Biggest Reasons to Avoid Shopping at Dollar Stores

Buying your everyday basics for a dollar may sound like a deal, but you may not be getting the best bargain by shopping at dollar stores.
Last updated April 3, 2023 | By Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Edited By Ellen Cannon
Dollar Tree shop online signage

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If you’re budgeting, dollar store shopping certainly has its perks. You can stock up on household essentials, and the stores also tend to have some fun items that make great — and cheap — impulse buys. Dollar stores could be among the great ways to beat inflation.

But while they can be a fun excursion, here are 10 of the top reasons to avoid dollar stores when it comes to shopping for the basics.

The dollar claim is misleading

jakartatravel/Adobe sliced bread and toast from various brands

Those looking to find ways to make extra money may believe hitting up the dollar store is a great way to stock up on supplies, for home or work, at a lower price. But the “dollar” claim can actually be misleading. Not everything at these discount stores will cost a dollar.

Last year, Dollar Tree, which operates thousands of discount stores across the U.S., announced that it was raising its prices — bringing the price tag for most items in the store from $1 to $1.25. While a quarter may not seem like a giant leap, it can certainly add up if the goal is to keep your spending low, which it is for many of us when shopping at dollar stores.

Chemicals found in products

kuprevich/Adobe female technician arms in protective gloves

Recently, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform and Coming Clean joined forces to investigate the safety of products at popular discount stores. Three major players in the dollar store world — Dollar Tree and Family Dollar (which are owned by the same company), as well as Dollar General — were all found to have products that contained “chemicals of concern.”

The agencies looked for chemicals that, due to some hazardous properties, present a known or seriously suspected risk to human health or the environment. Across the stores, the products ranged from kitchen pans to headphones to cans of vegetables.

Reported scanning issues

Gorodenkoff/Adobe supermarket checkout counter

When a bunch of small items are being scanned very quickly, that opens the door for mistakes. A recent report from North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found that nearly a dozen stores had made enough scanning errors to be fined, and several of those were local dollar stores.

Dollar General stores were fined in Yadkin, Surry, and Macklenburg and another Macklenburg dollar store received a fine as well.

Quality of the products

Munchy Pixels/Adobe lipstick nail paint brushes liners on a flat lay setup

You’re probably not heading to your local dollar store to get the highest quality products, but there are some items where quality material is really important.

For example, if you’re considering nabbing some kitchen basics at a dollar store, buying something like a knife set or an oven mitt made with poor-quality material is not ideal. Dollar stores also tend to sell things like plastic cooking ware, an extremely poor choice if you’re going to be cooking with heat.

Products may be smaller

pingpao/Adobe Asian little girl brushing her teeth close up on toothbrush

Dollar stores often get away with low prices because they can offer smaller than usual products, which means you may not necessarily be saving in the long run. If you compare your basic grocery store items to what you can find at the dollar store, the savings may not add up to all that much — if they add up to anything at all.

For example, if you pay $1 for a 5 oz. tube of toothpaste at the dollar store, but can get a much bigger tube at your local grocery or convenience store for $3 or so, it may be cheaper overall to go with the larger tube.

Quantity may be less

Sarah121/Adobe small white tissue paper triple roll

Another thing to pay attention to with dollar store shopping is quantity. Dollar stores can be a great place to score small packs of your everyday basics, like toilet paper or paper towels. But these may come in smaller packs to help keep prices down.

For example, you may be able to get a four-pack of toilet paper at the dollar store, but the rolls may have fewer and less dense sheets than a pack you’d buy at the grocery store. Retailers like Target and Costco also tend to carry larger packs of the basics, meaning you’re getting more for your money overall.

Temptation to impulse buy

Tupungato/Adobe shopper visits a discount 100-yen store

One of the fun things about dollar stores is they tend to be full of random items. But if you’re an impulse buyer, you may end up with a basket full of products you don’t actually need. This isn’t a great idea if you’re trying to be careful about your budget.

While it may be fun to load up on cheap art supplies, party favors, or pantry basics, it’s probably better to go with quality rather than dollar store quantity if you really want (or need) these items,

Lack of variety

JackF/Adobe different pickle goods at shelves in food store

When you head to the supermarket, you’re likely to find several brands of the same products. Have a favorite soap or type of granola bar? You’ll likely have some options. The same can’t always be said for dollar stores.

The staff at Consumer Reports recently conducted an experiment to test the real value at dollar stores in eight different locations around the country. What they found was a real lack of options when it came to brand variety. Some of the things they noticed were stores that carried just one brand of dish soap or miniature versions of popular breakfast cereals.

Sales at other stores may be less than $1

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe shelves with promotions

Believe it or not, there are ways to beat the $1 price tags. One method is buying in bulk. Costco will often run deals on large packs of household necessities like toilet paper; selling a 36-pack of rolls for $32, for example. When you crunch the numbers, that’s less than $1 per roll. Plus, retailers like Costco offer the deals on known and trusted brand names, like Cottonelle.

Other national chains, like Target, also offer great deals, and regular customers can clip coupons to nab some of those items that seem like such a great deal at the dollar store for even cheaper.

Other stores crowded out of communities

Sergey Ryzhov/Adobe man with dollars and calculator considers costs in store

Because of the steep discounts they offer and heavy advertising, dollar stores can crowd out other retailers that may be really beneficial to their communities. Dollar stores tend not to carry many healthy food items, like fresh fruit and veggies. A study conducted in New Orleans in 2018 found that out of three dozen dollar stores that were operating in the city at the time, only one sold fresh produce.

Yet, because shoppers are attracted by the promise of $1 products, dollar stores can put other sellers out of business. When real grocery stores are not available, this can really put a damper on variety and healthy food options in a community.

Pro tip: If you want to earn cash back or rewards on your food purchases, make sure you’re using one of the best credit cards for groceries.

Bottom line

Tupungato/Adobe Family Dollar store in Fresno California

While popping into a dollar store can be a fun and convenient experience — since about 75% of the U.S. lives within five miles of one of 18,000 Dollar General stores — it may not always be the most financially savvy choice.

Before you jump to buy your basics at one of the dollar store giants, look into whether it’s really the best bargain for your buck. There are plenty of other ways to boost your bank account that might be more reliable.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.