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Confessions of a Dollar Store Shopper

what to buy at the dollar store

I confess: I’ve been a dollar store shopper all my life. Growing up in a family of 7, there wasn’t often an excess of spending money, so I learned the art of dollar store shopping early – and I’ll happily admit that I still find gifts there today. If you haven’t been to a dollar store in years, many have made significant upgrades and now even carry name-brand products.

Most of this blog will refer to true dollar stores, like Dollar Tree, where everything costs $1.00. Occasionally I will mention “dollar & up” stores like Dollar General or Family Dollar, which are also great places to get name-brand products for less.

But be warned: not everything is a bargain. Here’s what you should buy at the dollar store and what you should skip.

• BUY household cleaners. The dollar & up stores generally carry name brands for less, and some Dollar Trees even carry brands like Lysol and SoftSoap. Even if you buy off brand products, the solution may be a little diluted so the scent won’t last, but the cleaning power is comparable.
• BUY shampoo and other toiletries. Studies show that most shampoos clean the same, but more expensive ones have richer scents. They carry great smelling soaps, lotions, and body washes which make nice gifts. Many stores carry name-brand deodorant and make-up.
• BUY party supplies. Gift wrap, decorations, invitations, balloons, and party favors are a fraction of the cost of party supply stores.
• BUY some school and office supplies, like paper, sticky notes, poster board, mailing supplies, and arts and craft supplies. Greeting cards are a steal at 50 cents or $1 each.
• BUY tableware. You can buy enough individual matching dishes at Dollar Tree to beat the price of a full set from a major retailer.
• BUY holiday décor. You won’t find it any cheaper. No matter the holiday…you name it, they probably have it. Last year I bought serving bowls, decorations, and enough themed plates, napkins, and cups to throw a Halloween party for under $10. Also consider buying your Easter and Halloween candy here (and movie theater boxes of candy, which run between 50 cents and $1).
• Other items to buy: storage bins, baskets, paper products (depending on package size), frames.
• MAYBE buy food. Some stores are selling name-brand food, but make sure it hasn’t expired yet.
• SKIP vitamins and medications. They may not be totally safe and often sit on the shelf so long that the expiration dates have passed.
• SKIP conditioner. The ingredients vary so you’re better off with a quality conditioner.
• SKIP electronics. The $5 MP3 player you buy at Dollar General will probably work like a $5 MP3 player. Extension cords and similar items often haven’t been properly tested and could be a fire hazard.
• SKIP toys. Some from dollar & up stores are fine, but many $1 toys are made with questionable materials like lead, and they’re so cheap you’ll just have to replace them anyway.
• SKIP batteries. They’re usually made with carbon zinc, not alkaline, so they don’t last long. You’ll end up spending as much replacing them as you would buying quality batteries the first time.
• SKIP pens and pencils. Buy the office items listed above, but stock up on other stuff during back-to-school specials at other stores for cheaper prices and better quality.
• Other items to skip: light bulbs, foil, plastic wrap, sandwich bags, cookware and utensils, pet food.

You can find some great deals at the dollar store if you’re willing to look. Remember that many, including Dollar Tree, now accept manufacturer’s coupons to give you an even better deal. Happy shopping!

Image source: http://www.consumercredit.com/talkingcents/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Dollar-Tree.jpg

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