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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| November 2017
If you want to save a few bucks preparing for the holidays this year, learn to cut corners at the dollar store. It’s a boots-on-the-ground savings tactic many large families learned out of necessity long ago. Good thing, too, since many of us are planning to spend even more on the holidays in 2017.
According to a survey of consumers conducted for the National Retail Federation, Americans expect to spend an average $967.13 shopping for the holidays in 2017, up 3.4% from last year. The majority of the spending ($608.06) will go toward gifts, naturally. But a big chunk of the average holiday budget ($359.07) will be spent on decorations, greeting cards, flowers, food and other non-gift purchases. That’s where the dollar store really shines.
“Why pay more than you need to for seasonal items? We’ve spotted products like holiday dinner plates and a Santa-themed cooking apron for $1 apiece at Dollar Tree,” says Courtney Jespersen, consumer savings expert for NerdWallet.
Whether decking your halls, prepping the holiday meal or ho-ho-ho-sting a seasonal party, see how your budget has a friend at the dollar store.
I recently got sticker shock when I went to a Hallmark store to buy greeting cards for birthdays and anniversaries. The fancier ones are running upward of $6 to $7 each, and yes, that includes individual Christmas cards. Average prices start at $3.49.
At Dollar Tree, the retailer that charges $1 or less for every item, you can score American Greetings cards for $1 apiece, and many other greeting cards are two for a buck.
“You can save up to $5, on average, when you get your cards at the dollar store versus other places such as Target or Walmart,” says Carson Yarbrough, savings and retail expert at Offers.com, a deals website. “And since most dollar stores have a large collection to browse through, you'll still be able to find the perfect card for all of your holiday gift needs.”
For those of you seeking invitations for your holiday parties, multipacks were $1. Same thing with boxes of thank-you notes.
When you’re looking for garland, ribbons and other holiday decor, it rarely gets cheaper than the dollar store. A bow to put on a holiday wreath? You’ll find one for a buck at Dollar Tree, compared to as much as $4 at other retailers.
“Dollar Tree has an entire holiday shop with everything from holiday decor, cards, stocking stuffers, hosting essentials and more -- all for just $1 each,” says Yarbrough. “You can save upwards of 70% on the standard price of party supplies if you buy it at the dollar store.”
While not exactly waxing the Yankee Candle vibe, dollar stores are well-stocked with holiday candles of many sizes, all typically selling for $1 apiece. (Some dollar-store chains charge more than $1 for certain items.) Large jar candles at Yankee Candle can sell for $28. A small “Coastal Mist” scented Old Williamsburg candle at Dollar Tree was $1. So were large votive candles.
Yes, we have our traditional ornaments stuffed away in boxes, and we haul them out every holiday season. But if you’re just starting out or looking to reboot or fill in some holes, put the dollar store higher on your list for holiday ornaments.
You can find some rather nice ones individually boxed up for $1 each at Dollar Tree. Even a sleeve of seven glass-ball ornaments was going for, yes, $1. Similar packs cost more at a discounter like Walmart and considerably more at higher-end retailers.
However, tread carefully with the string lights sold at dollar stores, warns Yarbrough of Offers.com: “They are unreliable and have been found to have a low safety and quality rating.”
In search of treats to stuff into your kids’ stockings that are hung by the chimney with care? You can do well at dollar stores.
“Name-brand candies can be found [at dollar stores] for cheaper than mainstream grocery stores,” says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com, a shopping comparison website. “You can usually find favorites like Sour Patch Kids, M&Ms and Twizzlers for around $1 a package.”
And don’t overpay for candy that’s gussied up in seasonal packaging. You kids only care about what’s inside the wrapper, and candy in everyday packaging usually costs less than seasonal editions.
“Unless you're looking for a particular seasonal flavor,” says Ramhold, “there's no need to buy a bag of chocolates just because they have snowflakes on the bag.”
It doesn’t make sense to pay a lot for something whose only job is to look pretty for a fleeting moment, then get destroyed. Such is the fate of gift wrap. Stick with $1 wrapping paper from a dollar store, rather than paying twice that or more at a retailer like Target.
“The best items to buy at the dollar store during the holidays are greeting cards and gift wrap,” says savings expert Andrea Woroch. “This is by far the cheapest and best option since you don’t want to waste money on wrapping paper, bows, ribbon and bags that only end up in the trash after your loved ones open their gifts.”
