What Not to Buy at the Dollar Store

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Dollar stores have become increasingly popular as the United States comes out of the worst recession our generation has seen. But, just because something is priced $1 doesn’t mean it is a good deal. It’s important to know what not to buy at the dollar store.

What Not to Buy at The Dollar Store

Most of the items on my what-not-to-buy list are things whose packaging is much smaller than an equivalent product at Walmart or Target, resulting in a much higher per unit or per ounce price at the dollar store.

In a recent trip I made to a local Dollar Tree store, I spotted a few things I would never buy, even for a buck (listed alphabetically, because I’m Type A that way).

Cake mix. Wow, you scored a Duncan Hines cake mix for $1 and think it’s a deal. Nope. It’s a 9 ounce box versus a standard 19.5 ounces. With a little patience you’ll see full sized cake mixes go on sale at the grocery store for $1. You’ll get more and have a wider selection of flavors.

Cereal. I don’t like to pay more than $1/box for cereal, but when I pay $1 I’m getting a container with 14+ ounces of name brand product. At the dollar store my $1 got me a 7-ounce package.

Hefty storage bags. Ziploc-type bags can be expensive and spotting a box for $1 at the dollar store may seem like a bargain. But, the cost per bag is less when you buy a larger box at Target or Walmart, even without a coupon, than the small 6-pack you get at the dollar store.

Frozen veggies. At the dollar store you’re buying 14 ounces versus  the typical 16 ounces in most packages. Generic veggies routinely go on sale for $1 at the grocery stores and Aldi’s everyday price for certain varieties is under $1.

Nuts. I looked at almost all the packaged nuts, including these cashews, and when I converted them to a per pound price they were more than I’d pay buying them on sale elsewhere. I often wait for sales at my local Fleet Farm store or at the drugstores like CVS and Walgreens – when they run a buy one, get one free and I’ve got a coupon or two on top of it.

Shredded Cheese. A 3-ounce package of shredded cheese is $1. That’s like $5.33/lb. Aldi’s everyday price for shredded cheese is about $2.50/lb.

Single roll paper towel. Without much effort you can get an 8-pack of paper towels at a grocery store for $6 or less, which is less than $1 per roll. Often I am able to match a great paper towel sale with a coupon to pick up rolls, in a multi-pack, at $0.50/roll or less.

VO5 and White Rain Hair products. Compared to name brand products at Target or Walmart, $1 per bottle might seem like a steal. But, both these low-end brands routinely go on sale for much less than $1 at grocery stores and drugstores. Just this week V05 products are $0.59 at my local grocery store.

This list isn’t comprehensive, but a snapshot. It doesn’t include the plethora of lukewarm deals that fill the aisles. Items whose sale price at drugstores or grocery retailers is $1. But, if purchased elsewhere, you can use a coupon on top of the sale and actually pay less than you would at the dollar store. These lukewarm deals include boxes of name brand Kleenex, 25 sq ft of Reynold’s Wrap, Renuzit air freshners and Friskies canned cat food.

All this isn’t to say that everything is overpriced at your local dollar store. That simply isn’t true. Party decorations, helium balloons, two-for-$1 greeting cards, generic-brand medicines, pregnancy tests and hair clips and binders are great values.

Your turn: What items have you decided not to buy at a dollar store because you get a better value elsewhere?

Comments

  1. Jordan says

    I actually think Aldi is too expensive for shredded cheese. You can regularly get a 1lb package for less than $2.50 (I usually pay $1.75-$2.33 for either Kraft or the Target brand with coupons). We go through a lot of cheese (salad topper, baked potato, mexican meals, ect) so the small difference in price does make sense long term.

    • Aubrey says

      Are you paying $1.75-$2.33 for a POUND of cheese, or 8oz? I don't live near an Aldi, so am not sure if the $2.50 Carrie mentioned is actually for a pound or 8oz/half a pound (she said a pound) – but if it is actually a pound for that price, then that's only $1.25 per 8oz – which, I'm guessing, is the size that you're referring to.

  2. Diana says

    I am hesitant to buy anything in the food category at the dollar store, especially if it is not a name brand, as much of their food is produced in China. Canned foods at the dollar store are a complete rip-off.

  3. AJM says

    One item I recently purchased at the dollar store and was pleased with was the BIG zip top plastic bags. You know the ones with the cut-out for a handle. I forget how many gallons they are each. My dollar store had them in large and extra large sizes. I used them for packing for a trip to a location with lots of sand. The bags are hefty and the zip top stayed closed.

