Shopping at a Dollar Store? Here are Some Things to Watch Out For

by Miranda Marquit · 83 comments

It’s true that dollar stores have improved greatly in recent years. Dollar stores now carry name brand items in some cases, and you can find a wider selection of grocery-type items.

However, just because dollar stores have improved their offerings doesn’t mean that they are a good idea. Indeed, there are some items that it’s best not to buy at a dollar store. If you are looking to save a few bucks, the dollar store can be a good place to start. However, you do need to be careful. You’re not always getting the best value, no matter how cheap something is.

Concerns about Safety

One of the biggest things you have to worry about is safety. While it’s true that you can find some good deals at the dollar store, not all the items have been properly vetted, and not all of them are safe. Some of the worst offenders when it comes to dollar store shopping include:

  • Electrical products: Not all of them have been properly tested. From lightbulbs to extension cords to lamps, watch out. In some cases, a fake certification might even have been attached to the product. You need to be careful.
  • Toys: Watch out for toys with poor construction that could easily break and choke especially young children. Lead in toys is still a concern, and there might be other toxic materials involved.
  • Food: Double check expiration dates before you buy. It’s fairly common practice to stock dollar store shelves with older food items. You want to be careful.
  • Vitamins: Watch out when it comes to vitamins and health supplements. You need to make sure that they are properly identified, and that they are legitimate. If they aren’t you might find yourself buying something useless — or worse, harmful.

While many cleaning products are likely fine, and it’s hard to go wrong with wrapping paper, double check other items that you want to buy from the dollar store. You want to make sure that they are safe.

Problems with Quality

In other cases, dollar store items may not be problematic in terms of safety, but they may be of low quality. Tools, clothing, and some other items bought at dollar stores may not last very long. If you have to keep going back for more, it might not be worth it to purchase these items at the dollar store. (Keep in mind that even stores with the word “dollar” in them might charge up to $20 per item.) Sometimes, it’s worth it to pay a little more in order to get something of higher quality that will last longer.

It’s true that there are many things we don’t need, and that it isn’t always prudent to spend a lot of money on unnecessary items. A dollar store can provide a way to find good deals and support a frugal lifestyle. However, you still need to be careful. In some cases, cheap is just cheap, and that can lead to safety issues, and problems with quality. As you shop at the dollar store, make sure that you choosing carefully.

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

kitty February 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Gotta love those “dollar stores!!” Regardless of where you shop, it is wise to decide if the item is overpriced, good quality or still in date. I always buy “made in America” when the best quality, etc is there but let’s face it, sometimes it’s not!

MrChocoholic February 25, 2013 at 6:22 am

How true that is. I live around the corner from a chain dollar store which has become my “go-to” place when the chain drugstore and chain supermarket on the same block just won’t do. Twice I’ve bought items (Mrs. Sullivan’s Pies, Jack Link’s Jerky) that were out of date and had gone “off.” Both times I contacted the makers and was offered compensation without asking. Both times I received assurance that they will be more diligent about following through on tracking shipping dates to stores. Sure. Now I’m much more attentive when reading packaging.

selena February 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Wrapping paper might not go bad, but it typically comes in smaller sheets (to stay under the $.99 threshold). So you will often not save all that much compared to buying a larger package at another cheap-ish shop.

Dale March 9, 2013 at 4:51 am

I think dollar stores are great.. (most items anyway.) I go there before a movie and buy candy at 1.00 while the theater will charge 4 to 5 $ for the same exact item. Cleaning products work just as well too. Decorations and paper items are a great savings. Especially because most people throw them away anyway. Not to say that some items are not worth it and yes you have to check dates, but my last trip to the Dollar Store I got 12 paper and various items and if I would have gone to another store for the same exact items it would have been double or triple the price…so tell me what is a better deal????

susan March 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I go to the dollar store, and think “that is worth a dollar’. Then I go to the next store and I am still thinking “That is worth a dollar”. Well yeah, but it is 8 dollars. Hard to break the habit.

JACKIE KELLY March 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

The store in Bogato Texas is a trash store and their items are not that cheap I can get tiiolet item cheaper at Kroger or Brookshires.
A few weeks ago man was checking me out and picking his nose at the same time.

Jae March 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm

In response to Jackie Kelly

Cashiers at many stores will lick their fingers to count out those dollar bills they are handing you, and sneeze in their hands and continue to scan your groceries…it is all simply GROSS, but unfortunately one cannot seem to get around it. One must always keep bacterial wipes on their persons. I have been disinfecting EVERYTHING I bring home prior to putting it in my cupboards or frige for many years. Yes, it is indeed tedious but I would not have it any other way. Have not had a cold or flu in 16 years, knock on wood.

calandman March 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

What has surprised me is the quality of most of their produce. My guess is their delivery system is more efficient than most grocery stores. The lettuce is fresher than I can find even at the farmers markets. The cauliflower and broccoli is always the best price and better yet the freshest.

