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Dollar Stores: Are They Worth The Price?

Q:  I love browsing my local dollar store, but I often end up spending more than I planned or regretting my purchases. Are dollar stores worth the price?     
 
A:  Dollar stores can be tremendous spending traps, but they can also be a great way to snag a bargain. It's all in how you plan your visit.  Read on to learn how to get the best deal at the dollar store.
 

Before you start browsing

Everything is just a buck, you say. How can you possibly go wrong?
 
Unfortunately, with that mindset, you might find yourself going way overboard with your spending. Before you set out for the dollar store, create a physical or mental list of what you need to purchase.
 
Love to throw just-for-fun products into your cart? The dollar store is a great place to do that, so exercise caution. You don't want to blow tens of dollars on stuff you don't really need and might never use. Establish a limit of how many of those items you can pick up on your trip before you set out. If you always find yourself pushing your self-imposed limit, only shop with cash so you're forced to stick to your budget.

What's hot at the dollar store ...

Here are some products that are great bargains at the dollar store:
  • Cleaning supplies: Get clean for less by stocking up on Ajax, bleach, glass cleaner, scouring pads, spray bottles, off-brand Swiffer refills, sponges, dryer sheets and ammonia.
  • Seasonal: Visit the dollar store before hitting chain stores for your holiday decorations. Halloween décor, cheap gift boxes and wrapping paper can all be had at the dollar store.
  • Toys: Load up on bubbles, sidewalk chalk, balls, card games and kites.
  • Groceries: Get your frozen fruit and veggies, string cheese, spices, name-brand condiments, rice, oatmeal and snack foods at the dollar store.
  • Kitchenware: Stock up on bargain-priced storage bins and containers, whimsical kitchen décor and glasses. Paper plates, cups and napkins can also be bought at super low prices.
  • Party gear: Greeting cards, wrapping paper, balloons, ribbons, streamers, birthday candles, party decorations and gift bags can all be bought for, you guessed it, a dollar each.
  • School/office supplies: You won't be able to find every item on your school supply list that's actually worth the price, but you can load up on project display boards, tab dividers, binder clips and poster boards at the dollar store.
  • Kids' activities: The dollar store is a great place to stock up on rainy-day supplies for the kids. You'll find some great books, puzzles, craft supplies, colored papers, stickers, activity books, coloring books and more.

... And what's not

Not everything you'll find in the dollar store is worth as much as a dollar. Plus, there are lots of things you can get elsewhere for a better price.
  • Cleaning supplies: The following cleaning supplies at the dollar store are either made too cheaply to be worth the price or can be bought for less in other stores: dishwashing soap, tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, laundry detergent.
  • Toys: Small toys for young children that aren't made well can quickly become choking hazards. Also, dollar-store dolls and toy cars are likely to break the day you bring them home.
  • Groceries: These foods can be bought for cheaper in a grocery store: pasta, soda, gum, canned goods, chocolate.
  • Kitchenware: Plastic cutlery from the dollar store is too cheaply made to be worth the few cents you'll save. Ditto for disposable baking dishes. You'll also want to stay away from canopeners, knives and oven mitts, as these items need to be well made to do their jobs.
  • School/office supplies: The following supplies can be bought for less money and of better quality in stores like Walmart and Target: lined paper, composition notebooks, glue, crayons, markers, Post-its, pens, pencils and highlighters.
  • Self-care: Cheaply made soap, shampoo and cosmetics can be harmful to your skin. Don't buy name-brand travel-size toiletries either; you can usually get tiny shampoo and soap bottles for less than a buck at big-box stores.

When it's not a bargain

When making a purchase at the dollar store, hold it up to this checklist. If your item fits any of these criteria, you're better off without it:
  1. It's sold in tiny quantities. Often, what looks like a bargain is just a product in a really small package. Check the size on food items and cleaning products; you can often get more for less money when you buy a product in a bigger size at a larger store.
  2. It's made with harmful toxins. Check all health and beauty products for toxic and carcinogenic ingredients.
  3. You don't need it. A dollar spent on something you don't need is a dollar wasted.
  4. It's made super-cheaply. If it's going to break during the first day of use, or even the first hours, leave it in the store.
  5. It isn't food-safe. Check all products that will come into contact with food, like serving platters or dishes, for a label that proclaims them food-safe.
  6. It's expired. Be careful to check the "Sell by" date on candy and other foodstuffs so you're not paying for expired products.
Learn how to shop smart at the dollar store and you'll go home with true bargains!

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