It’s easy to go into a dollar store to buy one thing and walk out with $40 worth of junk. But that doesn’t mean everything there is a total waste!
Hidden between the bouncy balls and knickknacks are still plenty of great things to buy—you just have to know where to look. These 15 safe bets will satisfy your inner bargain hunter, give you a good discount, and help you get more bang for your buck. Plus, learn some things you should skip buying at the dollar store altogether.
15 Things You Should Buy at the Dollar Store
1. Greeting Cards
Forget roaming the aisles at another store for that perfect, sarcastic card for your brother. At the dollar store, simple is the name of the game. Just pick a few staple cards or look for blank ones you can add your own thoughtfulness to. That’s twice the thought for half the price! They’ll be so impressed.
Cost comparison: Sometimes you can get two cards for the price of one at the dollar store. Everywhere else? Prices can range from 50 cents to even $10 for the fancy kind, but the average greeting card falls somewhere between $2 to $4.(1)
2. Stickers and Activity/Coloring Books
We know there are some days you need a distraction for your kids that just doesn’t make noise. That’s where the dollar store comes in. Fill those fidgety fingers with activity books and sticker sheets, and watch as your little ones stay occupied and quiet for at least 15 consecutive minutes.
3. Reading Glasses
At a buck a piece, there’s no excuse to keep misplacing your specs! Give yourself a break from combing the house top to bottom and purchase several pairs of reading glasses. Keep a pair at home, in your bag, and at the office. Grab one in every color if you want! Now you’ll finally have something that goes with that snazzy purple shirt in your closet.
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Cost comparison: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal than $1 for a pair of glasses. You can buy three pairs of reading glasses for about $8 at Walmart or one pair for $6.95 at an online retailer like Zenni Optical.
4. Cleaning Supplies
Name-brand household cleaners aren’t limited to mega-retailers. Scan your local dollar store’s shelves for trusted names, or maybe give the generic brand a try. And while you’re disinfecting, stock up on dish towels, distilled vinegar, spray bottles, and new scrub brushes for your dishes, toilets and tubs.
Cost comparison: Spending money on cleaning products can cost you an arm and a leg. Everyone has their preferences about what to buy, like bleach vs. natural alternatives. You’ve probably already guessed it, but that impacts the price. Name-brand window cleaner will cost you about $3 at a grocery store.
5. Travel-Size Items
Leaving on a jet plane? Load up on travel-size toiletries that fit perfectly in your carry-on luggage. Bonus: You can even buy empty travel-size bottles and fill them up with your own products from home.
6. Table Centerpieces
Decorate your wedding reception or family reunion with discount decor by the caseload. Check to see if your local store offers online bulk orders and free site-to-store shipping. It’s a great way to get tons of vases, candles and faux flowers at low prices.
7. Party Supplies
In addition to scoring great discounts on superhero balloons, party planners (aka mom and dad) can find everything from cups to crepe paper at a great price. And don’t forget to stock up on gift wrap, tissue paper and ribbons for all those presents. Pro tip: Instead of buying a gift bag that will likely be thrown away, get a reusable bag or basket to put the gift on display.
Cost comparison: Walk into any party store and you’ll be shocked at how much a simple birthday balloon will set you back. To fill your balloon needs at a party store, you’re looking at anywhere from $3 to $20 for just one helium-filled balloon. Tack on even more if it’s a life-sized pink unicorn or caped crime fighter.
8. Storage Containers
A plastic bin is a plastic bin. Why spend nearly $10 on one to hold your bulky winter sweaters when you could get a bargain of a deal? And don’t forget about all the toys lining the floor of your playroom! You can stock up on containers for things like toys, crafts and shoes to make your space look extra organized and put together. That is, until your well-meaning toddler comes around.
9. Picture Frames
Those pretty little pieces of décor that hold our most treasured memories can cost a ridiculous amount! Save yourself a small fortune and grab your picture frames at the dollar store instead of other home décor stores.
10. Baby Items
It’s a good idea to be selective when it comes to buying baby items at the dollar store. But if you find well-known baby brands—rejoice! That’s a great deal! Be on the lookout for things like bibs, washcloths and socks.
