Dollar Store Deals: Which Ones Are Worth It?


There’s no better challenge than finding out how far your dollar can go.

Which is why we’re all over the dollar store.

What was once kitschy is now cool (the New York Times would agree), and more affluent consumers are getting in on the dollar store game. Since the recession, it’s been boom time for these stores, which specialize in imported, generic and knockoff consumer goods for prices that make Wal-Mart look like a luxury retailer.

But before you get bargain-hungry and sidle up to a shopping cart, you should know which are the best dollar-store deals—and which offerings can be low-quality, or even dangerous.

Equip yourself with our handy chart below so you can be queen of the dollar-store bargain (really, it’s a title).

Deal No Deal It Depends
Everyday Cleaning Supplies
Go for it. Cleaners have similar—though somewhat diluted—ingredients. (Spring for heavy-duty cleaners for tougher jobs.) Also get rubber gloves, sponges and scrub brushes here.** (If green cleaners are more your thing, we have the best for your buck here.)
Stay away. Some multi-vitamins don’t have the amount of nutrients claimed on the label; others don’t dissolve fast enough to be absorbed by the body.*
Proceed with caution. Dollar stores don’t always have the lowest price, especially on generics, and cake and brownie mixes here come in misleadingly smaller packages. Lastly, keep an eye on the expiration dates, since they may be near or past their freshness date.
Greeting Cards
Definitely. You can find a big selection of good-quality cards for every occasion for about 50 cents each, and you can’t even tell the difference in quality.
Batteries and Electronics
Definitely not. Electronics and extension cords may have fake UL labels. Cheap batteries may be prone to leakage, or may not power your gadgets as long.*
Seasonal or Holiday Items
Up to you. In this category, a “bargain” may be a matter of taste. Icicle ornaments look beautiful on the tree, but imitation pine wreaths? Scraggly and cheap.
Gift Wrapping Supplies
Savings galore. A 20-foot roll of gift wrap is a buck, a third of the price at other stores. All sizes of gift bags are $1, but up to $5 at other stores. You’ll also find huge savings on tissue paper—up to 75% off prices elsewhere.
No way. Dollar store toys are poorly made and can be dangerous if they break. Baby toys should be avoided because they can be a choking hazard. They also often have unsafe levels of lead and phthalates.*
Basic School/Office Supplies
If you find a deal. Prices are decent, but not guaranteed to be better than Walmart or Target. Find better sales at other stores during back-to-school season in August and September.
Party Supplies
Plumb this treasure trove: Foil balloons are $1 here, but $3 to $8 each at party-supply stores, gift shops and supermarkets. Color-coordinated paper plates, napkins, cups and plastic flatware are also good buys.
Lighters and Other “Fire-Makers”
Don’t skimp on safety. Tiki torches and lighters may not be up to safety standards.*(If you’re throwing a barbecue, learn how to grill up a storm here.)
Cooking and Dining Accessories
Be discerning. Spoons, spatulas, cheese graters, ice cream scoops are steals at 50% to 90% off big box store prices, and you’ll find cheap glasses, plates and flatware. But inspect all of your goods before checking out to make sure your measuring cups aren’t missing pieces, and avoid knives, which may be flimsy and dull.
Aluminum Foil
A no-brainer. At 3 cents per square foot, it beats out the prices at grocery and big box stores.*(You can use the foil in this delicious snapper puttanesca recipe.)
Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Other Medications
Better safe than sorry. Aspirin and other medications may be left on the shelf past their expiration dates. Some labels may not say where the medicine was manufactured.*
Your call. Economy size bags of generic candy are cheaper but can also have a noticeably inferior taste.

*According to Consumer Reports

** According to the Good Housekeeping Institute

  • Kgal1298

    I always get lucky at the 99 cent store with food and such. I sometimes find protein bars there that they charge 3 bucks for at other stores. Also, if your a soda person they often times will have pepsi there and such which let’s face it is better to pay a dollar for than the inflated markup at the grocery store even if it is only 50 cents. 

    • Mabartlett1

      So true, at 62 and financially struggling the dollar stores have saved me so many times.  I always look & research cleaning products, paint supplies and all those
      little handy items you can store in your car door compartment, like scissors/tape/etc. I buy American as much as possible & believe  it or not
      there are still products made in America (you have to look).

  • Noelle

    Love how practical your articles are!  I buy hand soap for my bathrooms there, candles are also a great buy.

  • Kelley Worley

    Excellent advice on what to buy here! I love to buy cleaning supplies and also gift wrapping stuff as well. So much cheaper! Love the greeting cards, too!!! :) Love your articles!!

