Advertising Disclosure

What To Buy — And What Not To Buy — At The Dollar Store

Despite the name, not everything is cheaper at your local dollar store. Shop dollar stores smarter by learning to discern the deals from the duds.

What to always buy at the dollar store.There’s a reason why three out of four women admitted to shopping at dollar stores more than they used to, according to a recent survey.

According to Consumer Reports, many everyday household items cost significantly less at a dollar store than they do at the grocery store, pharmacy or a big box store.

Dollar stores (the biggest ones include Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Tree) have classed themselves up in the last few years. They’ve become much cleaner, and often sell brand name products for up to 28 percent less than they go for at supermarkets.

That said, not everything at dollar stores (where 77 percent of items cost more than $1) is a deal.

Consumer Reports sent mystery shoppers to 100 dollar stores across the country to check prices on 38 everyday products. They then compared those prices with Target, Walmart and some supermarkets.

Here’s what they learned:

Buy aluminum foil at the dollar store.

Dollar stores sell foil for 3 cents per square foot, compared to 8 cents per square foot at one grocery store.

Buy wrapping paper and gift bags at the dollar store.

Spend your money on the gift, not what it comes in. At dollar stores, gift-wrap costs 2 cents per square foot. At one grocery store, it costs 17 cents per square foot. The second best deal on wrapping paper can be found at Target, which sells pretty packaging for 5 to 17 cents per square foot.

Buy cotton balls at the dollar store.

No need to ball up toilet paper to remove your makeup and nail polish. You can buy the real deal at dollar stores for one cent per pad.

Save on tons of private label dollar store goods

Think you save a lot on Target and Walmart’s private label food and cleaning supplies? You’ll save even more on the dollar store brands of breakfast foods, cleaners, and juices.  At Target, the Up and Up brand can save you up to 15 percent compared to national brands. But dollar store brands will save you up to 29 percent.

Don’t buy coffee or Tide at the dollar store.

Consumer Reports discovered Maxwell House coffee cost $1.17 more at one dollar store than it did at Walmart. Tide cost $2.34 more.

Don’t buy off-brand vitamins or electrical supplies at the dollar store.

While Consumer Reports found that these items cost less at the dollar store, they had concerns about their safety and effectiveness.

Finally, pay attention to packaging size.

Not everything at the dollar store is cheaper. One trick stores use is to sell popular items in smaller packages than you may find elsewhere. This keeps the price down, but you may not realize you’re getting less product than you realize.

At my local Family Dollar, I buy Pampers Diapers for $3.10 less than they go for at Target. What deals have you scored at the dollar store?

Published or updated on June 11, 2014

Want FREE help eliminating debt & saving your first (or next) $100,000?

Money Under 30 has everything you need to know about money, written by real people who've been there. Enter your email to receive our free weekly newsletter and MoneySchool, our free 7-day course that will help you make immediate progress on whatever money challenge you're facing right now.

We'll never spam you and offer one-click unsubscribe, always.

About Patty Lamberti

Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Mara says:

    The Dollar Tree is a great place to get party supplies! The paper plates/napkins/plastic utensils are inexpensive and come in a variety of matching colors. I also like to buy holiday decorations. Some of the Halloween decorations are great and I have used them multiple years! I’ve also had luck finding good glassware, picture frames, and hair accessories.

  2. Greeting Cards! My local dollar store (Dollar Tree) has one brand as 2/$1 and the others are $1 each. Most cards at Target are $3+ these days . I’ve found that the cards at the Dollar Tree are typically better. You won’t, however, find the extra large, glitter, 3D singing cards, but I never want those anyway.

  3. Aldo says:

    I always buy aluminum foil, wrapping paper, and – believe it or not – all kinds of component cables. I’ve bought a lot of USB cables and they all have worked perfectly. I’ve also bought audio cables and haven’t had any issues with them either.

    Just give them a try. All you have to lose is a dollar.

  4. Speak Your Mind