  4. Andrea says

    I agree many of the products at the dollar store aren't always the deals they appear to be — but I do love the spray cleaner "LA's Totally Awesome". I'll make a special stop at the dollar store just for that! Best thing there is for cleaning the sticky hardened grease that seems to accumlate on the cabinets above my stove.

  5. Rhonda says

    Brand name Candy bars are not a "Great" deal for a dollar. I'm talking about the larger sized bars that have 4 peanut butter cups versus two. On a good sale you can get larger size candy bars at Walgreen's 3/$2

    What can be a good deal is bleach for $1/gallon. I buy it in a pinch at the dollar store; however right now I've been getting gallons of bleach at Target for .37/gallon with the Up & Up coupon.

  6. says

    I am a dollar store queen if you will. Our house is decorated with many dollar store items, and I use many of the items (i.e. cloth place mats) to decorate furniture. I sew them together and make pillow cases, chair cushions, even little pillows for our play room. Where did I get the cute Snoopy Pillow, yes, the dollar store! I use the colored foam from the craft isle to cut shapes and use for scrapbooking and! labeling!

    In addition to this, I will NEVER buy laundry detergent. 1. It is mostly water, and 2. It is so full of chemicals its more hazardous then helping to clean your clothing. There are MANY MANY do it yourself at home laundry detergant recipes that can cost you as little as .05 cents per load. Also, making your own fabric softener sheets using old flannel shirts with a recycle baby wipes container and mixing 2 tbsp. fabric softener to every cup of water, you can stretch a fabric softener liquid bottle up to 100 X its original load. (i.e. 32 loads = 320), but again this is not something (the fabric softener I would buy at the dollar store, again hazardous and mostly water, and when you combine coupons with deals ..)(this week Walgreen has Snuggle on Sale and I combined it with a coupon and RR overall getting it for free.

    Also the toys seem great, but, you can find toys for great prices in drug stores when they go on clearnace, you get better quality and you get more for your dollar. My Walgreens has many name brand toys (PlaySkool) on sale this week for half or 1/3 of the original cost and often its not more than $4 dollars. Its great when you go to Walgreens and they have free items with RR, if you are going to spend the money anyhow, you can get more product per dollar.

    Candy! Never buy candy from the Dollar Store! Use Walgreens inserts with Manufacturer's coupons, you get better quality, tasting and cheaper candy! That is a promise!

    Chalk and bubbles and kites and flags and outdoor decorations are okay for me from the Dollar Store. I rent, but even so I like it to look nice outside and I often find my yard looking great with decor from the dollar store, you just have to be smart about it and put items where they will work. You can tell they are dollar quality, but if you use them in the right way they can look very expensive.

    Markers! Rip Off! Just buy a bunch when they have the going back to school sales in the Fall, its just not worth it!

    Batteries! Never! They don't last, and store brand batteries i.e. Walgreens and CVS often have B1G1 sales, AND, again combining them with the ECBs and RR beat the $1 for 2 really crappy batteries you get!

    Baby Lotions/Vaselines/Baby Bottles NO NO! Never! Again not worth it and you can buy a really nice bottle from Babies R Us or Walmart, with coupons for around $2! Also, lotions and vaselines because of the lack of quality in the scenting of the lotions they can cause more harm then good for your child and I know this from experience. You can save everywhere else but I just wouldn't try to stay cheap when it comes to your child(that said using coupons with sales and store coupons you can get incredible deals! and my Walgreens for some reason always has the Triple Past Large Jars that are usually $28 on clearance for $7 or $8 and I find coupons in parents magazine or baby talk for $1 off so I get them for super cheap! Just keep your eye out and know what is available when!

    I could go on and on and on! I love saving, I am an avid reader of this blogs and many blogs and I just hope some of my information can help others who need and would like to start saving!

    • says

      Crystal – Thanks for sharing your opinion on good dollar store buys! I go every once in a while but haven't quite found anything worth making the trip more often than that. Your comment has inspired me to do a little more once I have the time.

  7. Bernice says

    I agree, Dollar Tree is typically overpriced for most food items. Not here in MN, but in California, we enjoyed shopping at the 99¢ only store. Short dated organic milk, name brand discontinued frozen foods, eggs.. you never know what you will find! The closest thing we have to that in the metro area is one of the discounted/discontinued food stores like Mike's Discount Foods. Again, know your "best price" and keep a close eye on expiration dates.

