Dollar stores lure us in with rock-bottom prices. Sometimes you get what you pay for, but often the things they sell are good products at a tremendous discount — a real bargain.
Here’s what bargain-shopping experts say are good buys at dollar stores (as opposed to just cheap buys).
1. Greeting cards
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There is no reason to spend $5 or more on greeting cards when dollar stores typically have a wide selection available for a buck or less. You might not get textured paper or fancy extras such as ribbon, but the heartfelt message you write will be the same regardless of how expensive the card looks.
2. Party supplies
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By some estimates, you can save up to 70 percent by using party supplies from a dollar store. Get plastic tablecloths, paper plates and cups, streamers and favors from the dollar store and save a bundle. Don’t forget to look for Mylar/foil balloons, too. These are an absolute bargain and can easily sell for five times as much elsewhere.
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Buy notebooks at a dollar store and save on paper. Mini notebooks are a great way to carry around to-do and grocery lists in a purse or pocket. They’re also nice to have on hand to write notes, or for meetings. Kids might like composition books for doodling or journaling.
4. Gift bags, boxes and wrapping paper
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While you’re getting your party supplies, look for gift bags and wrapping paper, too. You could end up paying two or three times more for gift bags and boxes at other stores. In addition, wrapping paper can be a steal. You might not get the same thickness as with expensive paper, but for something that’s going to end up in the trash, why pay more?
5. Storage containers
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Organize clutter with containers that you can store in a closet, drawer or under a bed. At a dollar store, you can buy enough containers to organize every room in your house or office. These containers are perfect for toys, craft supplies, clothes and more.
6. Seasonal decor
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From extra ornaments for your Christmas tree to a scarecrow to stake in your front yard in the fall, dollar stores can have a surprisingly robust selection of seasonal decor. Pick up some bargain-priced items to decorate your house for less. But stay away from holiday lights; those from discount stores have a poor track record of safety.
7. Reading glasses
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As we age, we often lose elasticity in our eyes, and that makes it more difficult to focus on close objects. In many cases, a simple pair of reading glasses is all you need, and the reading glasses at dollar stores are as good as those found in other stores. However, if you have trouble seeing at a distance, it may be time to schedule an eye exam and see about getting a prescription pair.
8. Hair accessories
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From headbands to bobby pins, you can find hair accessories at a fraction of the usual price at dollar stores. Combs and brushes can be a bargain, too.
9. Pregnancy tests
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Grocery store pregnancy tests will set you back $10 to $15, but you can find them at some dollar stores for only a buck. (Note: Pregnancy tests do expire after two to three years.)
10. Tote bags
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Tote bags are never at your fingertips when you need them, and they seem to disappear like socks. Buy a bunch of polyester totes at a dollar store and use them instead of plastic at the grocery store, to transport gym clothes, to deliver items to family and friends, and to pack for the kids’ overnights or trips to the beach.
11. Vases and decorative bowls
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Don’t bother with other stores for vases and decorative bowls. The dollar store probably carries a number of styles at a price that can’t be beat. You can use vases to skip the florist and make your own arrangements more cheaply. Or spruce up decorative glass bowls to make inexpensive gifts for family or friends.
12. Mugs and glasses
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Like vases and bowls, mugs and glasses are also a good buy at dollar stores. The quality is comparable to what you might get at Walmart or other mass merchandisers. As a bonus, you can typically buy only the items you need rather than being forced to purchase a set.
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Dollar stores also often have a nice selection of open-stock dishware. This isn’t going to be top-of-the-line quality, but they’re perfectly serviceable pieces. For those with little kids, dollar store dishes can be just what you need to get you through that phase of life when something seems to get broken in the kitchen on a weekly basis.
14. Plastic food containers
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Plastic food containers also get a thumbs up when it comes to great dollar store buys. In the grocery store, you can easily pay up to $5 for disposable containers. Get them for a buck at the dollar store instead. You can also find some great deals on food storage bags, but be wary of off-brands that may not seal correctly.
15. Picture frames
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If you’re crafty, dollar store picture frames are an excellent buy. With a little paint or other decoration, bargain frames can look as nice on your walls as their more expensive counterparts. However, quality can vary widely. Check the joints to make sure they are secure and look for stray glue that may be difficult to remove.
16. Bagged or boxed candy
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Checkout lane candy will likely be just as cheap, if not cheaper, at the grocery store, but movie theater-style boxed candy and bagged candy can be a bargain at the dollar store. Next Halloween, head there for your treats rather than paying supermarket prices.
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Much of the clothing you find at dollar stores is of an inferior quality and not worth the money. One exception may be socks. Dollar store socks can be as good as department store varieties if you buy the right type. Look for men’s, women’s and children’s socks made with acrylic or spandex for a comfy fit.
18. Washcloths and dish towels
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The price of washcloths and dish towels at the dollar store can’t be beat. You need to be careful with some towels that won’t be absorbent enough to dry dishes. Even those, however, work great as cleaning rags.
19. Plastic buckets
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Who doesn’t need a plastic bucket? And who has one when they need it? And — where else can you get a bucket for a dollar? Grab a plastic bucket at a dollar store for washing cars, cleaning floors, carrying liquids and holding your clams or fish.
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If you’ve ever bought a small packet of pain reliever like Advil on the go, you know that those two pills are crazy expensive. At the dollar store, you can get three two-pill packs of Advil for a dollar. Keep them in your car, your desk and your purse.
21. Coffee filters
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Here’s a bargain you’ll appreciate every day. Coffee filters cost less at a dollar store, and they’re perfect for home and office.
Did we miss anything? Leave a comment below or go to our Facebook page to tell us what you think are the best buys at the dollar store.