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Things To Watch Out For When Shopping At a Dollar Store

7 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

It’s true that dollar stores have improved greatly in recent years. Most dollar stores now carry name brand items in some cases. You can likely find a wider selection of grocery-type items too. However, just because dollar stores have improved their offerings doesn’t mean that they are always a good idea. Indeed, there are some items best not ever purchased at a dollar store. If you are looking to save a few bucks, a dollar store can be a good place to start. However, you need to be careful. You’re not always getting the best value, no matter how cheap something seems.

Concerns About Safety

One of the biggest things you have to worry about is safety. While it’s true that you can find some good deals at the dollar store, not all the items have been properly vetted. Not every cheap item at the dollar store is totally safe. Here are some of the worst offenders when it comes to dollar store shopping.

Electrical Products

Not all of them have been properly tested. From light bulbs and extension cords, to charging cables and lamps, watch out. In some cases, a fake certification might even have been attached to the product. You need to be careful.


Watch out for toys with poor construction that could easily break and choke especially young children. Lead in toys is still a concern, and there might be other toxic materials involved.


Double check expiration dates before you buy. It’s fairly common practice to stock dollar store shelves with older food items. You want to be careful.


Watch out when it comes to vitamins and health supplements. You need to make sure that they are properly identified and that they are legitimate. If they aren’t careful, you might find yourself buying something useless – or worse, something harmful.

While many cleaning products are likely fine and it’s hard to go wrong with something like wrapping paper. Just double check other items that you want to buy from the dollar store. You want to make sure that they are safe.

Problems with Quality

In other cases, dollar store items may not be problematic in terms of safety but they may be of low quality. Tools, clothing, and some other items bought at dollar stores may not last very long. If you have to keep going back for more, it might not be worth it to purchase these items at the dollar store. (Keep in mind that even stores with the word “dollar” in them might charge up to $20 per item.) Sometimes, it’s worth it to pay a little more in order to get something of higher quality that will last longer.

It’s true that there are many things we don’t need, and that it isn’t always prudent to spend a lot of money on unnecessary items. A dollar store can provide a way to find good deals and support a frugal lifestyle. However, you still need to be careful. In some cases, cheap is just cheap and that can lead to safety issues or quality issues. As you shop at the dollar store, make sure that you choosing carefully.

There’s an Art to Shopping at the Dollar Store

Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that you should completely ignore dollar stores. These discounted shops have rightly earned a bad reputation in the past for poor-quality products. They are also often stereo typically viewed as the only option for lower-income families with nothing to offer the more middle-class or upper class.

Although this may still be true of small-town and closeout dollar stores, market research of the major dollar store chains such as Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree has revealed dramatic improvement. Dollar stores can no longer be overlooked as competition for supermarkets major retail chains.

Dollar store productsShutterstock

Dollar Stores Have Made Improvements in Recent Years

With dollar stores, it’s best to stick with major chains. That’s because the major players in the space have improved the selection and quality of their store-brand products as well as widened their base of main-stream brands at prices competitive with big-name retailers such as Wal-Mart. Many chains, such as Dollar General, don’t even offer close-out products anymore. By purchasing their inventory directly from manufacturers, they eliminate any need for concerns about quality.

If you have avoided dollar stores in the past, you might want to give them another try. Here are some tips for saving the most and getting the most out of your dollar store visits.

Compare Prices on Name-Brand Products

Know the brands you love and find which items you can get as cheap or cheaper at the dollar store. Dollar stores aren’t just great places for party supplies; you can find mainstream brands available for less. Market research has shown that dollar store prices on certain items can be just as cheap as they are at Wal-Mart.

On the other hand, don’t take for granted that everything at the dollar store is cheaper than at the supermarket or major retail chains. Some items may be more expensive, sometimes by as much as several dollars! A smart shopper will pay attention to prices and know when they are looking at a deal and what to pass up.

Don’t Forget to Figure Out the Price Per Unit

You might be thinking that you are saving by buying that curry powder for $1 when your local grocery store sells it for $1.29, but the reality is that the container size being sold at the dollar store is much smaller.

It’s not unheard of for dollar stores to be selling that 2.5-ounce jar of powder for $1 when you can get a 5-ounce jar for $1.29 elsewhere. Always check the price per unit for anything you use regularly, or else you may be continually overspending.

$1 Doesn’t Always = Deal

Next time you go to Walmart or your grocery store and see something you may buy for less than $1, take note even if you don’t end up putting the item in your cart.

That’s because chances are good that the dollar store will sell it for $1 even if other places are selling it for $0.99, $0.89 or even $0.79. Dollar stores offer rounded off prices, but that also means that they sometimes round up certain products to a full dollar. Be in the group that pays attention and you won’t overpay.

Try Store and Off-Brands

Many are just as good if not better than name brands. You may already buy off-brand paper goods, cleaning supplies, and toiletries but have misgivings about non-perishable food items. Although you should still check dates, many store-brands are comparable in quality and flavor while delivering huge savings.

Start off by trying a store-brand of an item you use a lot. If you don’t like it, at least you’re not out much money.  Off-brand food continues to carry the stigma of questionable quality, but those who can get past assumptions and actually try these products can take advantage of huge savings.

Dollar Stores Are Also Available Online

Major dollar stores such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree have websites which allow you to order online, get coupons, and stay aware of sales. Many dollar store chains only allow you to order in bulk, but this is a great way to stock up on items you use a lot of. Dollar Tree allows you to have items shipped to your local store which eliminates shipping costs, while others offer free shipping for orders over a particular dollar amount.

Dollar store websites have many of the same features as those of major retailers, such as flyers, coupons and sales event listings, so you can save even more on their rock-bottom prices.

Shop with an Open Mind and Price Compare

I could go in a dollar store, do a complete run down on every item that’s being sold and tell you exactly whether it’s a deal at your local dollar store, but it wouldn’t help you one bit.

Why? That’s because prices change all the time and the items may cost differently by the time you go shop next time. The key to saving money there is really to have an open mind about it. Repeat after me “Dollar stores may sell what I want for less or it may not. The quality there may be good or it may not. I won’t know unless I check.” Don’t pigeonhole yourself and always compare prices before you pay. Always.

product display at dollar storeShutterstock

Dollar Stores Are Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations

Dollar stores thrive in lower income communities and they strategically have no decoration in the stores to make it seem like the shop is a small business that isn’t some evil corporation out to make a profit.

But make no mistake. Many dollar stores are part of a chain. These chains are for-profit companies with tens of thousands of stores in the country and their computer systems that price products are just as sophisticated as ones used by Walmart or Costco. They are run by suits and all they see are dollar signs. Everything you see is just marketing. Don’t shop there just because it seems like those stores are the ones your peers shop at. Buy what’s cheap and what works for you. If you want to pay more and help out, then seek out real local shops where the owner is running the shop. You’ll help your community out much more that way.

The Bottom Line

Dollar stores flourished when we had a major recession a decade ago. Then, as the economy improved, customers started noticing their short comings like quality and other questionable practices. As time went on, the major players really had to dig deep and revamp their business.

Nowadays, they are legitimate competitors in their own right. By shopping the dollar store wisely, you can save on many household products you already use and even more by experimenting with store brand merchandise.

David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.


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