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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| June 29, 2017
Ah, summer. It’s the time of year when living is supposed to be easy. The laid-back sentiment extends to shopping for summer essentials. The goal: Spend as little as possible in as few trips as possible on items that won’t hang around past Labor Day including beach toys, picnic supplies, Fourth of July décor and the ilk.
When it comes to picking up expendable seasonal merchandise on the cheap, start at a true “dollar store” such as Dollar Tree, where everything sells for a buck or less. No Dollar Tree nearby? Dollar General is a good alternative, though you may pay more than $1 for many items.
To help you put together your summertime shopping list, we scoped out the uber-affordable offerings at Dollar Tree. We also tossed in a little Wal-Mart for comparison’s sake, since sometimes it comes in even cheaper than the dollar store. Take a look.
With summer apparel, the less you spend the better. You won’t be wearing the item long and you don’t really care if you leave it at the beach or next to Aunt Maxine’s backyard in-ground.
Enter flip-flops, the flotsam and jetsam of summertime. You can choose from a wide variety of flip-flops at dollar stores. At the Dollar Tree we shopped in Northern Virginia, there wera a dozen or so pairs to choose from, all for $1.
Also in our shopping basket: Straw hats, sunglasses, fake-flower leis, fashion scarves and bandanas. Want ‘em? Get ‘em, each for a buck.
By comparison, we went to a nearby Wal-Mart. Flip-flops were inexpensive, but not $1. They started at $3.89 a pair. Straw hats were going for $9.96, sunglasses built upward from $5, scarves started at $2 and, yes, we did find patriotic bandanas for 97 cents.
While beach items usually are culled from kitschy beach shops down by the seashore, you can inexpensively gear up ahead of time by piling it on at the dollar store.
At Dollar Tree, they stay true to the season, loading up on front-of-the-store (and outside the store) beach-y or Fourth of July gear. We scored a plastic sand pail with shovel, a Noodle kickboard, an H20 Blasters water-squirter that can shoot 30 feet, a flying disc (not the Frisbee brand), a 23-inch-by-21.5-inch kite, an 8-fluid-ounce bottle of Miracle Bubbles, a pneumatic air horn (because why not?) and a 3-fluid-ounce bottle of Max Block 30 sunscreen, each for only a buck.
Was it all a bargain? Most of it. Wal-Mart undercut Dollar Tree on a sand pail and shovel duo, selling it for 97 cents. A Funnoodle could be had for the same price. An Advance Force Super Storm Water Blaster could shoot up to 38 feet, but you’d shoot your wad paying $16.88 for it. While Wal-Mart scored with its bargain flying disc (again, 97 cents), the 26-inch-wide DLX Diamond kite was $3.50 and the Equate Beauty Ultra Sheer sunscreen lotion tipped the scale at $7.97 for 3 fluid ounces. Alas, I could not find a pneumatic air horn at Wal-Mart.
It’s one thing to buy your everyday pneumatic air horn at Dollar Tree, but some shoppers draw the line at dollar-store food offerings. Still, a bargain is a bargain.
A 12-ounce package of Bar S franks was a buck at Dollar Tree. Ditto an 8-pack of Harvest Pride hot dog rolls. A 28-ounce can of Hanover brown-sugar-and-bacon baked beans was a $1 steal. Add to the mix a 24-ounce bottle of Hunts tomato ketchup and a 12-ounce container of Deli Market spicy brown mustard, each $1. And while tempting, we’ll take a pass on Dollar Tree’s 3.5-ounce ribeye steak for just a buck
Meanwhile at Wal-Mart, a 12-ounce package of Bar S franks (labeled “premium”) sold for $2.44, or nearly two-and-a-half times the price at Dollar Tree. However, an 8-pack of Great Value hot dog buns went below the $1 mark, selling for 88 cents. That same-size can of Hanover baked beans was $1.58. A similar 24-ounce bottle of Hunts tomato ketchup was $1.24, and Wal-Mart matched the $1 mark with its 12-ounce container of Great Value spicy brown mustard. (Great Value is the Wal-Mart store brand.)
Cool treats are a rite of summer, and Dollar Tree rolls out some bargains. A 16-pack of tropical Kool Pops you stick in the freezer was selling for a buck, or about 6 cents each. Ditto a 42-ounce Arizona Iced Tea (with lemon flavor), or about 2.4 cents per ounce, and a 67.6-ounce bottle of Stars & Stripes strawberry lemonade, about 1.5 cents per ounce.
Over at Wal-Mart, you could score 36 Fun Pops for $2.48, making them nearly 7 cents per pop. A 59-ounce container of Gold Peak Sweet Tea could be had for $1.62, or about 2.7 cents per ounce, and a 50-ounce container of Marketside lemonade was marked at $1.25, or about 2.5 cents per ounce.
Dollar stores are the place to pick up disposable supplies for backyard barbeques and other summer gatherings. “Party supplies are available for more than just birthdays,” says Brent Shelton of deals site FatWallet.com, “so if you’re decorating for a Fourth weekend celebration or looking to dress up a summer cookout, things like decorations, string lighting and table clothes can be grabbed on the cheap if you’re not too picky about colors and patterns.”
You want to get your friends and relatives in the house for the event. Score an 8-pack of “You’re Invited” invitations for a buck. Decorating much? There’s plenty on hand for the Fourth (and to carry you through the summer), all for a buck apiece. Count among them flags, banners, ribbons, lanterns and garland. And who wants to do dishes when you can get 48-piece cutlery sets (including spoons, forks and knives) for $1?
Wal-Mart knows how to party supply, too, but at a higher cost. A 10-pack of Hallmark party invitations blew up at $3.97. As for July Fourth decorations, a two-pack of patriotic bows was $1.98, a beaded patriotic tie was $2.97, a patriotic ball cap was $5.93, but, hey, a patriotic pinwheel was a bargain at 97 cents; ditto that U.S. flag temporary tattoo.
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