“All of a sudden chips cost five dollars”: Bargain hunters share their tips for keeping grocery bills low
We asked thrifty Dollarama shoppers about their best dollar-store finds and how they’re navigating the rising cost of living
Food costs are up a whopping 11 per cent since last year, and some thrifty shoppers are ditching the big grocers for less traditional stores in order to save a buck wherever they can. That’s good news for Dollarama: last week, the Canadian discount retailer reported record earnings thanks to a rising number of transactions at its stores. We visited a dollar store downtown to ask bargain hunters what they’re buying and get their best tips for finding deals in a time of incessant inflation.
Sophie H., 26, housing policy analyst
How long have you been shopping at Dollarama?
Not long. I used to live in the US, and I just moved back home to Toronto. I was frustrated by how pricy groceries were down there, but Canada isn’t any better: food is just as expensive, and rent is even less affordable. I shop at Dollarama to offset my living costs. I save on kitchen stuff here, like bowls, cups and Tupperware. But it doesn’t have everything. I came to find a sponge, and they didn’t have one. I don’t buy food here—I go to a range of grocery stores because they have more variety.
Are you avoiding any grocery stores?
Not really. I’m all over the map. Metro used to be my go-to, but now I dabble elsewhere because their prices are pretty high. This year, I’ve discovered alternative grocers like FreshCo, Walmart and neighbourhood produce shops.
Any advice for others who are penny-pinching?
Instead of looking only at grocery prices, I try to find other areas where I can save money. I take public transit to offset grocery costs and to ensure that I can still buy all the food I need. And I’m hyper-aware of food prices, instead of just buying whatever food I’m craving, like I used to.
Related: This economist blames supermarkets for astronomical food prices
Zackhary O., 32, model
What do you normally pick up at Dollarama?
Drinks are a bargain here: some have a set price of $1.15 plus tax. I also buy cereal and bread. It’s not uncommon for me to find a loaf of bread for $2 at Dollarama and then see the same type selling for $4 at Metro or FreshCo. Cleaning supplies are also way cheaper here than at Metro: I’ve seen Lysol spray for $2, and it can cost three times that elsewhere. Those little differences go a long way.
Are you avoiding any big grocers?
I’m trying to stay clear of Metro. I went there and saw a can of coconut water for $4.69—that’s ridiculous. I’ve also seen two chicken breasts for $20. At that price, it makes more sense to buy takeout.
Any words of wisdom for less-seasoned bargain hunters?
Know what you’re getting out of each grocery store. Dollarama is the cheapest, but it may not have everything you need. Metro and Longo’s have excellent variety, but be ready to pay top dollar. No Frills is somewhere in the middle—you can find deals there sometimes.
Matt Duffy, 41, stand-up comedian
What’s on your Dollarama shopping list?
I mostly come here for household items, like paper towel and Drano, instead of groceries. But I do buy chocolate bars for $0.89 here, instead of paying $1.50 at Metro. Anything under a buck is a bargain. Dollarama alone doesn’t cut it, though. I like to buy my produce at FreshCo because the quality is good, and I get my meats from Metro because they have the best cuts.
Any budget tips for fellow bargain hunters?
Instead of buying in bulk, I do small grocery runs to cut down on food waste. The most I’ll shop is three days ahead of when I plan to eat something. I also try to buy snacks that don’t go bad quickly.
Are you boycotting any supermarkets?
No—I just end up in Dollarama a lot. Everything is cheaper here, but their prices are slowly going up for certain items, like everywhere else. We’re used to these items being three dollars or less, but all of a sudden some of the chips cost five dollars. Soon, Dollarama will be like every other store. Lately, my partner and I play a game called “Guess how much this grocery item cost.” The correct answer is always twice as much as what I guess.
Carla Gusek, 40, sales representative at an architecture and design company
What are you buying today?
I mainly come here for kitchen and household items, like cleaning supplies, but also a few groceries—mostly chips.
Where else have you been shopping lately?
Parkdale has really nice produce shops. I prefer to go to those than to any other grocery stores. They are locally owned and fresher than Metro or Loblaws. I try to avoid Metro at all costs, but sometimes I give in since it’s close and convenient and has better variety than Dollarama. I don’t think we can blame any chain in particular for grocery inflation. My partner and I walked by a kids’ lemonade stand recently, and they were selling a glass for $1.50. My partner said, “$1.50? This used to be 10 cents!” I guess lemons are expensive these days.
Jerusha T., 31, movie set worker
How long have you been shopping at Dollarama?
I’ve always shopped here, but I’ve been coming more often since Covid hit.
What do you normally purchase?
Mostly paper towel, skin care products, baby oil and baby wipes. I also buy stuff here that I used to get at the grocery store, but I wouldn’t do a full grocery run here. Some things are a hard no. I don’t like their bread—if you get bread or bagels at Dollarama, you’ve gone too far. I don’t think it’s the best place to go for fresh food. And yet, it’s way busier here than it used to be. People seem to like it for the cheap grocery shopping.
Any frugal tips?
You have to pay attention to the portion size: sometimes you buy something at Dollarama for cheap, but the portion is smaller. If you don’t do the math, you will lose money.
Are you avoiding any other stores?
I don’t go to Metro anymore because price increases have been crazy since Covid. I go to No Frills to buy the groceries I can’t find at Dollarama.
Victoria S., 23, biotech worker
Are you a Dollarama regular?
I shop here a lot more lately because of how high the cost of living is. It’s good for household items and certain groceries, like seasonings or anything you can buy in bulk—you save money that way.
Any tips for others who are bargain hunting?
I go to multiple supermarkets to find what I need. I’m not sure it’s efficient, but it feels like I have to in order to save money. Fresh fruits, vegetables and meat are way more expensive than before, so I’m buying more frozen foods. That saves money, but I’m not sure if it’s good for you.
Do you avoid any stores?
No, but I find myself at FreshCo a lot. Dollarama alone doesn’t have enough variety.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.