Bulk Vs. Budget
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40 Bulk Buys That Are Cheaper at the Dollar Store Than Costco

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Bulk Vs. Budget
RiverNorthPhotography/istockphoto

BULK VS. BUDGET

Do you always get a better deal in bulk, or is it worth picking through the $1 offerings for the best deals? Costco built its business on the belief that there are better bargains to be found in bulk, but stores such as Dollar Tree and Dollar General buy in bulk as well, often breaking out their lots into $1 offerings with a lower unit price than what can be found at bulk warehouse stores. We went comparison shopping and found that paper towels, toothpaste, Post-its, and other bulk staples aren't always the bargain they appear to be.

Prices and availability are subject to change.

Hand Towels
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Kitchen Towels
Courtesy of dollartree.com

KITCHEN TOWELS

Costco: $2 per towel
Dollar Tree: $1 per towel

A 10-pack of assorted kitchen towels for $19.99 seems like a fine deal when they come in various colors, but Dollar Tree offers multiple prints and themes on its kitchen towels for half the price.

Storage Containers
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Drinking Glasses
Courtesy of dollartree.com

DRINKING GLASSES

Costco: $5.37 per glass
Dollar Tree: $1 per glass

Costco often has less-expensive dishware in the warehouse, but this $42.99 set of double-walled glasses is the cheapest set of 12-ounce glasses they're willing to advertise. That's fine, but for that per-glass price, you can buy four extra Dollar Tree glasses just for breaking.

Notebooks
Courtesy of dollartree.com

NOTEBOOKS

Costco: $1.41 per notebook
Dollar Tree:$1 per notebook

They're both 8-by-10-inches, they both have 70 sheets of paper, and they both come in a variety of colors. One has “Mead” on the cover and the other doesn't. Guess which.

Composition Books
Courtesy of dollartree.com

COMPOSITION BOOKS

Costco: $2.66 per book
Dollar Tree: $1 per book

No, switching over to the hard-bound, speckle-covered composition books won't save you money at Costco either. A $15.99 six-pack gives you composition books that are nearly triple the price of Dollar Tree's offerings.

Reading Glasses
Courtesy of dollartree.com

READING GLASSES

Costco: $6.16 per pair
Dollar Tree:$1 per pair

Sure, Costco will give you a three-pack of Foster Grants in any style for $18.49, but that isn't incredibly helpful when Dollar Tree will give you any style and strength of reading glasses for just $1. Reading glasses are one of the dollar store's key draws.

Pregnancy Test
Courtesy of dollartree.com

PREGNANCY TESTS

Costco: $4.25 per test
Dollar Tree: $1 per test

The tests have the same degree of accuracy, so this shouldn't boil down to not trusting the “cheap” test. Even if you're trying and need to stockpile pregnancy tests, you could buy 17 at the dollar store for the cost of a four-pack at Costco.

Tote Bags
Courtesy of dollartree.com

TOTE BAGS

Costco: $35 per tote
Dollar Tree: $1 per tote

We'll grant there's a big difference here: Costco's is a crocheted everyday bag, while Dollar Tree bags are a woven-polyester or laminated step up from reusable grocery bags. If you prize function over form, Dollar Tree is the better deal.

Food Containers
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Coffee Mugs
Courtesy of dollartree.com

COFFEE MUGS

Costco: $8.33 per mug
Dollar Tree:$1 per mug

Costco has housewares, but will typically give you coffee mugs only in a set of dishware. Its double-walled J.A. Henckels glass mugs — six for $49.99 — isn't a helpful offer when Dollar Tree offers an array of stoneware, ceramic, and glass mugs for $1 apiece.

Plates And Bowls
Courtesy of dollartree.com

PLATES AND BOWLS

Costco: $2.41 per piece
Dollar Tree: $1 per piece

At Costco, you have to buy the least-expensive dinnerware set — a Pandex 12-piece of bowls, salad plates, and dinner plates — to get to a per-piece price more than double the many pieces and platters at Dollar Tree for $1.

Shampoo and Conditioner
Courtesy of dollartree.com

SHAMPOO

Costco: 31 cents per fluid ounce
Dollar Tree: 3 cents per fluid ounce

Granted, you're getting 38.2 fluid ounces of Pantene for the $11.99 you'll spend at Costco, but it's hard to beat paying $1 for 32 ounces of Silkience at Dollar Tree. Even if you upgrade to $1 bottles of Alberto VO5 (7 cents an ounce), Daily Defense (6 cents an ounce), or Salon Selectives (4 cents and ounce), you're getting a better deal than Costco can offer even from its warehouse-only brands.

