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

by Miranda Marquit · 84 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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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Dean September 17, 2012 at 6:14 am

I beg to differ about tools, which depends on the dollar store you buy them from. I have bought a hammer, nails, picture hanging hardware, pliers, all types of screwdrivers, clamps, level, square and they work great. Some stores do have inferior quality goods, but I saved an enormous amount of money on everyday tools by buying at the dollar store. Also mops, brooms, storage bins, glasses, buckets, laundry soap and all condiments like ketchup, mustard, spices are all good. The canned foods are not very tasty, except for corned beef / meat is okay.

Just use common sense and you’ll have a blast.

vv September 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm

not to mention craft supplies, school supplies, tape, cool watches, beach toys, coin rollers and essential stationery…the place is fantastic ~ candy is really the only edible food that someone should buy…~

Brian September 20, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Cheap is cheap!

Chinese products made by slave labor pay for employees! Help them by refusing to buy the cheap Chinese crap, then they will have to improve the products and pay the Chinese employees at least $5 or more per hour so they too can afford to buy some of the things that you buy.

If you really need the product you would already have it at home. Therefore keep on doing without the Chinese made crap.

Carol September 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I buy muffin papers, aluminum baking tins, hangers, measuring cups and spoons, school supplies, spatulas, spices, pasta, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, soup, gravy mixes, canned chicken, on and on. I save a fortune. Dollar stores are fun and can’t be beat for holiday decorations, stocking stuffers, etc. I have a hammer I purchased there 7 years ago. This year I found upside tomato planters there for $1. I paid $14 for the exact brand in another store. I love $ stores.

Craig October 1, 2012 at 7:51 am

What store are you referring to? There is Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, etc.
And where exactly are you getting this information from? Please cite some concrete evidence to back up this story. Otherwise, you should be informed that the stores I listed above have the same vendors as Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

danielle October 9, 2012 at 9:45 am

Craig is correct — the suppliers for Walmart and Walgreens (and Sams Club for that matter, because Walmart and Sams Club are the same company), are all the same suppliers == and sometimes event the same delivery truck. My husband was a truck driver, and was on a Family Dollar/Walmart run — and the distributor was the SAME building, and the SAME products to BOTH stores were bundled the same on the pallets.

danielle October 9, 2012 at 11:03 am

@Brian == the dollar stores around me have more made in USA stuff than they do made in China. Look at the labels if it’s a concern. I’d rather buy a 50c ice cube tray made in USA from the dollar store than the SAME icecube tray from Walmart/Walgreens/Target, whereever for over $2.00

yearly calendar planners?? same stuff at Staples/Office Max for a buck. Other stores – $5 or more..

camping supplies — cooking stuff/utensils, etc are GREAT at the dollar stores.. and just check labels for made in the USA

Robert October 10, 2012 at 9:54 am

You’re absolutely right. We have to be extremely careful. I have 2 kids, 6 and 2 year old, and I always think twice and double check every toy I buy from there.

jarge October 10, 2012 at 11:29 am

I buy some stuff at dollar stores. ie paper products like wrapping paper, cards,etc – small tools that I need for a quick job. Some last some don’t but for a buck or two who cares – hard goods why not? I do not buy much of any food items. Have a look. Most are from china or some other offshore place. Food might be OK but the circumstances it was made, ie quality control etc. just does not exist in these countries so I pass.

brenda October 17, 2012 at 9:12 am

I buy snacks, wrapping paper, and other items at the dollar store. One thing that I do not buy is candles. I bought one or two and they lasted about 15 minutes and the hot wax took out the side of the candle. As most of the comments have mentioned, use common sense and caution when buying the items there. At our $1 store, there are now a lot of $2 and $3 items so you have to know your prices, something might be $0.89 at the grocery store might be $1 at the $1 store.

Bartski October 18, 2012 at 6:34 am

Dollar stores are but the tip of the iceberg. When the political right wing gave significant tax breaks to corporate America; the idea was to allow them to expand & create thousands more jobs. And, it worked! Hundreds of thousands of jobs were created, …..in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Central America, & in more recent years, the People’s Republic of China. Millions of ‘comrades’ thank the Republicans.

Sara Pare October 29, 2012 at 11:52 am

I no longer use the aluminum cooking pans / trays. If you wash them and dry them, something black-grey is all over your dish towel. I used to use them for Xmas Bazaar sales but not anymore.

Victor November 3, 2012 at 7:50 pm

If I see something not made in USA, I don’t buy it unless there is no alternative.

Zdenek November 6, 2012 at 6:13 am

Sometimes I go to $$$ stores just to look — Recently I saw a few item which are also sold in other brand name stores — and example – hair dryer in dollar store for 14.99 and the same thing elsewhere for 69.99. Just out of curiosity I have bought the cheap one and compared to “expensive” one , neither me or my friends nor sales person in NON dollar store could find any difference (including product, packing all labeling, or functionality, or warranty ). So where does the price difference come from?

