How to Shop Wisely at the Dollar Store
Edited by Maria, Eng
Dollar Store Chains seems to double in market share each year. Every time you look there is a new Dollar Tree or another chain in your neighborhood, strip malls, and shopping center. The bright signs of Everything in the Store:$1.00 lures you in and before you know it you have spent $100 on 100 items you probably did not need but the fact that you are able to get it for $1.00 made it an impulse buy. I regularly shop at these Dollar Stores but have learned by trial and error what to avoid and what to stock up on.
Items to Usually Avoid
- 1Dish Soap.Obviously, if you strapped for cash until payday and your sink is full of dishes then purchase. As a general rule, you can get name brand dish soap cheaper with price matching coupons and a flyer sale at your grocery store. These soaps are mainly water and you will end up using more of it to get the same results.Advertisement
- 2Laundry Soap.This is a plus and minus category. I will buy the generic oxy clean type items at the dollar store but have learned that the liquid laundry soaps are not that great at stain removal and once again mostly water. They work okay but not as good as the laundry soap you can get on sale or price match at the grocery store.Advertisement
- 3Crayons.Now I have bought the crayons in the past for my children and there is always a complaint that they do not cover the picture well and they leave a shiny waxy inconsistent type coverage on the paper. Also, if left in a child's pocket the disaster from washing and drying these crayons can never be recovered. I mean you will open your dryer in horror and the ironic part is that they do not come off your clothes but do not provide consistent coverage in a coloring book.
- 4Jewelry.Stay away from the earrings if you have any metal sensitivity or it is a rainy day. Your ear piercings and earlobe will turn green for at least a week! Do a stretch test on necklaces and bracelets to see if they are weak enough to break the first time you wear the jewelry. Some of my bracelets and necklaces from these dollar stores are at least two years old and still strong but I have passed on several other ones because when I tugged on them the metal started to bend.
- 5Makeup.This is another hit and miss item. Some dollar stores carry L.A. Colors and I do buy their loose eyeshadows which stay on all day but their packed eyeshadow disappears within a few hours after application. Their BB Cream is a slimy, messy, oily disaster so avoid the temptation to buy this product. Sometimes you will find name brand makeup but always check for an expiration date or if the foundation shows separation in the bottle.
- 6Electrical Items.Christmas season hits and you are in the dollar store grabbing decorations and see those power strips. Walk away. The electrical items found in dollar stores are often counterfeit UL items that do not meet safety standards. As in you will plug in the painstakingly decorated Christmas Tree and start a fire. They also usually do not work properly where one of the outlets will not work on a strip of three. The nightlights usually last about two weeks before you have to replace the bulb.
- 7Vitamins.You see that weight loss "pill" that is supposed to boost your metabolism and make you skinny in 5 days. The Vitamin D or B12 that you should take according to your doctor and other vitamin supplements found at the dollar store are mostly sugar pills. Unfortunately, supplements are not regulated by the FDA and the dollar stores have become the snake oil salesmen of the pioneer days when it comes to supplements. Sometimes you can find name brand supplements but again look at the expiration dates. These chains usually get them by large stores closing and the name brand items are still not expired.
- 8Toilet Paper.Unless you are buying it to toilet paper your neighbor's tree, it is not good for anything else. Save the angst and get better quality on sale at your local big box stores or grocery store. You will get more toilet paper per roll price with a sale. Let's face it the $1.00 toilet paper would last about 12 hours in my house.
- 9Razors.OK, so you are in the bath and beauty aisle and see a 12 pack of disposable razors. Keep away! Unless you want razor burn and stubble after each save and these disposables barely last for one side of your face before they need to be replaced with a new one. They are good for removing pilling from clothing but that is about it. Once again, you have been warned!
- 10Kitchen Silverware and Knives.So you stroll past the 4 pack of spoons and think "I need more spoons!" well I am sad to say these will get rust spots and the edges will scratch and leave a bloody lip with your morning bowl of cheerios within a few months. Your cheaper option is to go to a second hand store like the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Many times they will have higher quality bundles that people have donated for the same price or cheaper at $.10 per piece of silverware. Do not get me started on the kitchen knives. These knives have flimsy blades and you risk losing a finger using one that won't cut a steak properly. When it comes to kitchen knives invest in high-quality ones that will last for years before needing to be sharpened or save up and purchase Cutco which sharpens for free and replaces damaged knives.
