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Looking for Deals at the Dollar Store? Here's What to Avoid

There's some great deals to be found at dollar stores, but there's also items to avoid.

Dollar stores can be a great place to find deals, but they can also be a wily drain on your wallet.

While there are certainly wonderful deals to be discovered on things like clothespins and party supplies, dollar stores also sometimes stock their shelves with items that are not a bargain, things that are worth less than a dollar, and that may not be the same quality you’re used to. And remember: Just because something costs $1, doesn’t necessarily make it a good buy.

On the list of things to stock up on at your local dollar store:

  • Kitchen items – Items like potholders, wooden spoons, dish towels, sponges, wine glasses, spatulas and tongs can be a good buy, if the quality seems decent. I even bought a cute plate at Dollar Tree about 10 years ago, and I still it for serving cookies.
  • Party supplies – I’ve never seen a helium balloon sold for $1 anywhere but at a dollar store. You can also pick up inexpensive invitations, gift wrap, greeting cards, latex balloons, party favors, decorations, paper products.
  • Cleaning supplies – Good Housekeeping Research Institute says it’s okay to buy things like laundry detergent and soap at dollar stores. You won’t find the same brand names bottles, but the cleaning products inside will do the trick, at considerable savings.
  • Crafting materials – Some dollar stores have a section with candles, craft kits and supplies for a dollar. Many of these items are a great buy, but be familiar with what craft items sell for at craft stores (and keep in mind many craft stores frequently offer 40 percent off coupons). Last weekend I found vinyl wall quotes for $1!

And on the flip side, a basic list of what to avoid purchasing at the dollar store:

  • Food – Unless you spot a brand you recognize and can confirm that the product is not expired, it’s best not to buy food at the dollar store. For starters, many of the products are not manufactured in the U.S., which means they may not have been produced to the standards and quality to which you’re accustomed. These items may also have been packaged in a slightly smaller “dollar store” container with less than a dollar’s worth of contents.
  • Most toys – Although some of the items in a dollar store’s toy section might be okay to purchase (glow sticks, puzzles, bouncy balls) be wary of anything with paint, which could contain lead, especially small toys which can fit in children’s mouths.
  • Batteries – Consumer Reports determined that cheap batteries are prone to leakage, because of sub-par manufacturing processes. Batteries are expensive, but battery acid is a mess, and can be dangerous, so it’s better to splurge on name-brand batteries.
  • School supplies – You get what you pay for, so better to bypass the pack of 50 pencils for $1. You’ll do better to stock up on back-to-school deals at office-supply and retail stores in August.

Another way to avoid wasting money at dollar stores is to know the basic cost of things, and typical package size. If you didn’t know better, you might think you were getting a great deal on Ziploc bags for $1 at the dollar store. But the package is probably much smaller than the more expensive box you would get at a grocery store, and so the cost-per bag is actually higher at the dollar store.

And as a general rule of thumb for dollar-store bargain hunting: If it looks like junk, it’s probably junk.

What do you stock up on when you shop at the dollar store? What do you know better than to buy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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