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Why I’ll Always be a Fan of the Dollar Store

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Shopping at a Dollar Store can be an experience like no other. However, if you know what to look for you can save a good amount of money in the process.

When it comes to saving money, I’m always on the hunt for creative ways to reduce my expenses and keep more dollars in my pocket. This is especially true when it comes to shopping. Never one to shy away from doing a bit of work to score great deals, I’ve developed a bit of a love affair with dollar stores over the years.

Forced to Save

I’m not shy about sharing my journey as a reformed spendaholic. If  ever there was the epitome of the definition of a financial disaster, it was me about a decade ago. At one point, I found myself penniless, without direction, and nearly homeless. It was clear that something needed to change and the biggest factor impacting my inability to manage my finances was my over the top, mindless spending. Shopping for sport was fun, but barely being able to pay those credit card bills was hell.

In an effort to curb my reckless ways, I went cold turkey on spending. That lasted all of 72 hours before reality set in and I remembered that I’d still need to buy things such as groceries and household items. As I scrambled to create a budget that would keep myself in check, I realized that I no longer had the luxury of shopping at high-priced, gourmet stores. I needed to cut back, and I needed to cut back in a severe way. The next day, I made my first trip to the local dollar store.

Dollar Store Mania

At first, I was mesmerized by the low prices. $1 for this? $2 for that?! How could I possibly bust the budget with these crazy low prices?! I quickly learned just how much damage one can do when clouded by the guise of cheap prices, and I inevitably was dismayed by the quality of some of the products once I got home.

Not one to be deterred from any mission I set out on, I returned the following week with a list and a game plan. There had to be ways to make this work for me; both in price and quality. I would figure out the dollar store secrets, and I would conquer the world of discount products if it killed me! Over the following months, I honed my ability to pick out the stars from the crap, and I saved hundreds of dollars along the way.

Because I was making an honest attempt to budget, save, and cut my spending, I began tracking every penny I spent. As I reviewed my spreadsheets, I noticed that the products I was buying at the dollar store were the same products I had been spending nearly triple on at other stores. Seeing the numbers dance in front of my eyes changed my views on dollar stores forever.

As I began to frequent dollar stores more and more for the things I needed to buy, I learned that shopping at these stores is a great way to save money if you adhere to the following guidelines:

Shop the Brands

Nearly all of the major dollar store chains carry name brand products for a fraction of the price. To me, Tide is Tide no matter where I buy it. If I can buy it at a dollar store for 20-30% less than a grocery store, I best be doing so!

Check Expiration Dates

While I do the majority of my food shopping at a traditional grocery store, I have purchased pasta and other non-perishables at dollar stores in the past. Just make sure to check all expiration dates and buy items that will last until you decide to use or consume them.

Avoid the Medicine and Vitamins

While I love a frugal shopping trip, I draw the line at anything that could be hazardous. Unfortunately, that means medicines and vitamins from a dollar store are a no-go for me. This is due to inaccurate packaging, expiration dates, and quality of the product.

Appreciate the Adventure

Each time I walk into a dollar store, the inventory is somewhat different. While this can be a temptation to spend frivolously, I’ve found that as long as I have my list with me, I generally just enjoy perusing the random selection without buying. After all, one can only have so many lawn ornaments before the yard begins to look like the set of the Beverly Hillbillies.

Pile on the Coupons

Some dollar store chains (Family Dollar and Dollar General to name two) accept manufacturer’s coupons–it’s a win-win!

Shopping at a Dollar Store can be an experience like no other. However, if you know what to look for you can save a good amount of money in the process.

Buy in Bulk From the Comfort of Home

If you buy the same things each month such as paper towels or TP, head over to the store’s website. Most of the large chains have online stores now where you can order those items in bulk. Not only will you get free shipping (some do require you to pick up at the store), but you’ll get a bulk order discount on top of the already low prices.

Save Time

On most trips to the dollar store, I’m able to get what I need and check out within minutes. Say good-bye to long checkout lines and save yourself money at the same time!

 

Do you shop at dollar stores? Why or why not?

 

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Jen is the owner of The Happy Homeowner, where she writes about living a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time. Previously, she paid off $14K in credit card debt in less than a year and hasn’t looked back since. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

65 Comments

  • Margaret Polino Nicholas says:

    Yes. We shop at the dollar store. I guess I feel about like you do. Thanks for the tips!

  • Matt Becker says:

    I’ve never done any regular shopping at the dollar store. Not for any particular reason, just hasn’t been something I’ve really considered. There is one near us though, so we’ll have to check out some of the prices. Could be great for non-perishables, like you say. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Jen says:

      I’d recommend it because you really can save a boatload! I don’t really shop there regularly, but I make sure that when I need to stock up on things, I head to the dollar store first.

  • We will shop at dollar stores once in a while. You really have to be careful with what you buy because some things are great deals and others are great ripoffs. Price per unit is your friend for figuring out what is a deal at dollar stores. Compare that to a store like Wal-Mart and you’ll find out which is the better deal on different products.

    • Jen says:

      Absolutely! Thanks for adding the cost per unit piece–it’s a key point to making wise decisions when shopping almost anywhere but especially at the dollar store!

