Top 9 things you should ALWAYS buy at the Dollar Store!…and the top 3 things to avoid.

I often get asked, “What should I buy from the dollar store?” “What are the best deals at the dollar store?” “Is everything there junk?” “Is everything there a good deal?” My friend posted this post about what to buy from the dollar store way back when, and it had some helpful info in it.

 

Today I made a quick stop at the Dollar Tree, one of my favorite go-to’s for…well…lots of things. Having 3 young kids, I don’t get to go shopping as much as I used to, (downer for me, better for my wallet…)
 so it’s been a while since I’ve been to my favorite store-o-cheapness. As I was walking around I kept saying
 (yes, aloud. I’m totally turning into THAT person…) “Wow, this is great!”…”and this!”… “oh, this is a great deal…”… and it got me thinking…I might as well SHARE these great finds with all of you!
First off…

WHERE do dollar stores get their merchandise?
  • Their products are many times the same products you will find in other stores. 
  • Sometimes products hit the dollar stores because of damage or lack of freshness
  • …BUT they are often just offered cheaper because they operate on slimmer margins than grocery stores.
  • Many items were surplus/over-stock items from a company. That company might even sell their items at a loss to the dollar store, but it’s cheaper than paying taxes, paying for warehousing to hold the items, and frees up their warehouse space for items that will make them profit.
  • Many times their surplus items they buy are surplus because it was last season’s color, or an old style of something.
  • Dollar stores will often buy and sell anything that’s cheap. They will buy entire containers of goods at auction from China, without knowing what’s in them, and will sell whatever ends up in that container. Surprise!
  • Sometimes their products are name-brand products that don’t advertise any more, such as Bon-Ami Cleanser (as explained HERE)
  • Sometimes their products are name-brands products, only smaller. Irish Spring soap, for example, is the exact same bar you’d find in the grocery store…only smaller. Same with their ziplock bags. The box will only cost you $1 (rather than $2 or $3), but you might only have 7 or 10 bags, vs 20.
  • Dollar Stores can sell the SAME items as groceries stores for cheaper, because they have C or B-class locations, so they pay much lower rent than class-A locations.
  • They also have a small, low-wage staff, usually only about 10 jobs per store (as read HERE)
So, all of that being said, Here are some of the best things to buy from the Dollar Store (in my opinion):
1. Bins, Baskets,  and Organization:
Look at all those luscious organizing tools! The possibilities are endless with these babies.
Remember my tub-toy laundry basket trick? These dollar store laundry baskets (top left in pic) come in handy! Sure, they aren’t sturdy enough to hold a heavy load of jeans day after day, but for toys, kids clothes, dog toys, shoes, sports equipment, etc. It could even be your closet catch-all basket.
Their other tubs and bins are amazing also. Perfect for office supplies, toys, your lost-sock basket, gift baskets/bins, closet organizing, etc. You can never have too many bins in my book!
I have been organizing Hutch’s closet, and was going to run to Target to get some square bins. Wouldn’t you know that the dollar store had them in TONS of different shapes and sizes…
…and they are CUTE!
For $1 their bins and baskets are a KILLER deal. Nearly identical ones are at Target. Seriously, why pay more??

