The big meltdown over dollar stores exploded at just the wrong time: right at the cusp of the holiday shopping season. That’s when Dollar Tree, the dominant player in the one-buck market, announced prices were being raised by 25% after 35 years of not going above the $1 mark. The company confirmed the majority of items at Dollar Tree stores will cost $1.25. Did you need more evidence of inflation?
But hold on: Dollar Tree prices are largely unchanged; the price increase rolls out in April, so at the end of 2021, that roll of wrapping paper is still a dollar, and two holiday-themed greeting cards are still a buck. And remember, it’s not a stretch for a retailer with “dollar” in its name to stock items that cost more than one George: Dollar General has been doing it for years.
Shopping at dollar stores is a boots-on-the-ground savings tactic many large families learned out of necessity long ago. Good thing, too, since Americans expect to spend an average $1,463 per household this holiday season, according to Deloitte, a 5% rise from 2020 (but down 7% from pre-pandemic 2019). The majority of holiday spending, approximately $648 per household, goes to gifts for family, friends, and coworkers, according to the National Retail Federation. But on average, shoppers will spend about $231 on food and decorations, the NRF says.
So whether decking your halls, prepping the holiday meal or ho-ho-hosting a seasonal party, see how that money will go further at the dollar store.
Buy Your Holiday Cards at Dollar Tree
If you’re like one household I know, your holiday greeting cards are still waiting to be purchased and sent out. There’s a budget-friendly way to handle that, and we’re looking at you, Dollar Tree.
And hey, join the crowd if you’re one of those who just can’t get a jump on getting your holiday greeting cards out the door and in the mail. Or if you cringe at the prices on the back of the individual major label cards you find at Target or the supermarket (each card is typically over $5). Head to the dollar store. You’ll be surprised at the quality and the $1 (or two for $1) sticker price.
“If you only need a few, shopping at the dollar store is a good way to pick them up for less,” says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews.com. “Ordinarily greeting cards can cost around $5 or even more each, and when you need to buy a few, those can add up really fast. Instead of grabbing cards on your next grocery run, opt to pick them up from the dollar store for around 99 cents each.”
A Dollar Tree store I roamed for holiday items in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offered a healthy selection of individual holiday cards. They were name-brand, too, including some really well-designed cards Heartline cards from Hallmark for just 50 cents each. A nearby Walmart, meanwhile, was selling American Greetings holiday cards for $1.97 to $2.97.
Holiday Decorations Are Inexpensive at Dollar Stores
Perhaps you already have boxes and boxes of holiday decorations you’ve accumulated over the years. But if you have some gaps to fill in because you super-sized the tree this year, or if you’re just starting out, you can stock up at bargain prices at the dollar store.
“Some of the decorations are cheaply made and won’t last but the dollar store is the perfect place to pick up basic decorations for decking your halls during the holidays,” says budgeting expert Andrea Woroch.
We spotted Christmas House-brand tree ornaments, door covers, stockings, boxes of Christmas tree balls, 10-inch tabletop Christmas trees and more, each and all for $1. At a nearby Walmart, holiday decor, including holiday-themed signs, were $3.98-$7.98; stockings were $1.98-$7.88.
Buy Holiday Crafting Supplies or Kits at Dollar Stores
When it comes to holiday-oriented craft projects with friends and family (a classic way to keep little hands busy, if not clean), consider the dollar store.
Says Woroch, “I recently hosted a holiday ornament-decorating party and picked up all my supplies from the dollar store. I found plastic sphere ornaments $1 each for large and two for $1 for smaller ones and paint. Comparatively, I found a package of four large spheres for $10 at Michaels. Even with their 20% off coupon, it was still more than the dollar store. You can find all sorts of crafting supplies including wooden holiday ornament cut outs, fake snow, pom poms in green/red/white, felt snowflakes, etc.”
Buy Your Holiday Gift Wrap at Dollar Tree
What gets lovingly swaddled around a holiday gift only to be brutally torn off and cast aside in mere seconds? The sad fate of decorative holiday gift wrap won’t be as painful if you scored it at at the dollar store.
“Gift wrap is one of those necessary evils over the holidays but if you purchase wrapping paper, bows and ribbon from regular retailers, this extra can add a tremendous amount to your overall shopping bill,” says Woroch “I’d rather cut back on gift wrap and spend the money saved on gifts!”
Smart shopper expert Trae Bodge of TrueTrae.com, agrees.
