spending

8 Worst Things to Buy at Dollar Stores

These discount retailers stock plenty of bargains, but some of the merchandise isn’t worth the buck.

A $1 price tag doesn’t make an item a bargain. If you find yourself filling your basket with dollar-store buys that you never use because the quality is poor or the brand is unfamiliar, then you’re simply wasting money. Hey, a buck is a buck – and they add up over time.

“One of my biggest tips is trust you’re going to use the items you buy, regardless of where you get them,” says Brent Shelton of FatWallet.com, a coupons and deals website, “then decide which items you can settle for switching up brands and quality.”

We visited Dollar Tree stores in Northern Virginia, where everything sells for $1 or less, for a look at what was on the shelves. We were careful to compare prices and packaging of those items with prices and packaging at other retailers, a key step to successful dollar-store shopping.

“Pay attention to sizes and quantities, as often items get repackaged with [fewer] items per package in the dollar store, or the pricing structure is different for the different-size bottles,” say Shelton.

Take a look at some of the worst things to buy at dollar stores, either because the price is high or the quality is low – or, in some cases, both.

Batteries. Deals sites and dollar-store experts have long been warning people off of buying batteries at dollar stores, especially carbon-zinc batteries. They don’t last as long as name-brand alkaline batteries, and they can damage devices if they leak. The $1 packets of “heavy duty” batteries I found at Dollar Tree came under the Sunbeam and Panasonic brands and both were stamped with a warning: “Use for low-drain devices,” such as remotes and clock radios.

Canned goods. The $1 price tag is the lure. But is it really a value? Not during our price checks. For instance, a 15.5 ounce can of Goya red kidney beans was $1 at Dollar Tree. At a nearby Giant supermarket, the same size can cost 79 cents. Supermarkets frequently mark down prices on canned goods, and supermarket store brands are especially cheap even when they aren’t on sale.

Gum. Again, not much of a bargain at Dollar Tree, where a four-pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum is $1. At five sticks per pack, that works out to 5 cents per stick. (The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is 35 cents per pack, or 7 cents per stick.) But at Costco, a bulk package of 20 14-piece packets of Orbit spearmint gum costs $11.49, or about 4 cents per piece. (Read 12 Secrets to Shopping at Costco for more on the warehouse club.)

Hair and skincare products. As a rule, Caroline Thompson, content marketing specialist at deals website BradsDeals.com, steers shoppers away from off-brand makeup, lotion, shampoo and the like. “While some people swear by these dollar-store products to save money, it really depends on the specific item,” Thompson says. “Many of these items are filled with chemicals that could be harsh on your skin and dry out your hair. Plus, they may not be allergy-tested.”

School supplies. The dollar-or-less lure is tempting, but quality appeared low on some of the products I saw and handled at Dollar Tree. Adds Shelton: “$1 sounds good, but wait for back-to-school sales at the big box stores, where you will get better bulk value and often better quality.” In addition, a 2015 report from the Ecology Center, a group that does environmental education, advocacy and testing, found elevated levels of at least one hazardous chemical in 81% of the dollar-store products it tested including some kids’ backpacks and pencil cases.

Steak. While $1 for a 3.5-ounce frozen ribeye is easy on the wallet, really, should you? The dollar-store steak is sliced razor thin and, according to the packaging, is beefed up by as much as 30% solution. One Youtube food reviewer likened the taste and texture to Steak-umm, the frozen, thin-sliced molded beef product that adorned many a childhood sandwich. We’ll pass.

Tools. Here’s where a lot of us get testy, and the experts agree. The quality of the tools sold at Dollar Tree is low and the products probably won’t last long. “I’ve always said tools should be bought at a tool store,” says Shelton, “if not for quality, safety is a good reason, too.” Some Craftsman tools are guaranteed for life. Sears replaced at no charge an old Craftsman hammer I had that lost its head (no injuries were reported) during use. If you can wait, the best time to shop for tools is around Father’s Day in June, when retailers offer deep discounts.

Windshield washer fluid. A gallon of off-brand windshield washer fluid at Dollar Tree is $1. A gallon at Giant was twice as much at $1.99. But here’s the rub: The container at Dollar Tree says it isn’t effective in the winter, when people living in colder climates need it most. The Giant windshield washer promises it’s good to 28 degrees below zero.

Most Popular

When Could We Get a Third Stimulus Check?
Coronavirus and Your Money

When Could We Get a Third Stimulus Check?

President Biden and others in Congress are pushing for a third-round of stimulus checks, but it might be a while before we get them.
January 20, 2021
Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer
Coronavirus and Your Money

Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer

The IRS has an online tool that lets you track the status of your second stimulus check.
January 18, 2021
20 Best Stocks to Buy for the Joe Biden Presidency
stocks to buy

20 Best Stocks to Buy for the Joe Biden Presidency

Joe Biden has been sworn in as America's 46th president. These are 20 of the best stocks to own under the new administration.
January 20, 2021

Recommended

6 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Second Stimulus Check
Coronavirus and Your Money

6 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Second Stimulus Check

If you don't have to use your second stimulus check for basic necessities, consider putting the money to work for you. You'll thank yourself later.
December 28, 2020
Getting Married or Moving In Together? Time to Talk About Money
Starting a Family

Getting Married or Moving In Together? Time to Talk About Money

Sharing a life means it’s time to talk finances.
December 22, 2020
11 Tax Breaks for the Middle Class
Tax Breaks

11 Tax Breaks for the Middle Class

Tax breaks aren't just for the rich. There are plenty of them that are only available to middle- and low-income Americans.
December 17, 2020
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
Making Your Money Last

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

If you’ve added a dog or cat to your family, consider pet insurance to manage routine and unexpected veterinary bills.
December 16, 2020