How to Shop at Dollar Stores

As a kid, nothing was more exciting than a trip to the dollar store. I would empty out my piggy bank, grab my $3.27, and eagerly anticipate the three items I could buy. I loved that there were items I could actually afford, like candy and little plastic toys. If I wanted to spend my hard-earned money, that was the place.

As an adult, dollar stores have a little bit different appeal. They have bargains on just about anything you could ever need, like food, paper goods, toiletries and cosmetics. It’s easy to feel good about spending money at a dollar store because you always feel like you’re getting a deal. The only problem is that some of these deals aren’t really deals at all. Here are some things to keep in mind next time you’re “saving money” by shopping at your local dollar store.

Not everything is $1. Not all dollar stores are equal. At some, everything is $1 or less. Some dollar stores price items at 99 cents. Still other retailers can have items that cost up to $10. Best way to combat this problem? Plan a list of items ahead of time and comparison shop between dollar stores and regular retail stores.

Beware of the quality. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Dollar stores sometimes sell unsafe products that shouldn’t be on the market. According to Vonda Sines at Yahoo!, here are some common ones to avoid buying at dollar stores.

  • Vitamins – While vitamins can be expensive to purchase at specialty stores or big-box retailers, the extra money is well worth it. Don’t purchase vitamins that have been manufactured in other countries because they are not held to the same standards as ones manufactured in the U.S. For example, some dollar store vitamins lack one or more ingredients that are listed on the label, or do not dissolve as they are supposed to.
  • Toys – It’s sickening just how many unsafe toys are sold at dollar stores. Make sure you especially avoid toys for very young children, who are prone to swallowing and choking on small parts. Avoid toys manufactured in China. Your best bet for buying toys is to buy large ones that won’t present a choking hazard, like beach balls, for example.
  • Electrical items – Avoid Christmas lights, fans, and extension cords, even if they have labels claiming that they are safe. These safety claims are sometimes made by independent labs and lack in credibility. You don’t want to face the possibility of a home fire if one of these items overheats.
  • Soft vinyl lunch boxes – Some lunch boxes tested positive for lead content. Although there were recalls, some can still be found in dollar stores. You don’t want lead near your children’s food, so avoid these at all costs.

There are better deals elsewhere. Dollar stores are not the end-all, be-all of low prices. Big box stores often have good deals on a variety of items, especially if you use a coupon. Also consider the amount of usage you will get for your money. Maybe that box of aluminum foil at the dollar store is only $1, but if you buy a better quality aluminum foil like Reynolds Wrap, it’ll tear less so you get more bang for your buck.

You can find some genuinely good deals, if you know where to look. When you can find a good deal on a product, AND it’s safe and relatively good quality, go for it. Here are some types of items you may want to consider purchasing at a dollar store, according to Kiplinger.

  • Party supplies – Dollar stores have a wealth of decorations, favors, balloons and more. I personally buy plastic party tablecloths at dollar stores. Even though they sometimes tear easily, if you only plan to use them once, they’re definitely a good buy. I also go to dollar stores for balloons because it’s way cheaper than most specialty party stores.
  • Cleaning supplies – In most cases, off-brand cleaning supplies work just as well as the name-brand stuff. The ingredients in dollar store supplies will be similar, though perhaps more diluted. Rule of thumb: use dollar store cleaning supplies for general cleaning, and buy the name-brand stuff for tough jobs.
  • Gift wrapping supplies – You can get a really good deal on things like gift bags, ribbons, and tissue paper. You can even get wrapping paper for a really good price, if you don’t mind that it tears easily. I use dollar store wrapping paper for my son’s gifts because it’s easier for him to get off, but I wouldn’t use it if you’re worried about the presentation.
  • Cooking and dining accessories – Look for spoons, spatulas, ice cream scoops, and more. Almost anything in the kitchen department is a sure bet, except for knives, which can be flimsy and dull.

Dollar stores are a great place to find a bargain, if you know what you’re doing. As long as you’re not prone to impulse buys and come in with a clear list of needed items, dollar stores can save you a ton of money.

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2 Responses to How to Shop at Dollar Stores

  1. Dakota June 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    My mom is the biggest dollar store fan out there and you got the way to shop there spot on. We always buy party supplies and gift wrapping stuff there, as well as birthday cards and such. Same quality and so much cheaper than Halmark. Also, the “Awesome” brand cleaning supplies at dollar stores works like a charm. Sometimes my family will go out of our way to find a dollar store to buy this stuff because it’s so nice. Haha.

  2. Happygirl July 27, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    So, if the dollar store vitamins are manufactured in the U.S., then it’s alright?

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