Don’t Buy These 7 Things at a Dollar Store

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Dollar stores can be great places to pick up inexpensive items, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Rather than ending up with a bargain, you could end up with junk or, even worse, something dangerous. In the video below, Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson rounds up the items you typically should avoid. Watch the video and then keep reading for more information.

1. Electric cords and other electric devices

If you’re looking to bring a fire hazard into your house, you should definitely buy cords and other electric devices from dollar stores. If you would rather not reduce your home to embers, we suggest you steer clear.

That may be a bit overly dramatic, but dollar stores don’t have a great track record of quality control when it comes to cords and electronics. All the way back in 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned about faulty power strips, extension cords and surge protectors being sold at discount stores. Made in China, the products failed to meet established U.S. safety standards.

However, the problem appears to persist, with recalls for extension cords, holiday mini-lights and portable heaters all occurring in recent years.

2. Toys

Dollar store toys could be a safety hazard, and some have been recalled for posing a choking risk. But the bigger issue here is dollar store toys are, quite simply, junk.

It’s not that the toys have so-so quality. No, we’re talking so cheap they’ll break if you look at them wrong. The wheels will fall off, the batteries won’t work, or your 3-year-old will snap it in two before you’ve even hit the parking lot. Then, you’ll be left with a broken toy, an upset child and a lesson in never buying toys at the dollar store again.

Your experience may differ but unless you’re looking for cheap party favors that don’t pose a hazard, we say you’re better off paying a little more and not dealing with the tears and frustration.

3. Shampoo and beauty products

Opinions seem to be mixed on dollar store shampoo and beauty products, but they get a thumbs down from us. Not because of any safety concern but because they often don’t provide great value.

Dollar stores may sell brand-name products, and there has been some healthy discussion on the Internet about whether what you get at the discount store is the same as what is sold elsewhere. The comments against dollar store shampoos range from them being watered down to being the result of diversion, which can mean you are buying outdated or expired products.

However, leaving that aside, we find that many dollar stores stock itty-bitty bottles compared with what you get in other stores. So you may not be paying a lot, but you’re not getting a lot either. A better value might be to combine coupons and deals at drugstores where shampoo, conditioner and other beauty products are practically being given away.

4. Kitchen knives

Quality concerns also get kitchen knives placed on the do-not-buy list.

Dollar stores knives can be flimsy and dull. Both are bad when you’re trying to cut your food and not your finger. We hear the knives sold at dollar stores overseas aren’t much better either.

5. Paper products

You’re welcome to try dollar store toilet paper, but we don’t recommend it. Often having fewer fibers than other brands, using no-name paper can make for a less than ideal situation.

As for the brand-name toilet paper, tissues and paper towels at dollar stores, you may find the same problem we discovered with shampoo. Small sizes and fewer sheets mean the dollar store price isn’t much of a bargain. Try hitting your warehouse club or otherwise buying in bulk to get the best quality for the lowest per-unit price.

6. Canned and boxed foods

Most dollar stores carry a selection of canned, boxed and bagged foods that may include many brand names. Some stores may even have a full grocery section complete with meat and produce.

While the dollar pricing may seem like a bargain, you could find many of these items on sale at your grocery store for less. In particular, grocery supercenters like Walmart seem to win on the price war for canned and boxed foods.

To learn more, you can read one Tampa Bay Times writer’s experience living on dollar store food, and Rachael Ray offers some dollar store food buying tips on her website as well.

7. Batteries

Finally, we come to batteries. In a pinch, dollar store batteries will work just fine, but don’t expect them to run like the brand names.

Rhett Allain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, put Dollar General batteries to the test against Duracell and Energizer ones. He discovered the dollar store batteries contain significantly less energy and see their voltage drop off quickly. Apparently, a major difference between the brands is the fact that Dollar General batteries are not alkaline and likely zinc chloride instead.

If you want to read all the science behind Allain’s experiments, you can head to Wired for his article. If you’d rather leave all the graphs and math behind, check out Stacy Johnson’s video that discusses it.

Of course, dollar stores vary widely, but we think your best bet is to stay away from these seven product categories. Do you agree? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Maggie M

    I totally agree with this article. I only buy items that a worth a buck at dollar stores.

  • Frank Boston

    I assure you he did not test Dollar General’s Alkaline batteries up against any major brand, because they would have meet or beat them. It’s very likely he put the “heavy duty” ones (.50 cents less per AA/ four pack) up against them. Those batteries won’t power on my camera when they are new. However, the alkaline batteries will last just as long as a duracell or energizer. 400 pictures +

  • Denise

    I also discovered years ago that one should never buy generic or store brand detergents of any kind. They actually cost much more because you have to use so much.

  • transmitterguy

    I only buy candy bars at the dollar store. Nothing else is a bargain when you figure the cost per ounce and compare it to walmart.

  • BigDog40

    Buy your greeting cards at the Dollar Store. 2/$1

  • BobintheHeights

    Don’t buy those cheap little staplers. I bought one for my son and it broke while I was putting it together. Took it back to the store but because I no longer had the receipt, they refused to take it back. Who keeps receipts for days or weeks after purchasing something they don’t think they will be returning??

  • Frank James

    I once bought one of those fab deals, but, from CVSdrugstore. I think it was a binoculars or something for $10. I got it home and read on the box that this item was banned in California for toxic chemicals. I wonder why my state Florida thought it was okay to sell it? Definitely, be careful and read the small PRINT before buying “a bargain.”