savings

7 Best Things to Buy at Dollar Stores

You might be surprised by some of the items you can purchase for just a buck.

Set aside any preconceived notion of just who shops at dollar stores. It might be a gimme to guess the customer base for the likes of Dollar Tree – where everything costs $1 or less – consists of the underemployed and others short of cash. No doubt. But you’ll also find doctors and lawyers and their significant others bargain-hunting in the aisles of dollar stores.

The NPD Group, which studies consumer spending for the retail industry, found that 19% of the money spent at dollar stores over the past year came from households with annual income exceeding $100,000. “Considering that nearly 1 in 5 dollars spent there is contributed by the affluent, dollar stores’ value proposition clearly resonates across economic segments,” said NPD’s Andy Mantis in a written statement.

We spoke with shopping experts and prowled stores in Northern Virginia to identify some of the best buys at dollar stores. Take note, however, that our price comparisons aren’t always orange-to-oranges. Brands and package sizes varied among products stocked by Dollar Tree and those carried by other retailers. Here’s what we found.

Cleaning supplies. If you’re not picky about brands, you could do well at dollar stores. I tried to match up what Dollar Tree sold versus what the supermarket had in stock. At Dollar Tree, a 30-ounce bottle of Brillo Basics dish soap was $1. At Giant, a 28-ounce bottle of Ajax triple action dish soap was $1.99. At Dollar Tree, you could get a package of four Brillo stainless steel scourers for $1. At Giant, a three-pack of Dawn steel mesh scrubbers was $3.49. Dollar Tree had a 24-ounce bottle of Comet Classic toilet bowl cleaner or a 28-ounce bottle of Ajax with bleach toilet bowl cleaner for $1 apiece. Giant’s 24-ounce bottle of Clorox toilet bowl cleaner was $1.49.

Greeting cards. All-occasion American Greetings cards are $1 each and many, two for $1, at Dollar Tree. At a Giant supermarket, I found a small section of greeting cards for 99 cents each, but most of the Hallmark cards the store was selling started at $3.99 each. Multipacks of invitations, thank-you cards, baby shower announcements and more were $1 at Dollar Tree. When I could find them at Giant, multipacks started at $3.25.

Kitchenware. If you prefer disposable kitchenware, a 48-pack of plastic forks and other plastic cutlery is $1 at Dollar Tree. At Giant, $1.49 would get you a package of 24 pieces of cutlery. A package of 30 foam dinner plates was $1 at the dollar store. At Giant, you’d pay $2.49 for 24.

You can find non-disposable kitchenware, too. “The dollar store is a great place to get cheap plates, cups, mugs and silverware so you've always got enough, even if someone brings an unexpected guest or two to Thanksgiving,” says Caroline Thompson, content marketing specialist at deals site BradsDeals.com. Thompson says home décor items such as bins, candles and vases can also be found at dollar stores for a lot less than elsewhere.

Office supplies. Hey, a paper clip is a paper clip. For $1, you can get 250 metal paper clips from Dollar Tree. At Staples, a package of 100 paper clips will set you back $2.49. A Jot-brand scientific calculator at Dollar Tree is a buck. Staples sells a Staples-brand scientific calculator for $7.99. A package of 100 ruled index cards at Dollar Tree is $1. A box of 100 ruled index cards at Staples is $2.49. White poster board was selling at Dollar Tree at two for $1. At Staples, poster board was sold in a 10-pack for $7.29, or about $73 cents each. A box of 80 Mead security envelopes is $1 at Dollar Tree. A box of 50 Simply security envelopes is $4.79 at Staples.

Party supplies. Poll a bunch of your neighbors and find out why dollar stores are their source for kids’ parties. A buck will get you a helium-filled Mylar balloon at Dollar Tree (and there’s a wide variety to choose from). At Giant, helium-filled Mylar balloons sell for $4 to $10 each. Need a gift bag? One buck will get you one at Dollar Tree, and filling it with tissue paper will set you back $1 for 35 20-by-20-inch sheets. Meanwhile, a tiny bag of spiral tissue “bag filler” at Giant is $2.49 and a gift bag is $3.99.

“Kids’ birthday party supplies (unless there’s a theme you can’t find) can add big savings to the family budget bought at the dollar store,” says Brent Shelton, a shopping expert at FatWallet.com.

Picnic supplies. Summer fun means picnics and back yard barbecues. You can get all summery with a wide assortment of banners, packages of napkins with American flags, paper plates and paper lanterns, all for $1 each. A 24-ounce bottle of Hunt’s tomato ketchup and a 20-ounce container of Koop’s yellow mustard were $1 each at Dollar Tree. At Giant, the Hunt’s ketchup was regularly priced at $1.49; the Koop’s mustard was also $1, but the bottle was only 18 ounces. (See Best Summer Deals at Dollar Stores for more.)

Reading glasses. Seeing is believing when it comes to dollar store prices on nonprescription reading glasses. A pair at Dollar Tree costs just a dollar. Reading glasses at Staples go for $15.99 a pair. A pair of reading glasses at Giant runs $21.99.

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