We tend to think of the dollar store as the Holy Grail of savings, where shelves are filled with naught but low-priced items.
But don’t let the name fool you. Not every dollar store buy will help you keep more money in your wallet.
Here are a few purchases you should avoid at dollar stores, as you can get better deals elsewhere.
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A 5-ounce can of Barbasol shaving cream is $1.25 at Dollar Tree, but a 10-ounce can at Walmart is just $1.97 — double the amount of product for less than double the price.
Dollar stores often sell items in smaller quantities than big box stores do. This tricks you into thinking you’re getting a great deal because the price is lower.
However, the tradeoff is that you get a smaller quantity of whatever you buy, usually at a higher price per ounce.
You can’t get much breakfast cereal for $1.25 these days. Dollar Tree sells 3.5-ounce packs of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for $1.25, about $0.36 per ounce.
A 12-ounce box of the same cereal at Walmart is $3.47, which is $0.29 per ounce. (Plus, you don’t have to return to the store after eating a single serving of cereal.)
Many companies compete fiercely for families’ back-to-school spending, but dollar stores don’t drop their prices as much as other stores.
Family Dollar and Dollar Tree offer 150 pages of filler paper for $1.25, but Walmart has the same product for $0.84, and Office Depot’s price is $0.99.
Crayola crayons (24 count) are $1.50 at Family Dollar and Dollar General but $0.50 at Office Depot, Staples, and Target. Dollar stores rarely offer the best deals on school supplies.
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The biggest problem with buying toilet paper at dollar stores is that they only sell it in 12 rolls max. Buying TP in bulk on Amazon or at Costco will save you a lot.
For example, Dollar General sells a four-pack of Angel Soft tissue paper which comes out to 25 cents per 100 sheets. A larger 48-roll package at Amazon works out to 21 cents per 100 sheets.
This is only four cents fewer per 100 sheets, but compound that over weeks and months, and the savings become substantial.
This is another case of getting you to believe the product is a good deal because its price is low.
Dollar General offers Crest toothpaste for $1.00. It seems like a bargain — it’s even a name brand. But this tube has only 2.3 ounces, which isn’t much toothpaste.
You’re better off buying the same tube at Walmart for $0.97 or, better yet, a three-pack of 5.7-ounce tubes for $4.97.
If you need to pick up something to nibble on at the dollar store while you’re on the road, go for it. But you should look elsewhere if you want the most snack for your money.
A 2-ounce carton of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers is $1.25 (or about $0.63 per ounce) at a popular dollar store. A 30-ounce carton at Target costs $9.19, or $0.31 per ounce.
The same holds true for granola bars, beef jerky, and other snacks.
Dollar stores are sneaky with batteries, offering packs of AA and AAA batteries for around $1. This would be a steal if they were the same type of batteries you see in other stores.
Even though they carry these batteries under well-known brands like Panasonic, they are often zinc-carbon, not alkaline.
That means they’re cheaper to produce, expire quicker, and don’t last as long as traditional alkaline batteries. Get your batteries in bulk from Costco or Amazon for a better deal.
If you’re traveling and need to pick up a small bag of dog food, the dollar store isn’t a bad deal.
But for your weekly shopping trips, dog food is cheaper at other locations that stock larger bags.
For instance, an 11-pound bag of Iams Healthy Weight dog food is $22.50 from Dollar General, or about $2.05 per pound.
A 15-pound bag of the same dog food is $28.48 ($1.90 per pound) on Amazon, even less when you add coupons and the Subscribe and Save discount.
Feminine hygiene products
Even when you’re not buying in bulk, pads and tampons tend to be more expensive at dollar stores.
A 16-count box of Kotex tampons is $4.75 at Dollar General but $4.18 at Walmart. A 42-count pack of Always Ultrathin pads is $8.50 at Family Dollar but $7.99 at Target.
When stocking up on these items, opt for a big-box store.
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When your sweet tooth is calling, it shouldn’t take you in the direction of the dollar store. Candy tends to be less expensive in other places.
Ironically, beloved brands like Nerds, Swedish Fish, and Reese’s cost more at “discount” retailers.
The exception is theater box candy; Dollar General still sells many varieties at $1 each, which beats Walmart’s $1.24 and other dollar stores’ prices of $1.25.
Dollar store toys tend to be poor quality. Most are cheap brands you’ve never heard of and don’t last a week.
And even when they do carry name-brand items — like Bicycle playing cards and Fisher Price Rock-a-Stacks — Amazon, Target, and even some grocery stores, offer better prices.
People don’t often do a full grocery haul at dollar stores, but the stores do carry a decent variety of canned goods. However, if you’re a tuna fan, avoid buying until you get to the grocery store.
Dollar stores carry only name-brand tuna, and while their prices on Starkist aren’t bad, you can save more by opting for a generic brand at Walmart or Kroger.
True dollar stores (or $1.25 stores now, thanks to inflation) can’t sell you many doses of medicine at once, so their prices on things like Advil and Halls cough drops are high.
Even the cost of other drugs, like Benadryl, is less when you can buy larger quantities at other stores.
Nail polish tends to be slightly cheaper at other stores, but not so much that you’d notice paying a few cents more at the dollar store.
The biggest difference is that dollar stores don’t offer quality brands. If you’re looking for salon-quality polishes like OPI or Essie, you’ll have to shop elsewhere.
There are plenty of great deals to be had at dollar stores. However, not every dollar store item is a bargain, particularly in categories like toys and batteries where the quality is questionable.
It’s important to comparison shop, even at the dollar store, to get the best deals and avoid wasting money on cheap products or bad deals.