15 things to avoid at the dollar store

WHEN A DOLLAR IS NO DEAL

We all try to save money where we can, and shopping at dollar-store chains seems like an appealing way to achieve that goal. Sadly, some of the products on their shelves are a waste of money -- regardless how cheap. Things that fall apart or don't do their jobs clearly belong on a list of dollar-store no-no's.

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Never buy these things at a dollar store
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Never buy these things at a dollar store

TOYS

The old adage "you get what you pay for" certainly applies to dollar-store toys. While a $1 price tag seems like a low-cost way to give your child a treat or add to the stash for a nephew's birthday, don't bother. Katie Curtis of Logan, Ohio, posted a picture on Facebook of her 3-year-old holding a dollar-store imitation Barbie that was dismembered in less than 10 minutes.

Dollar-store toys are not only poorly made -- they may be safety hazards. Several toys from these chains have been recalled in the past: a toy gun that posed a choking hazard, a remote control tank that could overheat, and a dart gun that caused the deaths of two children. In 2016, Dollar General recalled a toy truck deemed a fire hazard

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ANYTHING WITH A PLUG

While dollar-store extension cords or USB cables may seem like a deal, they could be putting your electronics, as well as your home, at risk. Cords, plugs, and power strips sold at dollar stores are often flimsy and can fall apart easily. All it takes is one loose connection to spark a fire. Dollar stores have recalled extension cords and decorative lights for potential fire hazards, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

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BATTERIES

If your kids play with lots of battery-operated planes, trains, and other such toys (and inevitably leave them powered on), loading up on packs of generic batteries at the dollar store may seem like a swell idea. The problem, as Wired showed through a series of experiments, is that the batteries are packed with less energy than name brands. They may be adequate for something like a flashlight that is used infrequently; for heavy use, it's dollar-wise over the long haul to save the hassle of constantly replacing power cells by spending more upfront on higher-quality batteries. Moreover, cheap batteries are known to leak, which can damage electronics.

Another way to tell if dollar-store batteries are a good buy: Check the label. If the batteries contain carbon zinc, be sure to pass. This component is inferior to the lithium used by name brands. 

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VITAMINS AND HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS

For something as important as your health, best head to the pharmacy. Consumer Reports has tested dollar-store multivitamins and found that some were substandard, lacking the full amount of nutrients listed on the labels. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that labels be accurate, supplements are not subjected to the same rigorous review and approval process as medications. 

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KNIVES

For anything with a sharp blade, going cheap is just asking for trouble. Knives are dangerous by definition, so you want one that is sturdy and well-made to minimize any chance of an accident. A dollar-store utility knife recall is just one example of the hazards posed by cheaply manufactured knives. Never mind that these knives, with their dull, thin blades, won't do much for your culinary aspirations. 

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PET ITEMS

Canned cat and dog food costs about $1 a can at the grocery store, and sometimes less if you find a good sale. The off-brands at the dollar store may be even cheaper, but they don't use the quality ingredients found in the more popular brands. For Fido's sake, skip the pet food at the dollar store. Take a pass on the animal toys, too, which are cheaply made and may pose a serious choking hazard. 

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BEAUTY PRODUCTS

Some personal care items are a steal at the dollar store, but others, such as makeup and hair color, are not worth even the cheap price. Every once in a while you may be able to find name-brand makeup on the shelves for $1, but more often than not the makeup at the dollar store is an unfamiliar brand. When it comes to products used on your face, it isn't worth the risk of an allergic reaction or rash caused by cheap ingredients. As for hair color, you risk long-term damage to your locks with an unknown brand, especially at just $1 a box. 

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SNACKS

As if snacks weren't already unhealthy enough, manufacturers of dollar store munchies skimp on the quality of ingredients to keep costs down. Items such as chips, cookies, and crackers can contain ingredients you've never even heard of, so be sure to check the label before bringing a snack home. For treats such as soda and gum, there's often a better deal on higher-quality products at the grocery store. 

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TOOLS

Tools are meant to be durable. For $1, you aren't getting the highest-quality materials, which means the tools won't last as long. A hammer for $1 will likely give $1 worth of durability. If you have to replace your tools frequently, you aren't saving anything at all. Splurge on a good hammer from the hardware store and never have to worry about replacing it again. 

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WEDDING DECOR

While weddings can be expensive, decor is probably not the best place to skimp. For example, it may be tempting to buy 300 fabric rose petals for $1, but they probably won't give you the look you want. The same goes for the 48-pack of plastic "silverware" -- it's flimsy and will likely cause more trouble than it's worth. Sometimes it's better to skip something altogether rather than spend even a dollar. 

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PAPER PRODUCTS

You get what you pay for. While four rolls of one-ply toilet paper will be low-cost, the quality is cheap -- there's more sheer product for the lower price, but you'll end up using exponentially more toilet paper from a dollar store than by paying a little more for a better product from another store. 

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PLASTIC FOOD CONTAINERS

Recent studies indicate there are harmful chemicals in poor-quality dollar store containers, meaning they may not be safe for food products. For containers to store food in, look elsewhere; using the containers for non-food items doesn't pose the same risks. 

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WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID

A gallon of off-brand windshield washer fluid can cost just $1, half that as for a name-brand fluid elsewhere. Read the label on washer fluid found at a Dollar Tree, though, and see if it says the solution is not effective in winter weather. The name brands often guarantee protection in weather as low as 28 degrees below zero.

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SODA

Watch the amount of soda you buy at the dollar store. Often a 1-liter of off-brand soda at the dollar store will cost the same as a 2-liter bottle of a name-brand soda at the grocery store. The same is true for most cans and smaller bottles of soda. Consumers claim the quality is subpar as well.

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GUM

While the gum at a dollar store doesn't taste different, and you can often find name brands there, it isn't usually a good deal. The packages of gum are smaller: four-packs, each containing five sticks, for $1, compared with deals at bulk stores such as Sam's Club or Costco, where shoppers pay far less per stick -- such as Costco charging around $10 for a dozen packs of Orbit, each with 14 Sticks.

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