Top5 Great Dollar Store Buys

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Great Dollar-Store Buys

By Kelli B. Grant

FEEL LIKE A DOLLAR just doesn't go as far as it used to? Then it's time for a trip to the dollar store.

Americans are hooked on these quirky shops, which sell everything from alphabet soup to zebra-print underwear. (Nearly three-quarters of Americans make regular trips to so-called dollar discount stores, according to market research firm Retail Forward.) Dollar stores, whether local franchises of a national chain or mom-and-pop shops, get some inventory from product lines created just for discount stores. The rest are remnants from wholesalers, which not only explains why you'll see such a wide variety week to week, but also how prices are kept so low.

True to their names, dollar stores price most items at just $1. But even at that price, some items are better deals than others. Here are five items you'd be foolish not to buy:

1. Cleaning Supplies

Don't expect to see many brand names that you recognize. Dollar-store cleaning products tend to be private labels developed just for that market. Most have the same ingredients as the brand names, just slightly more diluted. "They have to find some way to make it 99 cents," says Carolyn Forte, homecare director for the Good Housekeeping Institute. Unless you've got a job that requires more than a little elbow grease -- say, removing some seriously built-up grime from the tub or cleaning a red wine stain off the carpet -- these off-brand products should suit you just fine, she says.

Dollar-Store Item Retailer Item Savings
AmeriKing Plumber, 32 oz. $4.99, Drano, 17 oz. (Rite Aid) 89%*
Pro Power Oil Soap, 16oz. $3.49, Murphy's Oil Soap, 16 oz. (Rite Aid) 71%
Trend detergent, 100 oz. $5.49, Tide, 50 oz. (CVS) 91%

Prices from New York City-area stores. Dollar-store items from Big Apple 99 Cent Store and Everything 99 Cent Store. *Ounce-by-ounce comparison.

2. Gift Wrap

Putting together a pretty package doesn't mean you need to spend a small fortune on wrapping paper, tissue and ribbon, says Constance Richards, author of 'Creative Giftwraps.' You can be just as creative with dollar-store materials for a fraction of the cost.

In addition to conventional wrapping paper, dollar stores offer other items that can be used as wrapping materials, from placemats and bandanas to glittery hairclips (a creative and functional replacement for bows and ribbons).

Dollar-Store Item Retailer Item Savings
"Happy Holidays" paper,
12.5 square feet
$4.99, "Happy Holidays" paper,
12.5 square feet (Rite Aid)
Large pink, flowered bag $1.79, Large pink flowered bag (CVS) 44%

Prices from New York City-area stores. Dollar-store items from 99 Cents Depot.

3. Snacks

Hershey's With Almonds chocolate bar -- check. Planter's peanuts and Wise potato chips -- check, check. "Buying at the dollar store is certainly a lot cheaper than if you just walked into a grocery store without a coupon," says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, a program that helps consumers match manufacturer's coupons with store sales. And you'll spot the same brand names that you'll find at supermarkets and other convenience stores. Look for kids' snacks with long shelf lives, like chips, cookies and fruit rolls, she suggests.

Dollar-Store Item Retailer Item Savings
Mini Cracker Snacks, 9oz. $3.49, Cheez-It, 10 oz. (CVS) 68%*
Pepsi, 2 liter $1.69, Pepsi, 2 liter (CVS) 41%
Family Time Butter popcorn, 3 bags $3.49, Newman's Own Butter Microwave Popcorn, 3 bags (Rite Aid) 71%
Wise Cheez Doodles, 5.5 oz. $1.89, Herr's Cheese Curls, 7 oz. (Rite Aid) 33%

Prices from New York City-area stores. Dollar-store items from 99 Cents Depot. *Ounce-by-ounce comparison.

4. Shampoo

Whether you're spending $1 for dollar-store shampoo or $20 on a pricey salon brand, that money is going one place -- down your shower drain, says Paula Begoun, author of 'Don't Go Shopping for Hair-Care Products Without Me.' "The notion that expensive means better is a joke," she says. No matter which kind of shampoo you buy, there are only minor differences in ingredients and concentration -- not enough to affect how clean your hair gets.

Save your cash instead for your favorite conditioner, suggests Begoun. That's one product where you'll see more of a difference brand to brand.

Dollar-Store Item Retailer Item Savings
Anvie Deep Moisture shampoo, 13 oz. $3.23, Dove Shampoo Extra Moisture, 12 oz. (Rite Aid) 72%
Alberto VO5 shampoo, 15 oz. $2.39, Alberto VO5 shampoo, 15 oz. (Rite Aid) 58%

Prices from New York City area stores. Dollar-store items from Everything 99 Cent Store.

5. Kitchen Accessories

When you're trying to coax the last bit of batter out of your mixing bowl and into the cake pan, it doesn't much matter where the silicone spatula you're using came from. You'll find plenty of kitchen accessories at dollar stores, from standbys like measuring cups and can openers to esoteric gadgets like melon ballers and egg slicers. One caveat: You might not want to buy anything with a blade, unless you don't plan on cutting food tougher than butter.

Dollar-Store Item Retailer Item Savings
Grill King BBQ Skewers, 4 pc. $19.99, Weber 4-piece skewer set (Target) 95%
Magnetic Can & Bottle Opener $5.99 Pedrini Translucent Waiter Corkscrew (Target) 83%

Prices from New York City area stores. Dollar-store items from Everything 99 Cent Store and 99 Cents Depot.

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