Fred Mangels March 22, 2013 at 10:05 am

I never go to the Dollar Store, but the wife used to shop there regularly. Biggest problem I had with it was she’d buy things we didn’t need just because they were a dollar!

Naomi/Dragonmamma March 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm

My best buy at a dollar store: A four-pack of Sunbeam watch batteries for a buck. Last time I got a watch battery replaced at Sears, they charged me $15! (And they do not expire until next year.)

Susan April 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

More cheap stuff from China? Bought a table top ironing board and no, it’s only been used about a dozen times. Lower 1/4 of board cracked and fell off. Made with cheap press board. Went to Walmart yesterday and bought one, $1 more and it’s made of metal.

Mike Land April 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

I loath most dollar stores and the likes. Bought a bottle of their brand of dish soap. Wound up using the whole bottle for one sink of dirty dishes. It was severely watered down. The worst is check out. They usually only have two cash registers. Many only take cash, debit, and EBT. You find a few items you need and go up and there is only one register open and 15 people in line. Its at that juncture I just get back in the car and head to Homeland.

ShebaBarb April 25, 2013 at 6:07 am

You simply need to be wise about what you purchase at a dollar store. Some items are well worth a dollar, in fact worth more whereas some items you waste a dollar. For many people if it not be for a dollar store their ends could never be met so we need be grateful for them because many of us need them and for those that don’t shop elsewhere and keep your mouth off of the dollar stores.

Mobro April 30, 2013 at 6:41 am

Be extremely wary of the store brand motor oil. Most are marked “non detergent” and if you read the fine print you will notice “not for use in internal combustion engines”

Charles July 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm

You can say all the same things about Walmart and its safety, quality and use issues. The Dollar stores and Dollar General type stores are cheaper. You actually expect to buy cheap junk at those stores.

IDIE July 7, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Also, check where the item was made from! Many pet items like raw hide, food, etc are from China and are poisonous and have caused the death of dogs and cats in the USA (probably other places who bought these products too). Check perishables too, and be aware of the possible lack of product safety if they are made in certain countries.

K Connolly July 14, 2013 at 7:01 am

I sometimes shop in Dollar Stores but had a bad experience buying some candles. My daughter had lit one in her room and got busy doing something in another room. I smelled smoke and looked in. The candle had exploded and caught the drapes (which were several feet away) on fire. I was able to extinguish the flame and prevent a major fire. No more Dollar Store candles for us!

LAB July 16, 2013 at 5:27 am

Dollar Tree is one dollar store that is truly consistent in its merchandise. They carry properly dated food items and many items made in America. They carry name brands that one might recognize in other stores, too, except all of the items are $1.00 or multiples for $1.00, and nothing in Dollar Tree is priced over $1.00. K. Connolly, I agree with you about the candle situation, but I have one better for you if you live in the northern tier of Ohio: A.I. Root has their factory, store, and outlet store in Medina, Ohio. My guess is you got a votive candle for $1.00 at that dollar store. You can get a quality A.I. Root candle for less than $1.00 if you buy the multi-pack of 18 votives at the outlet. A.I. Root candles retain their scent all the way down to the last scintilla of wax and their votives are a true 20 hours worth of burning. Why buy a cheap candle when you can get a high quality made in Ohio candle for less than $1.00 each?

Katie {Always, Katie} July 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Something to keep in mind, too, is that a lot of things that are $1 at the Dollar Tree are 88 cents at Walmart… the 3 things that immediately come to mind are movie theater boxed candy (as someone posted about earlier), epsom salts (same size package) AND pregnancy tests. (Although, the only false positive I ever had was on a Walmart test.)

govskeptic July 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Why the hatchet job on a decent company attempting to bring some decent products and prices to Americans struggling with less income? How about the same on Macy’s for overpricing on so many of their Asian made goods?

Mircea August 2, 2013 at 8:55 am

They are helping the struggling American families. Toothpaste $1, Walmart $3.50. This is just one example . Even in my town with over 160,000 people, the family dollar store is doing great.

LS August 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Dollar stores may help the struggling American family money wise, but some of the products they sell contain harsh chemicals (like toothpaste – if it does not have the ADA symbol somewhere, it is unhealthy to use; and cosmetics), are watered down (like liquid soaps or cleaning aids) or past shelf life date. You must become well versed in the products you purchase in order to avoid unhealthy or wasteful ($$$) choices. If it reads “made in China”, be especially careful. Know that foods grown/canned in other countries often use insecticides, herbicides etc that were banned in this country (we cell our banned stuff to them). Also, many products like for instance, q-tips and the like, are far inferior to those made by say Johnson&Johnson. I have purchased many products at dollar stores and find most of them inferior. Exceptions would be paper goods to an extent and canned goods from the USA. I have found most produce sold at such stores to spoil in a day or so. Make sure refrigerated items are not past due date. Toys break easily and kitchen utensils are not the best quality. Clothes, towels and the like are often thin and do not last long. Be aware.