Gift bags can go for $3.99 and up at many retailers, but perfectly fine-looking gift bags at Dollar Tree sell for $1. Fill the bag with fancy tissue paper, where a buck at the dollar store will get you 35 20-by-20-inch sheets. Add a holiday-themed Mylar balloon for another greenback. Meanwhile, at a Giant supermarket, a gift bag sold for $4, a tiny bag of spiral tissue “bag filler” was $2.49 and Mylar balloons ranged from $4 to $10 each.
No doubt there are seasonal coffee mugs stored with your holiday decorations, but if you want to refresh that collection, look no further than Dollar Tree and its kind.
Holiday-themed ceramic mugs and travel mugs for your friends-on-the-go are available at dollar stores for $1 each. They also make nice gifts for teachers. You could add coffee, tea or hot chocolate mix to that mug, or find the ones already preloaded with candy (still only $1). Add a festive bow for $1 or less from the same store.
Speaking of mugs, how about putting yours in a picture frame as a good-lookin’ holiday gift to family and friends? Finally, your selfies can be printed out and put to work. Or another gift idea: Frame your kids’ art projects for inexpensive, but much loved, gifts for the grandfolks.
You’ll find a wide variety of frame sizes and styles at dollar stores, all at the $1 price point. Realize we’re not talking museum, or even Target, quality, but that’s the tradeoff: You’d spend a lot more on picture frames at mid-level discounters and department stores.
Those never-used platters some well-meaning soul gave you as a wedding gift many years (or many marriages) ago are long gone. And you really don’t want to buy new ones that will be stored away for most of the year. So what do you do while hosting this year’s family holiday party?
Head to the dollar store. Serving platters are $1, and you won’t feel bad about recycling them after a one-and-done dinner party. Bonus: You’ll likely find said platters sporting snowmen and poinsettias to dress up your holiday gig.
“With everyone dropping off dishes for potlucks during the holiday season, it's not unheard of to find out someone has walked off with your favorite serving plate,” says Ramhold of DealNews.com. “By using the disposables, you won't care if your dish happens to disappear. And since you can find them for around $1 at different dollar stores, it tends to beat bigger grocery store prices.”
Why scrub it when you can bake and toss? Not the lasagna, casseroles and other oven-baked goods, but the vessels they were baked in for holiday entertaining.
Still another use for disposable bakeware: Inexpensive-yet-practical containers for gifts of homemade holiday cookies and cakes. Heather Mann, founder of the thrifty crafting blog DollarStoreCrafts.com, recommends fancying-up those foil pans filled with love with, what else, a festive bow.
“Those boxes and tins for gifting baked goods…can set you back several dollars for just a few of them at other stores,” says Ramhold, “but at dollar stores you can stock up for a relatively low price.”
That’s a large crew coming to your house for the big family celebration. Who wants to spend hours washing dishes? You have a holiday friend at the dollar store.
“If you’re hosting for the holidays, party supplies such as themed paper plates, cups, silverware and more all sell for less at dollar stores than at party retailers or even big-box chains such as Walmart or Target,” says Yarbrough. A 48-pack of plastic forks and other disposable cutlery is $1 at Dollar Tree. At Giant, $1.49 buys you a package of just 24 pieces of cutlery. A 16-pack of 9-inch-square red plates costs $1, or about 6 cents per plate, at Dollar Tree. Walmart sells a 20-pack of red plates for $1.98, or about 10 cents per plate.
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,” says Caroline Thompson, content marketing specialist at deals site BradsDeals.com, “even if someone brings an unexpected guest or two to [holiday dinners].”
So Santa left soot-coated footprints and spilled milk on the rug, eh? Cleanup time. You can do it on the cheap with the right supplies from Dollar Tree – or spend considerably more elsewhere. A caveat: If you’re rigid on brands, you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone.
We tried to match up what Dollar Tree sold versus what a Giant supermarket had in stock. At Dollar Tree, for example, 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. 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.
“Pay attention to sizes and quantities,” says Brent Shelton of FatWallet.com, “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.”
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.
The $1 packets of “heavy duty” batteries we found at a 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, which are on the far side of cool holiday gifts. The best place to buy batteries? In bulk at warehouse clubs such as Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club.
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