If you think dollar stores are everywhere now, you’re not imagining things. And they’re doing big business.
More Americans are embracing frugality as they face rising prices at every turn.
With energy costs up 41.6% and groceries 12.2% more expensive than they were last year, according to June’s Consumer Price Index, many families say that skipping vacations and restaurant meals is no longer enough. They are now finding ways to cut costs on essentials.
One way they are doing so is by relying more on dollar and discount stores for groceries. Average spending on grocery products at discount chains increased 71% from October 2021 to June 2022, according to analytics firm InMarket. Over that time period, spending on the same items in grocery stores decreased by 5%. Many large consumer brands—including Walmart and Unilever—attest that their prices aren’t going down anytime soon.
In San Antonio, Lily Penelope is eating mostly canned chicken, vegetables and peanut butter from the Dollar General down the street. Mx. Penelope, who uses gender neutral pronouns and has a disability that makes them unable to drive, says they can no longer afford the cost of groceries plus an Uber to and from the HEB grocery store 3 miles away. Before January, $120 covered a round-trip Uber plus two weeks of fresh ingredients for meals for them and their wife, they say. Now, the same trip costs nearly twice as much.
Since Mx. Penelope’s dollar store doesn’t sell fresh produce, they add spices and salt to camouflage canned ingredients. “My health and the quality of my life has gone down,” says Mx. Penelope, 26, who relies on their wife’s call-center income. “I’m in a position where I’m having to choose between making meals I can afford and putting my health on the line.”
Roughly 2,300 Dollar Generals across the country currently stock fresh produce, out of more than 18,000 total locations, according to a Dollar General spokeswoman. “While Dollar General isn’t a full-service grocer, we consider ourselves today’s general store by providing nearby and affordable access to daily household essentials, including the components of a nutritious meal,” she says. The company plans to expand fresh produce to a total of more than 10,000 stores in the next several years.
I have a Dollar General not far from me. I shop there for non-food items like aluminum foil and paper towels. Same for Family Dollar.
My local stores don’t have produce (yet) so I might take a look around if they ever do. But most of the food sold there is pre-prepared and therefore loaded with fat and sodium. Perhaps when I was younger, but not now.
I keep meaning some day to compare prices there on a dollars per unit basis with the same or similar items in my local supermarkets. I’ve never really figured out whether these places are that much cheaper, or if they sell everything at low prices because the boxes, etc. seem to be smaller.
A project for some weekend.