“You can sometimes get lucky with wrapping paper at the dollar store. Be mindful of the square footage,” says Bodge. “If it looks like the roll holds a lot of paper, go for it. But the roll seems thin, it may not get you very far. If you can enlist your kids to draw on the wrapping paper, look for a roll of white or craft paper.”
Dollar Tree was selling 30-square-foot rolls of holiday wrapping paper for $1. But note that Walmart had various size rolls of wrapping paper; one was selling 180-square-foot rolls of holiday wrapping paper for $4.98. So be ready to do the math.
Dollar Tree also has you covered for the stiction to hold it all together: Scotch-brand transparent tape at two-packs for $1. Note that it’s not a lot of tape, 500 inches between the two rolls, but it should get you by in a pinch (gift-wrapping show-offs boast about only needing two tiny pieces — or none at all).
Gift Bags and Boxes Are a Bargain at Dollar Stores
Lousy gift wrappers like me appreciate pretty gift bags and boxes to drop presents in. They’re perfect for re-use and inexpensive to purchase at a dollar store, says DealNews’s Ramhold. We found a wide array of holiday-themed gift bags in many sizes at Dollar Tree, all for $1, no matter the size or shape. Gift boxes in various sizes were sold in sets of three for $1. Walmart's holiday-themed gift bags started at 97 cents, but only for the very small, and topped out at around $3 for the larger bags. Holiday gift boxes were also sold in packs; you could get 10 for $3.77.
Holiday Candy is a Good Deal Dollar Tree
It just wouldn’t be the holidays without candy canes and chocolate, and the dollar store has you covered. And don’t fall for the rumor it’s all off-brand sweets. We found several name-brand candies at Dollar Tree, perfect for stocking stuffers or holiday-shopping sugar boosts. And there’s a pretty wide selection.
Candy canes? Have at it: Lemonhead or Now and Later candy canes in boxes of six small candy canes were $1 each. Holiday chocolates, anyone? You can pick up a 3/4-ounce packet of Lindt Lindor Milk Chocolate Truffles or a 4.4-ounce Palmer milk chocolate Santas for $1.
If you’re going for larger quantities, Walmart matches or edges out Dollar Tree. For example, it was selling 12 Hershey’s or Brach’s candy canes for $1-$2.24. Walmart also had similar Palmer Kris Kringle double-crisp chocolate Santas for $1 each.
Stocking Stuffers Are a Must at Dollar Stores
At $1 (even two for $1), why wouldn’t you shop for stocking stuffers at Dollar Tree? The toy section offers plenty (but beware of choking hazards as some bargain toys have small parts). There are Matchbox cars, Silly Putty, knockoff Barbies, and more. And you’ll find a host of real Barney & Friends and Disney fun stuff.
Said Woroch, “One year, my husband stuffed my stocking with a few items from the dollar store and I was pleasantly surprised. And this is a great place to pick up small toys and craft packs for your kid’s stocking, especially. You can find small action figures or cars, Disney-themed coloring packs.”
Those coloring books are great to have around for the holidays to help keep the kids occupied, says Bodge.
“These can be a good buy and you’ll be glad to have them on hand when the kids get bored,” says Bodge. “Skip the crayons, though. Unless they are a name brand, they will probably be of poor quality.”
Holiday Mugs Are Just a Buck at Dollar Tree
Those holiday coffee or tea mugs have a short shelf life of just a few weeks max each year. So why spend $5 or more at Target when you can pick up holiday-themed mugs at Dollar Tree for $1? Your party guests will never know the difference.
Alternatively, a $1 holiday mug filled with some of that dollar store candy makes for a festive but inexpensive gift for teachers, co-workers and others on your shopping list.
Picture This: Picture Frames for $1 at Dollar Tree
Speaking of inexpensive holiday gifts, why not put all those selfies to use by gifting them to friends and family analog-style. You know they’re just dying for a framed photo of you to display! If you’re not picky about picture frames, you’ve got a wide selection at Dollar Tree. The good part: It doesn’t matter what size you need; they’re all $1. The bad part: The quality isn’t so hot. But, hey, if people are just putting it on a shelf or nightstand, what’s the biggie?
Picture frames at Walmart were going for $4, various sizes.
Disposable Bakeware is the Way to Go at Dollar Tree
It’s not the most environmentally friendly route to go, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I mean, why mess with the mess when you can have an after-party instead? Those silver serving platters a well-intentioned relative gave you as a wedding present are a bear to polish – and expensive to replace if they get lost or damaged. So whether you’re hosting a big family gathering at home or going to a holiday party at someone else’s abode, think disposable – or recyclable.