2. Pool Toys.

Now, it’s no surprise to anyone that dollar store quality isn’t the best money can buy. So I will say, that is the case with pool toys. “So then, Jordan, why the heck do you recommend we buy them??” Great question! Let me enlighten you with my crazy logic.
Think about it…whether you pay a lot or a little for your pool toys, they tend to get TRASHED by the end of the season. Trust me, I’ve tried deflating or drying them, putting them in a bin in the garage, and holding onto them year after year. It just doesn’t work (for me, anyway)! When I go to blow them up the next year, they are wilted, mis-shapen, stinky, and don’t ever seem to hold their air well any more.
Now, here’s my disclaimer…for FLOTATION devices in the pool, you really get what you pay for and I totally recommend getting the nicer stuff. But when it comes to having cheap, simple, “give my kids something to play with in the pool and I don’t care if they trash them” toys, the dollar store is your place.
And look, they even have Disney goggles!
I’m guessing the quality of these goggles isn’t great, but for $1, can you really complain? P.S…online I found the Cars goggles for $15!!! WHAAAT?!
And of course, you can’t go wrong with the $1 pool noodles. Once again, not the biggest or best around, but for the use that my kids put them to (hitting each other with them in the pool), they serve their purpose at 100%.
Plus…
Rather than taking up valuable room in your garage holding on to those pesky buggers for an entire year, cut them up and use them in your boots like I do!
And heck, I even found baby girl swimsuits there. Once again, it’s no Nike suit, but for a baby girl who hardly moves when in the water and will outgrow it in 5.3 seconds anyway, $1 is a KILLER deal and it will serves it’s purpose just fine.
3. Kitchen and Baking Tools:
Hands-down, if the only thing you walk away with learning from this mile-long post, it’s BUY YOUR DISPOSABLE BAKING PANS AT THE DOLLAR STORE! For the love of pizza, people, you’re crazy if you don’t! They are sturdy, durable, practical, and oh yeah…A DOLLAR!
As I mentioned when making this lasagna completely out of leftovers, if you are going to take the time to cook, then double whatever you’re making, throw 1/2 in a dollar store baking pan, and freeze it! It takes you no extra time, and you’ll have a stock of quick meals in your freezer for those days that you’re tempted to order takeout because you just don’t have time to cook. Every time you go, grab 2 or 3 or 4 of these babies (various sizes). Having a stock on-hand will help you when taking treats/meals to friends, and will save you a butt-load in cooking. (Yes, I just said butt-load. Yes, I might just be 12 years old…)
They also have other great things such as popsicle molds,
Disney sandwich cases,
Cute plates, cups, serving dishes, and bake wear  (ceramic, metal, and plastic)
And they also have kitchen tools that work fine such as whisks, oven mitts, ice cream scoops, measuring cups, table runners, strainers, can openers, wooden spoons, etc. I will also include in this category some cleaning supplies – gloves, sponges, rags. Not mops or big things though, those you need to be pretty sturdy and $1 won’t cut it. But buckets, squeegees, and even some cleaning supplies (I love the dollar store “windex”) are a good deal. (Just learn your prices!)
4. Brushes, Hair Accessories, Mirrors, and Combs:
In High School, one day I dropped yet ANOTHER hand mirror (for the 3rd time in 2 days, it felt like…), and I got SO MAD when I ran to the store and paid over $5 for another crappy mirror…that I was bound to break – yet again – in a matter of time.
I wised up and started buying my mirrors from the dollar store, and I’ve never looked back since! It’s a mirror for dang sake! If you can look in it and see yourself, it works. Whether it’s $1 or $5, it won’t change how your face looks.
Darn it all…
Same with their brushes and combs. I was SHOCKED when I ran to Walmart for a brush (because the handle broke on mine), and I looked at the price tags. They are robbing you if you pay that much! I’m sure some hair stylists will disagree. I believe in good shampoo/conditioner, but when it comes to combs, mirrors, and brushes, the dollar store is MORE than ok for my needs.
My daughter LOVES accessories. LAST NIGHT I was at Walmart and paid $3.50 for a small pack of cheap headbands. Today I went to the dollar store…and saw a nearly identical pack…yes, for $1. Doh!
You better believe Walmart will be getting a pack of cheap headbands returned to them in the next few days!  The dollar store’s hair accessories, clips, claws, and headbands work perfectly fine – especially for young girls.
5. Makeup
This one may shock many of you…but I LOVE dollar store makeup! Not all of it of course, but many of it works great. If you watched how I do my makeup you’ll see that I’m an advocate for buying a good primer, then using cheap eyeshadow. The primer makes it so that even the cheapest of cheap-o eyeshadow stays on all day and looks vibrant.
As I explained above, many times their products are surplus, or out-of-date colors. I have bought many a lip gloss, lipstick, eyeliner, lipliner, makeup pencil sharpeners, and eyeshadow from the dollar store. And guess what? I get complimented on my makeup all the time. Same goes with cotton face pads, swabs, sponge applicators, and cotton balls. They seem to work just fine. However, I am picky about my Q-tips and hate flimsy Q-tips…
Moving on…
As you can see in the above picture, nail items are also great! The gold-ish nail polish duo you’re seeing? It’s Maybeline. It’s probably an old or overstock product, or is an outdated color. But for $1? Not bad! Nail polish remover is also great here. I haven’t tried their tweezers, so I’ll have to try them sometime…
My advice? Try it! If you don’t like it, you’re only out $1. If you do like it, you’ve saved yourself many dollars. *Just remember that you can’t return or exchange things to dollar stores, so don’t go too crazy.
Oh, and I’m not sure what category to put this in…but…PREGNANCY TESTS! They are a great deal here, and yes, they work. Don’t trust it? Buy two, take two tests, and you’ll STILL save yourself tons.
6. Art and Craft Supplies:
I could go on and on about the great finds at the dollar store in terms of art and crafting. They have great wreath forms (used many times like HERE and HERE), poster board for a good deal, and as shown above, they have pony beads (great deal), and paints for the kids for a fair deal.
They have stickers and foam stickers, popsicle sticks, and wiggly eyes – all great for crafts with the kids, all for a good deal – especially the wiggly eyes!

