You know you're ready for another busy week on the earnings front. You've got Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) on Tuesday. You've got Disney (NYSE:DIS) on Wednesday. Just try keeping up on Thursday when Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Analog Devices (NYSE:ADI) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) step up.

Joining Wal-Mart that day will be rival Target (NYSE:TGT). It's handy that the country's two leading discount chains will report on Thursday morning. One can see their quarterly earnings side by side and get a clear picture of how the sector is faring. However, the two retailers are clearly not cut of the same cloth.

Wal-Mart is more than just the world's leading retailer. It's a traditionalist, serving up the basics and turning inventory so fast that it can survive on meager markups and still deliver tangible value to the consumer. Target, on the other hand, has embraced cheap chic. Teaming up with artsy designers, the company has distinguished itself as a suitable shopping option for the thrifty fashion hound.

Which is better? While Target sports substantially higher gross margins, net margins are similar at just shy of 4%. That's pretty impressive when one considers that Wal-Mart is sandbagged with its low-margin Sam's Club warehouse business. Target has traditionally sold at a lower P/E multiple even though it has more room for expansion.

So, they are both quality operators, and neither one is Kmart (NASDAQ:KMRT). Then again, even Kmart is making turnaround strides, so maybe that joke isn't funny anymore.

In unsure economic times, folks have been flocking to Target and Wal-Mart, making them as close as you can get these days to true all-weather stocks. Thursday's reports will be interesting. How are same store sales trending? How goes Target's efforts to focus on its namesake brand? How goes Wal-Mart's efforts to win over its critics? Stick around. Thursday is just days away.

Can discount department store chains help you save money or do you need to go in with a plan? Which discounter provides the biggest bang for your buck? How can you buy what you want and still stay under your budget? All this and more -- in the Living Below Your Means discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys shopping at Target over Kmart and Wal-Mart. He thinks that even the popcorn tastes better there. However, he does not own shares in any of the retail companies mentioned in this story, just a couple of shares of Disney.