11 Foolish Ways People Waste Money at Dollar Stores

Dollar stores may be good places to help you save money, but you may be surprised by the amount of cash you can waste there as well.
Last updated Dec. 3, 2022 | By Jenny Cohen | Edited By Ellen Cannon
Dollar Tree store entrance

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Dollar stores are a great place to shop if you’re trying to stick to a budget, but you also could be throwing money away with your dollar-store purchases.

You may think you’re getting a good deal, but sometimes the cheaper item at the dollar store may not be the best option.

So, when you’re browsing through the dollar-store aisles, here are a few things to remember to make sure you keep every dollar you can in your pocket.

Buying small sizes

Brastock Images/Adobe brunette with curly hair buying shampoo in supermarket

You may be excited to find affordable prices for things like toothpaste or shampoo, but check the size of those items before you buy.

You may be surprised that the dollar-store version is smaller than what you can find at other stores, which means you may have to pay more per ounce for an item that you will use up quickly.

Impulse buys

pixels_poet/Adobe woman picking up artificial green plant for home decoration at retail shop

You may think you’re getting a great deal if you buy this one item for a low, low price, but what happens when you fill your cart with all those items?

Grabbing items on impulse can be expensive, even at the dollar store. One item here or there is cheap, you think, but all those purchases can add up. 

Instead, keep an eye on your budget as you shop to make sure you don’t go overboard with purchases.

Buying items that are cheaper elsewhere

Gorodenkoff/Adobe woman checks nutritional value of strawberry jam

You may think everything is so super cheap at a dollar store that you don’t have to comparison shop, but you might be wrong.

It’s a good idea to take note of items you buy on a regular basis and compare the costs to similar items at a dollar store.

Getting cheaply-made items

Krakenimages.com/Adobe girl toddler playing with toys on the carpet

Dollar stores are affordable because they may not use the highest quality standards to create products. Keep that in mind when you’re buying products like toys, housewares, and such. 

You may be surprised at how quickly these items could fall apart with minimal use, particularly toys in the hands of kids.

Buying fresh products

Gorodenkoff/Adobe guy with basket shopping for organic fruits and vegetables

Dollar stores can be good places to buy canned foods and other shelf-stable or nonperishable items. You can even stock up on snacks like chips and crackers from your local dollar store.

But skip any perishable items you may find at your local dollar store. Some foods may be past their expiration date or are about to go bad, which means you could end up wasting money on food that you won’t be able to eat before it expires.

Assuming everything is a dollar

luciano/Adobe senior woman selecting grocery items in a row of the supermarket

Just because it’s a dollar store doesn’t mean everything costs a dollar. In fact, some stores have been quietly increasing prices on items throughout their stores and you may not notice the change until you get to the checkout counter.

Keep an eye on prices as you grab things from the shelves, and make sure there isn’t a note or price tag that mentions a higher price.

Not comparison shopping

lado2016/Adobe man shopping in supermarket reading product information

It may be a good idea to comparison-shop before you assume that everything at a dollar store is more affordable. While you want to find ways to save money on groceries, a dollar store may not be the answer.

Check your local grocery or drug stores for things like paper products, nonperishable foods, cleaning products, and more to see if you can get them cheaper. 

It’s also a good idea to do a little math and compare the price-per-ounce cost. The price for a larger size at another store may be less than the dollar store choice.

Missing the dollar section at other retailers

anoushkatoronto/Adobe festive decoration sold at Walmart mall

Places like Target and Walmart have dollar sections in their stores that are packed with little household items, toys, and small electronics. You may even find nice seasonal decor in the section.

These large retailers may pack their dollar sections with unique items that have the same or better quality at an affordable price. Don’t skip these sections and just assume you can get the same thing at your local dollar stores.

Making compromises

David Prahl/Adobe woman wrapping Christmas presents at table in home

Dollar stores may not have the same selection as other stores, so while items might be cheaper, there are fewer options to choose from.

For example, gift bags and wrapping paper may not have as many designs or colors at a dollar store compared to a retail store. And food items like snacks or canned foods won’t have as many choices at a dollar store compared to a local grocery store.

Buying everything there

Mediteraneo/Adobe family with child and shopping cart buying food at grocery store

Dollar stores are great for some products, but you can’t completely replace a trip to a local retailer.

You may have to pay a little more per item, but it’s probably a good idea to skip a dollar store for grocery shopping in favor of your local grocery store. Things like coupons and frequent-shopper cards could help you make up the difference.

Certain kitchen items may break easily if they’re from a dollar store, so it’s a good idea to pay a little more and invest in something that will last longer.

Buying items that need to last

Julian/Adobe  plastic containers displayed on a supermarket

You may need tools to take care of household fixes on a regular basis. Or perhaps you want plastic containers that can be reused for leftovers every night.

If you’re picking up items that you’re going to want to use repeatedly, it may be better to buy them at a different store and pay a bit more than grabbing something from the dollar store. 

You might be surprised at how spending a little more can save you a lot more money because you don’t have to constantly replace an inadequate item.

Bottom line

luismolinero/Adobe man holding a grocery shopping bag

Dollar stores are a great way to save money, especially if you’re on a budget or living paycheck to paycheck. But you also may not notice the little ways that these stores can be money wasters.

Keep an eye on what you purchase on your next dollar-store run and think about comparing dollar-store products with those that you buy on a regular basis at other retailers.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.