The dollar store chains are reporting that business has been on fire during the coronavirus pandemic as shoppers try to cut their spending in the midst of layoffs, business shutdowns and a whole lot of uncertainty over the economy.
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. To help you get the most for your dollars, here are the best and worst buys at dollar stores. And be sure to shop with a cash-back card, so you’ll save even more.
Did you forget to pick up a card for your aunt’s birthday or your cousin’s 25th wedding anniversary?
No need to panic — the dollar store offers a great selection of discount greeting cards for every occasion: birthdays, get well, new job, new home, and so on. And they’re much cheaper than the name-brand cards.
After all, the sad reality is that most cards just get shoved in a drawer or thrown out. So there’s really no way to justify spending big bucks on fancy cards, no matter how witty they are.
And while you’re at the dollar store, why not pick up a few supplies for the party?
Many, many dollar stores carry large selections of plastic utensils, plates, cups, streamers, confetti and other party supplies (in a wide array of colors and designs), and at a fraction of the price compared to specialty stores like Party City.
Cheap costume jewelry — like the stuff found at dollar stores — has tested for high levels of lead, nickel and even asbestos. Toxins can leach into the skin and cause long-term organ damage, particularly in children.
Recalls of costume jewelry from dollar stores are quite common, since the lead levels found in cheap trinkets often surpass the amounts allowed under U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines.
Another inexpensive jewelry item to avoid? Metallic beads — the kind you wear during Mardi Gras. A study from the Michigan-based nonprofit The Ecology Center found that Mardi Gras beads contain tons of hazardous chemicals.
You may love to sparkle, but it’s best to avoid cheap jewelry at all costs. Instead of wasting your money on bad bling, why not put it into savings — and build up some glimmery interest instead?
3. Best: Pregnancy tests
Yes. Really, pregnancy tests.
All pregnancy tests sold in the United States are FDA-approved, so the ones at the dollar store are just as effective as more expensive tests (99%).
The only caveat is that name-brand pregnancy tests are more sensitive to human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone that tells if you’re pregnant. They can usually detect pregnancy a few weeks earlier than the less expensive tests, which can give a false negative reading if you don’t wait long enough.
If you’re feeling patient, go ahead and pick up a dollar store pregnancy test. Be sure to follow the instructions closely, and check the expiration date. Always consult with a doctor if you have any concerns.
4. Worst: Medicine or vitamins
You may think you’re getting a good deal, but you definitely want to steer clear of buying your vitamins or medications at the dollar store.
Frugality should never come at the expense of your health. When it comes to things you ingest, it’s smart to invest a few more bucks and get your medicines and supplements from a big-box retailer.
Dollar store medication could be well past its shelf life and be less effective, even potentially dangerous to consume. If you take a chance on this stuff, you’d better have good life insurance.
The same goes for supplements: They may be old and not as potent as the box indicates, plus they might not be as easily absorbed by the body.
5. Best: Food
A dollar store might not be your first choice for a grocery run, 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, eggs and also has frozen food sections where you can score bags of vegetables, french fries, pierogies and more.
For your next movie night, stock up on chips and candy from the dollar store.
If you’re feeling a little fancy, you can stock up on bottles of sparkling water like LaCroix and Perrier at Dollar Tree, which are usually much cheaper than at the supermarket, too.
6. Worst: Canned goods
While most food items at dollar stores are a great deal, canned goods can be relatively expensive. In most cases, you’re actually being overcharged for canned goods when you buy them at the dollar store.
For example, cans of soup or tuna that might sell for 50 cents at a chain grocery store will cost $1 at Dollar Tree, since the company’s slogan is literally “Everything’s $1.”
It’s a pretty sneaky trick, which is why it definitely helps to shop around when it comes to canned goods.
Better ways to save money are to check your weekly supermarket flyers for upcoming sales or stock up on coupons, and join a program that allows you to earn free gift cards by taking online surveys or watching short videos.
7. Best: Personal care items and cosmetics
Why pay the insane drugstore markups?
Dollar stores have great selections of name-brand personal care items: shampoo, conditioner, body soap, body lotion, tissues, lip balm, toothpaste and sanitary products. If you can think of it, they probably have it (in both travel size and full-sized).
Makeup mavens also can rejoice.
Dollar Tree carries an excellent collection of name-brand drugstore cosmetics like e.l.f., L.A. Colors and Wet ‘n’ Wild in a wide variety of products — everything from eye shadow palettes to nail polish.
Rarely is anything more than a few dollars, so you can finally replace that mascara you’ve had for eight months.
8. Worst: Perfumes
You can find a whole bunch of imitation high-end fragrances and knock-offs at the dollar store, but you might want to save up your dollars until you can afford the real thing.
