Dollar stores have become the go-to destination for everyday bargains, for good reason. By offering savings up to 90 percent on all kinds of household goods and accepting coupons and food stamps, the stores attract all income levels.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Chains like Dollar Tree (DLTR), Dollar General (DG) and Family Dollar (FDO) cover the continental U.S. All three are online, too. Dollar General has a featured blog with useful hints, as does Family Dollar. Each dollar store chain has its own personality. Dollar General offers items in bulk. Family Dollar and Dollar General carry more name brands. Dollar Tree has everything priced at one dollar and offers in-store pickup if you order online.
Caveats: Not everything is cheaper than at grocery, drug and specialty stores. An item you saw last week might not be there the next. To comparison-shop, you may need to figure the cost per unit or price per pound.
The top 25 bargains are (in no particular order):
Batteries. AAA, AA, C and D batteries go for a dollar at Dollar Tree. Compare a pack of 8 AAs for a dollar to upwards of $9 at drug and grocery stores.
Light bulbs. Not the expensive compact fluorescents but standard light bulbs that are becoming harder to find.
Flood lights. These are usually more than $5 at hardware stores.
Brand -name cosmetics. They won't be the newest colors, but name brands are significantly cheaper at dollar stores than at beauty supply stores or drugstores.
Beauty supplies. Hairbrushes, accessories, grooming instruments are all much more affordable.
Over-the-counter medicine cabinet staples. Pain relievers, tummy meds and allergy pills are considerably cheaper than at drug or grocery stores. If you need something in a limited quantity immediately, the dollar store is the place to go.
Canned and jarred goods. Some, but definitely not all, are savvy buys. Pickles, olives and salsa are usually cheaper. The trick is to know what the item costs per ounce at your regular grocery to know if you have a deal.
Movie candy. Soooo much cheaper. Just know cinemas don't look kindly on sneaking it in. But for an at-home film fest, it can't be beat.
Clothing. Some dollar stores -- like Dollar General and Family Dollar -- offer sweats, socks, underwear, T-shirts and children's apparel. Dresses come in limited varieties.
Holiday decorations. Standard stuff for holidays at home and for teachers who like to decorate a classroom. Committed bargain finders should buy these in the days following the holiday.
Greeting cards. When you need a little heartfelt sentiment on paper, go for the dollar cards. Few recipients will notice.
Cleaning supplies. Not as cheap as baking soda and vinegar, but bleach, cleansing powder, dish detergent, spray cleaner and laundry detergent go for less than store brands and much less than name-brand products. Name-brand products are occasionally available. If you're a couponer, stock up on these rare events.
Baby needs. Dollar General has its own store-brand diapers and wipes and offers baby bottles in bulk. Other household necessities are available in bulk discount. Watch out, Costco.
Crafting and scrapbooking supplies. Not everything the die-hard crafter needs is available, but glue sticks, artificial flowers and other doodads are there.
Spices and seasonings. Basic spices are much, much less expensive than at grocery stores. Gourmets may sniff, but no one's ever complained at dinner.
Pet supplies. Cat-box filler and pet toys are usually cheaper. Pet food, on the other hand, may cost the same as at a regular grocery store.
Auto care. Windshield washer fluid is a strong buy at a buck. Car washing accessories are cheap, too.
Men's grooming. Stock up on plastic disposable razors and shaving cream.
Party supplies. Items for goody bags, decorations and tableware are available for birthday, holiday parties and even weddings.
Frozen food. These are usually generic versions of popular brands.
Dental care. Noticed the prices of toothpaste and toothbrushes lately? You can buy name brands -- plus floss and mouthwash -- for less.
Cooking tools. Dollar Tree carries the Betty Crocker line of basic cooking items, like graters and sieves.
Toys. These aren't the hot items that kids whine for but are good as stocking stuffers or keeping the kids occupied on a car ride.
Books. Not new bestsellers but worth it as a beach read or something to carry on a plane.
DVDs. Available on a limited basis.
12 Ways to Save Money on Food
Top 25 Bargains at Dollar Stores
This advice applies to adults and kids alike. Plan out your shopping list before you head to the grocery store so you’re not tempted by impulse buys, and let any children along for the ride know that you plan on sticking with that list. Small expenditures add up to big money, so try to avoid giving in to any last-minute requests.
If your children continue to insist that you purchase their requested items, then ask them to bring their own piggy bank money. Remind your children they are only allowed to pick something they can afford. It's good practice for grown-up budgeting.
You might not have 20 hours a week to scour multiple publications for the best deals, but if you focus on searching for online coupons, you'll end up saving just as much. Search online for products with the word "coupon" afterward. For instance, if you're looking for Cascade dish soap, search for "Cascade dish soap coupons."
To make sure that you don't waste money on impulse buys, schedule your shopping around paydays. The day or day after you get paid should be your shopping day. Before you go shopping, make a list and make sure it has everything you'll need until the next shopping day on it. Now make a commitment to yourself that you will make what you're going to purchase last until the next shopping day.
Stocking your freezer with frozen meals can help you save money on lunch, since they cost just about $5 each. It can even be a healthier option because they help you practice portion control. Just make sure you're purchasing meals that have no preservatives, and watch out for sodium levels.
Don't waste your time making a sack lunch every day. Instead, prepare a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and your body will thank you for the extra 10 to 30 minutes of sleep you'll gain each night. If you cook one big meal on Sunday, make sure it's easy to change up throughout the week. Chicken, rice and vegetables all cook quickly and taste great with different sauces and cheeses.
Most families throw away so much food on a weekly basis. A better idea is to turn your dinner leftovers into a lunchtime feast. Apps like BigOven help you use your leftovers to make yummy, new dishes. All you have to do is enter the ingredients you have, and the app will show you different recipe options for your leftovers. You'll save money using food that would have been thrown out.
If you know you have $400 to spend per month on your food budget, that's roughly $100 a week. Whether you shop once or twice per week or use cash or credit doesn't matter as long as you stay within your spending limits. Just be sure to only spend the amount you allotted per week.
Keep your shopping list in a set location so all members of the household can access it. Write estimated prices of the items you are going to buy next to each item on the checklist. It can serve a dual purpose as a price book you can use to guess how much you will spend.
If you've ordered from the kids menu at a restaurant recently, then you know how big the meals are – they're almost as big as meals for adults, and they can cost up to $10 each. If you have multiple children, an easy way to cut down on this expense is to have them share a meal. Not only does this lower the cost of feeding everyone, but it also cuts down on food waste.
Most stores are open late, and without the distraction of announcements, people and maybe even your kids, you can have your own Zen moment. When you are clearheaded, you're more likely to zone in on what you really need and leave out what you really don't. Plus, it's easier to give the cashier coupons without causing any delays for the people in line behind you.
We are a society consumed by all sorts of apps, but if you want to grocery shop, save money and still be lazy, let Favado, an app created by Savings.com, do the work for you. The app will tell you about items on sale from different stores, and if there is a store coupon or manufacturer coupon, it will also let you know that too. (Of course, you can just use it to scan the weekly ads to keep things simple.) And if you're already glued to your smartphone, it's easy to incorporate into your shopping routine.