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Dollar Stores—Are They Worth the Discount?

Shelves in a dollar store
emin kuliyev/Shutterstock

Not all dollar stores offer equal deals and equal product quality. The key to making your trip to the dollar store worthwhile is to know what to look for (and what to avoid). Here’s a crash course in cashing in at the dollar store.

Two Kinds of Dollar Stores

Before you start spending all of your hard earned dollars, you need to know that there are two different types of dollar stores. There are the dollar stores where everything in the store sells for $1 (like Dollar Tree), and there are the dollar stores that sell things for $1 or more (like Family Dollar and Dollar General).

Both types of stores offer discounted prices on products, but they are different.

Dollar stores that sell things for $1 often have off-brand items for sale, instead of the name brands you’re used to. The stores that don’t restrict themselves to $1 each item will often carry brand name stuff, but you may save a couple of dollars over the big box store price.

You’ll also find corporate and franchise stores, like those we mentioned above, and locally-owned dollar stores that can fall in either pricing category. All of them save you money on some things but might be wasting your money on other stuff.

It’s Worth It!

Woman pulling dollar bills from wallet

Here are the things worth buying from the dollar store. These are the items that, by purchasing them for $1 (or even a couple of dollars), will save you the most money.

  • Party Supplies: Buying all the supplies you need for a party can add up quickly. Dollar stores carry almost everything you need, from colored disposable plates to party favors, and you’ll get nearly 70% off what you’d spend at the party supply store.
  • Greeting Cards: Birthdays cards and the like can cost anywhere from a couple of dollars to $8 each. Instead of going to Hallmark, check out the greeting card selection at your local dollar store. You can find some fun cards, even if they aren’t as fancy as the pricier versions.
  • Pens, Notebooks, and Other Office Supplies: Dollar Tree has a fantastic selection of office supplies, all for $1 each. Whether you need college-ruled notebooks with 3-subjects or a pocket notebook for your grocery list, the dollar store is the place to go. The smaller notebooks often come in multi-packs, so you get a few for your single.
  • Storage Supplies: Even the thrift stores charge you a couple of dollars for a cloth bin, but you can get them for $1 each at many dollar stores. You can also find hangers at discounted prices.
  • Reading Glasses and Sunglasses: If you’re one of those people that always break your expensive sunglasses, why not grab a few pairs from the dollar store? Try them on while you’re there, to make sure they’re straight. Reading glasses are another thing that you’re better off buying for a buck each.
  • Holiday Decor: Whether for Christmas, Easter, or Halloween, the dollar store is your discount destination for decorations. Some of them might not last until next year, but for $1 a piece, it’s still worth the joy they bring for one holiday season.
  • Snack Foods: Even the authentic dollar stores with everything for a buck carry some brand name snack foods. These can be a good deal, but you might want to pass on the off brands.
  • Dishes for One or Two: The dollar store is great if you only need a couple of bowls, plates, and cups. The silverware is often bent or inferior quality, though.
  • Cleaning Supplies: If you’re not concerned about the chemicals in cleaning supplies, the dollar store will offer you a wide selection of supplies for keeping your home clean. Buy your cleaning buckets from them, too.

It’s Not Worth It!

Couple with socks and woolen stockings watching movies or series on tv in winter.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Here are the things you should buy somewhere else (shop around for the best price).

  • Toilet Paper: If you find a brand name toilet paper at the dollar store, get it. However, the off brands often fall apart when you’re trying to wipe.
  • Dishes for a Large Family: Dishes are sold by the piece at the dollar store. If you’re buying enough to feed more than two or three family members, you might want to buy a complete boxed set of dishes elsewhere.
  • Socks: Other lists say you should buy your socks at the dollar store. However, some people have found that these socks get holes in them the first time you wear them. They might be $1 each, but is it worth it for only one wear?
  • Towels and Wash Cloths: This is another category of items that some bloggers suggest buying from the dollar store. Like the socks, these can start to fall apart with the first wash. Also, check the material from which they’re made. You don’t want to dry off with a scratchy towel, do you?
  • Kitchen Utensils: It might be tempting to buy dollar-a-piece kitchen utensils, but the first time you try to flip a burger and the spatula melts to the pan you’ll be wishing you’d have spent a couple of extra bucks elsewhere.
  • Batteries: It’s a fact; off-brand batteries have a short life. It’s not worth the discount.

Things that Can Go Either Way

When you’re discount shopping at the dollar store, some categories can be good and bad, depending on what you’re buying.

  • Pet Supplies: Pet toys are sometimes OK to buy at the dollar store—look at the quality before making your decision. You should never purchase pet food at the dollar store, though, unless it’s a brand name.
  • Craft Supplies: Some craft supplies at the dollar store are cheap and not worth the money, like off-brand glue. The glue sticks are often hard or already dried out. Beads, sequins, and even ribbon can be a good deal, though. Even Walmart charges $1.97 or more for a roll of ribbon. The dollar store will have limited options, but if you can find what you want, it’s often worth it.
  • Home Decor: Again, some home decor items are of good quality; others aren’t. Picture frames are touted by many as a great dollar store purchase, but many of them easily fall apart. Look over the quality before you decide.
  • Toys: Dollar store toys are cheap. Family Dollar and some of the pricier dollar stores carry some better brands, but even then it’s important to know what you’re buying and the cost of that item elsewhere.

In the end, a lot depends on the brand. You can find brand name items at dollar stores. You’ll also find a lot of generic stuff. A generic school glue might dry up faster than a smaller bottle of Elmer’s from the same store. That’s one of the downfalls of dollar store shopping—it seems like a better deal, but the product size is smaller than normal. That’s OK if you don’t need a lot of it!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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