Sarah November 10, 2012 at 2:06 am

@Zdenek
See the comment above from the lady whose hubby used to work as a wholesaler and loaded up the pallets with the SAME goods for delivery to both the dollar stores and the brand name stores. The big-name stores know that people trust them more adn are prepared to pay a premium for that trust. I personally have seen TONS of made-in-China stuff at all the brand name stores. Kudos to you for saving on your hair dryer. I won’t buy a role of tape anymore for 4.99 plus tax when I can get five rolls for a buck at the dollar store 😉

PhilC November 10, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I agree w/ Craig that the concerns are the same as other name brand stores. Also re. China we get what the buyer accepts/orders. Blame it on the buyer/importer not China. Re. what a Chinese worker is payed, totally not relavent. Cost of living varies among countries just as it does among cities in the US. $5/hour can be a good salary in some places. You can trace the “dollar” store items just like the regular retailer products so do your homework. Personally I like dollar stores where things cost $1 and aren’t so chaotic such as Dollar Tree. Family Dollar and Dollar General would be next. Some chips that are at Big Lots are at Trader Joe’s. Some of these stores produce their own healthier brands such as no HFCS. It pays to do your homework. BTW I think some of us need to visit China. I have and we aren’t getting the whole story via the media. If the US doesn’t have international trade we are screwed.

lloyd November 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

I also find good buys at the dollar store, but check out the item before you pay. Buyer beware always.

Ronzoni the Red State treat November 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm

In this game of “getting a deal” we are the real losers. The goods we get for a dollar and call a bargain would never pass muster for American made quality and yet we continue to call them “equivalents.” Americans have been pressed into Dollar Store consumerism because we have a lowered income level and we are trying to find a deal on everything. This is a slow spiral to bottom-feeding because our wages are not keeping up with our costs of living. Who is to blame? It is not the right or the left. We are the first truly free society and we must bear the responsibility of our actions. There is no easy way out of this hole we’ve dug for ourselves, but we had better learn to buy domestically or else there will be no jobs for our kids.

Carolyn November 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm

We have owned and operated a Dollar Store for the past 10 years. The industry is changing. Your big players like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar etc. are direct importing (factory direct) a lot of their product, eliminating the middle man to keep their prices low. The result, North American suppliers have gone bankrupt because they have lost the major Dollar Store chain contracts.
As for the quality of the product, I can confirm that the suppliers shipping product to the Walmarts of the world are the same suppliers shipping product to our store. The secret is usually in the packaging and labels. Read the fine print you would be surprised what you find out. Pay particular attention to dating on food product. I see product in high end, national chain retailers from our suppliers all the time. Are there products out there that are suspect in quality, absolutely, but they aren’t all destine to be on Dollar Store shelves. PhilC is right, do your homework or find a store that has already done it for you.

Lori November 27, 2012 at 10:11 am

The dollar stores are great for items that really should cost a dollar or maybe a little more. Craft supplies from the dollar store are a necessity, especially when you have small children who love to glue, glitter, cut out, paint and craft something new every day. Why would I go to Wal-Mart or Michaels for the same items and pay triple the cost or more. Many of the household items such at the dollar stores, such as dishes, glasses, hangers, garbage bins or storage bins are also best to buy at dollar stores. Again, go to Wal-Mart and buy these items at triple the cost. I personally won’t buy the food just because I’m me. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, I just choose not to buy food at the dollar stores. For kids who are looking for a cheap treat, you can’t beat the dollar stores for name brand chocolate bars. Much better prices than any store. Most school supplies, especially bristol board, note pads, clips, etc. are much cheaper and you go through so many, why should you have to go to Staples or somewhere like that to pay more. It seems ridiculous to pay a higher price for items that are meant to be cheap, but because they are at Wal-Mart or Michaels they are more expensive. Oh and gardening supplies, especially garden ornaments, much better deal at the dollar stores. And the last item is decorations for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, why would anyone shop anywhere else other than a dollar store. I’m pretty sure that there aren’t a lot of people shopping at the dollar stores for fine china or silverware, the dollar stores are a quick fix, with a little extra.

carrie December 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

Dollar stores are ok for the most part, you just have to watch what you are buying for a “DOLLAR”.

Yana December 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Dollar stores are perfect for things that should cost a dollar but cost twenty in larger stores.

I live in Canada, so I can’t speak for your American dollar stores, but one of our big players is Dollarama. Recently, they’ve started coming up with things that cost up to 3.25$, but that doesn’t really matter considering at Wal-Mart they cost ten.

I absolutely love making things. So when I feel like it’s an arts and crafts day, I walk over to the Dollarama nearby and buy paper, glue, glitter, everything, even wood sometimes. I especially love the Halloween season, because so much of their cheap costumes that fall apart after one use are good crafts materials.

But I can’t imagine buying food at Dollarama. That’s just… of course, I buy food at the food equivalent of a dollar store, but it’s actually a food store, so as long as you rustle through the near-to-expiry products in front, you know what you’re getting isn’t contained in lead or something.

Dollar stores are great. They just have their own warnings that come with them, just like Wal-Mart, where you need to keep a firm hand on your wallet or you’ll spend a LOT more than you intended to when you walked in.

kathi December 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Be careful and check expiration dates! Was a recall on the dog foods/snacks 99 cent store was selling. They were selling dog food/snacks where the use by date had expired and a couple dogs died from this.

Lech December 11, 2012 at 7:02 am

I would never consider buying anything at a dollar store that I didn’t require immediately, and for a short time – e.g. if I needed a battery right away.
I once bought reading glasses at one of these outlets for a dollar. They lasted about a week before the frame broke.

I find thrift stores have better stuff at less cost for many of the items these outfits sell.

George Saladin December 11, 2012 at 10:21 pm

1. Stop looking at the bottom-line as a threshold. IOW, stop looking only at the price of an object for sale before purchase.
***Chinese goods have NO silver lining.***
2. Buy American. Give your fellow countrymen a chance. We have helped the rest of the world a lot, and enough. Now’s the time to help your own neighbor.

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