Marie Marez August 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I work right next door to a dollar store located in Santa Rosa, where K mart is located, the staff is overwhelming RUDE…the service is horrible. Granted everything is a $1.00 which mean the shoppers put more into their baskets. But by no means to the very long lines. Having the staff but no cashier’s. no express line for 3 or few items. The manager on duty does not even try to help in any way. which in turn I watch as 5 customers leave their full baskets right there in line. I had gone in to purchase 2 coke’s when I saw the line clear to back of the store. ONLY 1 CASHIER WINDOW OPEN then a employee was either clocking in or out on the regrister I told I worked next door and I was alone if she could please take my money for the purchase for I could not stand in that line. This employee was so rude and told me NO that I had to wait in line. I tried my best to explain ..when I saw she refuse to call for all able employee’s to open or the store manager I just said I am next door and come and get the money. About 45 minutes later here walks in the store manager when she the coke on the counter and then proceed to accuse me of stealing. I just look at her and said NO I wasn’t stealing, and then told her maybe she should pay better attention to the well being of her store. Most of all DOLLAR TREE CUSTOMERS. also working together with the other merchants in the mall. its called customer service and always trying to find ways for each customer to have a wonderful experience in turn will always come back.

Alfie Gower August 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Wow Marie. Why would you think you were special because you work next door? Your money isn’t any more important than any of the other people spending money on a full cart of products and waiting in line to make their purchases. The manager was correct to tell you that you had to wait in line like everyone else or they would have risked having an incident with their customers. You think they were rude because you didn’t get your way, but I bet the people waiting in line thought that was quite fair. Go buy your coke somewhere else if you don’t want to wait in line like all other mere mortals.

Heather August 19, 2013 at 1:48 am

I LOVE the dollar tree’s selection of art supplies for my 3 and 7 year old. They also sell plastic tablecovers which are perfect for especially messy projects. Just fold up the mess into the cover and toss it. A couple bucks can provide hours of projects.

JJ August 26, 2013 at 8:07 am

I will never enter another dollar store. There eggs and milk had an expiration date of 8/10/13 when I shopped there on 8/15/13 and I purchased a six pack of light bulbs and only 4 worked. Then 2 of those only lasted two weeks when other bulbs from Walmart lasted over a year in the same lamp.
NEVER AGAIN.

chris September 12, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I work in retail at a major big box store, and I can tip you folks into a fact –

There’s a REASON the stuff in the dollar store is cheap and often (in perishable items) near to or out of date – it’s old, past clearance stock from the big box places. It goes “salvage” and is pulled from the (usually backroom at this point) shelves and sold directly to a secondary retailer.. aka a “Dollar Store”. The one I work in doesn’t salvage food, that’s donated to a local farm instead, but we definitely salvage department goods.

M September 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Dollar Tree rules! So much in the other stored is marked way up. Not perfect, but provides downward price pressure on other stores.

Alfie Gower September 24, 2013 at 7:06 am

You folks really want something for nothing! What do you pay for milk at the supermarket in comparison to a dollar store? For a dollar it is reasonable to expect the shelf life will be shorter than the same item that costs 3x as much. For someone on a fixed budget, they’ll use that milk in that five day window gladly for the savings. Dollar Stores serve a purpose if you shop them wisely and use common sense. School supplies, party favors, greeting cards, holiday decorations, household cleaning stuff, toothpaste, soap, snack foods and the like, they can save a family quite a bit of money. If you’re super picky or a snob, don’t bother.

Alfie Gower September 24, 2013 at 7:43 am

I can’t believe @Buck is raving about the little kosher mark on food and spreading false rumor about a Kosher Tax! This is an urban legend and has nothing to do with dollar stores or ANY stores. Hey Buck, your ignorance is showing! Try googling what it really means to label foods Kosher and you’ll be surprised. No money is collected from it and certainly not by Jewish organizations or ANY organizations. It’s also used as a marketing logo to let vegans and other dietary restricted people know the item is prepared in a way that is ok for their dietary needs. But good to know your anti-semitism is alive and well yet you’re a ‘good Christian’.

Ggirl October 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

I Agree with Alfie- Some of you folks like MARIA MAREZ need to get a clue. You aren’t special because you are in a hurry and work next door. Why should they let you cut in line? That is a very stupid reason to not shop somewhere because they aren’t breaking the rules for you. People need to be wise about their purchases in general-whether you shop at the Dollar Store, Walmart, or Chanel in Beverly Hills-. Knowledge and wisdom is an amazing thing, too bad most people are severely lacking!

Martha October 26, 2013 at 3:12 am

I purchased some Betty Crocker plastic storage bowls from a dollar store, clearly marked by the manufacturer as microwave safe. After cooking soup with them for a couple minutes, the bottom of the bowl looked exactly like the bottom of a 2-liter pop bottle, and just as dramatic! I now use the others only for storage, not for cooking.

dave pe November 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm

you can purchase brand name items from department stores and still catch fire and are unsafe. do not single out dollar stores.

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