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Dollar Store Guide: Finding the Best Deals

dollar store shopping

Downsizing has become a permanent part of the American landscape, and even those who once considered themselves upper-middle class now struggle with budget constraints. Dollar stores like Dollar General or Family Dollar can provide welcome relief to over-burdened paychecks, but there are a few things to consider when switching from a more expensive store to a bargain basement.

Check expiration dates!

While this seems like a no-brainer, those who are used to popping items into a cart may need time to develop the habit of checking expiration dates. Some items, such as paper goods, aluminum foil, etc, can be used for many years from the date of purchase, provided the storage area is clean and moisture-free. Almost all food items will need to be checked, as well as medicines, personal hygiene items and other perishables.

Where was it manufactured?

While countries such as Canada or most in Western Europe have standards similar to those in the United States, some countries allow higher levels of contaminants in their goods. Avoid products that you have not researched, if they come from countries with less-stringent quality controls.

Not all products from third-world countries are bad, however. Dollar stores buy ethnic delights from trusted and popular foreign manufacturers. When purchasing these products, choose those that are well known in their country of origin (a search engine will help you find locally popular foods.) You may find some of the best salsa in dollar stores, for example.

Shampoo and Personal Items:

With a little careful inspection, you can purchase good quality shampoos and deodorants at the dollar store. Beware brands that are nearly identical to the ones in boutiques; they may use deceptive packaging to prey upon distracted shoppers. If you think an item is a boutique brand, look again and check the spelling to be sure.

Dollar stores often sell once-popular name brands. The scenario is common: a brand that was once a household name finds itself stacked against a competitor with a huge budget. The brand fades into memory and into dollar stores. Items that we all once knew (at least those of us over forty,) include Sunbeam and Prell shampoo. Although the product line may have been sold, most companies with enough money to buy well-known brand names have quality-control departments similar to those of the original company. Again, check the manufacturer and the country of origin before stocking up.

If you really can’t live without that seven-dollar boutique shampoo, try purchasing a good dollar store shampoo and mixing the brands in a three-to-one ratio. (Three parts expensive shampoo to one part dollar brand.) This will automatically save you $1.50 per bottle. As the weeks pass, increase the amount of dollar store shampoo until you find the best value and quality combination.

Is it a Bargain?

Sometimes, you can find a similar item in a grocery store for less than a dollar store item. If you have a coupon, and particularly if your store doubles coupons, the grocery item may be the better buy. Deodorant can sometimes be found in grocery stores for 88 cents, twelve cents less than its dollar store counterpart. Be aware of the sales in your area and stock up on items that give you the most for your money.

Dollar Store Ads:

The most convenient comparison-shopping occurs online. Stores like Dollar Tree have websites with ads featuring items for that particular week. Seasonal ads may offer items that you would have purchased later, but that will save you money if you do it now. For example, waiting until the last minute to buy decorations for Easter, Halloween or Christmas may cost you more than if you had purchased early from the dollar store. Since dollar stores often run out of holiday items faster than regular stores, check the ads several weeks before the event to save cash and extend your holiday cheer.

Dollar Store Differences:

Not all dollar stores charge a dollar or less. Some may charge several dollars for a single item. Be aware of your store’s price points and don’t assume that everything is a bargain. Check the internet for a list of all stores in your area and find out which ones are truly dollar-or-less. Patronize these first, and add the more expensive ones after you have cut your bargain teeth on the true dollar establishments.

Products to Avoid:

Several items are considered high-risk, although if you check the country of manufacture, even these items might safely be purchased. If you aren’t careful at checking labels and scrutinizing products, you may wish to avoid the following items:

Vitamins: Labels do not always show all ingredients, or they may show ingredients that are absent in the product. If the label does not display the U.S. Pharmacopeia or NSF International seal of approval, avoid it.

Electrical Products and Batteries: Batteries made with older technology do not last as long as alkaline batteries. Any savings in the original price will be offset by the rapid battery-drainage. If you buy batteries in the dollar store, make certain that they are alkaline and from a manufacturer you trust.

Electrical products may have wiring that is not UL approved, particularly if the standards are lower in the country of origin. These products could cause a fire if the wiring overheats.

Toys: Toys manufactured overseas may contain choking hazards for toddlers. Children’s jewelry, toys and lunch boxes may also contain lead, which causes brain damage and other health effects. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled millions of toys and jewelry products from dollar and discount stores because of high lead content. If a toy is not manufactured in the United States or a trusted country, many parents avoid it.


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