Dollar store buys to avoid
We know, we know. The dollar store is a bastion of low-priced goodies and deals—except, sometimes, it’s not really worth the rock-bottom prices if you’ll just be picking up a truly inferior product. Read on to find out what you should steer clear of at the dollar store, no matter how low-priced it is. In case you were wondering, this is how dollar stores actually make money.
As low as $1 sounds, you might actually find better deals at larger office supply retailers, which are more likely to have sales, says Brent Shelton, online shopping expert for fatwallet.com. “You can usually get things you’d get for a dollar for a penny or five cents,” he says. Plus, even though you’re dropping more cash at a time for a bulk pack at those bigger retailers, you’re getting a better value overall for each item in that package—and with better quality, he says. But be careful—there are some items that aren’t worth buying in bulk.
Where to buy school supplies instead: Take a trip to Target to buy school supplies at reasonable and inexpensive prices, like these 15 under $1 school supplies. Writing supplies, folders, and notebooks can all be found in Target aisles.
Quality matters with kitchen knives, and the ones at a dollar store won’t slice as well as those from a bigger brand. “These won’t be sharp, and dull knives can be very dangerous,” says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.
Where to buy knives instead: If you’re on the hunt for an impressive knife that will make slicing fruits and vegetables a breeze, Good Housekeeping recommends the Wüsthof 8-inch chef’s knife, which can be found on Amazon. Their reasoning? “For starters, it’s razor-sharp and super versatile, and it was one of the only knives in our test that could cleanly slice tomatoes, chop onions, and bone a chicken with ease.”
Dollar store products are often liquidated from other retailers. You might not think of batteries as having a shelf life, but even unused ones lose their charge over time, so you might not get as much use out of that dollar store pack. “Batteries may have been on a Target shelf for three years, and now they don’t hit Target’s standards anymore,” says Shelton. “[Dollar stores] are not ordering new batteries and pricing them well—they’re taking old stuff off other stores’ shelves.” Plus, some dollar store batteries contain carbon-zinc, making them more prone to leaking than the higher-quality lithium ones you’d find at other stores, says Woroch. You’re better off ordering batteries from an online discount store or finding a big multipack at a larger chain. Just watch out for these items you should never buy at Costco.
Where to buy batteries instead: Walmart has an impressive selection of batteries, ranging from AA batteries, AAA batteries, and 9V batteries.
Cheap tools are more likely to break. Not only does that mean you’ll have to replace them again, but you could also be putting your safety at risk. “If you have a cheap clamp that’s holding something in the air above your head and it breaks because it’s poor quality, that could injure you,” says Shelton. Hardware stores will give you better quality, and products often come with lifetime guarantees, so you’ll get a free replacement if they do wear out. Here are things you should never buy at garage sales.
Where to buy tools instead: From hand tools, power tools, and woodworking tools, Home Depot provides a vast selection for you to choose from, both in-store and online.
Penny-pinch on heat protection for the kitchen and you could get burned—literally. “Cheaply made oven mitts won’t offer enough padding for protection against heated cookware and baking dishes,” says Woroch. Listen to your gut; if a mitt seems too flimsy to protect you, find a better one elsewhere. Add this to the list of things dollar store employees won’t tell you.
Where to buy oven mitts instead: Even though you may think oven mitts aren’t worth the investment, after one too many burned hand you’ll reconsider. The editors at Wirecutter recommend Homwe E0xtra Long Professional Silicone Oven Mitt. The textured oven mitts are flame retardant, heat-resistant, and waterproof.
Plastic cooking ware
If you want to avoid plastic spoons melting into your soup or your kitchen mitts catching on fire, (and who doesn’t?) your best bet is to spend a little extra on cooking ware that will last. “This is tricky category because we use heat with so many of these items, whether we are cooking with them or using them in the microwave or dishwasher,” says Bodge. “Because the materials can be questionable, adding heat is a wild card because that’s when toxins can be released.” You might be surprised by how many items actually sell for $1 at a dollar store.
Where to buy bamboo cutlery: Instead of buying more plastic, it might be best to swap out plastic cooking ware with a bamboo cutlery set on Amazon.
Because fewer people rely on dollar stores for their groceries, goods like dairy products might not get replaced as often as supermarkets, which restock regularly. “The turnover is really good on fresh food” at grocery stores, says Shelton. “It has a longer shelf life and is going to be a higher quality brand you can trust.” Check the expiration date before heading to the register with any product that has a short shelf life. Try these 40 smart ways to save money at the supermarket instead.
Dollar store makeup could save you money on drugstore beauty products, but be careful—people with allergies or sensitive skin could have a reaction to cheap ingredients. “They may use harsher alcohols, or the refinement of some of the materials into things like makeup are processed on a low budget, so they’re not refined as well for your skin,” says Shelton. Check the expiration date and ingredient list before you buy, then test it out on a small area to make sure your skin won’t break out or dry out. Here’s the difference between Dollar Tree and Dollar General.
