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. (You won't believe these weird kitchen gadgets actually exist.)
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.
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. Don't miss these ways to wash oven mitts and more in the washing machine.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.)