Many dollar store items – anything from plastic shot glasses to puff balls, coloring books, beads, and charms – SAVE ME on long road trips (as shown here).
While you can get big boxes of crayons for a better deal at stores like Walmart, I have to say that I love their simple, small packs (great for road trips). They even have Disney ones, and I love their double-sided jumbo crayons like these for my 2yo:
These gem rocks are the cheapest I’ve seen anywhere else. They are fun for projects with the kids, to put in center pieces and candle vase thingies (technical term, yes), and even a project like THIS wreath.

7. Office and Classroom Supplies:

I think one of the most overlooked isle is the CLASSROOM isle! Many dollar stores have an area dedicated to charts, bulletin board borders and signs, calendars (as shown above), charts (as shown below), and other helpful tools to use…whether you are a teacher or NOT! I use these types of calendars and charts all the time for when organizing, teaching my kids, decorating their play room, or working on behavior.
Their dry erase boards and markers are a GREAT deal at just $1. I picked myself up one of these cute calendar dry-erase boards. It even has magnets on the back, perfect for meal planning and grocery shopping.
Now, with the office supplies, you just have to know your prices. A small box of pencils are the dollar store, while only $1 obviously, might not be the best deal around because it probably has LESS pencils than a box of pencils on sale at Walmart near back-to-school time.
BUT – in general, many of their office items are a good deal. What caught my eye here were the calculators and sticky notes. $1 for a pack of 6 mini sticky pads is a great deal. And really, who doesn’t need more sticky notes??
I will advise you to avoid their spiral notebooks and packets of loose-leaf paper. You can get much BIGGER packets/notebooks for $1 or less at your local store, especially during back-to-school time. Just watch the sales.

8. Some toys.

When I say “toys”, I’m not talking a “here’s your one and only super amazing birthday present this year, Johnny! I hope you treasure and use it for always!” toy. I’m talking about your SMALL toy; the one that’s perfect for stocking stuffers, road trips, behavior rewards, goodie bags for birthday parties, festivals, etc.
For $1, you can make a kid’s whole universe by introducing them to random knockoff barbie, poorly-painted pony, or the baby bottle with the disappearing milk (my daughter STILL gets a kick out of that thing months later). I have been able to stock and re-stock my son’s green army guy supply, Priya’s play kitchen with small dollar store packs of plastic kitchen food, and even some small doll house furniture. No, they aren’t going to be toys to pass down to your grand kids, but yes, they will do the trick in entertaining your kids for a while.
I love stocking up on travel games and anything magnetic for road trips and keeping them quiet in church.
Oh, and I will say that if you have a small dog, the pet toys are a good deal too. My 100lb dog would eat them in 2.3 seconds, but for the little guys, great bargain.
9. Holiday and Party Supplies:

Mylar balloons, streamers (2 for $1!), vinyl table cloths, gift bags, tissue paper, bows, greeting cards, basket fillers, party signs (especially around holidays), favor bags/boxes, party favors, and decorations. You name it, they’ve got it – all for a great price. They even wedding and baby stuff!
As I mentioned in the toy section, this is my go-to place for party favors, like for my son’s birthday party:
Or even this party favor that I made for my friends’ bridal shower:


So there you have it! Those are only SOME of the things that I regularly buy from the dollar store. Now, the big question…

Things to AVOID buying at the dollar store:
  1. Most food. Mainly the canned food, but you have to be careful with bagged food, baking goods, seasonings, frozen. Much of it is higher price than the grocery store. So just grocery shop like I do and you’ll get things MUCH cheaper…and probably better quality. However, I will say the dollar stores often times carry brands or items that grocery stores no longer carry which is helpful. But in terms of every-day groceries, I say avoid the dollar store!
  2. Vitamins and medication. I’m sorry, I just don’t trust them. But ultimately, the price-per-pill isn’t that great. Buy that kind of stuff at Costco and you’ll get a better value.
  3. Electronics of any kind. Do I really need to explain why a $1 electronic is not a good investment?

WHEEW!
So next time you go to one of my favorite hangouts (aka the dollar store), be aware of what you’re tossing into that little green cart so you don’t walk away carelessly spending your hard earned dollars.

What do YOU love buying from the dollar store? Leave a comment and share!

