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What to buy at the dollar store (and what to avoid)

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By Trae Bodge/

If you're like me, you enter your neighborhood dollar store intending to quickly grab one or two things. Instead, you end up slowly roaming the aisles for an hour, checking out absolutely everything. After all, you don't want to miss an amazing $1 deal!

Here are a few things to keep in mind for your next trip:

  • Not everything at the dollar store is actually $1, so check prices.
  • Sometimes you get what you pay for -- low price can equal low quality.
  • Dollar stores often receive odd lots or overstocks. Keep that in mind before purchasing -- check for quality, damages and expiration dates (when applicable).

Click ahead for a look at some items that can be great finds at dollar stores, and other kinds of purchases that are best left to other retailers.

What to buy: ​Plant supplies, like clay pots, glass marbles, etc.


These are usually a great bargain at a dollar store versus home improvement stores. I would, however, avoid gardening tools, as the quality probably isn't there.

What to buy: ​​Packing tape

Serghei Platonov/iStockphoto

I always make a point of picking up a roll or two at the dollar store. The rolls can be a bit shorter than at the office supply store, but for $1 vs. at least three times that, it's a good deal.

What to buy: ​Decorative gift bags


You can usually get plain gift bags pretty cheaply at stores like Target and Kmart, especially if you buy a package of multiples, but those shiny bags festooned with pictures of balloons or holiday ornaments? Those can go for $3 and up versus $1 at the dollar store.

What to buy: ​Hair accessories, like coated elastics and hair combs


These are $1 a bunch at the dollar store and are at least $2.50 at the drugstore. The quality of the elastics can be a bit questionable at the dollar store, though, so give them a good tug before buying.

What to buy: ​Toothbrushes and toothpaste


If you find brand names at the dollar store for $1, grab them. Be sure to check the expiration date on the toothpaste, though.

What to buy: ​Beach reading and coloring books


You probably won't find The New York Times best sellers at the dollar store, but a good trashy novel? Yes. Coloring or activity books are also a good buy at the dollar store, but I would skip those that come with markers or crayons, which may be dried out or of poor quality.

What to buy: ​Foam core


School project? If you can find foam core for $1 or even $2 at the dollar store, grab it. I've seen it priced between $3 and $12 elsewhere.

What to buy: ​Mylar balloons


If your local dollar store sells and inflates balloons for $1, this is a great deal. The balloon or floral store will charge more.

What to buy: ​​Cotton balls/pads


If they are 100 percent cotton and $1, get them. Only get cotton swabs at the dollar store if they are brand name.

What to avoid: ​Perishable & packaged foods and candy


Freshness and quality can be questionable, so I would proceed with caution. Check expiration dates and ingredients and inspect for damage before purchasing.

What to avoid: ​​Power strips, USBs, chargers and earbuds

Anton Starikov/iStockphoto

Avoid buying anything that you plug into your beloved smart devices at the dollar store. The quality is probably not up to snuff, so don't take the risk.

What to avoid: ​​​Plastic food containers


Especially if you are in the habit of microwaving food in plastic containers or putting them in the dishwasher (both of which I advise against), do not buy plastic containers at the dollar store. The quality may be substandard.

What to avoid: ​Sunscreen


Only buy sunscreen if the expiration date is a couple years away (allowing for time it may have already sat on the shelf), as SPF tends to degrade over time. Also check for a seal. If there isn't an expiration date or seal, skip it.

What to avoid: ​Detergents and cleaning products


Like sunscreen, the efficacy of cleaning products can degrade over time. Best to skip unless there's an expiration date that is a couple of years away.

What to avoid: ​Makeup, toiletries and medicines

Volodimir Khomiakov/iStockphoto

I'd pretty much skip this category. It's rare to find name-brand products anyway, and if you do find name brands, they could be pretty old.

What to avoid: ​​Toys and games


These are usually made very cheaply. Your child will delighted for a minute until the toy falls apart. Rubber and plastic balls are good, though.

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