- 11Winter Gloves.Now these I have purchased on a whim because the cold season had started and I could not find my other pairs of winter gloves. Basically, they are decent for keeping your hands covered but fall apart quickly, have huge holes that appear fast as the knitting stretches and shrink after they get wet once. Forget about throwing them through a laundry cycle unless you have mice that need gloves.
- 12Tools.It is tempting to get that pair of pliers for $1.00 but avoid the temptation. I do a fair bit of repurposing crafts and learned that unless I plan on only using that tool once, it is not worth purchasing at the dollar store. Twine and the paint rolls work okay but the roller assemblies are cheaply made and if you are painting a large room then get a better roller assembly at Home Depot or Lowe's for a few dollars more.
- 13Toys.My children always beg for a toy there because they fall prey to the it is only a dollar mantra. Thing is you will get that toy and the doll will be headless in about 5 minutes. Sometimes we do get toys that last but that is fairly rare and now I have become an expert on judging how well that toy will handle being in my whirlwind of a destructive household. These toys can also contain high amounts of substances you would die of absolute horror of if you knew your child was chewing on one. Lead is found regularly when they test dollar store toys. If you have an infant do not buy any infant related toys as they fall apart easily and some contain lead.
- 14Plastic Containers.Most dollar stores have one entire aisle devoted to plastic food containers. While they are good for storing craft supplies or using one as a garbage can in my minivan, I would not recommend using them for food. Some may have a sticker on the side that says BPA Free but once again that sticker is not a regulated item and can be counterfeit or misrepresented.
- 15Diapers.You are not saving anything buying that 4 pack of Pampers at your dollar store. They are good for when you realize that you forgot the diaper bag and need to change the baby's diaper but beyond that, you can get a much better deal on sales and coupons in your grocery store. If you do pick one up, check the package with a squish test. Sometimes these end up in the dollar store because the gel absorbent cores have crystallized.
- 16Office/School Supplies.I have bought these items at the dollar store but only when I need an item fast and do not have the time to run to several stores. The sharpies are not really permanent most of the time they are also half dried out. The glue you can get for 1/3 of the price at Walmart. Pens are hit and miss but sometimes you can get a decent pack. The pencil sharpeners never quite sharpen a pencil properly. Watch out in this aisle to not pay more than you would if you had gotten the item at Staples or another store.
- 17Canned/Packaged Food.You can often get these items for almost half cheaper at the grocery store. Name brand canned vegetables regularly go on sale for cheaper cost and so does the pasta and sauce. The condiments can sometimes be a deal but always think before you buy that can of tuna for $1.00. There is nothing wrong with this food but you usually, can get it far cheaper than $1.00. I can get pasta for $.25 a package by price matching and using a coupon. There can be deals found like name brand cereal or bread at some dollar stores but always check the sell buy dates. The cereal is also smaller packaging and you can get twice as much for $.50 more with a sale and coupon.
- 18Plastic Bags/Aluminum Foil.These items are not the quality of even the generic store brands. You are better off paying a little extra so your tuna fish sandwich does not leak all over your lunch bag. The trash bags are halfway decent for storing seasonal clothes but I would not trust them with my kitchen garbage. The seals half of the time split apart the minute you seal the bags. Just avoid the aluminum foil or as I like to call it aluminum air. It is so thin and everything sticks to it even with cooking spray. The plastic wrap has no cling to it as well and super thin. The parchment paper is not bad though but unlike other brands, I can't use the dollar store brands twice or more when baking several batches of cookies.
Items to Usually Purchase If Needed
- 1Pregnancy/Ovulation/UTI Tests.When I was experiencing infertility issues I learned that trying to conceive can be super expensive even without medical intervention. The cost of a name brand pregnancy test is ridiculous. The dollar store tests are extremely sensitive and come from batches your doctor uses to confirm pregnancy. Two lines are just the same two lines whether using the $1.00 test or $25 test. The difference is you don't urinate on the stick so what I used to do is use a disposable wax paper "Dixie" cup to get my urine sample. The Ovulation and UTI tests are the same method of using a cup but work as good as more expensive name brand tests. The trick for the ovulation tests is to check mid afternoon and if you have trouble pinpointing your ovulation window because of irregular cycles then this is the way to go because you can get much more for far less in cost.Advertisement
- 2Socks/Hosiery.Cost per sock is definitely cheaper than if you bought these items at a different store. Unlike their winter gloves, the socks hold up well. I get 3 packs of fun design socks for my kids and the adult crew socks are a good buy. Their tights are not super good quality but still do the job and even when I spend more on tights at Children's Place they get the same holes in the knees with the regular wear and tear. Adult hosiery is basic but if you really need a pair of pantyhose for an event then go ahead and get them at the dollar store. Keep in mind that they do not carry plus sizes and some of the hosiery can run a little smaller than others.
