CONSUMER REPORTS — Remember that old joke that there’s a Starbucks on every corner? These days you might be seeing more dollar stores than coffee stores.

“Believe it or not, dollar stores outnumber Starbucks and McDonald’s combined – and more are coming. Four of 10 store openings this year are expected to be dollar stores,” said Brian Vines, Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter.

And consumers are not shying away. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 88% of Americans shop at dollar stores at least sometimes.

The most common reason? They’re inexpensive and convenient. But are the savings real? CR investigative reporter Brian Vines says yes, but there’s a caveat.

“In our investigation, the dollar stores, when compared to nearby grocery stores, were indeed cheapest for an entire purchase for each of our shoppers. But, even though you might save more money at a dollar store, your options for each item could be pretty limited,” said Vines.

Because of those limited options, CR says don’t bother with a shopping list when you go to a dollar store, instead go in with a strategy and be flexible.

“Not many dollar stores carry fresh fruit and vegetables – but they often stock frozen versions of each, which can be as nutritious,” Vines said. 

If you’re in need of some over-the-counter medicine, skip the name-brands like Advil and Tylenol, and opt for the generics, which are chemically identical and often much cheaper. And always check the expiration date no matter where you shop.

It’s important to remember that you may be able to get many of these items cheaper in bulk at big box stores, but in an emergency or if you just need a little, dollar store offerings are usually a good bet.