  • Deneen

    I disagree about the batteries, they do have namebrand and we have never had a problem with them leaking in the 10 years we have bought batteries at the Dollar Store, nor have I noticed a difference with how long they last compared to batteries purchased at big name stores. I think the chain dollar stores also tend to have better quality items and more of the namebrand items that you know.  Just pay attention to food prices though because sizes can be smaller than at your regular store, and/or sometimes you might even pay a penny or two more.  It all adds up for us penny pinchers!  Oh yes, the other thing I always check out are the books…you can find all kinds of novels, some by famous authors. They also have childrens books and workbooks, and Spanish lessons on cd!  I have even been known to buy a few musical cds there! And don’t forget toothpaste & toothbrushes, they are a steal!  I love the dollar store! Can you tell?  =)

  • DC

    Toothbrushes are a steal, also cotton balls, etc. Watch for name brand travel sizes too.Sometimes they are 2/$1.

  • Wendykw_g

    I have a dollar store steak knife in my lunch bag.  Handy for cutting up fruit. If I lose it I’m only out a buck, and know where I can get a new one.  One of my best dollar store buys.  Dollar Store was also a great place to get stuff for the son’s new apt when he moved out.  It’s also a good resource for things like plastic sheets when I paint, foam brushes for crafts, tape measures, super glue and those 10 packs of miniature candy bars that are $1.50 at the grocery store.  

  • shantiquax

    There’s a dollar store in my area that specializes in items from Japan.  Unbelievable savings in garden, sewing and unusual cooking supplies like cute molds and tea infusers.  I don’t really trust the food containers because even if they’re labeled as being BHT free, how can I be sure?   I’m usually a little reluctant to purchase items to be used on the body like shampoo and lotion.   I’ve read too many horror stories about tainted products made by unscrupulous, unregulated manufacturers.

    • Henrybarb0407

      buying imported items is the reason there is no jobs for us       buy america made please

      • Elisaidh

        When you’re scraping by from (small) paycheck to paycheck, there’s nothing wrong in buying imported stuff.  If a product is well made, priced REASONABLY and made in America, then I’ll buy it.  Otherwise, no.

  • Faith Baker

    While I have been to many “Mom & Pop” dollar stores that are questionable, we have a “chain” dollar store in our area that is fantastic. I have had no problems with buying anything. Just like shoppiing anywhere else, I always check the expiration dates. They have some really great food, like jarred, roasted red bell peppers (which would cost $4 at the grocery store), marinated jarred vegetables, a cold pasta salad mix that is the best I’ve ever had-yes, you have to add mayonaise and veggies just like any other mix of the same type at the grocery store and even frozen pizza, which I add extra cheese, sliced meatballs and whatever else we have on hand, and its all been good! I find everything from brand-name make-up, generic benadryl ($1 for 36 pills-drugstore-$3.50), sensitive-teeth toothpaste (cost in drugstore $5 and up),  hair products from shampoo and conditioner to headbands, all sorts of storage baggies which are so much more expensive in the grocery store, even the boxed aluminum sheets!, lighters, the list goes on and on…I don’t go often because I have rheumatoid arthritis, so I have to stock up when I do go shopping, but I have spent over $100 at a time! I buy in multiples, such as toilet bowl cleaner, to make my life easier. But if you do the math, just alone on 6 btls. of gen. benadryl @ $3.50 at the drugstore =$21.00, OR  $6.00 at the dollar store. Four bottles of toilet bowl cleaner @ $3.00 per bottle at the grocery store =$12.00 OR $4.00 at the dollar store.  I think you get the point…I may spend $100.00 twice a year, but the savings run into the hundreds for me.    Kleenex, napkins, paper towels, plasticware, notebooks….the list goes on and on and on! Before you go to the drugstore or grocery store, first check out your local “chain” dollar store- you will be amazed and converted!

  • JMichelle

    In NorCal we have a chain called the Dollar Tree (I’m sure it’s in other areas as well) and I swear by them when it comes to the holidays- gift boxes, gift bags, and wrapping paper for a buck?! Yes, please.  I also go there for batteries, I believe the brand there is Sunbeam but I’ve also seen Panasonic and Everready there before. For Sunbeam I haven’t noticed any leakage and they last a decent amount of time- I don’t find that I have to change batteries that often (unless it’s my Wii remote, but those things eat up my Energizer batteries, too!).

    I’d never buy food or personal hygiene from there… I just feel like that’s crossing a line, at least for me.

    • Faith Baker

      I didn’t think we could mention the name of the dollar stores we go to , but we have the Dollar Tree here in Orlando, FL too, and everything I’ve written in my post is all about the Dollar Tree. They are a great store and I’ve had no problems or safety issues with any of their products. I did buy a stapler that didn’t work, but took it back with the receipt and got a refund without any questions. I love this store!

