5 Tips for Shopping at Dollar Stores

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eHow Money Blog

As consumers embrace frugality, dollar store shopping is shedding its down-market reputation in many circles. “You see more mainstream shoppers heading to the dollar stores,” says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “It’s kind of cool to be frugal and thrifty.” In fact, Retailing Today reports that one player in this market, Dollar General, is slated to open a record 700 new stores in 2014. The retailer’s total sales increased by more than 10 percent during the third quarter of last year, reaching $4.38 billion.

Dollar store goods can be appealing because they’re so cheap (take it from a self-identified cheapskate), but Woroch cautions that these low prices sometimes lead to poor purchasing decisions. “You buy it and realize you don’t really need it,” she says. “They have strict return policies, so it’s a waste of money in the end.” Here’s a look at strategies for smarter shopping at deep discounters.

1. Buy disposable items. For items with a short lifespan (party favors at a kid’s birthday, greeting cards, wrapping paper, balloons, plastic containers for storing leftovers) or that are easily lost (bobby pins, pens) dollar store purchases make a lot of sense. “The gift wrap quality might not be as nice but considering that someone’s going rip it open in a few minutes, what’s the point of spending more?” Woroch points out.

2. Shop elsewhere for long-term purchases. For items that you need to last (kitchen appliances, electronics, knives), consider shopping elsewhere, even if it means spending a little more for better quality and durability. In some cases, “knives [from a dollar store] aren’t going to be as sharp,” Woroch says.

3.Consider the price per ounce. Sometimes cheaper prices equate to smaller packages, so for toiletries and food, use a cell phone calculator to check the price per ounce. “It takes a little bit of comparison shopping,” Woroch says, adding that in some cases, you can get a bigger container for a comparable price elsewhere, especially when items go on sale.

4.Check the quality. A cheap but low-quality item may not be such a great deal after all. Toys for kids or pets can be dangerous if they’re low quality and break apart, creating a choking hazard. Check the expiration date on food or toiletries before you buy. For fabric items (t-shirts, Christmas stockings), check the seams to see if they’re starting to pull apart. “If you come across kitchen towels or oven mitts, see how thick and durable they are,” Woroch says. “If it feels flimsy, it’s not going to last a long time.” She’s found that cotton swabs tend to be cheaper but flimsier at a dollar store than at other retailers, so if sturdiness is important to you, consider paying a little more.

5.Look for coupons. Before heading to a dollar store, search online for coupons. Some retailers post printable or mobile coupons on their websites or through social media, and those coupons can lower prices even further. Sometimes stores may also hold sales, which they’ll promote through their websites or social media.

Photo credit: Getty Thinkstock

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