Browse the book section and you might be pleasantly surprised! There are plenty of children’s books to pick from, plus notable, hardcover best sellers that are sure to impress every bookworm. And for a dollar a pop? You just can’t beat that!
12. Bathroom Items
No, we’re not talking about toilet paper. We’ve done that brave research for you, and you should probably avoid dollar store toilet paper at all costs (you’re welcome). But there are plenty of other bathroom necessities you need to check out! Don’t pay full price for shower liners or curtains, bath mats, trash cans, shower accessories, toothbrush holders, and soap dispensers. You can pick up those things at the dollar store to score a major discount!
13. Seasonal décor
Is there anything more fun than getting festive for the holidays? We’re not just talking about Christmas—don’t forget Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Independence Day and St. Patrick’s Day. But decorating for said holidays can really dig deep into your wallet if you aren’t careful. Instead of shelling out cash to trim the tree or usher in spring, swing by the dollar store for festivity on a budget!
14. Glassware and drinkware
So, you didn’t get the crystal stemware you registered for when you got married. And it still stings all these years later. But guess what? You can get beautiful glasses (not to mention bowls, plates and mugs) for just one dollar a piece. You can’t beat that deal! Bonus: You won’t become a bucket of tears when a dish does break.
Cost comparison: You can get a set of six drinking glasses at Target for about $13.(2) That sounds like a decent price until you realize your grand total at the dollar store comes in at more than half that cost.
15. Name-brand items
Let’s say you find name-brand items you know cost more than a dollar at competing stores. Scoop them up! You can find things like dish soap, cake mix, sports drinks, baby wipes, and numerous brands of candy. It all depends on your store and what they carry.
7 Things You Should Not Buy at the Dollar Store
1. Vitamins and Medication
If it’s name-brand Tylenol (that isn’t past the expiration date), then you’ve found yourself a deal. But if it’s a knockoff, steer clear! Do yourself a favor and buy the generic brand at a pharmacy.
2. School Supplies
The general consensus is that dollar store crayons, pencils, pens and paper are not as good of quality as their counterparts at other retailers. And if you wait it out for a back-to-school sale, you might even save a lot more money going to a place like Target, Walmart or an office supply store.
3. Power Strips
When it comes to things like surge protectors and extension cables, invest a couple more bucks and get something from a reputable brand. Believe us, it’s not worth risking the fire hazard.
Okay, mom and dad—can we get real with you? If you just need a handful of toys to encourage some good behavior from your kiddo (toilet training, sleeping in their own bed, etc.) then dollar store toys are your best friend. But if you want a toy to actually last, oh say, more than 36 hours—buy it somewhere else. Look for deals on the clearance shelf, or at discount stores like Ross, T.J. Maxx, and even Aldi.
If it’s a name-brand item, go for it! But if it’s generic lipstick or foundation, it’s better to pass. People with allergies and sensitive skin can have harsh reactions to cheap filler ingredients. There are plenty of ways to save on your makeup purchases (shopping on Black Friday or using coupons), and buying it at the dollar store doesn’t have to be one of them.
6. Food Storage
Spring the extra 20 cents and just buy the name-brand plastic containers you know don’t have any hazardous chemicals in them.(3)
7. Canned goods
Spending a dollar seems like a bargain across the board, but is it really? Not when it comes to canned goods. In fact, a dollar a can is actually kind of pricey when you think about it. You’d be better off going to your grocery store for 77 cents a can or a two-for-a-dollar deal.
Keep in mind: the point of shopping at the dollar store is to save money. But it’s just as easy to blow your budget on little things as it is on a few big-ticket items. And of course, it’s never a good idea to buy things you don’t actually need. So before you check out, ask yourself: Am I really getting a good deal, or am I just overspending with smaller bills?
No matter what you buy, make sure it’s in your budget. (Yes, even if it only costs one dollar!) For the easiest way to budget, get EveryDollar. Create your first budget in 10 minutes and discover how you can save even more every month!