All Purpose Cleaner
Courtesy of dollartree.com

ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER

Costco: 12 cents per ounce
Dollar Tree: 6 cents per ounce

We compared an 11.6-pound, $21.99 box of OxiClean at Costco to a $1 pound of L.A.'s Totally Awesome Power Oxygen to keep this a fair fight. If consumers wanted to, they could buy a 2-pound tub of L.A.'s Totally Awesome Orange Oxygen for the same price and pay just a quarter of Costco's per-ounce price.

Bandages
Courtesy of dollartree.com

BANDAGES

Costco: 2.3 cents per bandage
Dollar Tree: 1.2 cents per bandage

You'd spend $13.99 on 600 Curad blue fabric bandages just to pay nearly double the amount on Dollar Tree Assurance-brand sheer fabric bandages. While neither are the only bandages each seller has in stock, they’re the lowest unit price in each store.

Toothbrushes
Courtesy of dollartree.com

TOOTHBRUSHES

Costco: $2.31 per brush
Dollar Tree: 33 cents per brush

In fairness to Dollar Tree, it offers four-packs of generic brushes that would reduce the cost per brush to 25 cents. But since the brushes are going up against an $18.49 eight-pack from Oral B, it seemed wiser to compare those Costco offerings with a $1 three-pack of Colgate brushes instead.

Toilet Paper
Davydenko Yuliia/shutterstock

BATH TISSUE

Costco: $1.19 per square foot
Dollar Tree: 93 cents per square foot

Costco and Dollar Tree offer generic brands — Kirkland and Strong and Soft, respectively — that are cost-effective, but Dollar Tree gets the edge by offering up 106.7-square-foot four-packs of tissue paper for just $1, narrowly beating Costco's $18.99, 1,593.7-square-foot 30 packs.

Glass Cleaner
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Laundry Detergent
Courtesy of dollartree.com

LAUNDRY DETERGENT

Costco: 5.2 cents per fluid ounce
Dollar Tree: 1.6 cents per fluid ounce

A $12.99, a 250-fluid-ounce jug of Arm & Hammer with OxiClean is one of the best deals Costco offers. But since it takes a long time for most families to go through that much detergent, spending $1 on 64 ounces of Dollar Tree's L.A.'s Totally Awesome oxygen alternative can help limit upfront spending while ensuring detergent retains its stain-fighting power.

Related:The Best Washing Machines for Your Budget

Dish Soap
Courtesy of dollartree.com

DISH SOAP

Costco: 6.8 cents per fluid ounce
Dollar Tree: 3.3 cents per fluid ounce

Costco's Kirkland-brand soap goes for $9.29 for 135 fluid ounces, and is billed as an “environmentally responsible” alternative to other dish soap. Dollar Tree's Home Store house brand charges $1 for 30 ounces, though even Dollar Tree's name-brand Ajax would outperform Costco at just 6.2 cents per fluid ounce.

Sponges
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Scouring Pads
Courtesy of dollartree.com

SCOURING PADS

Costco: 37 cents per pad
Dollar Tree:20 cents per pad

What if you forgo the sponge and get just the scour? On the one hand, Costco offers 20-packs of Scotch-Brite pads for $7.49. That gives it a better price than what Dollar Tree asks for two-packs of Brillo (50 cents each). But its Scrub Buddies pads are beloved by reviewers and almost indistinguishable from Scotch Brites once they're out of their packaging.

Cleanser
Courtesy of dollartree.com

CLEANSER

Costco: 3.74 cents per ounce
Dollar Tree: 3.70 cents per ounce

They're both Comet with bleach, though Dollar Tree's offering is lemon fresh. It's all going to come down to which form you prefer: Dollar Tree's 21-ounce size or Costco's 28 ounces.

Cotton Swabs
Courtesy of dollartree.com

COTTON SWABS

Costco: 0.56 cents per swab
Dollar Tree:0.4 cents per swab

Even at 1,875 swabs for $10.49, Costco's Q-Tips couldn't beat Dollar Tree's $1 cost for 250 of its Assured brand swabs. If you're willing to throw a bunch of plastic into the waste stream, a set of 350 plastic-stick swabs costs just $1 at Dollar Tree, dropping the unit price to roughly 0.3 cents per swab.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Courtesy of dollartree.com

TOILET BOWL CLEANER

Costco: $2.83 per tablet
Dollar Tree: $1 per tablet

Costco sells a six-pack of Clorox tablets for $16.99, which may work out just fine if you have only one toilet to bleach. If you have more, cutting the cost of a bleach or “bleach and blue” tablet by nearly a third may be tempting.

Don't Use Toothpaste on a Burn
Leah-Anne Thompson/shutterstock

TOOTHPASTE

Costco: 75 cents per ounce
Dollar Tree: 20 cents per ounce

There was a time Costco gave you five 8-ounce tubes of Colgate Total for less than $25. Today, it's five 6.5-ounce tubes for $23.99. Though Dollar Tree offers only 5 ounces of Colgate baking soda and peroxide toothpaste for $1, that's less than a third of the per-ounce price of the Costco version.