      • Rhs734

        My favorite store!  Children’s books are the best deal.  Ordinarily sold at bookstores and drugstores for $5.95 are just $1.00 at Dollar Tree.  And I LOVE the steak knives; they are NOT flimsey and have razor sharp blades.  I can walk around for hours just looking at all their items.  Good place to buy Christmas decor, any holiday decor, and gift boxes, bags, wrapping paper and bows.  If you don’t have a Dollar Tree in your area, I’d send them a letter asking if they would build one there.

      • Rhs734

        My favorite store!  Children’s books are the best deal.  Ordinarily sold at bookstores and drugstores for $5.95 are just $1.00 at Dollar Tree.  And I LOVE the steak knives; they are NOT flimsey and have razor sharp blades.  I can walk around for hours just looking at all their items.  Good place to buy Christmas decor, any holiday decor, and gift boxes, bags, wrapping paper and bows.  If you don’t have a Dollar Tree in your area, I’d send them a letter asking if they would build one there.

  • Mystical

    I hate to give my big Dollar Tree secret away but the brooms ROCK! I have spent tons of dollars on various brooms throughout the years from $5-$25 apiece (also bc we move alot due to my husbands work) but none sweep as fine, bend into the corners yet remain stiff enough to get the crud out. The handle don’t always last long with 4 boys but at $1 it’s no swet off my back and easily becomes their shorter outside broom :) oh, and the better quality paint brushes! Why pay $4 dollars a brush when you can get for a buck?

  • Tiffany

    I think my biggest problem is thinking something is really a deal just because its on sale.  Somethings are just not worth buying even if you can get them cheaper then what they regularly cost.

  • Lisa T.

    I always check to make sure the product is made in the U.S.A. (some poisonous ingredients having turned up in some products made in China. Don’t really know where those were sold) I get all my shampoo, conditioner and body wash with name brands at the dollar store. I also like the 3 liter root beer. I”ve found expensive Knorr dried soup mix for a buck and Reese’s 8-packs for a dollar. Those are bargains you just can’t beat. However, stay away from the light bulbs. I’ve had several bulbs shatter and leave the top screwed into the light fixture. Had to turn off electricity and unscrew using a tweezer to get them out. My favorite purchase has been some beautiful Christmas ornaments each year.

    • Connied_85

      I tried their light bulbs too, they did the same thing to me!!

    • Xmascarol

      I love the night light bulbs!  You get 4 for $1 at Dollar Tree.  They last a long time and I haven’t had a problem with them for the 15 years I’ve been buying them.  For other light bulb usage, I only use the curly ones that save energy.

  • Anonymous

    I find the article to only come close to hitting the target.  Each item should be compared on it’s own basis & quality.  Chains such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General & Family Dollar are not the same as the stores with “dollar” in the name by far.  Some even produce their own food lines.  I get WestSoy, Hunts and other name brands at DT.  It is my favorite store, we recently found iPad accessories, made  in China…but so is the same one I bought at a regular store.  If the box item is smaller does that matter when I’m paying 1/3 the price?  Big Lots, a gray market, store has Bobs Red Mill & other great products.  We should always be open to these alternate forms of commerce.

    I know some people are sensitive to the issue of buying other than American but I live outside of the USA & some other countries often have stricker requirements than the USA.  If a US company is accepting items fr/ China they are responsible for the substandard item.  China will produce what it is paid to produce.  Don’t blame it on China blame it on the importer/seller.  Check the ingredients on US products just as carefully, our label system doesn’t require full disclosure (food & cosmetics).

    The other issue is employment.  We would not be able to afford many basic goods & food if we did not participate in trade agreements.  We would not be able to export so many goods abroad, which we do.  Many Americans are also employed in this business both here & abroad.  We should all do what we can to support American employment but we also need to look at the bigger picture of international commerce.

    Outside the US it is easy for me to find many US products from foods to vehicles.  If China were to boycott our goods it would hurt us much more than our boycott would hurt them.  Just something to consider.

    One way to keep more Americans employed is to have training for jobs where we import foreigners such as healthcare.  Many in the US wait for college seats and foreigners come in for the jobs as an example.  It is shocking really.  One country (PH) has even set up a program to train our students since we can’t so in addition their economy gets the tuition.

  • 3mora05

    At our local Dollar Tree, I have bought their ‘Mrs Baird’s’ bread that they have discounted. With kids and making their PB & J or grilled cheese, the loaves go fast, so if the date is with a couple days I grab some. I have bought ‘Belkin’ products for my ipod for $1 Their canned whipped cream is tasty and used on alot of pancakes at our house. I find that a steal at a buck. The ingredients are close to the store brand They also carry ‘Amour Lunch Makers’, which is the just like OM Lunchable, but way less.