  8. Jennifer says

    My kids love to drink with straws so I thought it was a great deal to get them at the dollar store-NEVER again!!! Maybe 1 in 10 would work-they had holes in them!!!

    • Lisa says

      Jennifer -

      I've bought straws at Target, Wal-mart, and Ikea. Haven't used the Ikea ones yet, but so far, none of the Wal-mart ones have had wholes in them and they are almost gone. I think a few of the Target ones had holes in them. All 3 stores had them for probably $1-$1.50 for 75+ straws.

  9. Julie says

    I've had really good luck with their pregnancy tests. I've used them for all my children (I have quite a few) and it was always right. You can't beat a buck for that! They are usually quite expensive everywhere else.

  10. JoAnna says

    Julie–interesting. I would have thought the opposite.

    My mom always buys 16oz bags of Stouffers animal crackers for us. Way better price than the grocery store.

    • ME says

      I have been buying the 2 lb. bags of these at Walmart for $2. It's good to know where I can get a smaller sized bag that might keep fresher for the same price! Thanks.

  11. Becca says

    The only time I go to the dollar store is to get the $0.50 rolls of wrapping paper after christmas. The rolls are smaller, sometimes in height, sometimes in length, sometimes both, than you'd find at Target/Walmart, however they have a great selection of kids styles the week or so after christmas and if you do the math some of the rolls can be cheaper per foot or yard than at the bigger stores.

  12. Lauren says

    I love getting greeting cards at the dollar store. I like Dollar Tree the best. Cards there are 2/$1, and in my opinion they are just as nice as hallmark or others you'd find at the regular store.

    Another section I find to be a good deal is their kitchen section. Yes, it's cheap, but if you're in serious need of some towels, oven mitts, cooking utensils, I think the dollar store is the best deal.

    Another thing – this sounds stupid, but I sometimes buy extra pairs of sunglasses at the dollar store. I tend to lose or break my sunglasses, so I never spend much on them and I don't really care what they look like because I just keep them for riding in the car.

    I agree with a lot of dollar store items being much less of a value than they seem, but does anyone else have items that are a great deal there?

    thanks!

    Lauren

  13. says

    Jordan – If you are referring to a single package of cheese it is most likely 8 ounces. Two of those make a pound of cheese. I like to pay no more than $1.25 per 8 ounce bag of shredded cheese, or $2.50/pound, but Aldi has it for a bit more everyday when I need it.

    • AJM says

      Dollar Tree in Stillwater. The L ones are 15 x 15 (3 in the box) and the XL are 20 x 17 (2 in the box). The box shows there are also XXL ones available.

  14. Val says

    Dollar Tree has pregnancy and ovulation tests for $1 each. They work great and WAY cheaper than ever where else. Especially if you have fertility issues and need a lot of them.

  15. KD says

    Hair accessories! I have a 2 year old girl with a LOT of hair. I get 500 of the tiny elastic bands, I use them once and toss them. I also get headbands, hair clips, etc.

  16. C~~ says

    I agree, Dollar Stores can be hit and miss on some items. I can usually find some pretty decent deals at Dollar General, especially paired with coupons.

    I recently purchased a bottle of Spic and Span Antibacterial Spray Cleaner (22 fl.oz. spray bottle), it was $1.00 and matched with my .50/1 coupon, so purchased for .50 cents.

    I also purchased Angel Soft toilet paper (12 Big Rolls) $5.25 this is their everday price and matched with my .50/1 coupon made it $4.75 (I believe Carrie had mentioned on this site a while back that .40 to .45 per roll was a good price, I thought it was a good deal anyway.

    But, I'm still not sure what a good price to pay for paper towels would be (per roll). Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

      • C~~ says

        - Deal Finder, I usually like to shop at Dollar General every so often (I live in Southeast TX on the Gulf Coast). Not sure if this store is in your area, they seem to be on every block down here. :) They take coupons as well.

        We have other stores such as Family Dollar (I think they are a little high on their prices), we also have Dollar Tree and Big Lots – (Big Lots doesn't accept coupons).

  17. Deal Finder says

    I buy helium filled mylar balloons at the Dollar Tree versus places like Party City. I recently read an article by a professional organizer ans she suggests buying your storage bins/containers for inside your closets and pantry at places like the Dollar Stores.

  18. JordanS says

    I asked my Family Dollar if they accept mfr coupons and they said yes. I can double check, but I go to the Family Dollar on Rice & Larpenteur in St. Paul.

    I had always wondered why they don't do lists for Family Dollar, they sometimes send out a circular.

