21 Things Never to Buy at a Dollar Store
A buck might be pocket change, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.
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.
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.
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. Just watch out for these items you should never buy at Costco.
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.
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.
Plastic cooking ware
S Van Ha Conlon/Shutterstock
If you want to avoid plastic spoons melting into your soup or your kitchen mitts catching on fire, (and who doesn’t?) your best bet is to spend a little extra on cooking ware that will last. “This is tricky category because we use heat with so many of these items, whether we are cooking with them or using them in the microwave or dishwasher,” says Bodge. “Because the materials can be questionable, adding heat is a wild card because that’s when toxins can be released.”
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 40 smart ways to save money at the supermarket instead.
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.
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.” Learn about 11 things you should never, ever buy used.
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.” Don’t miss these 12 foods you should never buy generic.
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.
Dollar store skin-care products are similar to dollar store vitamins—you don’t know what’s inside the packing. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune to have good skin. Dermatologists agree, save your money and skip these expensive beauty supplies that are a waste of money.
According to Bodge (and most skin-care experts), SPF degrades over time, and that dollar store tube might be expired. Or the package says SPF 30, but it’s really SPF 15. “It’s hard to tell how long these products have been sitting on the shelves, and it’s not worth the risk,” says Bodge.
You want to provide your child with the best and safest products available on the market, which unfortunately means you should avoid the dollar store. Again, the issue is quality; you never know what you’re getting.
You don’t want to spend all day doing laundry only to realize that your detergent is expired, and your clothes still look dingy. “Skip liquid detergents, unless there is an expiration date,” she warns. “Liquid detergents tend to lose their efficacy over time so if the product has been on the shelf for over a year, it won’t be as effective.” Just don’t fall for these 11 mistakes you’re probably making when you try to save money.
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.
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. Here are 17 more habits of people who are great at saving money.
While the $1 price may be appealing, you don’t truly know exactly what you’re getting in generic dollar store vitamin bottles. Vitamins and supplements might optimize your health if you take them correctly.
Tampons, pads, panty liners, pregnancy tests, and feminine hygiene products, like washes, should all be purchased from a reputable store or pharmacy. You definitely don’t want to put something in or on your body that is full of toxins.
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. Here are 56 tips for saving money that won’t sacrifice quality.
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. On the other hand, these are 11 things you should always buy at the dollar store.