  • PamelaGRW

    I, too, spend a lot of time (but not a lot of money) at my local Dollar Tree. I’ve discovered that I can purchase $1 plastic tablecloths, cut them in half and lay them over the expensive cloth tablecloths in our church parish hall and avoid stains, plus wear-and-tear & laundry costs. I also rely on Dollar Tree to craft beautiful table decorations for holiday events — for about $20-30 I can exquisitely decorate at least 10 tables. Through trial-and-error, we’ve found favorite snacks and pasta — especially the packaged gnocchi. My favorite items have to be the name brand clearance make-up items (primarily eyeshadow and lipstick) and the publisher’s clearance $1 hard back books. Have found some unusual reads at a fraction of the $25 list price. I always check Dollar Tree before going to Big Lots or WalMart.

  • Xmascarol

    I especially like the wet “Swiffer” papers for the bottom of my Swiffer mop.  I can get 20 for $1. I turn them over to double their use.  

    Be careful when buying deoderants from Dollar Stores.  They are not the same size as those from other stores.  One needs to figure the price per ounce to ensure a good buy.  I know they are brand names, but that doesn’t matter.  I don’t find them to be as good a buy as to use a coupon in another store when the item is on sale.  I have friends who think if you can get something for a dollar it is a good buy.  That is not always true.

    I notice people wasting money in the dollar store. They overspend because they think they are getting a good buy.

    I almost forgot to add that I use my credit card to pay for my purchase in Dollar Tree.  That gives me a cash back bonus on what I spend there! 

  • Xmascarol

    I love the cat litter pan liners sold at dollar Tree.  They make a disgusting job bearable for me.  I also love the big rolls of mailing tape as I mail a lot of books through my online book swap.  Oh, that reminds me… Sharpie pens!  

    I checked the price of Dollar Tree’s raspberry jam against the store brand at my grocery store.  Dollar Tree is a better price.  Its made in Egypt.  We don’t know WHERE the grocery store’s is made because it only tells where its BOTTLED… here in the USA.  Its probably made in Egypt, too!  

    My sister used to work for a company that made sporting goods and toys.  they bought their basketball nets from Taiwan and assembled them in the USA. US law allows them to put Made in USA on the product because it was assembled here.  Don’t be fooled.  My mother used to say, “the paper will hold still for them to write anything on it.” Buy only what you NEED.  Don’t get suckered into buying something just because you WANT it.  

  • Purplest4rz

    Sometimes name brand items do appear at the Dollar Tree or 99cent store — and it’s great! I stop by all the time for movie candy or quick snacks that are often 2/$1 or 3/$1 (Hershey’s, Snickers, Planter’s Peanuts). I’ve also seen some iPod Accessories and Physician’s Formula make-up for $1. For the shampoos and some cleaners, there are good brands, but sold in smaller bottles, so you have to really price compare in that area. Cleaning supplies like gloves or sponges are definitely a deal as the article says. Some food items are trial and error. If you already know what you’re looking for, these places are worth checking out before you hit up the grocery store/Target/Walmart.

  • SavingGrace1956

    I am a teacher and love their different “teacher materials” sold in Dollar Tree stores. I agree with the article that you can buy pens and pencils at Staples, Target and Wal-Mart for less during July and August. Recently I have LOVED their resale of books (from Barnes and Nobles — their price tags for discounted books still attached!) and the recent sale of audio books! For $1 — it can’t be beat!!!! Also cleaning supplies that are 22 Oz for cleaners that sell for $2 + elsewhere –same size, and recently Palmolive dish soap 19 Oz for $1 — what a bargain – -I really stocked up!

  • Cmrnewyork

    I buy items that are much more expensive in the grocery.  Aluminum foil, aluminum broiling & baking pans, plastic wrap, plastic silverware, cups & plates, noodles, sweetener, etc.  I save a fortune and only buy storage bags in dollar/family dollar or Walmart and sometimes Big Lots.  At holiday season, I buy candles, etc. for gifts.  They are great!!!! 

  • Valerie Albrechtsen

    An excellent list! Thanks for putting this together. I will share it with my readers.

  • Linda

    I purchased some diet coke at big lots that had a plastic after-taste.I believe that they stored the bottles in a hot environment. My husband said that he didn’t want for me to ever buy cokes there again. Another item to never buy at a dollar store is a screwdriver. I learned to only buy craftsman from Sears.The dollar store screwdrivers are made from soft metal that bends when you use it.