More for less: How to shop the dollar stores like a pro

I started shopping at dollar stores when I was trying to keep up the payments on my new VW Beetle without having to sleep in it. While the car is no longer in my life, dollar stores have become a shopping mainstay.

I'm not alone: In 2001, the specialty discount market was a $40 billion industry in the U.S., growing about 6.9% a year. About.com projected this growth rate to continue through 2008, with 8,000 new stores like Dollar Tree, Tuesday Morning and 99 Cents Only springing up across the country. In my Silicon Valley 'hood alone, there are about two dozen dollar stores within 10 miles of my home, both mom-and-pops and the big chains.

Successfully navigating a dollar store's aisles requires trial and error, so newbies should follow two simple rules of thumb: