8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store

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Dollar stores can be great places to pick up cheap wares, but sometimes you get what you pay for. Rather than a bargain, you could end up with junk — or, even worse, something dangerous.

Following are things we think you should avoid buying at a dollar store.

1. Tools

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If you don’t expect to use a tool much, you might be able to make do with the low-quality options you’re likely to find at a dollar store.

Otherwise, your best bet is to buy quality tools. Look for trusted brand names and make sure your purchase can be returned if it is faulty.

If you want to save money without sacrificing quality, consider buying used. We cite tools in both “8 Things I Always Buy at Thrift Stores” and “7 Things You Should Buy at Estate Sales.”

2. Shampoo and beauty products

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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, although some skeptical shoppers do not believe these products to be the same as the full-priced versions sold elsewhere.

That aside, we find that many dollar stores stock itty-bitty bottles compared with what you get elsewhere. So, you may not be paying a lot, but you’re not getting a lot either. You might find a better value by buying beauty products elsewhere and taking advantage of coupons and deals.

3. Paper goods

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

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 checking your warehouse club or otherwise buying in bulk to get the best quality for the lowest per-unit price. Paper goods are one of the bargains in “10 Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs.”

4. Electrical cords and other electrical devices

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If you would rather not reduce your home to smoldering embers, we suggest steering clear of cords and electrical devices from dollar stores.

That may sound dramatic, but dollar stores don’t have a great track record of quality control when it comes to cords and electronics.

As far back as 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned about faulty, low-priced, made-in-China power strips, extension cords and surge protectors sold by discount stores and small retailers.

5. Toys

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The problem, to be blunt, is that dollar store toys are junk.

As a result, safety is an issue. Dollar store toys are often subject to recalls because they contain lead or have parts that can break off and present a choking hazard, for example. You can search for recalls on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.

Beyond that, we suggest that you’re better off paying a little more and steering clear of the tears and frustration.

We’re talking about stuff that breaks if you look at it wrong. The wheels 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 a buck or two poorer with a broken toy and an upset child.

6. Canned and boxed foods

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

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

7. Kitchen knives

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

Dollar store knives can be flimsy and dull. Both are bad when you’re trying to cut your food and not your fingers.

8. Batteries

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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 products in 2012. He discovered the dollar store batteries contained significantly less energy and their voltage drops off quickly. If they’re super cheap, they still may be worth the tradeoff. You’ll need to decide for yourself.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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