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Comments

  1. Tara says

    You forgot the absolute best thing… Pregnancy tests! Those things are so accurate, and so easy to buy a big handful of for those times you are really trying and not wanting to pay $9 a stick! Or when you find out you are pregnant and want to keep testing over and over cause you can't believe it's real! Love me some $Store HPTs!

  2. funcheaporfree says

    Yes I snuck it in by the beauty section, but I'll highlight it more. Thanks for the suggestion!!

  3. sal4gal says

    Your timing is perfect! This is our weekend for the grandkids and a visit to the Dollar Store saves our sanity. They are always so excited to see what treasures we have for them. I have already been outside with them 3 times today. 7 y.o. Josh calls them G'ma activities. Hmmm . . . I think that I have as much fun as the kids do. Pinterest and the $1 store make the perfect team.

  4. dawn says

    Love your blog!! I make a holiday dip that is awesome with Bugles…I can't find them anywhere but the dollar store or Big Lots…so there is ONE food item not to avoid! =)

  5. Carly says

    Baby girl bathing suits killer deal! I bought 2 for my 8 mo. Old and they're perfect for what she'll use them for! Great post!
    Happy weekend !
    xoxo Carly

  6. Kellee says

    Fantastic post! I didn't know they're now carrying those bins. Guess who will be in the Dollar Tree Tomorrow? Another great use for the gem rocks is in the bottom of any container or vase. I then stick my makeup brushes in there. It holds them up and keeps them organized.

  7. KDonaldson says

    Be careful with the pot holders and over mitts!! I've had one catch on fire in my hand just when I reached into the oven. It didn't even hit the burner or anything.

    And thank you for the article! Lots of good info!! I totally agree about the pregnancy tests. They are actually what most hospitals as and doctor's offices use.

  8. jenniferdschrauth says

    I totally agree with all of your do's and I'm so glad to see other people saying hey, it's OK to buy a lot of your stuff there. However, I would disagree with saying no to all of the food. Yeah, a lot of their stuff there is gross off brands and not a great deal, but a couple of things there I've found for a good price including condiments (which can be bought on sale for a good price but usually not for a dollar) but most importantly bread. Yes, you can buy cheap-o store brand white bread for a dollar or less at any given time at most stores, but I've been able to find wheat Nature's Own at my Dollar Tree which is usually 2-5 dollars in my area, 2 being the best sale I've seen. Usually the bread is a couple of days away from its use by date, but I've never had any go bad on me, and slightly stale bread can be used for French toast and other breakfasty things. For me it's worth it to be able to get wheat instead of white and avoid high fructose corn syrup.

  9. Janice says

    I love this post! We LOVE Dollar Tree or as my daughter calls it "Da Tree!" We make regular trips and she loves it because it typically means she'll get something special if she's good! I don't suggest bribing your kids but it just happens that's the store I like to buy crafting stuff, flash cards and other little keep her busy toys so she thinks it's some fun exciting face! Also, I use the baskets for organizing my chest freezer and it makes my life WAY easier! Another thing at our store at least they have those little folding stackable shelves and I found while they aren't the most sturdy they do what I need them to underneath our sink in the bathroom!

  10. funcheaporfree says

    That's great to know; I will have to keep an eye out for bread at my store! Thanks for sharing!

  11. lemniskate says

    I'm with Jennifer above – most of this I agree with, but not the food. You can often find recognizable brand names (campbells soups, for one thing) that are a really good deal in the food aisle; I also usually get my worcestshire sauce and condiments there that I'm not going to use very often. And while we don't go nuts buying it, their candy is usually a good deal. i stay away from cookies and chips and crackers because the off brands just don't seem to measure up, but at the same time, I've seen national brands offered, too. We get their generic fig newtons though, and the blueberry and apple versions as well, and they're very good. And Dollar Tree sells big three liter bottles of soda, too – which, of course, I'm recommending in moderation, getting it cheap isn't an excuse to drink it like water. Which is another thing you can get there cheap -bottled water, in big containers.

    Another thing I like to do is get a BUNCH of those stretchy little gloves when winter rolls around. My son loses them all the time, and this way i just grab another pair for him (or another single glove; I try to get the plainest, black or navy so we can both use them :) ).

    Oh, and dishes! No, they're not going to be great quality, but especially for crafts – I found these really nice stemless wine glasses at the dollar tree and they're great. Over the door hooks too, and mesh laundry bags, all mine came from the dollar store. And the "home improvement" aisle is a great source for sponge paint brushes, since even the good ones don't last more than a couple of projects.

