Discount stores are in vogue, and the hottest of the markdown merchants are dollar stores like Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General. As a buyer you need to be wary that a discount at these stores is more than just the cost of an item; it’s also the amount that item is discounted versus the competition. Just like in a grocery store you need to be careful that you know how much you are paying by unit of measure, ounce, etc.
Comparison shop…Dollar stores tend to carry a lot of off-brand items that cost less to begin with so in order to do a true apples-to-apples comparison, you need to look at the cost of some well-known name-brand products that can be found both at dollar and big-box stores. Your grocery store may well be cheaper on a per-unit basis; this can especially be true if you can use coupons, are buying store specials, and you are getting a discount for your total purchases.
Do not buy impulse items; keep a Dollar Store list, look for exceptional deals on their website, and ask if they will take coupons.
Party supplies are usually a DEFINITE DEAL. Everything from party invitations to decorations to balloons are worth buying at the dollar store. Foil balloons, goodie bags, party favors and color-coordinated paper plates, napkins, cups and plastic cutlery are usually a good buy.
Cleaning supplies are usually a DEFINITE DEAL. According to the Good Housekeeping Institute, the cleaners you buy at the dollar store work just fine. You probably won’t find many name brands, but the ingredients are similar, though perhaps more diluted. You can also get a good deal on rubber gloves, sponges, and scrub brushes.
Vitamins are usually NOT A DEAL. Consumer Reports found that dollar store multi-vitamins didn’t always have the amount of nutrients claimed on the label, and others didn’t dissolve fast enough to be absorbed by the body. Look for 2 for 1 deals, a percentage off your purchase, or using them to get bulk discounts at your grocery store.
Greeting cards are USUALLY A DEAL. The local dollar store has a big selection of cards for every occasion, at 50-cents each. They’re typically good-quality.
Basic school supplies NOT A DEAL. The dollar store has decent deals on school supplies. It is best to stock-up when these items go on sale during back-to-school season (August-September). Watch the circulars for the best deals.
Seasonal or holiday items ARE USUALLY DEAL. Seasonal paper plates and napkins are usually a good deal. Decorations can be hit-or-miss, and subject to opinion concerning quality.
Aspirin, Ibuprofen and other medications are NOT A DEAL. Consumer Reports warns you to carefully watch expiration dates, generic aspirin from your local pharmacy or supermarket is probably a better bet.
Gift wrapping supplies are USUALLY A DEAL. You can get gift wrap, gift bags, and Scotch tape at a substantial savings.
Toys are NOT A DEAL. Many dollar-store toys are cheaply made and can be dangerous when they break. Avoid baby toys because they will go directly into the mouth, and dollar-store toys may have unsafe levels of lead and phthalates.
Canned food, food items are NOT DEAL. The deals generally are better at your grocery store. If you are considering these items watch expiration dates and freshness dates.
Batteries and electronics are NOT DEAL. Consumer Reports warns that dollar store electronics and extension cords may have fake UL labels and could be unsafe. It’s better to spend a little extra for quality and safety. Many dollar stores sell carbon-zinc batteries which are less efficient than the alkaline variety.
Cooking and dining accessories are USUALLY A DEAL. Spoons, spatulas, cheese graters, ice cream scoops, and more at the dollar store for 50% to 90% off the prices at Target and Walmart. Almost anything is a good buy in the kitchen department, with the exception of knives. Having said this I typically buy these items at estate sales.
Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Family Dollar post sales fliers on their sites. As you make your shopping list for the week, compare their deals with those at the supermarket and other stores.
Dollar General and Family Dollar sometimes offer coupons in fliers or online (sign up for the Savings Zone at dollargeneral.com to receive printables). The two retailers also accept manufacturers’ coupons.
Always look for a legitimate safety certification UL label mark, a gold foil tag on the cord with a holographic image of the UL mark, Mays said. Other approved certification marks include ETL or ETL Listed and CSA.