- 3Kitchen Plates/Mugs/Bowls.I love my dinnerware set that I got from the Dollar Tree. They are my favorite color red and made by a name brand English pottery company. I have 10 dinner plates and 10 matching bowls and I paid $20. They are thick, durable and our family loves how much the bowls can hold. Usually you can find a variety of colors to choose from and can even mix and max your dinnerware sets to add some interest. The coffee mugs are pretty standard no matter where you go and the dollar store ones come in different sizes for the same price. Sometimes you can even get thicker drinking glasses but avoid the super thin cheap drinking glasses. They bust and crack all the time. These you can always find at second hand stores for $.10 to $.99 and are better quality most of the time.
- 4Napkins and Kitchen Towels.The kitchen towels are not the thickest but they hold up pretty decently. I especially use them for when I am doing things like chopping up red peppers that can leave a stain on towels. This way if the stain does not come out, I am not devastated. If you see a design you like then get it but otherwise you can get these items for around the same price at Walmart or Target. The paper napkins are standard and if you use them you can get a good deal at either a grocery store or dollar store.
- 5Manicure Accessories.Now this is no OPI nail polish but for regular use it holds up the way other drug store brands do. There is usually a variety of colors to choose from and the top coats are decent. Like the foundation, check to make sure that the nail polish is not starting to separate or has been opened several times. You can usually tell by how tight the lid is screwed on. The nail clippers are around the same as what you get at Walmart. The nail polish remover is hit or miss in that sometimes it removes effectively and other times you have to soak your nails for a length of time. They do have glue on nails but those are super thin and nothing even remotely close to the acrylic nails from a salon. Also, they do not have several sizes to choose from like other over the counter acrylic nail kits do. The stick on nail designs are worth the buy and my daughter's love using them and so do I for our at home pedicures in the summer/sandal season.
- 6Spices.Considering that spices have a short shelf life once air hits them, buying in the smaller amounts available at the dollar store is a good buy. Obviously, if you use garlic powder on everything then you can save more buying in a bulk size at Costco but for spices that you only use occasionally it is worth getting it at the dollar store because you are likely to use it all up before it goes stale. For instance, I have gotten whole cloves for $1.00 where I would have paid 10X that in my grocery store for almost the larger size and I was only using the cloves for one thing, to brine a turkey so to buy the slightly larger more expensive option would have been foolish.
- 7Breads.Dollar Tree in Canada gets Dempster bagels, breads, pitas, wraps and English muffins. Other dollar stores in the US can sometimes have Wonder Bread and other bread items you normally pay 3 times as much for in the grocery store. Watch for the expiration date but if you have a deep freezer you can stock up and freeze the breads that are about to go stale. Use them to make a cheap meal of French Toast or take one bagel out of the freezer each time. I often find MinuteMaid Raisin Bread at my dollar store that is far more expensive in the grocery store.
- 8Condiments.Relish and Mustard are cheapest at the dollar store. Their yellow mustard tastes the same as major brands and you can get a decent volume size for the price. Their relishes sometimes have several varieties including hot relish and it is awesome on sausage and hot dogs. Bruschetta toppings can be extremely expensive when bought at a grocery store and although the dollar store only has a few items this is where you want to purchase these condiments if you use them in salad dressings and toppings.
- 9Candy.For just the average candy bar or sweet treat, the dollar store has good value per item. Avoid buying Halloween Candy though to give out because you can get it cheaper per package volume at the grocery store. For candy to keep around the house, their jelly beans, wrapped fruit candy, and even snack size candy bars are a good deal. Gum is usually found cheaper in bulk packs at the grocery store though but if you want a full size Snickers candy bar the best price is the dollar store.
