10 Things You Always (and Never) Should Buy at the Dollar Store

Dollar General Retail Location. Dollar General is a Small-Box Discount Retailer III stock photo
jetcityimage / iStock.com

The neighborhood dollar store has some great values on everyday items, and it’s fun to fill up your basket on your must-haves and still have change from a $20 bill.

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But it shouldn’t be the go-to for everything on your shopping list. In some cases, the items might not be up to your standards; and in other cases, you can find many things for less at your local grocery store.

“In general, some items at the Dollar Store will be bad purchases because the quality isn’t the best or the price per unit is higher than what you’d pay elsewhere,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com, a shopping comparison site. “On the other hand, some items will be great for purchasing at the dollar store because you can get name brands for less than if you were to shop elsewhere, so you get the same great quality for a lower price.” But which things are best to pick up at the dollar store and which should you stay away from?

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Things You Always Should Buy at the Dollar Store

Picture Frames

If you like to display your photographs, you know how pricey frames can get. You won’t be committing a decorating faux pas if you mix and match higher-quality frames with those from the dollar stores. They often stock a variety of frames in metallics, a rustic wood look or a simple white that can show off your photos, brighten your space and provide a nice contrast with your more expensive ones.

Candy

The candy aisle provides shoppers with one of the best values at the dollar store, Ramhold said.

“Dollar stores have a variety of different candies for great prices, even if they aren’t just $1 each,” she said. “Because of the cheap cost, you can easily stock up on a variety of kinds to make goodie bags for parties, create a candy board or anything in between.”

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Personal Care Basics

Hair clips and ties, as well as combs, can be worthwhile finds at the dollar store. There’s usually a selection of name-brand toothbrushes and toothpaste. Even if you don’t find your preferred brand, grab a few to have on hand for guests in an emergency.

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Drinkware

Dollar stores offer a ton of different kinds of drinkware to suit any party needs, from Irish coffee mugs to wine glasses to pint glasses to themed coffee cups and more,” Ramhold said. “You can also find plastic cups, both for kids and adults, and the best news is every single one is usually only $1 each. These likely won’t last for years and years, but they’re an affordable solution, especially if you don’t have the budget to buy full sets.”

Greeting Cards

With cards often costing $5 or more, the dollar store provides a great alternative. Dollar Tree stocks Hallmark-brand cards.

“If you shop for greeting cards at grocery stores or stationery stores, the cost will add up quickly, especially if you need to buy in bulk,” Ramhold said. “But if you shop at the dollar store, you can usually get them for 99 cents or even less in some cases. If you need a stack of them, the dollar store is your best bet.”

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Things You Never Should Buy at the Dollar Store

Gift Wrapping Supplies

It’s tempting to spend a dollar on a roll of wrapping paper, especially since it’s just going to be ripped apart in a matter of seconds when the recipient opens your gift. Ramhold said the quality of some dollar-store wrapping supplies makes them a bad buy.

“Whether it’s gift bags, tissue paper, wrapping paper or off-brand tape, you may end up spending more in the long run if you buy these items from a dollar store,” she said. “The gift bags aren’t always sturdy, wrapping and tissue paper will rip easily, and the off-brand tape cutter usually isn’t sharp enough to cleanly cut the tape. All of this means you’ll end up having to use more of the supplies than you initially planned, which could mean you have to replenish sooner, which means you’ll be spending more in the long run.”

Detergent

Dollar Tree, for one, carries name-brand laundry soaps such as Tide. But the bottle of Tide is only 10 ounces. If you watch the ads at drug stores such as Walgreens, you can buy a name-brand detergent of four times the size for $2.99 or less.

Batteries

Ramhold said batteries aren’t the best buy at the dollar store, either.

“If all you see is off-brand batteries, there’s a chance that they won’t last as long as their name-brand counterparts, especially if they’re older and have been on the shelf for a long time,” she said. “On top of that, the prices usually aren’t the best. You may only pay $1, but it usually turns out to be the worst price per unit.”

Medications

Think twice about picking up that bottle of ibuprofen, too.

Depending on what the turnover at the dollar store is like, these medications could’ve been on the shelf for a while, which means they may be close to — or past — their expiration,” Ramhold cautioned. “Best-case scenario, this means the efficacy will be lessened. But even if they aren’t nearing the expiration date, there’s a good chance the price per unit isn’t worth it. You’ll be better off shopping at big-box stores like Target or warehouse stores like Costco if you can manage it.”

Canned Foods

Sure, that can of green beans might cost only a dollar, but that’s more than you need to spend. Walmart sells its Great Value 14.5-ounce can of green beans for just 50 cents, and even its 28-ounce can costs less than a dollar.

Comparison shopping for price and quality is the key to finding the best values — no matter where you shop. The dollar store isn’t any different.

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor at daily newspapers in all four corners of the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates experience as a sports editor, business editor, religion editor, digital editor — and more. With a passion for real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still weighing whether to take the plunge into selling homes — or just writing about selling homes.

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