  19. says

    I don't know if anyone else mentioned this, but I don't buy cleaning supplies at the dollar store anymore. They really don't work at all! The all-purpose cleaner I bought seemed to be watered down and ineffective (plus, it left streaks on everything), and the toilet bowl cleaner stained the inside of our toilet! I would rather pay a little more and get a product I can trust.

  20. Karen says

    Ditto. I was just going to post the same thing. And not just the XXL ones, but the 2.5 gal (I think?) ones.

    I also get sunglasses exclusively at the dollar store. If they break or get scratched no big deal. And for $1 I can keep a couple pairs in each car.

  21. Jenna says

    There are certain items at the Dollar Tree that are reliable back-ups when a coupon deal doesn't present itself elsewhere.

    -kitty litter 7lb bag (the 20 lb tubs of the fancy stuff go for around ten bucks at target)

    -bleach

    -baking soda at .59

    -8-packs of scrubber sponges (these retail at nearly a buck a piece elsewhere)

    -3-liters of generic soda

    -makeup, sometimes namebrand, selection varies widely store to store

    -16-oz jars of red peppers are a great deal, i'm estimating they stuff 3 peppers in there, and at almost $2/pepper at the groc. these days it's quite a steal.

    -cookies are a decent deal, if you go for the 11-14 oz pckg you're getting a good price per ounce and they're tasty (personally i like the maple sandwich cookies. ;)

  22. s says

    I like to buy tissue paper (a huge chunk of either all white, or multi color) for $1.

    Someone mentioned the mylar balloons, and I do that for my kids' birthday's also. So cheap compared to Party City.

    Also the cards too.

    My daughter wanted eye glasses so bad (and doesn't need them), so I took her to the $1 store and she bought a pair of reading glasses for $1! haha. I think my mom may have used to buy multiple reading glasses there and stuck them all around her house so she would have a pair close to her or if she lost them.

    In a pinch if we're going to a hotel and forgot swimming floaties/toys, sometimes the $1 will have them and we'll pick some up.

  23. Jayne says

    I LOVED getting those cheapy pregnancy tests when I was trying to get pregnant. I don't have a dollar store that close to me so I'd buy in bulk…it was quite embarrassing! But anyone who has been trying knows that you must test 1000 times before you believe anything…LOL!

    Saved me a ton of $$!

  24. Darcy says

    I don't go very often, but will stop in occasionally to purchase birthday wrapping paper. (I stock up on Xmas when it goes on sale, but never seem to stumble across a good price on birthday) I don't need a ton, but it is my "go to" place when I need kids wrapping paper.

  25. says

    Just make sure the glasses are UVA/UVB safe – a lot of the $ store ones are NOT – so they don't really protect your eyes, or the kid's.

    =)

  26. Nancy says

    The items I always buy at Dollar Tree because they are cheaper than anywhere else; never have a coupon for; or are never on sale are:

    organic soymilk (my husband is lactose intolerant) (once in awhile I can get it for $1 at Rainbow but not lately)

    fish oil pills (a month's worth – 30)

    greeting cards 2/$1 unless I find some at the thrift stores

    cleaning tools — scrub brushes especially

    Mucus Relief — so much cheaper than even generic — anywhere

  27. martastewart says

    DH and I got over our "we'll never buy anything edible at dollar stores" bias when we decided to pick up a bag of snacks to feed the birds near the bay. One taste and we were hooked. Unless there's an "important game" on TV, and guests are coming, we don't have junk food at home, but that's where I go now to buy snacks for work-related parties. I get the large bags of honey cheese puffs, popcorn, whatever, and everyone loves them. PLUS, they're USA products. Wegmans, on the other hand, thinks that $2.99 is a steal. Gimmeabreak!

  28. Emily says

    Ironically I'll buy food for myself at Dollar Tree, but not pet food products. I'm just too worried about quality and safety issues in their pet food/treats. I do love their prices on collars and leashes though, but you have to be careful of which ones you buy so you get the good quality ones. They get ones in that are extras from Walmart that retail over there for $4-5 each. When you foster rescue dogs like I do, it saves a lot of money to have nice collars on hand to put on dogs and you aren't out a lot of money when you send them with them to their new homes.

  29. Ginger says

    I like those disposable plastic gloves they sell. Great for chopping hot peppers and I use them as poo bags when walking the dog.