  • I’m with Lance. Some of the “deals” here are actually cheaper at non-dollar stores, but we do shop them occasionally and can always find something to buy that’s a good deal. Loved hearing more about your story – thanks for sharing, Jen!

    • Jen says:

      I think they bank (literally…haha) on people assuming it’s the best deal and not doing any comparison shopping. I’d do that regardless of what kind of store I was in! 🙂

  • “Appreciate the adventure” – love it! It is an adventure every time you walk into a dollar store, isn’t it? We used to do quite a bit of shopping at the dollar store. We don’t do it quite as much any more, but we do still go on occasion. I especially like to buy household items there.

    • Jen says:

      Hahaha…yep! You never know what you’re going to find or how much you can save so I like to think of it as a bit of a shopping expedition…. 🙂

  • Dollar tree is my favorite, and they accept coupons now, too!
    I like the dollar stores for consumables like fabric softener and wrapping paper!

    • Jen says:

      Wrapping paper and gift bags are awesome examples of things that you really shouldn’t spend too much on! And I love that some of the stores are accepting coupons–compound savings works for me just as much as compound interest 🙂

  • Michelle says:

    I go to the dollar store every now and then to see if they have any cheap crafts. Usually they do!

    • Jen says:

      Another thing to save on–love it! It’s also a decent option for kids’ books, puzzles, and art supplies. You just have to check for small pieces in some of the boxes but then you’re generally good to go for a fraction of the price.

  • I usually don’t shop at the Dollar Stores, but for some things like party decorations I will always hit up the Dollar Store before going somewhere else.

    • Jen says:

      Absolutely! I do the same thing–party supplies and paper goods are so cheap and if you’re just using them for one day/night/weekend who cares that they’re not from Hallmark or Paper Source!

  • Didn’t know there was an online method of shopping there! Thanks for the heads up.

    • Jen says:

      You’re welcome! It’s a pretty neat way to save big on the things you’d buy anyway–plus you don’t have to deal with the hassle of actually going out to go shopping.

  • Mike says:

    Great advice. Glad I read this. I didn’t think of using coupons at the dollar store!!

  • Jake Erickson says:

    Interesting way of saving money. I’ve only been in a dollar store a handful of times in my life, but I may have to start frequenting them more often if you can buy the same stuff for cheaper. I always thought that they were mostly party decorations and stuff that was really crappy quality.

    • Jen says:

      There’s definitely some shoddy stuff there but if you’re willing to invest a bit of time up front with seeking out the good stuff, you save way more down the line!

  • Greg @ Thriftgenuity.com says:

    I need to remember to use the dollar store more. Usually, I stumble on it occasionally to kill time and end up buying snacks I don’t need. I had no idea they had an online store. I will keep this in mind for the essential stuff.

    • Jen says:

      Oh man, the impulse buys–I know what you mean! They do a really good job of displaying all that candy….Mmm…candy 🙂

  • It’s great to see you here, Jen! The Dollar Store is a goldmine for party supplies, especially kid’s birthday parties. They may not be the highest quality, but the kids don’t care and being inexpensive means we have more money to spend on other things besides colored plates and streamers. 🙂

  • Sicorra says:

    We have a new chain of dollar stores in Canada called Dollarama and they are wonderful. As Shannon said I use to go the small ones just for party supplies, but this new big one that we have has everything a person would need for their home, from painting supplies, to bathroom supplies to groceries.

    And just like you said “I noticed that the products I was buying at the dollar store were the same products I had been spending nearly triple on at other stores.” When I saw that the body wash for showers that I was paying $8 for at the drug store were only a dollar at Dollarama I was hooked!!

  • Kendal says:

    I love the dollar store! I “discovered” it a few years ago and it’s now my go-to place for greeting cards and party supplies. I’ll never pay $5 again for a Hallmark sentiment when the dollar store has so many great options for 50 cents. I won’t buy batteries at the dollar store because of quality issues, and the toothbrush my husband bought there fell apart within a few weeks. Though not everything is a great buy at the dollar store, it’s definitely worth a trip for the basics!

    • Jen says:

      Definitely! Thanks for pointing out the quality piece—it’s crucial to do a bit of digging to find things that aren’t just junk. But once you find them, it’s time to save big! 🙂

  • anna says:

    I love the Dollar Store for gift bags, party supplies, and craft items. People like homemade flower pens (where you wrap a flower on top), and I can make a bulk of them super cheap from the fake flowers and cheap pens at the Dollar Store, and they look the same as when you buy the stuff from Michael’s/art store.

    • Jen says:

      That’s an awesome idea! I like your savvy with creating the pens for far less–I’m sure they look great! Do you sell them?

  • krantcents says:

    I like the concept and have bought some things there, but I find my time better spent at a store like Target. I get the low price and a 5% rebate.

  • Welcome Jen! I have never really caught on to the dollar store mania. We have one here, but everything in there is mostly crap. There are some good items that I would pay a dollar for and have, but I don’t shop there often. I am not saying all dollar stores are crap, but the one near us definitely is.

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Grayson! There definitely is a range of stores and products–you have to do your research but I’ve found that it’s generally worth the small investment of time upfront.