Dental Floss
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Sticky Notes
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Soft White Led Light Bulbs
Courtesy of dollartree.com

SOFT WHITE LED LIGHT BULBS

Costco:$2.50 per bulb
Dollar Tree: $1 per bulb

To get everyone off incandescent bulbs and on to LED technology, the bulbs are going to have to be inoffensive and incredibly inexpensive. Selling 24 for $60 as Costco does is a step in the right direction. Selling them for $1 apiece doesn't hurt, either.

Flashlights
Courtesy of dollartree.com
Tampons
Courtesy of dollartree.com

TAMPONS

Costco: 18.7 cents per tampon
Dollar Tree:12.5 cents per tampon

By brand, Dollar Tree loses: Tampax go three for $1, nearly twice as costly as Costco's price. But Costco gets there by offering 96 tampons for $17.99. Dollar Tree pulls ahead by offering eight-packs of Femtex and Safe and Soft brands for just $1 apiece.

Paper Clips
Courtesy of dollartree.com

PAPER CLIPS

Costco:1.2 cents per clip
Dollar Tree: 0.4 cents per clip

Costco's paper clip selection is fairly limited, but 1,000 for $11.99 isn't too shabby. Unfortunately, that same 1,000 clips will cost you only $4 at Dollar Tree, which has far more colorful options.

Microfiber Cleaning Towels
Courtesy of dollartree.com

MICROFIBER CLEANING TOWELS

Costco: 75 cents per towel
Dollar Tree: 50 cents per towel

If you need to clean without scratching delicate surfaces, microfiber is the way to go. That said, Costco's eight bar towels for $12 is just slightly outdone by Dollar Tree's two for $1.

Teasing Brushes
Courtesy of dollartree.com

TEASING BRUSHES

Costco: $12.50 per brush
Dollar Tree: 50 cents per brush

Unless your hair is so fragile it needs boar bristles to part and add volume, you don't need to buy a two-pack of brushes for $25. Some durable, nonbiodegradable plastic will get you there.

Housebreaking Pads
Courtesy of dollartree.com

HOUSEBREAKING PADS

Costco: 23 cents per pad
Dollar Tree:20 cents per pad

They're cheaper, but the Dollar Tree brand's value all depends on the size of the puppy. If it's a little one, a 22- by 22-inch pad should do fine. If it's a larger or an aging dog, Costco's pads are a wee bit larger at 30-by-23. Dollar Tree's next largest size is bigger than Costco's, but is also 25 cents a pad.

Dentastix Dog Treats
Courtesy of dollartree.com

DENTASTIX DOG TREATS

Costco: 44.6 cents per stick
Dollar Tree:20 cents per stick

Folks may question the quality of pet food at dollar stores, but this is a brand sold at Costco and Dollar Tree. What does Costco have that Dollar Tree doesn't? A few more flavors and claims of additional tooth-whitening power.

AA Batteries
Courtesy of dollartree.com

AA BATTERIES

Costco: 29 cents per battery
Dollar Tree: 25 cents per battery

The bad news is that generic batteries from just about anywhere don't hold their power for very long. The good news is that this puts Costco and Dollar Tree on level footing, with AA four-packs of Panasonic batteries selling for just $1 apiece. The deal gets even better for AAA batteries, which go for more than 30 cents apieceat Costco while selling in the same $1 four-packs at Dollar Tree.

Napkins
Courtesy of dollartree.com

NAPKINS

Costco: 0.96 cents per napkin
Dollar Tree: 0.66 cents per napkin

When you're seeking the most savings, every fraction of a cent counts. Costco's $9.99 four-packs of 1,040 napkins are a bargain, but they aren't the best deal in town as long as Dollar Tree sells packs of 150 napkins for $1.

Water Balloons
Courtesy of dollartree.com

WATER BALLOONS

Costco: 4.7 cents per balloon
Dollar Tree:4 cents per balloon

Water balloons are just latex balloons with water in them, but Costco sells 420 of them for $19.99 with the promise that they can be filled in 35-balloon bunches and seal on their own. Any kid who's been hard up for cash knows how to fill and tie budget water balloons quickly, making the savings all the more sweet as you pelt neighborhood kids and laugh at their parents' Costco membership.

Socks
Courtesy of dollartree.com

SOCKS

Costco: $1 per pair
Dollar Tree: $1 per pair and less

Out of fairness to Costco, this is one type of sock — K. Bell no-show women's socks — offered at a compelling price. Dollar Tree not only has multiple types of socks at that price, but similar socks sold in two-packs that reduce their price to 50 cents a pair.