Tips to help you be a smart dollar store shopper

dollar store purchasesNot every purchase we make is entirely satisfying. Recently, I had to return a winter jacket to Sears after only two months of wear because a couple of the seams had started to fray. But dollar stores seem particularly susceptible open to criticism that "everything" they sell is junk. Personally, I can't agree with that, but I do admit that there are some things that dollar stores shouldn't try to sell for a buck or two.

An informed shopper is a smart shopper. So, if something in the dollar store looks too good to be true, maybe it is, maybe it isn't. How can you tell? Here are some tips that will help you to decide.
1. Touch it. If something has a nice weight to it, it will probably be a good buy. For instance, I don't buy hand towels if, when I hold them up to the light, I can see through the weave. But I've always found dollar store tea towels to be of excellent quality. If I heft a pair of metal pliers and they look and feel sturdy, the store has made a sale. And, I might add, I've been very happy with my small-tool purchases.

Glass vases and candle holders are usually always good buys. You can easily tell if the glass is flawed or has ripples in it. Dollar Tree is featuring attractive 9 1/2" glass vases with flared rims this week. I don't have a Dollar Tree near me, so I can't vouch for the quality but, if you need a vase, they're certainly worth a look.2. Test it. Always check lids. Do they come off and go on easily? If they don't, leave that item on the shelf. My local dollar store recently started selling small, colorful wastebaskets with swinging flaps in the lids. The lids come off easily, but just try to get them fitted back on. They slide all over and refuse to snap back into place. Garbage day should not include a frustrating puzzle. On the other hand, the lids on the glass and ceramic canisters I've bought in recent months have performed beautifully.

3. Learn from experience. A few months ago, I bought a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth for two bucks at the dollar store. It seemed perfectly sturdy. Turns out it should have stayed out of the kitchen 'cause It couldn't take the heat. Within a few weeks the color began to fade where hot plates had been placed and then bits of tablecloth started to flake off. It's unlikely that a new $2 purchase would perform any differently. Same for the plastic-handled can opener I paid a buck for. It fell apart the instant pressure was applied to the lid of a can.

Sometimes, these things are only flukes but, at dollar store prices, that isn't likely.

In my experience, "You only get what you pay for," isn't always true. Sometimes you can get a darn good deal for a buck or two. You just have to know what to look for and what to avoid. Often, the only way to judge something is to try it. Maybe you've had an experience similar to the tablecloth example. If so, I'd like to hear about it. If I get enough responses, I'll post the results here. Together, we'll all become smarter dollar store shoppers.

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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