- 10Seasonal Gardening Items.Decorative or plain clay pots are abundant once Valentine's Day is over. You can't beat the price when you price compare at other Garden Centers for basically the same clay pot. You can also get seeds to early sow indoors and bulbs to plant in the Fall. Sometimes you can find knee cushions, gloves, spades and trowels that work just fine for the average home gardener. The potting soil can be found cheaper at Garden Centers but the seed trays are a good deal when compared. The solar lights are average but mine have lasted longer than the more expensive post cap solar lights I got at Home Depot for $25 per cap light. You can find all sorts of ornamental garden accessories from decorative garden fence edging to wind chimes. Tomato plant cages are the same as the ones at the garden centers for around the same price.
- 11Holiday Items.You will get a much better price when you purchase at the dollar store. Garlands, ornaments, seasonal/holiday dishware are all stocked during these calendar times. Window clings and plastic trays/cardboard boxes for gifts during the holiday seasons are a great deal! Each year they usually have something different so if you like it then get it while you are there and do not wait for the end of the holiday season because most of the items will be no longer on the shelf. New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, Canada Day/Independence day hats and fashion accessories can be found in dollar stores for you to make a statement at the party.
- 12Party Supplies.If you are planning a birthday or event you can't go wrong with getting your supplies at the dollar stores. The paper goods are the same that you would find at party warehouses for a cheaper price. The balloons are also a good price and most have helium to fill the balloons you purchase. This is where a good deal on candy comes into play because you can do loot bags with bubbles, candy, glow sticks, and other items for less that you would pay at a party warehouse. Banners are usually in several different themes and you can create a theme party with the accompanying paper products. Add party hats and you are ready for the party.
- 13Wedding Supplies.Depending on your budget, you can create centerpieces, bouquets, guest books and so much more at the dollar store. Most have scrapbooking supplies and picture frames to create backdrops for items on the tables at the wedding. On Pinterest there are several boards dedicated to dollar store wedding crafts. If you plan on doing your own fresh flowers you can get the supplies like floral tape and wire at the dollar store. Glass vases are abundant as well as votive holders. Just remember that what you buy stays with you unlike when you use a florist and rent containers. A good idea is to gift them out during the wedding to important family members and guests.
- 14Books.I often find cookbooks and best-selling books in the dollar tree. A coloring book is the same no matter where you buy your Dora the Explorer standard coloring book so save some money and get them at the dollar store.I have purchased chapter books for my children that I passed later in Barnes and Nobles for 4 times the price.
- 15Scrapbook Materials.You can't beat the deals you find for completing your scrapbooks at dollar stores. Several options are available from stickers to gems to adhere to your pages. The pages are also available and they have a good selection to choose from. The double sided tape you can get is one of the best prices I have found when comparing to other craft supply stores. Think outside the box when you are looking for items at dollar stores to add to your scrapbooks because sometimes cutting out the image in a greeting card makes a beautiful presentation for the front of your scrapbook cover.
- 16Cards,Gift Wrap, and Invitations.Most of the time greeting cards are 2 for $1. They are not Hallmark but get the job done when you need to write thank you notes or send a birthday card. Every holiday has a section of cards so you can get your Mother's Day cards there and then save a little money while building a gift basket with items from the store at the same time. The gift bags, tissue wrap, and gift wraps are decent quality and 50% off or more if you would have bought these items at a big box store. The only time I have seen tissue paper cheaper is during Christmas at Costco but even then it was only a $.30 difference.
- 17Picture Frames.I have purchased picture frames at the dollar store that are still holding up as well as ones I paid $30 for in a Photoshop. If you do not like the standard black frame you can get spray paint in metal colors and simply spray several frames and no one would ever guess the frame is plastic. They have cute ones that say Family with three spots for images and even some wedding themed ones depending on the dollar store.
- 18Craft Supply Items.There is an abundant supply of craft items in dollar stores. From paintable salt dough pottery to large poster boards in varieties of color. I have purchased puffy fabric paint and a plain white bag which my children decorated and even after several washes the paint still looks new. They also have oil/water paints and paint brushes. The canvases are a phenomenal deal and worth purchasing for your craft ideas. My children think they are accomplished artists when they use the canvas to paint their lasted creations and it only costs me a few dollars a month. Unpainted wood items are also found in dollar stores and make a great gift with the paints for a present. We made fairy houses for my children's flower garden in our yard with unpainted wooden birdhouses and moss. The project cost me $20 for 4 birdhouses, moss, little bug/flower wooden embellishments and glitter paints. Through two winters and other weather elements they are still looking beautiful and my children play with them all summer long.