  • pauline says:

    In Guatemala I shop at the $0.40 store, even better :)! Their choice is a bit limited but they are a bargain when they do have a product.

    • Jen says:

      Ahhh…40 CENTS?! I love it!!! I can only imagine what I’d be like in a store like that–that would be a great adventure in shopping!

  • I love dollar stores too! You can find a lot of great deals there.

  • Cat says:

    Oh yeah – I love dollar stores. It’s my go to for everything from candy to microfibre clothes!

  • We lived near a Dollar Tree at one point, and were there weekly! You def. need to draw the line on products you ingest or put on your skin. Other than that, do a little shopping around and research, and you can save a TON and laugh all the way to the bank (unless your bank is 20-30 miles away. Laughing that much would not only lose it’s luster, but you’d most likely get winded and pass out, and probably crash, which will cost more than you’d be saving at the dollar store you never made it to. Plus, you’d probably end up rooming in the hospital with a habitual snorer, keeping you up for a few days straight, causing you to lose your mind and possibly buying one too many water balloons). So yea, there’s that.

  • Savvy Scot says:

    Hey dude Long time no speak!

    I still read your blog but have no time to comment these days 🙁 – felt that this one needed a response though.

    I watched a program in the UK called dispatches which looked at Poundland (equivalent type store) and revealed their tactics on using smaller packets etc. – you won’t be able to watch unless you use a different DNS but here is the link FYI
    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-119/episode-1

    • Jen says:

      Thanks for sharing this link! I think there are all kinds of tactics being used behind the scenes to make these stores profitable, but I also think it’s possible to save a bunch if you’re a smart shopper

  • I shop there mainly for things like parties and holiday themed stuff. Or when I need to get a kitchen item that I don’t want to spend a lot of money on. I could probably do more than I do, like buy cleaning products there. You’re right in that some things are great and some things aren’t.

  • Hi Jen!
    Yep, we go to the Dollar store and there are many things we can pick up that are a great deal. We picked up almost all of our vegetable seeds that are doing lovely right now for $0.33 a pack. We get our poo bags for our dog, cards for all occasions…. etc. Why pay more when you can pay a buck or less!!

    • Jen says:

      Hey Mr. CBB!! 🙂

      I couldn’t agree more—why pay more when it’s a buck or less less is precisely why I advocate shopping at the dollar store! I never thought about buying the seeds there, though—might have to do that for my next container garden.

  • If there is no rock bottom sale anywhere, I usually buy TP and paper towels at Family Dollar. I did not know about the bulk discount. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Jen says:

      You’re welcome! Yep, I do the same thing with the paper products—you can really score big if you’re in tune with where the sales are so you can compare prices.

  • Untemplater says:

    I go every now and then for things like sponges. It’s easy to end up with clutter, buying a lot of stuff you don’t need just because it’s cheap. So I only go when I have something specific I need and avoid picking up anything else.

  • I’ve never come across a dollar store with coupons, but I would love to! I like to dollar store for cards, and cleaning supplies. I think you can buy medications there, too, you just have to be cautious.

    • Jen says:

      Yep, caution is necessary when rooting through the products at a dollar store. I generally avoid all medications just because I once noticed the majority of them had been repackaged and/or had expiration dates that had been weeks ago–scary stuff!

  • Catherine says:

    I love me a dollar store! I always check the dollar store out before going to a department store.

  • Jen says:

    Haha…same here! Why pay more??

  • We have used (Canadian) dollar stores for everything from food to Christmas gifts, DVDs, and school and craft supplies (we homeschool). Yes, a few things have turned out to be junk (not always the ones we expected, though!), and we have noticed that you can often get better deals on some items, particularly food, at other stores–as others have said here, don’t assume anything, check the prices. But there are great deals too, and sometimes things we’ve never found anywhere else.

  • I think Dollar Tree is better then Dollar General as Dollar Tree is a true dollar store, where everything is $1. Dollar General can vary widely in price. I’m ok with buying some stuff from the dollar store, jsut as long as I don’t need it to be of super high quality. I generally tend to shy away from the foods that are more perishable in nature though. And definitely no medicine, I’m not that brave :p

  • Lynne says:

    Love the gardening implements at the $ store. You can pick up jute, pails, plant holders and even a hat! Could not believe that places like HomeDepot wanted $4-$5 for plant holders — Dollar Store is where it’s at.

  • Debt Blag says:

    Yeah seriously. Why wouldn’t you be? It would be difficult to do all one’s shopping there, but I’ve found some definite winners. My biggest prize has probably been a set of arm warmers for running on colder days that I still use to this day for just $1 a pair. If I had gotten a brand name and at a different place, they might be $20 *each*

  • Keren says:

    In my small town, we have a Dollar General and a Walmart. I’d pick DG over WM any day of the week. I can get in and out of DG in a fraction of the time it would take in WM. Time saver, money saver, sanity saver. I’m in!

  • Great to read a story about someone that was down and nearly out but took charge of their life and fought their way to fiscal fitness. While my wife and I don’t currently shop at a Dollar store, we definitely need to incorporate that element into our financial repatoir.

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