Where to buy makeup instead: There are a variety of make-up brands that are vegan, cruelty-free, and generally have a great product. Tarte cosmetics is an eco-friendly brand that has shades that can match your palette. Here are other brands for cruelty-free beauty.
The electric products you’ll find in dollar stores usually have thinner wires that won’t be able to handle power loads as well as pricier products, says Shelton. You could pay the price for that lack of quality, says Woroch. “Dollar store versions of extension cords, power strips and the like can be poorly made and therefore unsafe,” she says. “Skip the savings in pursuit of safety and get these items from your hardware store.” Learn about 11 things you should never, ever buy used.
Where to buy power strips instead: There are so many different kinds of power strips: How to choose? Thankfully, Walmart has a vast selection to choose from, including the highly-rated GE Pro 7-Outlet Surge Protector with 2-Port USB Charging.
Snagging a box of cereal for $1 at a grocery store is practically unheard of, but their packages are usually larger, meaning dollar boxes may actually cost more per ounce. If you’re going for a generic brand, you’re probably better off picking it up at the supermarket, which might leave you less disappointed by the taste. “Food in the dollar store is often food that doesn’t sell well in other stores,” says Shelton. “Unless you have access to food reviews for these off-brand items, it’s likely one reason this food is on the dollar store shelf is because the taste is subpar to other brands in the grocery store.” Here are the things you can buy on Amazon for less than $1.
With a coupon in hand during a sale, you could end up saving more money at a big box store than at a dollar store, says Woroch. “I have found better deals on beauty products like shampoo and conditioner at stores like Walmart, where you have a wider selection and the store often offers sales,” she says. Find out other things you’re not buying at Walmart but should.
Where to buy hair products instead: Yes, it’s possible to get amazing hair without spending a ton of money. Love Beauty and Planet have a lot of products on Walmart and provide eclectic scents like coconut and murumuru to appease all senses.
Dollar store skin-care products are similar to dollar store vitamins—you don’t know what’s inside the packing. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune to have good skin. Dermatologists agree, save your money and skip these expensive beauty supplies that are a waste of money.
Where to buy skincare products instead: There are a variety of skincare products to purchase beyond the Dollar Store, including the Luminizing Black Charcoal Mask from Boscia, available at Sephora.
According to Bodge (and most skin-care experts), SPF degrades over time, and that dollar store tube might be expired. Or the package says SPF 30, but it’s really SPF 15. “It’s hard to tell how long these products have been sitting on the shelves, and it’s not worth the risk,” says Bodge.
Where to buy sunscreen instead: You can’t get any better than the sunscreen at Trader Joe’s. Consumer Reports gave the Trader Joe’s Spray SPF 50+ the top spot.
You want to provide your child with the best and safest products available on the market, which unfortunately means you should avoid the dollar store. Again, the issue is quality; you never know what you’re getting.
Where to buy baby products instead: Target has a wide variety of products you can purchase ranging from decorating your nursery, adding must-haves to your baby registry (like any one of these strollers), and postpartum items that can have a place in your new home.
You don’t want to spend all day doing laundry only to realize that your detergent is expired, and your clothes still look dingy. “Skip liquid detergents, unless there is an expiration date,” she warns. “Liquid detergents tend to lose their efficacy over time so if the product has been on the shelf for over a year, it won’t be as effective.” Just don’t fall for these 11 mistakes you’re probably making when you try to save money.
Where to buy liquid detergent instead: Arm & Hammer, Gain, Tide…Target seems to have it ALL when it comes to liquid detergents.
Even if you’ve had good luck with cheap gadgets before, you might be disappointed by how quickly another tech product breaks down. Major companies typically stick with one source for consistent quality, but generic brands will change up their process based on what’s cheapest. “Those brands are usually pulling in parts from a whole bunch of places—not always the same place,” says Shelton, “so the reliability of quality and safety can’t be as sure as from a name brand that has high standards for all parts of the materials used.” Even if you buy the same product your friend was raving about, yours might not hold up as well if the brand decided to cut corners or source materials from somewhere else.
Where to buy electronics instead: Instead of schlepping to a store, you can now buy tech products from the comfort of your own home, like this Kindle you can find on Amazon.
Over-the-counter medications in dollar stores are often getting close to—or might even be past—their expiration dates, says Woroch. “Instead, head to your local drug store and opt for the generic version to save money,” she says. Here are 17 more habits of people who are great at saving money.
While the $1 price may be appealing, you don’t truly know exactly what you’re getting in generic dollar store vitamin bottles. Vitamins and supplements might optimize your health if you take them correctly. Here’s how to get great deals on just about anything.
Where to buy vitamins instead: According to Healthline, the best Vitamin D supplement comes from Nature Made, which you can purchase on Amazon.