2.5 oz for $1.00. A six-ounce version of this product goes for $4.29 at CVS.

Arts and Crafts Supplies

“While you may be able to get an OK deal at a big box store like Target or Walmart or craft supply store like Michael’s, the best place to head to is the dollar store,” Woroch said. “You can find paint brushes, paint palettes, wooden animals to paint or decorate and ready-to-paint canvas boards for $1 each. This is around a 50-60% savings compared to drugstores.”

More Advice: 30 Things You Should Never Buy Without a Coupon

Sticky Notes

“You can get a pack of 135 Post-Its at CVS for $3.29, while you can get another brand of 150 sticky notes at the dollar store for $1,” Choe said. 

Coloring Books

“Dollar stores have a wide selection of kids coloring books and even adult coloring books,” Woroch said. “Comparatively, you’d pay over $2 at a drugstore so it’s an over 50% savings. I stock up for my kids and they usually have popular characters, too.”

Tips: 16 Ways To Save Money on Food

Party Supplies

“Whether you’re looking for party hats, streamers, party favor bags [etc.], don’t go further than the dollar store,” Woroch said. “At the drugstore you’re looking at paying anywhere from $2.50 to $5 bucks for each of these items. However you could walk out with everything needed for your party decor for under $20 from a dollar store.”

School Supplies

“While big box stores like Walmart and Target have really good deals on school supplies during back to school season, the drugstore sales are weak,” Woroch said. “If you need a new notebook or folder, head to the dollar store for cheaper supplies with savings averaging around 40-60%.” 

Budget: 20 Ways to Pay Less at Costco

Hair Accessories 

“[Whether it’s] hair ties, headbands, hair brushes, hair clips, etc., you can get so much more for your money at a dollar store,” Woroch said. “Savings are around 50% on these items [compared to drugstores].”

Candy

“Candy will obviously vary based on what you’re buying and in what amount, but right now a 10.7oz bag of M&Ms will set you back $4.19 at a drugstore — and that’s on sale,” Ramhold said. “Meanwhile, you can get the exact same product at dollar stores for $3.95.”

Drugstores tend to have a greater variety of candy available than dollar stores, but the latter may have more large package offerings. “That being said, check the ‘Best by’ dates on packages at dollar stores to ensure that you’re getting the freshest product,” Ramhold said.

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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