Alternatives to big-box shopping
The good news is you can get your goods elsewhere, but it will cost you more in time, if not money. Discount department stores are one-stop shopping, with many even offering a full supermarket. It's nearly impossible to duplicate this shopping experience, with one notable exception, but you can get what you need, inexpensively. You just have to shop around.
For those who live in urban areas, shopping small, independently owned shops is common. But for the rest of the country, chain stores are the only option. WalletPop has compiled a list of alternative stores that won't compromise your value system or empty your pockets.
It's little known that Kmart, Target and Walmart all opened in the same year : 1962. Kmart grew the fastest, but it also fell first. It reorganized under Chapter 11 and is part of Sears Holding Co. It may be a smaller company than it once was, but Kmart still operates more than 1,300 stores, including 35 supercenters with full grocery departments.
There aren't many regional chain stores left, but for the lucky ones who do have access to these smaller, locally operated retailers, these stores are great alternatives to the two leading big boxes. Shopko has 135 stores, mostly in the upper Midwest and plains states, and Pamida operates 200 stores in small markets throughout the Midwest. Fred's has 650 general merchandise stores in the Southeast and Meijer operates 190 stores in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.
It's possible to find a lot of necessary items at closeout stores like Big Lots and Tuesday Morning. Both these retailers skew heavily toward home goods and apparel, but selection varies and you won't find the same things with consistency.
You can get a lot more than you might think at a dollar store. Dollar General, Family Dollar and 99 Cents Only have a lot more than off-brand cleaners and plastic containers. Most carry national brands and many have a broad selection of food items, including perishables. I once did a pricing survey comparing discount supercenters, supermarkets and dollar stores and was able to replicate almost an entire shopping list at the dollar store, beating all the other outlets on price.
Sam's Club may be owned by Walmart, but you can still shop Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club with relatively little guilt and full knowledge that these stores often beat the discounters on price, although not always. Buying in bulk has some disadvantages, like storing giant boxes of paper products and cans of food, but for a good many items, warehouse clubs are great buys and it won't take long to recoup the cost of membership.
Office supply stores
When it comes to school supplies and office goods, Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples are competitively priced. The selection is limited to a just a couple of product categories, but office supply stores do offer an alternative to big-box discount stores.
Retailers like Walgreen's and CVS have become much more like convenience stores than the destination for sundries, medication and basic, household goods they once were. But each still offers good deals on many of our daily necessities, coupons that dramatically lower prices and CVS' loyalty program gives additional discounts to members.
The traditional supermarket still presents a great alternative to discount stores and carries paper goods, health and beauty products and many have full-service pharmacies. Even if you favor large chains like Publix, Winn Dixie, Albertson's or Kroger, you can feel good supporting a business that serves the neighborhood in ways large discount stores don't.
It's possible to get a great many necessary items online. Amazon.com is a clearing house of great buys and I regularly order everything from soap to toilet paper from Drugstore.com. Even if some items cost more than the local discount store, saving sales tax and taking advantage of free shipping helps minimize the difference. I'm not using gas, or falling prey to the impulse buys I typically get suckered into at Target.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Deals are all over the place and many communities have small retailers with very loyal customers. But I often hear people asking, "Where can I shop, if not Walmart and Target?" There are plenty of options, it just may take a few extra trips and coupons clipped.