Bad dollars store buys

Worst Dollar Store Buys

Dollar stores are great places to find bargains on any number of household needs but you can't always assume that, just because it's only $1, you're automatically getting the most bang for your buck. Prices and quantities may vary according to stores in your town, but going by my shopping list, here are 10 things you might want to go elsewhere for:

  • Toothpaste

    This is one of the things left on the shelf at the dollar store. A 2.54 ounce tube of tartar control or cavity protection Crest or Colgate cost a buck, obviously, and that seems like a lot less than you'd pay for a full-sized tube in your local drugstore.

    But the same brands, in the same size, cost only 63 cents a tube at my local Wal-Mart store, so it still pays to shop around and read your local store flyers to find the sales and the best everyday prices for your favorite brand of toothpaste.

    A word of caution when buying toothpaste at the dollar store: Don't buy unknown brands and be careful of boxes that look like name brands but actually aren't. Toothpaste was one of the household items to get caught up in the tainted products from China scare of the past several years. Toothpaste containing diethylene glycol, a sweet, syrupy poison used to make antifreeze, was found in several dollar stores.

  • Nestle bottled water

    If it's not environmental concerns that are stopping you from drinking a lot of bottled water, it's the price. You used to be able to get bottled water everywhere for much less than a dollar, but now prices have gone up so much that it's hard to justify the purchase. So it's easy to see why people would gravitate to dollar stores to find a bargain. I can get four 16.9 oz. bottles of water for $1 at the dollar store. That's great, but, if you use a lot of bottled water, it's better to buy it by the case.

    Wal-Mart often has sales on this brand, selling a case of 24 bottles for $2.65, which means you're only paying 11 cents a bottle, as opposed to 25 cents at the dollar store. Costco sells Nestle bottled water in a case of 35, 16.9 oz. bottles for $4.95 or 14 cents per bottle, a significant savings over the dollar store.

  • 1-ply napkins

    At a penny a piece, getting 100 napkins for a buck is a pretty good deal. But, as with many things, the more you buy, the more you'll save. Buy a package of 350 napkins at Wal-mart for $2.94 and you pay less than a penny per napkin. If you've got kids and go through a lot of paper products, the savings can really add up.

    Of course, if you head over to the kitchen products aisle and buy some cloth table napkins that you can re-use, you might find an even better bargain. Even if you pay $1 for each one, you'll end up saving money down the road. On a similar note, my dollar store sells Scotties Supreme 3-ply Tissues for $1 a box but, if you buy in bulk at Costco, you'll get 15 boxes of tissues for only 92 cents a box, a savings of 8 cents over the dollar store price.

  • Sandwich bags

    The dollar store sells Hefty zipper seal sandwich bags in a package of 13 for $1 or about 8 cents per bag but, again, it pays to buy in bulk. Costco sells Ziploc sandwich bags, four packages of 150 bags each, for $12.58. That means each sandwich bag costs only 2 cents each. And, if you pack lunches on a regular basis, you won't soon run out with 600 bags on hand.

    Plastic containers, however, are a better deal and certainly a lot easier on the environment. You can buy sturdy sandwich keepers for $1 each at dollar stores. Just make sure the family returns them to you at the end of the school/work day and you'll save a bundle over sandwich bags.

  • Sugar substitute

    Sugar Twin comes in a box of 40 packets for $1 at the dollar store. Wal-Mart sells Sweet 'n Low in boxes of 100 packets for $2.25 and you can get 800 packets of Equal at Costco for $16.84. Compare the costs: .025 cents at the dollar store, .023 cents at Wal-Mart and .021 cents at Costco. Not huge savings but every little bit helps, and if you prefer one of the bigger brands, you'll want to head to one of the big superstores.

    Dollar stores are known for having mostly off-brand merchandise. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. It's good if the quality is comparable to a name-brand but costs a lot less and it's bad when you end up throwing something out because it's terrible. A bargain is only a bargain if you're getting quality for the money. My motto is: try it once and if you like it, buy it again, if you don't, you're only out $1 and now know to avoid that product.

  • Foam cups & plates

    Also an essential on your party-planning list. At the dollar store, a stack of 20 foam plates (9-inch size) are just 5 cents per plate. You'd pay $4 for 80 plates at the dollar store but a package of 75 plates at Wal-Mart costs $2.75 or just under 4 cents a plate. You save $1.25 for only five fewer plates.

    You can get a lot of cheap party ware at a dollar store, but going for the lasting products -- a set of plastic or china dinner plates -- might not be your best option for a party, especially if you're hosting a large gathering like a wedding.

  • Bag candy

    Got a sweet tooth? You're better off buying a 2 lb. tub of jujubes or gummy worms at Wal-mart for $2.94. You'd be paying $4 for the same amount of candy at the dollar store because there, an 8 oz. bag costs a buck.

    So, if you want to buy enough to treat the family, leave those four 8 oz bags on the shelf and save $1.06 by buying the 2lb tub. How sweet is that?

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