- 19Oral Care.You can find name brand toothbrushes at dollar stores. Toothpaste and mouthwash are also name brand and sometimes I can find expensive natural brands there as well, especially when they swap out their packaging. Dental flosses come in several ways from oral floss picks to cute little owls. You can't go wrong with getting your oral care there for $3 a month or less.
- 20Organic/Lactose-Free Items.You can find Rice Milk, Soy Milk or Coconut Milk in the cartons at dollar stores. They are the same ones you pay three times as much for at the grocery store. I have also come across gluten-free items and organic applesauce. Breeze through the food aisle and see if there is anything there organic or serves as a replacement in your other dietary needs, especially if you have food allergies. I now see Pink Himalayan salt on a regular basis and have even gotten 1/2 pound bags of cashews that were excellent.
- 21First Aid Items.I always get my band-aids at the dollar store. In the summer months, we can sometimes use three to four band-aids in one day! I also get my antibacterial cream there as well. Rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are always available and you can't beat the price on their Epsom salts. Their pain relief rubs, "Vicks" rubs and cough drops are also good to buy to keep in your medicine cabinet. You also can get ace bandages and the bigger wound care bandages at the dollar store and save a lot by purchasing these items there. Moist towelettes are great to keep in the car for the scrapes that occur on the playground. Cepacol throat lozenges are often at the dollar store. Dollar Tree allows you to use coupons so you can really save when you purchase this item there!
- 22Baby Toiletries/Kid's Bath Products.I have always bought baby shampoo and baby powder at the dollar store. You also can get lavender scented baby lotion and detangler spray for fine hair. The detangler spray is not as good as the one I get from Avon but when I run out I use a bottle that I got at the dollar store. Be careful on buying the kids bodywash and shampoo. I always see the brands like L'Oreal or others at our dollar stores but test your child's skin in a few areas before going all out with these items. Although for the most part my children with sensitive skin have use most of their body washes and kid's shampoo with no issues.
- 23Herbal Teas.I drink herbal teas on a regular basis. You can't beat the prices on the herbal teas and they generally always have chamomile and green tea. Sometimes I can even find brands like Twinings or Bigelow at dollar stores for a fraction of the cost if purchased at your grocery store. The standard black teas you can get cheaper at the grocery store so avoid these and only purchase the herbal teas.
- 24Lotions.Dollar store brand lotions are just as good as many that you buy at other stores. Their Dermasil brand I have found works just as well as the expensive drug store brands. When you have children with eczema the winter months can be brutal on your wallet but I have used Dermasil brands for several years now and this year my children had absolutely no breakouts and rashes while using the Dermasil cream. You also can find the Udderly Smooth brand there which is an awesome hand cream to use on dry skin. Their April Scented lotions are smell nice and keep your skin hydrated. You can also get matching handwash for your guest bathroom.
- 25Hair Products.The reviews for dollar store brand hair dyes are wretched. That being said, you can regularly find name brand hair dyes specifically around the Fall and Spring because brands will change out their line color names. The temporary pinks and blue hair dyes and hair chalk is a good deal and I have used in on my daughter's super fine hair with no damage and it washed out within an acceptable length of time. Their gels and hairsprays work just like major brands if you are looking for nothing specific like super volume then you can purchase at the dollar store. The mousse did not give me the volume that other's like Pantene or Tresemme volume boosting mousse does but it does the trick for curly hair. You can't go wrong getting the heat protectant sprays at the dollar store and I have used expensive and dollar store brand on each half of my head to see if there was a difference and my hair looked the same all around. Their deep hair conditioner and hot oil is good but avoid the Silkience shampoo and conditioners. I found that my hair was limp and dry using these products and one of them burned when I tried to wash my hair. You can generally price match and use coupons for name brand hair products in the drugstore for less anyway.
- 26Hair Accessories.There is one entire aisle dedicated to hair accessories. It is surprising how many super cute embellished headbands they have. I get all of my children's hair accessories at the dollar store. Their hair ties are just as good as Goody and the claw clips come in several sizes. Brushes are standard to Goody unless you are looking for a specific type then go ahead and get your brushes at the dollar store. Foam and velcro curlers are more items that you will want to purchase at the dollar store. You can even get the paper protectant for the ends of you hair there for cheaper than a hair supply store.Advertisement
- If you have problems with any of these steps, ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.
Categories : Home Finances
Recent edits by: Maria