Some purchases in life are almost painful to make. You buy wrapping paper knowing full well that it will be torn apart and tossed out. You buy glitter, glue, construction paper, paints and more for your toddler to create an artistic masterpiece, knowing that most of these items will end up in the trash within days or even hours.
Thank heavens for stores like Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar! Because they stock these needed but short-lived items for such low prices, it’s less terrible to almost literally throw away your money.
But these discount stores sell a wide range of goods, and some of them aren’t the kind of products you should be skimping on. Here’s a quick list of five items you should always buy at a store like Dollar Tree — and five that you should think twice before spending even one dollar.
What to Buy
At most stores, a typical Hallmark birthday card will set you back about $4 or $5 — or more. But at Dollar Tree, greeting cards are either $1 or two for $1. If you stock up on greeting cards at a discount store, you’ll have more money in your budget to put toward an actual gift.
Stores like Party City and Publix charge at least $1.74 per inflated latex balloon — and considerably more for foil balloons. Dollar Tree charges just $1 for a filled helium balloon, no matter what kind.
Planning a St. Patrick’s Day party? Skip stores like Target and head to a dollar store. With everything at just $1 (or $1.25), you can buy more for less.
“Dollar Tree has a good bit of seasonal items for different holidays,” Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst, told GoBankingRates. “And it won’t cost you a fortune, even if you buy everything in that section.”
Arts and Crafts Supplies
If you’re a parent, you will need poster board at some point — and dollar stores carry it in every color. They also have construction paper, crayons, colored pencils, erasers, sticky notes, glitter glue, feathers, beads, foam shapes, stickers and lots of other craft supplies that your kids can use to explore their creative side without hurting your wallet.
Dishtowels, Sponges and Rubber Kitchen Gloves
You’re supposed to toss out kitchen sponges every two to three weeks to prevent bacteria build-up, so that’s an item to buy regularly at low cost, if possible. And rubber gloves are disposable kitchen products that also land in the trash every few weeks.
Plus, as anyone with a vacation home knows, a dollar store is a great place to snag the items you need to stock your second kitchen inexpensively. Get measuring cups, glass bowls, napkins, sandwich bags and sponges here.
What to Skip
Dollar stores tend to sell carbon-zinc batteries — not the longer-lasting alkaline name brands.
“While the prices are enticing, they just don’t last and end up costing you more money than buying Duracell, Energizer, or even the Kirkland brand at Costco,” Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com, told Kiplinger.
Beauty Products, Toiletries and Medicine
The problem with buying personal care items like lotions is that they may contain ingredients that expire. And dollar stores aren’t known for their fresh merchandise.
“If something is not a name brand, skip it, especially with skin care products, and especially those with SPF, which tends to degrade over time,” smart shopping expert Trae Bodge told Kiplinger. “It’s hard to tell how long these products have been sitting on the shelves, and it’s not worth the risk.”
The same applies to medications that might be past their prime. In 2019, Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar had to pay fines and damages of $1.2 million after they were caught selling expired products.
Family Dollar closed more than 400 stores in 2022 after dead rats were found in a warehouse storing food, cosmetics and medical products for the chain. Earlier this year, Family Dollar recalled Advil that had been stored outside of the recommended temperature range.
“Anything for internal use, like vitamins, should be skipped,” Bodge said. “Don’t take any chances — just shop at the pharmacy, a big box store or wholesale warehouse for those.”
Good-quality electrical cords and cables meet certain safety standards. Cords and cables bought at a dollar store are made from flimsy materials, so they are more likely to stretch and rip, which can lead to a fire hazard. Some have even been known to contain dangerous chemicals.
“Most electronics that plug in are junk and don’t last long, especially HDMI cords and power strips,” consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch told GoBankingRates. “When dealing with electronics, it’s best to purchase from a legit electronic retailer or an online store like Amazon for cheaper prices.”
Technically, you can eat the food sold at dollar stores, and in some regions they are even the primary source of groceries, including fresh produce and dairy. But if that’s not the case in your area, you should be careful when you shop for food.
“With perishable and packaged foods (including candy and drinks), freshness and quality can be questionable, so I would proceed with caution, unless the food is in a can (canned goods have a longer shelf life than other packaging options),” Bodge told Kiplinger.
Bodge did make an exception for canned goods, which often have a longer shelf life than food packaged in a box or bag. If you do choose to buy food at a dollar store, just make sure to check the expiration date.
“Also, while I’m pro-generic at the grocery store, in this case, I would opt for name brands over generics,” Bodge said.
Overall, grocery stores may still be better for food because they can offer lower prices for trusted store brands. Plus, you can get deals on canned and other goods that dollar stores won’t offer.
Not all hand sanitizers are created equal, and some of them may even contain harmful substances. In fact, a few years ago the FDA found that several hand sanitizers being sold at Dollar Tree and Family Dollar were unsafe; they were later recalled due to undeclared toxic chemicals. In Dollar Tree’s case, that included methanol — which can cause serious health effects when people (especially children) are exposed to it.
What to buy and what to skip on your next trip to Dollar Tree by Jennifer Graham Kizer originally appeared on Don't Waste Your Money