According to ex-aromatherapist and Quora contributor Tatiana Estevez, cheap, knock-off perfumes smell so artificial because they replicate only the top notes of a fragrance. They can stink almost as much as overpaying for car insurance.
More expensive perfumes are layered with middle notes and base notes, meaning they’ll smell less sweet and have more longevity and wear time.
What’s worse is that knock-off perfumes can be bad for your health. According to none other than the FBI, knock-off perfumes can contain harmful aluminums and bacteria that can seriously harm your skin.
9. Worst: Hair ties
Avoid snags and tangles in your tresses by staying far away from dollar store hair ties. While they’re usually a deal — you can get about 100 for a dollar — they snap and break very easily, even if you don’t have thick hair.
If you’re trying to grow your hair out, be sure to stay away from dollar store hair ties that have a little metal connecter piece. They can tangle into your hair and lead to strands getting pulled out at the root.
Same goes for hair brushes from the dollar store. Cheap hair brushes won’t distribute the oils of your hair as well, which means your hair will get dirtier much faster.
10. Best: Cleaning supplies
Does your place need some tidying up? Ready to have your house sparkling clean and smelling fresh? Your nearest dollar store will have a large array of supplies that can assist with that.
At Dollar Tree you can pick up a wide variety of cleaning supplies including liquid cleaners, bleach, dish soap and cleaning tools like sponges and scourers — all at prices significantly cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else.
Don’t believe us? Just look — a broom with an attached dustpan is $10 at Target while a similar set at Dollar Tree costs just $2.
If you’ve got a lot of debt that needs cleaning up, the dollar store can’t help you there — but a low-interest debt consolidation loan can.
11. Worst: Kitchen utensils
As a rule, you should be extra careful when buying dollar store products that come into contact with your food, especially any hot food.
Why? Because harmful plastics and flame-retardant chemicals are often lurking within cheap plastic items that are sold at dollar stores.
Kitchen utensils from the dollar store can be very poor in quality and have the potential to melt when they come into contact with high heat. And when that happens, all of the nasty chemicals have the potential to seep into your food.
Instead, you want to be sure to buy stainless steel or heavy-duty plastic kitchen utensils from reputable retailers.
12. Best: Festive decor
If you’re one of those people who treat holiday decorating like a sport, first of all — we salute you. Those Halloween front lawn displays are no joke, and we love seeing them pop up.
Second of all — have you tried shopping for holiday decorations at the dollar store? Many Halloween decorations, including candy and costumes, are on sale at dollar stores starting as early as August in many cases.
You’ll save so much money you’ll have enough left over for holiday decorations, where you can find budget-friendly stickers, festive cups and tinsel as far as the eye can see.
The best time to buy? Right after the holidays — when things get marked down even further.
13. Worst: Oven mitts and potholders
Dollar store oven mitts? You’re playing with fire. Literally.
When it comes to kitchen safety — especially where hot materials are concerned — do not skimp out. Low-quality oven mitts and potholders are a bad idea.
They may look adorable and match your kitchen decor, but they won’t be as effective at protecting your hands from hot surfaces.
The thin polyester is not as heat-resistant or as thickly quilted as the mitts and potholders found in home goods stores.
Not only do you risk the potential for a serious burn, but you also could also ruin your pans or oven racks, and potentially start a fire.
14. Worst: Water bottles
As with kitchen utensils, you should be wary of dollar store water bottles containing harmful plastics. They could leach into your water.
There have been several instances where polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or bisphenol a (BPA) have been found in plastic items sold at the dollar store, even when labeled as BPA-free, according to research found from the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.
They also may not be that great of a deal. A cheap water bottle that leaks and needs to be replaced every few months is far more expensive than a sturdier water bottle that costs more upfront but won’t need to be replaced anytime soon.
During back-to-school shopping time, it may be worth your while to invest a little more in a better quality water bottle found at Target or Walmart.
15. Best: Housewares
If you’re a college freshman moving away from home for the first time, you’ll need to stock up on housewares. It can be a daunting task, and you can easily end up spending tons of money on things you don’t need.
This is where dollar stores come in. They’re practically overflowing with affordable housewares.
At Dollar Tree, you can get cups, plates, mugs and cutlery for just $1 each.
You can even get kitchen essentials like colanders, cutting boards and scissors, or rolling pins and cupcake sheets if you feel like baking.
At department stores, dish sets typically range from $30 to $50, and that doesn’t even include cutlery or other kitchen accoutrements.
16. Worst: Knives
Cheap knives are made with poor quality steel that dulls quicker with frequent use. A dull knife won’t slide as easily through whatever it is you’re trying to cut, heightening the potential for injuries (like the dreaded avocado hand).
Cheap knives also lack the proper balance and weight distribution between the handle and the steel. If the balance is off, the knife can slip. Ouch.
