You can find some seriously great deals at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Dollar General. However, it’s easy to get carried away and try to buy almost EVERYTHING at the dollar store.
For some items, you might find better bargains elsewhere. For maximum savings, here are the best and worst buys at dollar stores.
1. Party supplies and cards
If you forgot about the birthday for a special person in your life (but really, how could you?), the best place to find last-minute wrapping paper and a card is at Dollar Tree or one of its competitors.
And when you’re hosting your next big bash, a dollar store will have plastic utensils, plates, cups, tablecloths, napkins and other party supplies selling for just a fraction of what you'd pay at a specialty store like Party City.
2. Pregnancy tests
Really? Pregnancy tests? Really. All pregnancy tests sold in the United States are FDA approved, and the ones at the dollar store are just as accurate as more expensive tests.
Just be sure to follow the kit’s instructions closely, and check the expiration date — as with anything you get from dollar stores.
A dollar store might not be your first choice to head with your grocery list, but Family Dollar and Dollar General both have surprisingly huge selections of food, and the prices are cheaper than at most supermarkets.
Dollar Tree stocks bread and eggs and also has frozen food sections where you can score bags of vegetables, french fries, pierogies and more.
Save even more by paying with a credit card that offers extra cash back for grocery purchases.
4. Cosmetics and personal care items
You can pay a lot at a drug store for personal care items like shampoo, toothpaste and sanitary products, even if you’re a master at couponing and try waiting until the pharmacy is having a sale.
But dollar stores have great selections of name brand and budget cosmetics and personal care items, at very affordable prices.
5. Cleaning supplies
So, your place needs some tidying up? Your nearest dollar store will have a large array of supplies for that, including liquid cleaners and cleaning tools, and at prices significantly cheaper than you'll find anywhere else.
For example, a broom with an attached dustpan is $10 at Target, while a similar set at Dollar Tree costs just $2.
6. Festive decor
If your family celebrates every possible holiday (like Hoodie Hoo Day), getting festive gets expensive.
Head to the dollar store and pick up as many budget-friendly holiday stickers, festive cups, decorations, and heck, even piñatas, as your heart desires.
Want more MoneyWise? Sign up for our newsletter.
After you move into a new place, your budget might be pretty tight. At Dollar Tree, you can get cups, plates, mugs and wine glasses for just $1 each. At department stores, dish sets typically range from $30 to $50.
And Family Dollar sells artwork for $15 that looks just as good as the $50 prints at HomeGoods.
If you want to be ready for the next time you need to hang or assemble something, you might be tempted to shop the tool section of the dollar store. But those items tend to be low-quality and break easily.
It’s better to buy higher-quality tools from a hardware store or a discounter such as Harbor Freight. With one of its coupons, you might be able to buy a tool at a low price AND score free batteries or a free flashlight.
Four rolls of toilet paper for $1 might seem like an amazing deal, but the cheap dollar store brands have only 150 to 250 sheets per roll.
The typical name-brand t.p. not only has 1,000 sheets per roll but also offers better quality, meaning you’ll need fewer sheets to, er, get the job done.
Plus, it's possible to find coupons for the name brands. If you’ve seen any episode of Extreme Couponing, you’ll know that toilet paper is one of the easiest things to buy at a hefty discount, or even for free.
3. Canned goods
While most food items at dollar stores are a great deal, canned goods can be relatively expensive.
For example, cans of soup or tomatoes that might sell for 50 cents or 75 cents at a grocery store will cost $1 at Dollar Tree, since that's the chain's favorite price for most things.
4. Laundry detergent
Lots of people buy laundry detergent at the dollar store, assuming it's the cheapest option. However, the quality of dollar store detergent is incredibly poor compared to name brands, and the stuff is less concentrated, meaning you'll need to use more to get your clothes clean.
Name-brand laundry detergent is one of the easiest items to find coupons for, at any time of year. Just check Coupons.com or a Sunday newspaper, and keep an eye out for sales at pharmacies and discount chains.
You're better off sticking to an actual toy store when toy shopping for your little gremlins. It may seem like a bargain, but consider that cheap, poorly made toys end up being hazardous.
They can break easily, and judging from our own childhoods, broken parts get chewed on — and once swallowed, can result in not-so-fun trips to the ER.
6. Electronics chargers and power strips
Off-brand chargers and power stripers can be life-savers in a pinch, but long-term it’s better to avoid them. They can short your device, negatively impact your battery life, or even start fires.
One scan through the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website reveals tons of electronics recalls.
7. Pet food
If you can avoid it, don’t buy your furry companion food or treats from the dollar store. The food could be expired — and the nutrient profile? It’s your pet’s equivalent of fast food.
Do “Cat Damon” a favor, and head to the pet store instead.
They’re similar to electronics: convenient in a pinch, but bad long-term practice. Dollar store batteries are made with zinc chloride and not alkaline, so they hold less energy, have a shorter shelf life, and run out of charge faster than their brand-name counterparts.
Even worse, they could leak and ruin your gadgets.
9. Medicine or vitamins
When it comes to your health, take your business to the professionals. You can count on supermarket pharmacies and stand-alone drug stores to have up-to-date medication — and tasty gummy vitamins.
But dollar stores are more likely to have expired medications on the shelves, making them ineffective — even dangerous.