Dollar stores have become increasing popular since the Great Recession, and it seems like there is one on almost every corner. Initially I wasn't much of a fan, but over time I became a convert. They can really help a frugal gal maximize her budget, but there are also a few items that should be avoided. Let's face it — some things should cost more than $1.
5 Items to Buy at the Dollar Store
Dollar stores are a bit of an adventure. Their merchandise seems to rotate frequently, but these items are generally kept in stock and are good buys.
The other day I was looking at greeting cards at a major retailer, and the card was more than $5. Yikes! I put it back and moseyed on over to the Dollar Store. In most instances, cards are read and quickly discarded. You are much better off putting that $5 towards their actual gift.
Wrapping Paper, Bows and Gift Bags
This is another area where dollar stores really shine. Gift supplies are expensive, but I love wrapping presents and making them look beautiful. What I don't love is how expensive that can be, especially when your hard work is ripped apart and thrown away. Thanks to their large selection of gift supplies, I can still make presents look gorgeous without spending a fortune.
Seasonal / Party Decorations
I'm a bit of a Grinch when it comes to decorating for the various holidays throughout the year, but most $1 stores stock a variety of decorations at a great price. They carry everything from festive napkins, plates, tablecloths and knick knacks. They also have a wide selection of party supplies, so they should be your go-to for birthday parties, Super Bowl parties, bridal and/or baby showers and graduations.
Success Tip: Their selection is great but they won't necessarily have the latest characters, such as Frozen, in stock. Don't let that deter you. Instead use the colors from Frozen (blue and white) to decorate and for your plates and napkins. Now you only need to buy one or two Frozen items (cake-top decorations) to complete the look for a fraction of the cost.
Basic Health Care Items
Basic care health care items, such as band aids, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls are generally a good bargain too. The quantities may be less, so confirm you're getting a better deal per ounce, but otherwise the quality is comparable to name-brands and much cheaper.
Surprise Name-Brand Finds
This is one of the main reasons why I love Dollar Stores — you never know what you're going to find. I've found Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Kelloggs Frosted Flakes, Classico Spaghetti Sauce, OreIda Potatoes, Chobani yogurt, PAM non-stick spray and many more great steals. It doesn't happen every time, but it is a huge cost-saver when it does.
Please note: You want to double-check the expiration dates. I have never run into a problem, but you want to be sure that the item won't go bad on you.
5 Items to Consider
These items can be good buys but not always. If your favorite retail store or grocery store has a sale and/or you find a great coupon, you may be able to buy higher quality versions for the same price or even cheaper. So do your due diligence before buying.
Out-of-Season School Supplies/Office Supplies
Major retailers will typically have the lowest prices during the back-to-school season, but afterwards, the selection decreases and prices go up. If you need to replenish your supplies after school starts, your local dollar store may have the better price.
Spices and Seasonings
Spices and seasonings can be quite expensive, and many dollar stores sell the most common spices, such as garlic powder, cinnamon, basil, etc. in similar sized bottles for far less. Additionally, they also carry overstock items so you may be able to find name-brand spices for a great price too.
Plastic Food Containers
I am convinced that my dishwasher eats random lids because there are always more containers than lids in my cabinets. Dollar stores have a pretty extensive selection and are generally better priced. However, grocery stores run frequent sales, and I have found their sale prices to be better with higher quality containers.
Food - Milk, Eggs and Produce
Not every dollar store has an extensive grocery selection, but those that do, offer some excellent deals. I have found that milk and eggs, in particular, are cheaper than their grocery counter-parts. Produce is a hit and miss. Generally, it's cheaper but again, the quantities can be less and sometimes the quality is low. They are also typically priced per item, rather than by weight so again, it's not always cheaper than your grocery store.
Many of the dinnerware have small flaws but are still usable. The bakeware won't last long (the non-stick will peel and/or rust) but for occasional use or a college student starting out, it's perfect.
5 Items To Avoid
There are some items due to low quality and/or safety concerns are better purchased elsewhere.
Anything With an Electric Cord
The Underwriter Laboratories (UL) safety seal on extension cords and other electrical items may make you feel like these items are safe and a great bargain, but unfortunately those seals are often counterfeited. Your safety is worth paying a few extra dollars.
Medications and Vitamins
Occasionally you can find name-brand medications and/or vitamins in much smaller containers, which depending on the size, may be a better deal. Otherwise avoid them. They may be lacking ingredients or nutrients. If you want to save money on these items, buy a store-brand instead.
These seem like a great bargain initially, but the mitts are quite thin. The purpose of oven mitts is to protect your hands, and I am not willing to risk getting burned. Thicker and nicer oven mitts are only a few dollars more and are well worth it.
The aluminum foil was a huge disappointment to me. It claimed to be heavy duty but tore so easily and was very thin. It's worth paying a couple dollars more to get real heavy duty aluminum foil.
Cheap knives are typically dull and flimsy, which oddly enough makes them more dangerous than a sharp knife. Invest in a good quality knife and it can last you a lifetime.
Tanya is a freelance writer and web designer. She blogs at Eat Laugh Purr where she enjoys simple pleasures every day. Her life is ruled by a ginger tabby named Max who also meows about his awesomeness on their blog.