  12. says

    I love the Dollar Tree especially of all the Dollar Stores.. I buy most of my cleaners there.. For the most part, I use all natural homemade cleaners but there are sometimes I just cant. I buy bleach a couple times a year, I buy a lot of ammonia there, and I buy their LAs Totally AWESOME! And it IS AWESOME!
    I use it as a grease & strain remover because regular name brand wont work on my stains.. I had 2 laundry baskets full of tee shirts & blouses that had been washed & dried multiple times when I had used name brand stain removers to no avail. I finally decided to try the AWeSOME, which works on all sorts of things.. I sprayed, let sit for 30 minutes, then washed in hot water.. Almost every one came clean.. those that didnt, I reapplied & washed & it came clean the second time. Im sure this stuff is fairly toxic and Im normally an organic kinda gal, but I'll make an exception for this stuff.
    I use it in my carpet cleaner too.. Its amazing how well it works.. better than having Sears Proff Cleaners out. True story.

    I also get some foods there but not many. I especially buy their boxed chicken & beef broth. but I always check where they're made. Last time I looked, they were made in Canada. I'll take it. I dont buy anything food-wise that was made in China.. or if something only says "packaged in USA or Canada" but doesnt say where it originated, I wont buy it either.
    I get pretzel sticks there for M'honey.. They're cheaper there than anywhere else.

    My recent post Week 5 CSA

  13. Alex says

    I absolutely love the dollar store! When my husband and I were first engaged and living in our new apartment I couldn't afford to decorate it. So every holiday our decorations came from there. I still have figurines from there I use in sets ups today! I do have to disagree with you about the food. Although some of the stuff may be smaller (name brand wise) If you check the expiration, the food is fine. Also, dollar tree and places like deals now accept manf. coupons, so you are getting that product for free. I love your post, glad you shared your ideas, I am going on a road trip in a week and using some of your ideas, Thanks!

  14. Megan says

    The BEST deal on pregnancy tests are the Wondfo Pregnancy Test Strips from Amazon. Way less than a dollar each and amazingly accurate. So yes, if you're desperate to check THIS MINUTE absolutely head to the dollar store, but if you're in the process of trying to get pregnant stock up on the strips instead.

  15. Kelsey says

    I know this is from a month ago, but I used to buy tons of those prego tests & the same exact ones are at walmart for $0.86 (ish)! When you're buying a ton, even 14 cents is a big deal, not even mentioning tax on them all! =]
    My recent post The Struggles It Takes..

  16. lovetruthpeace says

    Great Tips…but I found your site to be slow to load and actually made my comp run high! Maybe due to all the ads or the heavy picture usage, not sure. Just wanted to pass it along. I'll stay to read some but probably not as often as I'd like ;)

  17. lISA says

    Great post!!! I LOVE the Dollar Tree! I have to say, in regards to your comment about no returns or exchanges, I have never ever had a problem with exchanging items. They won’t give you your money back but even though it’s a dollar i hang onto all my receipts and wait til i have a bag full of things i didn’t need (exchanges) and do it all in one shot. Go back and get more things and the end price tag of course exceeds the amount of items i’ve brought back. But, OF COURSE!!

  18. Samantha says

    Your right Jordan, I wouldn’t and don’t even tempt to buy the food there. But all that other stuff you talked about is right on! Thank you for this post! And ALL your wonderful tips in life

  19. says

    In the beauty supplies you can find everything from facemasks, pore strips and antiwrinkle gel patches. Even Acne meds, that are National Brand Equivilant. Buying this stuff at a store or even a boutique is not in the budget for most, but getting it at the dollar store, well… Beauty can be affordable for everyone.

  20. Marisa says

    Our dollar tree has essie nail polish strips! I love those, they are awesome! The other makeup items I dont use because I have really sensitive skin, but wanted to mention you can use coupons at the dollar tree. Rubbermaid boxes are almost always free, and we almost always have coupons for them! We also buy our cokes there and candy before going to theaters and gum! Colgate wisps have gone up in price around me and I use them a lot so I buy them there but im sure it isnt something most people use! I love buying my son books and coloring books and toy cars, the puzzles we tried but the pieces dont fit together flat! We also buy paper plates(the colorful birthday ones in the 20pk) every week and the huge pack of disposable spoons every time we go, they have the cheapest plates of everyone and I think they are as good as chinet. Also their normal dishes arent bad either, just dont microwave them!! We buy our bleach and oven cleaner, holiday supplies, flashlights for the kids to playwith, and anything we want there, lol we go to the dollar tree at least twice a week because it is right next door anytimr we need anything

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