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What to Buy at the Dollar Store (& What to Avoid)

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If you’re like me, you enter your neighborhood dollar store intending to quickly grab one or two things. Instead, you end up slowly roaming the aisles for an hour, checking out absolutely everything. After all, you don’t want to miss an amazing $1 deal!

Here are a few things to keep in mind for your next trip:

  • Not everything at the dollar store is actually $1, so check prices.
  • Sometimes you get what you pay for — low price can equal low quality.
  • Dollar stores often receive odd lots or overstocks. Keep that in mind before purchasing — check for quality, damages and expiration dates (when applicable).

There are some items that can be great finds at dollar stores, and other kinds of purchases that are best left to other retailers.

What to Buy

Plant supplies, like clay pots, glass marbles, etc.
These are usually a great bargain at a dollar store versus home improvement stores. I would, however, avoid gardening tools, as the quality probably isn’t there.

Packing tape
I always make a point of picking up a roll or two at the dollar store. The rolls can be a bit shorter than at the office supply store, but for $1 vs. at least three times that, it’s a good deal.

Decorative gift bags
You can usually get plain gift bags pretty cheaply at stores like Target and Kmart, especially if you buy a package of multiples, but those shiny bags festooned with pictures of balloons or holiday ornaments? Those can go for $3 and up versus $1 at the dollar store.

Hair accessories, like coated elastics and hair combs
These are $1 a bunch at the dollar store and are at least $2.50 at the drugstore. The quality of the elastics can be a bit questionable at the dollar store, though, so give them a good tug before buying. 

Toothbrushes and toothpaste
If you find brand names at the dollar store for $1, grab them. Be sure to check the expiration date on the toothpaste, though.

Beach reading and coloring books
You probably won’t find The New York Times best sellers at the dollar store, but a good trashy novel? Yes. Coloring or activity books are also a good buy at the dollar store, but I would skip those that come with markers or crayons, which may be dried out or of poor quality. 

Foam core
School project? If you can find foam core for $1 or even $2 at the dollar store, grab it. I’ve seen it priced between $3 and $12 elsewhere. 

Mylar balloons
If your local dollar store sells and inflates balloons for $1, this is a great deal. The balloon or floral store will charge more.

Cotton balls/pads
If they are 100% cotton and $1, get them. Only get cotton swabs at the dollar store if they are brand name.

What to Avoid

Perishable & packaged foods and candy
Freshness and quality can be questionable, so I would proceed with caution. Check expiration dates and ingredients and inspect for damage before purchasing. 

Power strips, USBs, chargers and earbuds
Avoid buying anything that you plug into your beloved smart devices at the dollar store. The quality is probably not up to snuff, so don’t take the risk. 

Plastic food containers
Especially if you are in the habit of microwaving food in plastic containers or putting them in the dishwasher (both of which I advise against), do not buy plastic containers at the dollar store. The quality may be substandard. 

Only buy sunscreen if the expiration date is a couple years away (allowing for time it may have already sat on the shelf), as SPF tends to degrade over time. Also check for a seal. If there isn’t an expiration date or seal, skip it. 

Detergents and cleaning products
Like sunscreen, the efficacy of cleaning products can degrade over time. Best to skip unless there’s an expiration date that is a couple of years away. 

Makeup, toiletries and medicines
I’d pretty much skip this category. It’s rare to find name-brand products anyway, and if you do find name brands, they could be pretty old.

Toys and games
These are usually made very cheaply. Your child will delighted for a minute until the toy falls apart. Rubber and plastic balls are good, though.

If saving money is important to you, don’t forget that you can save on everything from car loans to credit card interest rates if you have a good credit score. You can monitor your financial goals like building credit for free on Credit.com.

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