If you’ve ever visited a dollar store, you’ve probably said one of these phrases while shopping there:
It’s only a dollar.
I’ve spent a dollar on stupider stuff.
Might as well get it. You can’t beat the price.
But the truth is that every dollar counts. And sometimes you can beat the price elsewhere. You can save money at dollar stores if you know how to shop at them. Or you can waste a whole lot of money in the name of saving a buck.
How to Save Money at Dollar Stores
Shop for what you need. Just because the merchandise is only a measly dollar doesn’t give you permission to spend as much as you want. You still need to shop with a list. You still need to have an idea of what you need and what you already have at home so that you don’t overspend by buying things you don’t need.
Don’t assume everything in the store is a dollar. Every dollar store is different. Some stores sell things that start at $1 and go up. Other stores have some merchandise that is less than a dollar. Be sure to verify the prices before you reach the checkout so you know what you’re paying.
Know what stuff costs elsewhere. Just because “It’s only a dollar” at the dollar store, doesn’t mean that it isn’t cheaper elsewhere. I’ve found some health and beauty products actually cost less at major discount stores. And depending on the time of year you’re shopping, school supplies could cost you more at the dollar store. Don’t assume that the dollar store is the cheapest place to shop. You still have to shop around.
Don’t window shop. It may seem like the dollar store is a safe place to browse, but it is far to easy to make impulse purchases when the items are only a dollar each. Don’t use dollar stores for recreation and you’ll save a ton of money.
Watch for sales. Even dollar stores have clearance sections and clearance sales from time to time as they move out old inventory to make way for new items. You can score some great deals on holiday decorations and gift wrap and more by watching for sales.
Use coupons if you can. Some dollar stores (like Dollar Tree) accept manufacturer coupons for up to $1. This can mean even bigger discounts or even free items with the right coupons. Get to know your favorite dollar store’s coupon policies and you could score some fabulous bargains.
Determine the value of the item. A bargain isn’t a bargain if it ends up being junk that clutters up your home. Before you part with that dollar bill, ask yourself if you really need the item. Determine if it’s worth having it around your home. Decide how much you will use the item and what added value it will bring to your life. When in doubt, put it back on the shelf and keep your money in your pocket.
What to buy at dollar stores
Pregnancy tests. You can obsessively test yourself 15 times for the price of one test at a discount retailer, which is good news for those anxiously trying to conceive.
Greeting cards. Don’t spend $5 for a greeting card when you can get one for $1! Some of the ones I’ve seen at dollar stores are actually nicer (and funnier) than their more expensive card store counterparts.
Gift bags. Sometimes you buy a gift that’s oddly shaped and a gift bag would be just the thing to use to wrap it. You can spend $4 or more for a quality gift bag at Target. Or you could pay a buck and call it good.
Holiday and party decorations. If you’re looking for some small items to decorate your home (inside or out), dollar stores have some fun items you can pick up. Dollar stores are also great places to score deals on table coverings, plates and utensils, party favors, and helium balloons.
Watch batteries. We have had our share of books, gadgets and toys that require watch batteries. I love that I can pick up a whole pack of watch batteries for these items instead of shelling out $8 or more on a single battery.
Storage containers. If you’re looking for small storage containers for food or other items, the dollar store can be the place to go to find affordable options. Just make sure that any food containers are labeled BPA free.
Things to avoid buying at dollar stores
Tools. A cheap tool can be worse than having no tools at all! I’ve had a bad experience with dollar store tools – from the heads of hammers coming loose (ouch!) to Phillips screwdrivers that become useless with basic use. Save your money and buy quality hand tools (or borrow from a friend who does!)
Batteries. I know I said that watch batteries for your gadgets and toys were a good deal. But the dollar store alkaline batteries seem more prone to leakage and seem to wear out faster than their more expensive namebrand counterparts at Target and Walmart.
Some food items. If it sounds too good to be true, it could be, and this is often the case with processed food items. Be sure to check the labels to make sure you’re getting a decent quality product that’s not laden with preservatives and unnecessary calories.
Clothing items. Most clothing items like socks, underwear and t-shirts are usually thin and poorly made. It’s better to shop the department store sales or scour your favorite thrift shops for bargains on quality clothing.
Dollar stores are just one of the many places you can save money on the things you need. But just like anywhere else, you need to remember to be a smart shopper.
Your turn: Do you shop at dollar stores? What things do you buy at dollar stores? What things do you avoid?