    The 3 liter diet soda,

    anti-plaque rinse

    Cheap anklet socks 3 for $1 (They always get lost in the wash anyways)

    Pork rinds

    big bag of tea lights

    name brand make up

    hair accesorries

    combs and brushes

  30. sierra says

    The pregnancy tests are the exact same ones they use at the public health department up here. The nurse told me so! No more $8+ ones for me! Also the walmart brand ones are known to have many many false negatives from my friends experience. I had a friend who was 10 weeks pregnant (verified by dr with a blood test) and still got negatives on 4 different walmart brand tests. Went to the dollar tree and she had a positive in less than 30 seconds. All she wanted it for was a picture for her baby book, guess she wasted around $16-20 for the walmart ones… sad.

  31. Trish says

    Coloring books! I do in-home daycare and my kids love to color. One book is between $3-$5 most places. At the dollar store I can get 3-5 books for the same price as 1 elsewhere.

  32. says

    It's easier to say what I do buy at the dollar store. I basically buy holiday supplies: gift bags (I prefer them to wrapping paper), ribbons, big bows, tissue paper, gift tags, and decorative tin cans. I will sometimes buy notebooks there, but usually wait for the back to school sales. And when we were trying, I loved the pregnancy tests.

    That's about it, though I did set up my first apartment with finds from an independent dollar store around the corner. They had decent picture frames, ceramic ornaments and, of course, all the kitchen basics.

    Oh, I still buy dollar packages of kitty toys if they pass scrutiny. The resident felines are pleased with this.

    Rainy

  33. Sara Jane says

    Bernice I would LOVE IT if the 99 cent store chain would come to MN! I shopped there so often when I lived in LA and Phoenix! We can hope!!

  34. Doreen Stewart says

    When my kids were young, we would take them there to do their Christmas shopping. Little kids can have peculiar taste but for only $1.00 an item, they could pick out what they wanted to give to each person in the family.

  35. Amber says

    I work at Dollar Tree in Columbia Heights and I would like to inform everyone of a few great deals that we got in.

    Progresso box dinners

    Progresso can soups

    Chef Boyardee

    V8 Fusion 4pks

    Keebler Cookies

    Betty Crocker Cookie Mixes Family size bags

    Hamburger Helper

    Kraft Suddenly Salad

    Colgate manual toothbrushes

    CoverGirl eye liner

    Irish Spring bar soap

    Hungry Jack Pancake mix

    FiberOne Bars

    Ocean Spray juice

    Now I'm not saying these are the best deals out there but they are deals.

    Also for those who collect the dancing solar flowers Friday morning at 9am they hit the sales floor. Hope this is helpful.

  36. BlackJacket says

    I'm a college student, and there's a Dollar Tree across the way from the dorm. Super convenient but you have to pick your bargains carefully. A few do's and don'ts for your reading pleasure.

    For the quick DIY, dollar tree is a god send. If you need a quick dab of super glue, a few scraps of duct tape, Zip ties, what have you, go nuts. If you use it often enough to keep it on hand, buy elsewhere for better value. Unless you need stuff to break down for copper wire, avoid the electronics like the plague.

    Noms: Dollar Tree conveniently carries a lot of food. They even have the same brand of hot dogs I grew up with. That said, be careful. When it comes to food at Dollar Tree smaller is usually going to be better. They cut costs by reducing the amount they sell rather than putting filler in the product. Not all knock off noms are bad. Some of them are really good in fact. Their knock off of Cheetos Puff Corn is better than the original in my opinion. Basically, whenever I have a spare dollar on a trip to Dollar Tree I make it a point to grab something I haven't before, to expand my knowledge of what is and isn't disgusting.

    Toiletries are an excellent bargain there. You can get full size product here where you'd get travel size stuff for similar price at the dorm-o-mart. Medicine too. Never actually finished an entire bottle in one illness, though I went through cough drops like wildfire.

    Now then. The answer to the question that was actually asked:

    Larry The Cable Guy.

    Larry the Cable Guy Cheeseburger Dinner.

    Larry the Cable Guy Beer Batter.

    Larry the Cable Guy Corn Bread.

    I can only guess that these were made because of that silly health inspector movie because what other connection does Larry the Cable Guy have to food? I'd have had more respect for the product if they'd called it what it is: Redneck Chow.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I take my four coupons to Dollar General, hoping that dollar store prices will make up for my not having a coupon for everything on my list. Paying attention to volume pricing is important at the dollar store. Here’s a list of some things you might not want to buy at the dollar store: http://www.pocketyourdollars.com/2011/03/what-not-to-buy-at-the-dollar-store/. [...]

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