Q: I love browsing dollar stores but often end up spending more than planned or regretting purchases. Are dollar stores worth the price?

A: Dollar stores can be spending traps, but they can also be a great way to snag bargains. It’s all in how you plan.  Read on to learn how to get the best deal at the dollar store.

Before you start browsing

Before you head to the dollar store, create a list of what you need. It’s also smart to set a limit of how many just-for-fun items you’ll throw into your cart. If you always find yourself pushing your self-imposed limit, only bring cash so you’re forced to stick to the budget.

What’s hot at the dollar store …

Here are some products that are great bargains at the dollar store:

  • Cleaning supplies: Ajax, bleach, glass cleaner, scouring pads, spray bottles, sponges, dryer sheets and ammonia.
  • Seasonal: Holiday decorations, gift boxes and wrapping paper.
  • Toys: Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, balls, card games, and kites.
  • Groceries: Frozen fruit and veggies, string cheese, spices, name-brand condiments, rice, oatmeal, and snack foods.
  • Kitchenware: Storage bins and containers, whimsical kitchen décor and glasses. Paper plates, cups, and napkins can also be bought for just a buck each.
  • Party gear: Greeting cards, wrapping paper, balloons, streamers, birthday candles, party decorations, and gift bags.
  • School/office supplies: Project display boards, tab dividers, binder clips, and poster boards.
  • Kids’ activities: Books, puzzles, craft supplies, activity books, coloring books and more.

… And what’s not

Skip these products in the dollar store:

  • Some cleaning supplies: These dollar-store cleaning supplies are either made too cheaply to be worth it or can be bought elsewhere for less: dishwashing soap, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, laundry detergent.
  • Toys: Small toys for young children that are cheaply made can be choking hazards.
  • Groceries: These foods can be bought cheaper in a grocery store: pasta, soda, gum, canned goods, chocolate.
  • Kitchenware: Plastic cutlery from the dollar store is too cheaply made to be worth itAlso stay away from can openers, knives and oven mitts, as these items need to be well made to do their jobs.
  • School/office supplies: The following supplies can be bought for less in stores like Walmart: lined paper, composition notebooks, glue, crayons, pens, pencils, and highlighters.  
  • Self-care: Cheaply made soap, shampoo and cosmetics can be harmful to your skin.

When it’s not a bargain

If your dollar-store item fits any of these criteria, you’re better off without it:

  1. It’s sold in tiny quantities.
  2. It’s made with harmful toxins.
  3. You don’t need it.
  4. It’s made super-cheaply and won’t last.
  5. It isn’t food-safe.