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What to Buy at Dollar Stores

Cameron Huddleston, Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Dollar stores can be a good source of deals -- if you know what to buy, that is. For starters, not everything is a dollar at some of these discount stores. So the price you're paying might not be any lower than at other stores. Even at stores where all items are a dollar, some of the merchandise may not be worth a buck.

SEE ALSO: Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs, Grocers and Big-Box Stores

To find out which dollar-store items really are deals, I spoke with savings guru Andrea Woroch. And I visited a local dollar store (where everything actually was $1) and compared products and prices at a grocery store and big-box retailers. Here are ten things that you should be buying at the dollar store.

Cleaning supplies. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute found that dollar-store brand cleaners work just as well as name-brand cleaners, Woroch says, but they cost about 30% less. However, they tend to be a little more diluted, so you might have to use more to get things clean. Sponges and scrub brushes also are cheaper at the dollar store. I found a two-pack of scrubbing sponges for $1 at the dollar store, but the cheapest I could find at the grocery was one sponge for $1.29. Two items that cost the same at both the dollar store and the grocery: 14-ounce Ajax dish soap and 25-ounce Comet.

Food containers. You can stock up on plastic food containers of all shapes and sizes for just a few bucks at the dollar store. At other stores, you'll pay closer to $3 for a single five- or six-pack of small containers.

Gift wrap and bags. Woroch says that the quality of gift wrap at dollar stores isn't as good as what you'll find at Target or specialty retailer Papyrus. But why pay four times as much -- or more -- for something that will just end up in the trash? Large gift bags also are a steal at dollar stores, considering they're $1 versus $5 and up at the grocery store and Target.

Greeting cards. You can get greeting cards for as little as 50 cents at the dollar store. Woroch says that the cheapest cards at the grocery are 99 cents, and some cards can cost as much as $8.

Holiday items. If you're looking for inexpensive holiday decor, the dollar store is your place. Plus, you can find items such as Easter baskets, trick-or-treat bags and holiday candy for just $1.

Party supplies. You can find packages of paper plates and napkins in a large variety of colors and plastic utensils at the dollar store for about 30% less than party supply stores and at least 50% less than at the grocery store. Streamers, plastic tablecloths and mylar helium balloons also are a good deal at the dollar store.

Personal grooming items. Hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant are significantly cheaper at the dollar store. For example, a package of two name-brand toothbrushes at the grocery cost $6.99 versus $1 for the same pack at the dollar store.

Picture frames. If you're looking for an inexpensive way to frame photos or artwork (perhaps your kids' drawings), you can find frames in a variety of sizes for just a buck at the dollar store.

Scented candles. Small scented candles don't cost much more at the grocery or big-box retailer than they do at the dollar store. But the big dollar-store candles are a steal for $1 versus the $4 or more you'll have to pay at other retailers.

Shampoo. If you're not loyal to a particular brand, you can save a lot by buying your shampoo at the dollar store. In fact, shampoo is not a you-get-what-you-pay-for product, according to the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, because there's not a lot of difference between low-cost and pricey shampoos.

For more on what to buy -- and what not to buy -- take our Dollar Store Quiz: Deal or No Deal?.