Backyard essentials for (much!) less at the dollar store

As we start living outdoors once again, we inevitably find that we need a few things, and it can be surprising how fast a "few things" can add up to mega bucks. So, I headed to my favorite dollar store and found that you can save a lot of cash on the backyard essentials you're likely to need this summer. Please check prices and availability in your area.

Barbecue tools -- Who doesn't love a backyard BBQ? If you need a new barbecue scrubber, try the dollar store first. The one I bought is two-sided with wire bristles on one side and a scrubber sponge the other and cost $1. At Wal-mart, a one-sided BBQ grill brush is $2.97. The same thing is only $1 at the dollar store. Wal-mart has long handled metal tongs for $1.97 but you can save almost a buck by getting them at the dollar store instead. You can also buy a long-handled spatula or fork with rubber grips, a package of 8 BBQ skewers and a silicone basting brush for only a buck each at a dollar store near you. Wal-mart has an 8-piece barbecue tool set for $14.97 but, by buying each piece individually at the dollar store, your cost would only be $8.

Barbecue lighter -- You can buy a fancy barbecue lighter but it isn't really necessary. Wal-mart has a disposable lighter for $1.67 and the hardware store has what looks like the same lighter that the dollar store sells, except for the color. Their price? $2.99. The dollar store lighter is refillable and only costs a buck. It has a child-proof feature and works great.

Outdoor lighting -- Bamboo garden torches with candles are 30" long and only $1.50 at Dollarama. The candle comes in a terra cotta holder that is easily replacable or refillable. For table lighting, you can choose from a variety of faux stone tea light holders in a variety of configurations that cost between $1 and $2 apiece. At a hardware store in my area, they carry oil torches that are 5' long. They cost $4.99 each.

Citronella candles -- Nobody likes it when bugs crash the party. You can get a 5" metal pail with a citronella candle in it for $2 at Dollarama. They also have smaller citronella candles in sets of two small or one larger for $1, as well as mosquito coils for $2 and either a metal coil holder for $1.25 or a terra cotta holder for $1. At the hardware store, you can buy a set of 4 mosquito coils with a holder for $5.99. At a popular department store, a slightly larger citronella candle in a metal pail with a lid costs $8.99.

Wasp catcher -- You put a little sugar water or soda pop in the bottom of these to attract wasps away from where you're socializing. They come in a mini or larger size at the housewares store near me. The mini one is similar to the one I bought at the dollar store last summer for a buck. The housewares store is selling mini wasp catchers for $4.99 and the main difference between the two is that the housewares store has them in a variety of colors. The dollar store wasp catcher comes in yellow or clear glass. My orange one is last year's model but, do wasps care what color their death trap is? Do you?

Melamine dishes -- These colorful, unbreakable plates and bowls are great for use in the great outdoors. Bowls, side plates and plates, are only $1 each at the dollar store as are melamine serving dishes. Wal-mart sells similar melamine dishes that cost $2.96 for a dinner plate and $2.46 for a side plate. Their clear plastic salad servers cost $1.99 a pair as compared to $1 per colored pair at the dollar store.

Cutlery -- A sturdy plastic set of cutlery containing 12 pieces costs $1. If you want to up the style ante, try metal with faux bamboo handles. This silverware is packaged with a knife, fork and spoon for $1.25, making place settings for four only $5 and it's dishwasher safe.

Place mats -- Vinyl place mats at Wal-mart are $1.97 each but still only a buck each at dollar stores. I recently bought some round woven place mats in summer colors for only $1 each. My dollar store, Dollarama, generally has a variety of place mats to choose from, from fabric to bamboo to vinyl and everything from kid styles to formal.

Garden tools -- The cheapest garden gloves at Wal-mart cost $1.97 a pair. , 26 peat pots, $1.77, soft twist ties, garden twine or T-labels, $3.27 each. Trowels and cultivators are $1.25 at the dollar store and the rest of the aforementioned garden necessities are only $1 each. At my local hardware store, each garden tool costs $6.99. They look nicer, but I can't see them being much sturdier than my dollar store tools that are made of sturdy metal and have padded wooden handles.

Garden trellis and fencing -- Each piece of plastic fencing is $1.25, as is a 36" high trellis at the dollar store. At Wal-mart, expect to pay 2.47 a piece for each section of fencing. The only advantage of shopping for fencing at Wal-mart is that you may find more variety in styles.

Bird feeders & seed/suet -- Birds and other small critters add to the ambiance of the backyard experience. Attract them to your little patch of heaven with small bird feeders and seed from your local dollar store. Each pack of seed, whether it's sunflower seeds, finch seed or suet cakes, is just a buck. The hardware store carries bigger bags of seed, of course and, if you can, buying in bulk usually makes things cheaper. However, a basic square suet cake cost nearly a buck more at the hardware store than the ones I get for $1 at the dollar store. Get either small plastic bird feeder for $1.25 or a weathered stone-look feeder for $2 at the dollar store.

Sandals - Knock-off Crocs are $7.92 a pair at Wal-mart. Get this style of sandal, among others at Dollarama for only $2 a pair. Flip-flop sandals are only $1.25 a pair and there are sizes for the entire family at the dollar store.

Pool toys - Inflatable rings, small air mattress, inflatable animals, and other water toys, are only $1, $1.25 or $1.50 at Dollarama. If you don't have a pool, your kids can still have a blast with water guns, badminton rackets, foam airplane kits, kites or myriad other outdoor amusements. Toys might not be a necessity, strictly speaking, but keeping the kids out of your hair for an hour or two could give you a little time for yourself, which, if not a necessity, sure is nice.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes ideas and tips for home decorating using only items from the dollar store.

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