How to Save Money at the Dollar Store

posted in: Shopping Tips

There are lots of different dollar stores out there, from your neighborhood 99 cent store to national chains, like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Dollar General. In most dollar stores, everything is one buck. At Dollar General, however, many things are more than $1.  You might be thinking, “everything is cheap, what else is there to know?” Turns out, kind of a lot.  Read on for how to get the best deal, what to buy, and what to avoid.   



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Not all dollar stores are created equal

The product mix at dollar stores can very widely, and the selection can vary within the same family of stores, depending on the location.  Before choosing your go-to dollar store, check out a few locations to see which one has the best selection of what you typically buy. It might be worth driving a little further to a bigger location because there will be a broader selection of merchandise.



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You can shop the dollar store online

If you’re looking to buy a bulk supply of items for a classroom, party, or just like to have a large back stock at home, see if your favorite dollar store has a website. It’s more convenient, safer and you’re likely to find a larger selection online than you would in-store. Also, by shopping online,  you can sometimes find offers on your favorite deal site to save a little more. 




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Apps & coupons 

Finding cashback deals after a successful dollar store haul is the best feeling. Download a free rebate app, like Ibotta, and scan your dollar store receipts for an added cashback bonus – the icing on top of your smart shopping cake.


Also, as long as the quantity, brand, and size match up, you can often use manufacturer coupons at the dollar store. Try stacking coupons, too! 



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Shop early in the season

There are tons of inexpensive seasonal items at dollar stores, from decor to small gifts. But smart shoppers know that to get the best selection, you should start seeking out these items sooner than later. Call or visit your local dollar store about a month before you’d expect to see those items on shelves and ask when they anticipate receiving their stock.



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Things to buy at the dollar store:


Advil: The travel-sized packages of Advil are significantly cheaper at the dollar store than at your local drugstore. Just be sure to check the expiration date.


Toothbrushes: Grab the name brand toothbrushes and you’ll only pay about a third of the price at other retailers. At that price, you can keep some on hand for guests, too. 


Party supplies:  Balloons, streamers, and other festive doodads aren’t meant to last long, making them an ideal $1 purchase. And don’t forget gift bags. They can go for $3 and up at other stores versus $1 at the dollar store.


Glassware:  Are glasses always getting broken at your house? Maybe it’s time to make the switch to dollar store glassware – which is surprisingly high quality given the price tag – and keep your “special” glasses for special occasions. The mugs also make for great DIY projects since you can usually find one in almost any color.


Bobby pins, hair elastics, combs: Let’s face it – you’re going to lose these anyway. For $1, you can find a large pack of hair elastics (give them a good tug first to test the quality), plastic combs, or a whopping 72-pack of bobby pins. 


Books: Some dollar stores have a decent selection of books ranging from cookbooks, fiction best-sellers, and kids’ books for just a buck.


Coffee filters:  Many other retailers and grocery stores charge twice what you’ll pay at a dollar store for coffee filters.


Dish towels: There’s no such thing as too many dish towels. Grab a few to use when your good towels are in the wash.


School supplies:  School-aged kids go through index cards like water, so why shell out more than you need to? Get a pack of 200 at most dollar stores for just $1. And stock up on poster board and foam core. I’ve seen it priced between $3 and $12 elsewhere. 


Flower pots: Simple terra cotta pots can be pricier than you might think at home improvement stores. They are good to have on hand for the next time you get an urge to start a windowsill herb garden.


Aluminum baking pans:  Whether you’re packing a dish to take to a barbecue or freezing a make-ahead meal, you’ll be glad you threw a few disposable aluminum baking pans into your dollar store cart. Since these aren’t meant to last long, they’re a great deal. 


Greeting cards:  At $1 for two greeting cards, the dollar store basically beats out basically all other retailers (looking at you, Trader Joe’s!). 


Mailing supplies: The dollar store is a great place to find a 40-count pack of standard envelopes for just a dollar. While you’re at it, stock up on bubble mailers for those items that are too big for a regular envelope, but too small for a box.


Vases: Simple glass and ceramic vases are available at most dollar stores, and are an inexpensive way to display flowers from your garden or the grocery store. Keep them as-is or make them your own with a little DIY.


Picture frames:  They won’t be anything fancy, but dollar store picture frames are, by far, the least expensive option.


Storage containers: For organizing drawers and closets, nothing beats a dollar store storage container. Just make sure that whatever you’re storing isn’t perishable – the dollar store containers aren’t especially air-tight.


Reading glasses:  If you like to keep readers all over the house, you know how expensive that kind of convenience can get. At $1 a pop, you can afford to have a pair in every room.


Sponges: Kitchen sponges collect bacteria fast, but throwing them out every couple of weeks can really add up. Luckily, you can grab a pack of six for $1!


Packing tape:  I always make a point of picking up a roll or two at the dollar store. The rolls can be a bit shorter than at the office supply store, but for $1 vs. at least three times that, it’s a good deal.



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Things to avoid at the dollar store:


Perishables and packaged foods/candy:  Freshness and quality can be questionable, so I would proceed with caution. Check expiration dates and ingredients and inspect for damage before purchasing.


Electronics and tech gear: Power strips, USBs, chargers, and earbuds, anyone? They are cheap, but I would avoid buying anything that you plug into your beloved smart devices at the dollar store. The quality is probably not up to snuff, so don’t take the risk. 


Plastic food containers:  Especially if you are in the habit of microwaving food in plastic containers or putting them in the dishwasher (both of which I advise against), do not buy plastic food containers at the dollar store. The quality may be substandard.


Sunscreen: SPF tends to degrade over time, so only buy sunscreen if the expiration date is a couple of years away (allowing for the time it may have spent on the shelf). Also, check for a seal. If there isn’t an expiration date or seal, skip it. 


Liquid cleaning products: Like sunscreen, the efficacy of cleaning products can degrade over time. Best to skip unless there’s an expiration date that is a couple of years away. Also, the smaller packages of name brand products, like Clorox and Dawn, are often more expensive on a per-unit basis than if you bought the full size elsewhere.


Toys and games:  These are usually made very cheaply. Your child will be delighted for a minute until the toy falls apart. Rubber and plastic balls are good, though.


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Trae Bodge is an accomplished lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who has specialized in smart shopping, personal finance, and retail for more than a decade. She has appeared on TV over 1,000 times; including Today Show, GMA3, NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition, and network affiliates nationwide. She has been named a Top Voice in Retail by LinkedIn, and her expert commentary has appeared in Forbes,, Kiplinger, Yahoo Finance, and numerous others.