14 Things Never to Buy at a Dollar Store

A buck might be pocket change, but that doesn't mean it's a good deal.

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School supplies

iStock/Pamela Moore

As low as $1 sounds, you might actually find better deals at larger office supply retailers, which are more likely to have sales, says Brent Shelton, online shopping expert for fatwallet.com. “You can usually get things you’d get for a dollar for a penny or five cents,” he says. Plus, even though you’re dropping more cash at a time for a bulk pack at those bigger retailers, you’re getting a better value overall for each item in that package—and with better quality, he says. But be careful—there are some items that aren't worth buying in bulk.

Knives

iStock/PavelRodimov

Quality matters with kitchen knives, and the ones at a dollar store won’t slice as well as those from a bigger brand. “These won’t be sharp, and dull knives can be very dangerous,” says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. (You won't believe these weird kitchen gadgets actually exist.)

Batteries

iStock/Jarin13

Dollar store products are often liquidated from other retailers. You might not think of batteries as having a shelf life, but even unused ones lose their charge over time, so you might not get as much use out of that dollar store pack. “Batteries may have been on a Target shelf for three years, and now they don’t hit Target’s standards anymore,” says Shelton. “[Dollar stores] are not ordering new batteries and pricing them well—they’re taking old stuff off other stores’ shelves.” Plus, some dollar store batteries contain carbon zinc, making them more prone to leaking than the higher-quality lithium ones you’d find at other stores, says Woroch. You’re better off ordering batteries from an online discount store or finding a big multipack at a larger chain. These are more surprising items you never knew had expiration dates.

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Tools

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Cheap tools are more likely to break. Not only does that mean you’ll have to replace them again, but you could also be putting your safety at risk. “If you have a cheap clamp that’s holding something in the air above your head and it breaks because it’s poor quality, that could injure you,” says Shelton. Hardware stores will give you better quality, and products often come with lifetime guarantees, so you’ll get a free replacement if they do wear out. (Here are things you should never buy at garage sales.)

Oven mitts

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Penny-pinch on heat protection for the kitchen and you could get burned—literally. “Cheaply made oven mitts won’t offer enough padding for protection against heated cookware and baking dishes,” says Woroch. Listen to your gut a mitt seems too flimsy to protect you, and find a better one elsewhere. Don't miss these ways to wash oven mitts and more in the washing machine.

Fresh food

iStock/Ben Harding

Because fewer people rely on dollar stores for their groceries, goods like dairy products might not get replaced as often as supermarkets, which restock regularly. “The turnover is really good on fresh food” at grocery stores, says Shelton. “It has a longer shelf life and is going to be a higher quality brand you can trust.” Check the expiration date before heading to the register with any product that has a short shelf life. Try these healthy food swaps that save you money instead.

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Makeup

iStock/Tom Hahn

Dollar store makeup could save you money on drugstore beauty products, but be careful—people with allergies or sensitive skin could have a reaction to cheap ingredients. “They may use harsher alcohols, or the refinement of some of the materials into things like makeup are processed on a low budget, so they’re not refined as well for your skin,” says Shelton. Check the expiration date and ingredient list before you buy, then test it out on a small area to make sure your skin won’t break out or dry out.

Power strips

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The electric products you’ll find in dollar stores usually have thinner wires that won’t be able to handle power loads as well as pricier products, says Shelton. You could pay the price for that lack of quality, says Woroch. “Dollar store versions of extension cords, power strips and the like can be poorly made and therefore unsafe,” she says. “Skip the savings in pursuit of safety and get these items from your hardware store.”

Packaged food

iStock/Glenn Peterson

Snagging a box of cereal for $1 at a grocery store is practically unheard of, but their packages are usually larger, meaning dollar boxes may actually cost more per ounce. If you’re going for a generic brand, you’re probably better off picking it up at the supermarket, which might leave you less disappointed by the taste. “Food in the dollar store is often food that doesn’t sell well in other stores,” says Shelton. “Unless you have access to food reviews for these off-brand items, it’s likely one reason this food is on the dollar store shelf is because the taste is subpar to other brands in the grocery store.”

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Hair products

iStock/FredFroese

With a coupon in hand during a sale, you could end up saving more money at a big box store than at a dollar store, says Woroch. “I have found better deals on beauty products like shampoo and conditioner at stores like Walmart, where you have a wider selection and the store often offers sales,” she says. (Quit making these mistakes that are ruining your hair.)

Electronics

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Even if you’ve had good luck with cheap gadgets before, you might be disappointed by how quickly another tech product breaks down. Major companies typically stick with one source for consistent quality, but generic brands will change up their process based on what’s cheapest. “Those brands are usually pulling in parts from a whole bunch of places—not always the same place,” says Shelton, “so the reliability of quality and safety can’t be as sure as from a name brand that has high standards for all parts of the materials used.” Even if you buy the same product your friend was raving about, yours might not hold up as well if the brand decided to cut corners or source materials from somewhere else.

Medications

iStock/Savushkin

Over-the-counter medications in dollar stores are often getting close to—or might even be past—their expiration dates, says Woroch. “Instead, head to your local drug store and opt for the generic version to save money,” she says. Don't miss these OTC medicine mistakes you didn't realize you were making.

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Pet food

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Bulk pet food looks expensive, so you might get instant gratification from the cheap price tag at a dollar store. But price per ounce is generally cheaper from a larger retailer, and what you save that trip could cost you in quality. (Don't miss these foods you didn't know could kill your dog.)

Toys

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Children’s toys are actually a bit of a tossup. “These toys break. They’re very cheap, not well made, and you get what you pay for,” says Shelton. If your kids tend to get bored of toys fast, it might make sense to go for quantity over quality with easily replaceable playthings, he says. But you should probably splurge on better quality if you have babies or little kids who could choke on broken pieces of a cheaply made toy, says Woroch. (Be aware of these dangerous parenting mistakes even careful parents make.)


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