If the possibility of injury isn’t enough to get you to invest in a better set of knives, consider how much money you’ll be wasting since you’ll have to replace cheap knives far more often than a higher quality knives.
17. Best: Notebooks
Your kids are in school? The dollar store has you covered for their notebook needs.
Dollar stores sell the same branded notebooks you find at Staples or specialty stores, and for a fraction of the price. There’s no difference in the product or the quality.
If your kids are into Disney’s Frozen or Transformers, you’re sure to find something.
The dollar store notebooks are so cheap you might just pick up two or three, so once your kids fill up their notebooks they’ll have fresh ones waiting. Most notebooks and notepads will cost only a dollar.
You might find cute or personal ones you may not come across at a warehouse club store.
18. Worst: Pet food
If you can avoid it, don’t buy your furry companion food or treats from the dollar store. The nutrient profile found in discount pet food is the doggy or kitty equivalent of serving them fast food.
Even worse, pet food is far less regulated than human food, meaning that the contents could be expired or contain high levels of cholesterol and fatty filler.
You want to keep your pets healthy and thriving, so don’t skimp out when it comes to their diet.
If you keep a close eye on deals and coupons, you may be able to score better deals than you’d find at the dollar store anyway — you just have to be a savvy shopper.
Do Professor Pup a favor and get the name-brand pet food.
19. Best: Storage and food containers
You’ll never have to worry about mismatching lids or loaning out your Tupperware ever again. You can stock up on all the food storage containers you need without ever having to pinch a penny.
The dollar store is a great place to pick up a variety of storage containers. Dollar Tree and Dollar General carry plastic food containers usually at much cheaper prices than you’ll pay elsewhere.
You can do more than just store your food in them.
They’re perfect for storing clothes, crafts and toys or organizing makeup. You can get a whole variety of storage containers that will help you organize every aspect of your life — and every room of the house, too.
20. Worst: Electronics chargers and power strips
We’ve all been there. You pack for a long weekend away only to get to the hotel and realize you forgot your phone charger. Dollar store chargers and USB cords can be life-savers in a pinch, but be sure you’re not using them as your primary charging device.
Extremely cheap chargers, when used long term, can cause your battery to weaken and eventually lose its ability to fully charge.
If the voltage output doesn’t match your phone’s, it can cause your phone to overheat and potentially short circuit the device. Worst case scenario, a cheap charger could even start a fire.
One look through the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows tons of recalls for cheap chargers — citing fire hazards and short circuiting.
Make sure to always double-check your device’s voltage output and never leave your phone unattended when using a cheap charger.
21. Worst: Batteries
Remote control just died in the middle of your Love Island binge? You might be tempted to race to the dollar store to pick up a pack of AAs, but we advise against using cheap batteries long term.
Just like cheap chargers and USB cables, those $1 battery packs sold by Dollar Tree or Dollar General are great in a pinch, but they don’t save you much money in the long run.
Dollar store batteries are made with carbon-zinc, which is a lot less powerful than the alkaline batteries made by Duracell or Energizer, meaning they’ll need to be replaced sooner.
They also can fry your devices. Often, the inner casing on discount batteries is much lower quality, which can lead to batteries leaking and ruining your electronics.
22. Best: Reading glasses
You shouldn’t neglect your eye health for the sake of saving a few dollars. If you’re squinting to see if the light changed, go see an optometrist.
But, if you find you need a pair of readers just to read menus or enjoy the latest Stephen King book go ahead and grab a pair from the dollar store.
They’re far cheaper than the ones you’ll find at a supermarket or drugstore, and get the job done just as well as the more expensive brands.
Plus, you won’t have to worry about constantly misplacing them — you can pick up a few pairs and save yourself the hassle. You can even get a pair of frames for each room of the house, if you’re so inclined.
23. Worst: Toys
Off-brand Barbies and Mega Bloks may be a fraction of the price compared to the real thing, but you might want to stop and reconsider whether those cheap toys will survive in the hands of a grabby toddler.
Cheaply made dolls, blocks and toy cars can break easily, posing a choking hazard to small children.
You’re better off sticking to an actual toy store when it comes time to spoil your little ones.
The quality assurance is likely going to be a lot higher for toys sold at Target or Walmart (compared to dollar stores), meaning you won’t have to worry about your kids accidentally breaking off small pieces or swallowing tiny removable parts.
24. Best: Basic office and school supplies
Dollar stores generally carry all the basic office and school supplies you would expect: pens, pencils, pencil cases, staplers and staples, paper, scissors, markers and crayons.
There’s nothing wrong with the generic brands of office supplies. As long as it gets the job done, who really cares if you have a basic stapler instead of a Swingline?
If brand names are your jam, did you know that Dollar General carries trusted brands like Crayola, Post-It and Bic for only a dollar or so a pop? Go ahead and buy enough for the whole office.