They also come in handy “if you're heading to several holiday parties this year and afraid of losing a dish, these aluminum disposable pans are worth stocking up on,” says Ramhold of DealNews.com.
Mom’s famous baked lasagna may be fire, but that pan is a pain to clean. At the dollar store, you can find various sizes of foil pans for $1, sometimes two for $1, including, yes, lasagna pans and a variety of restaurant-style take-out containers with lids to send leftovers home with the kids and grandkids. Walmart was selling Hefty EZ Foil lasagna pans with lids for $3.34 for a two-pack.
Says Woroch, “If you’re planning to bake sweets for family and friends, head to the dollar store for holiday-themed platters and cookie tins. These are perfect for packaging your cookies or other holiday treats to give as gifts or bring to a holiday party.”
Disposable Dinnerware on the Cheap at Dollar Stores
Maybe you don’t want to give your dishwasher indigestion with all those dirty dishes and utensils after the madcap family holiday party at your house. Disposable kitchenware may be the easier route this holiday season.
“Paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic cutlery are all great buys from the dollar stores,” says Ramhold. “The quality might not be as high as more expensive brands from the likes of Target or Walmart, but they should be good enough for holiday parties you're throwing.”
And don’t ignore the drinkware, says Ramhold. “Pick up everything from wine glasses to champagne flutes to cocktail glasses, but also things like reusable coffee cups with lids. These are great for serving your own festive drinks, whether it's mulled wine, a sparkling punch, or homemade hot cocoa and all your favorite mix-ins. You can find plain drinkware, but if you like, keep an eye out for festive varieties as well that are perfect for the holiday season overall or individual celebrations like New Year's Eve.”
At Dollar Tree, we found 48-piece cutlery sets, eight-packs of plastic bowls, deviled egg trays, large salad bowls, platters and a 40-count pack of paper plates, all for $1. Walmart was selling a Great Value 48-piece cutlery assortment for $2.88 and a 50-count pack of paper plates for $4.87.
Cleaning Supplies Are a Bargain at Dollar Tree
Guests are nice, but try as they might, they’re messy, y’know? You have to clean before they arrive and after they leave. Maybe even during.
Bodge sees good deals for cleaning supplies sold at Dollar Tree, but she cautions shoppers to stick with the name brands.
To that end, we found 16.9-ounce bottles of Ajax orange-scented multipurpose cleaner, 10.7-ounce bottles of Lysol lemon multisurface antibacterial cleaner and 2.6-ounce to go packets of Lysol disinfecting wipes, all for $1 each.
Toiletries Are a Must From the Dollar Store During the Holidays
Picking up name-brand toiletries at the dollar store is a no-brainer, our shopping experts note, especially smaller versions. They’re great not just for traveling but to stock guest bathrooms.
Says Ramhold, “These tiny versions of brand-name full-size products shouldn't cost as much as they do in some stores. If you're getting ready to travel, see if your dollar store has the items you're looking for. Often they're $1 each, whereas you might pay close to $2 or more for products at other stores.”
Even toothbrushes. “If your guests are staying over, someone will inevitably forget a toothbrush,” says Bodge. “Sure, you may have a spare from your last trip to the dentist, but if not, you'll be glad you picked up a pack of 2 or 3 for $1 at the dollar store.”
If you’re going for name-brand toothbrushes, Dollar Tree was selling single Reach toothbrushes for $1. However, at Wal-Mart, you could get a four-pack of Reach toothbrushes for $2.98 or a single Oral B toothbrush for 94 cents.
Reading Glasses Are a Bargain at Dollar Tree
Surely you’re not going to gift someone reading glasses. What’s next, hair dye? But just like having a well-stocked bathroom, an extra pair or two of readers around can be the sign of a good host. This was Trae Bodge’s idea, in fact, “just in case one of your guests forgot theirs, she said. “These are one of the best dollar store buys.”
Indeed, a pair of +1.75-power reading glasses at Dollar Tree were $1. A pair at Walmart was $5.88.
Bonus Worst Buy at Dollar Stores: Batteries
Sure, you need those little power sources available when toys and gadgets start getting unwrapped, but don’t put your faith in batteries from dollar stores. Shopping experts have long been warning people off 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.
We were also discouraged by the brand-we-never-heard-of batteries Dollar Tree was selling: e-Circuit. Most, if not all, are labeled for “low-drain” electronics, so don’t count on them to last too long.
Bob is a Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty, and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.
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