Cheap Thrills

The dollar store as we knew it is gone. Oh, it’s still there. I can see the helium balloons from the street—hugging the ceiling, beckoning me to enter.  But don’t you fall for it. It’s not a dollar store anymore, it’s the Dollar and a Quarter Store, regardless of the store name. One chain considered the name 2 BELOW. That would give them the option of two more price increases without having to buy another new sign.

I am addicted to all dollar stores. But now with this price increase, maybe it’s time to break my habit. Years ago, when pay phones went from 10 cents to a quarter, that was the last phone booth I ever walked into, except to check the little coin return to see if anyone had left any change in it. Let me pause here while younger readers google what a phone booth is. By the way, for older folks, just so you know, the five-and-dime store has also raised their prices.

Several weeks ago, I was in a dollar store in my neighborhood, unaware this seismic shift in my budget was about to occur.  I waited for the cashier to ring up my purchases, though I thought I knew exactly what the total would be. I kept track of how many purchases I was about to make, and I even know to how multiply 1 x 16.

“Wait, how could the total be $20.00? I only bought 16 items!”

“Everything is $1.25 now, Sir.”

“Even a can of okra?”

“Sir, if you really like okra, why not just spring for the extra 25 cents?”

“Because I hate okra.  Everyone hates okra.  I was buying it because it was a dollar. How about those helium balloons? How much are those?

“Everything is $1.25, Sir.”

“Okay, I understand the increase with food, but why did balloons go up?”

“Because we put helium in them.”

Frustrated, I wandered around the store putting my willpower to the test. At a buck and a quarter, could I resist a half-gallon of generic cola, a set of three screwdrivers, sunglasses, or five pounds of dog food?  Hey, we could get a dog someday.

I wondered if I should start a support group for people like me who are getting sucked into an increasingly more costly addiction. 

My support group would have six steps to recovery:

1. Admit you are powerless to pass up a dollar bag of ginger snaps.

2. Resist the notion that lower prices are a higher power.

3. Never question the price of goodness.

4. Share your story with others so they can be savers, as well.

5. Pray the $1.25 stores never go to $1.50.

6. Before buying on impulse, look deeply inside your shelf to be sure of what you really need.

As I was finishing this column, I saw a rumor online that the dollar store may revert to the old dollar price for some select items that are less popular.

My goal now is to find a really good okra cookbook.

Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@