If your kids have a big science project coming up, you can buy most of their supplies from the dollar store, including poster board, foam shapes and all kinds of paints.
25. Worst: Tools
Have a pretty new picture you want to hang? You’ll need a hammer and nails, but skip the dollar store and head to Lowe’s or Home Depot instead.
Trust us, a good set of tools is worth the extra bucks.
While the lower prices in the tool section of the dollar store are tempting, those items tend to be low quality and break more easily than the name brand variety.
It’s better to buy higher quality hammers, screwdrivers and pliers from an actual hardware store, especially if you plan on reusing them.
If you’re a pro couponer, you might be able to buy your tools for a discount, and maybe even nab a few freebies like a pack of batteries or a flashlight.
26. Worst: Razors
A 12-pack of razors priced at $1 may seem like too good a deal to pass up, but you’re going to be in a world of hurt if you use cheap razors — especially on your face.
Those little plastic razors — usually found in cheap motels — are flimsy and can snag at the hair as you shave, leaving you with nicks and irritated skin.
Do you want to be scratching at your neck or legs during your next big presentation at work? If not, then it’s time to invest in a better razor.
Don’t leave your skin prone to infections or scarring. Buy a name-brand three-blade razor or go for an electric shaver instead.
27. Best: Home decor
Your home decor doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Picture frames, fake plants, vases and home decorations can be found at the dollar store for — you guessed it — a dollar.
If you’re feeling crafty, you can hit up Pinterest for some ideas on how to decorate your house with items found at the dollar store.
It doesn’t have to stop at the interior of your abode, either. Even the garden can get a bit of lift with items like plastic spotlights for your walkway.
The dollar store carries a great array of garden decorations like planters, flower pots, outdoor furniture (which are great for outdoor concerts, too).
It’ll feel like a whole new house, and you won’t have to incur a hefty credit card balance.
28. Worst: Laundry detergent
If you’re buying your laundry detergent and fabric softener at the dollar store while assuming you’re getting the best deal, you may want to think again. Unfortunately, dollar store detergent doesn’t pass the sniff test.
The quality of dollar store detergent is incredibly poor compared to name brands — the cleaning solution is much less concentrated, meaning you’ll need to use more to get your clothes clean and smelling fresh.
Name-brand laundry detergent is one of the easiest items to find coupons for at any time of year, and it goes on sale all the time.
Keep an eye on your weekly supermarket flyers for deals on detergent, or check out a designated couponing site like Coupons.com.
29. Best: Books
You might not find classics or the latest New York Times bestseller at your local dollar store, but you can pick up a great beach read for a bargain.
You’ll also find a good selection of children’s books for only a dollar or two — an excellent deal, considering that books tend to sell for at least $10 at other retailers.
Your kids may enjoy the great selection of coloring and activity books available at the dollar store, and since they’re so cheap, it won’t even matter how much they’re used and abused.
For yourself, why not pick up Sudoku or crossword puzzle books? They’re a cheap, easy way to kill some time and keep your brain sharp.
30. Worst: Toilet paper
Four rolls of toilet paper for $1 might seem like an amazing deal — especially if you’ve been desperate to find some since the coronavirus hit — but the cheap dollar store brands have only 150 to 250 sheets per roll.
The typical name brand toilet paper not only has 1,000 sheets per roll, but is also thicker and better quality than the paper thin dollar store variety. That means you’ll need fewer sheets to, er, get the job done.
Plus, it’s quite easy to find coupons for the name-brand toilet paper.
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 snag for no cost.
31. Best: Socks and stockings
You can get amazing deals on socks from the dollar store. Sure, the kids may groan if they get socks for Christmas, but since they’re so affordable you’ll really want to stock up.
One good trick is to buy tons of black or white socks from the same brand at the dollar store. You’ll never have to worry about matching when you do the laundry again.
While you’re there, you also can pick up nylon stockings in either black or beige. Since they’re so affordable, you can leave a pair in your bag in case you get a run in your tights.
If you’re looking for something a little more cozy, you can buy cute fuzzy socks and slippers from the dollar store, too.
32. Worst: Towels and linens
Cheap towels from the dollar store will leave you hanging out to dry. When it comes to towels, invest a little more. It’s worth it.
Bath time is meant to be relaxing, but you’ll find your mood dampened when you use a cheap towel from Dollar Tree or Dollar General.
Dollar store towels are made from cheaper cottons (or worse, polyester) which is not nearly as absorbent as commercial towels from mid-priced to high-end retailers.
They are also more difficult to clean, especially if you use cold water and fabric softener. The waxy buildup and residue is harder to wash out of polyesters, which means that they’ll be less effective at drying as time goes on.
Buy cotton towels, and use the cheap polyester blends for dish rags instead.