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What Not to Buy at Dollar Stores

Cameron Huddleston

Here are 11 things you're better off purchasing elsewhere.

If you want to save money on everyday items, dollar stores can be a great place to shop. Consumers of all income levels are catching on to the savings opportunities at these retailers. According to a 2012 Consumer Reports survey, 68% of respondents who earned $75,000 or more said they had shopped at a dollar store.

SEE ALSO: Dollar Store Quiz: Deal or No Deal?

And why not. Even dollar-store items that cost more than a buck -- and many do -- can be better bargains than you'll find at other retailers (see What to Buy at Dollar Stores). And, contrary to popular belief, the quality of most items at national dollar-store chains is good, says Jeff Yeager, author of four popular books on frugal living, including his most-recent How to Retire the Cheapskate Way.

However, Yeager and other money-saving experts say that there are some items that you should avoid buying at dollar stores because you either can find them for less elsewhere or the quality is inferior to competitors' merchandise. Here are 11 common purchases to skip at dollar stores:

Batteries. Cheap batteries may be prone to leakage, says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. They also might not run your gadgets as long as pricier brands. Many dollar stores sell carbon-zinc batteries, which are less efficient and have a shorter shelf life than the alkaline variety.


Canned goods. Canned goods at the grocery store -- especially the store brand -- usually cost less than a buck. So $1 for a can of vegetables or fruit at the dollar store isn’t such a good deal. Also watch out for cans that are near or past their expiration dates.

Chewing gum. You can get cheaper prices on gum when you buy it in bulk from warehouse clubs such as Costco or even at drugstores and big-box retailers, Woroch says.

Electronics. Consumer Reports found in 2012 that some dollar-store electronics and extension cords may not have UL labels vouching for their safety. Others may have fake labels, which are difficult to detect. It's better to spend a little extra for quality and safety.

Foil and plastic wrap. There’s a reason these items are so inexpensive at dollar stores: The quality is inferior, says Yeager, who shops frequently at dollar stores but avoids buying foil and plastic wrap there.

Knives. Knives sold at dollar stores tend to be of poor quality, Woroch says. And this isn’t an item you want falling apart while you’re using it.

Paper goods. The quality of napkins, paper towels and toilet paper at dollar stores is, in general, inferior to what you’ll find at grocery stores and big-box retailers. It’s not a good value if you buy napkins or paper towels that are so flimsy that you have to use five to do the job of one, Yeager says.

Soda. Paying $1 for a 1-liter bottle of soda is not a good deal, says Yeager, because you can get a 2-liter bottle of soda for about $1 when it goes on sale at the grocery store.

Tools. Yeager says that hammers, screwdrivers and other tools he has bought at dollar stores have broken easily because the quality is inferior. As an avid do-it-yourselfer, he recommends buying the best tools you can afford because they'll last longer and make the job you’re tackling easier.

Toys. Most toys from the dollar store are of low quality, says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the personal finance blog Money Crashers. So they won’t last long. Even though they're only a dollar, it's just not money well-spent, he says.

Vitamins. Consumer Reports research in 2012 found that off-brand multi-vitamins at dollar stores didn't always have the amount of nutrients claimed on the label. You may be better off getting vitamins from a well-known store brand, such as Rite Aid, Walgreens or CVS.

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