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9 Items You Should (and Should Never) Buy at a Dollar Store

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Last updated on February 10, 2022 Comments: 3

Savvy shoppers are very familiar with the usual gap between low cost and high value. While dollar stores and other discount retailers offer prices that are hard to beat, you won’t save money if you’re frequently replacing items of poor quality. Plus, you don’t want to put your health at risk, which can be a concern with heavily discounted merchandise.

Here’s a guide to what you should stock up on at the dollar store to save money, and what you’d be wise to avoid.

9 Items to Buy

  1. Paper Products
    Greeting cards are some of the best deals at the dollar store, especially if you have a bit of time to pick through the rack. Some even include higher-end details such as ribbon or rhinestones and look (but don’t cost) like a Hallmark card. Greeting cards aside, you really can’t go wrong with anything made of paper at the dollar store — including gift bags/wrap, notebooks, calendars, datebooks, journals, colouring/puzzle books, loose-leaf, stationery, construction paper, poster board, and sketch books.
  2. School and Office Supplies
    Pencils, pens, binders, folders, report covers, protective sheets, paper clips, highlighters, markers, etc., are all available at a lower cost than most other retailers. Quality is generally decent enough, too, especially for those who are likely to lose or misplace a pen or marker long before it runs out.
  3. Image source: Shutterstock

    Winter Accessories
    Keeping with the theme of lost items, dollar stores can be a saviour to Canadian parents facing the constant search for their kids’ forgotten gloves/mitts, hats and scarves. There are many good $1-$3 options including polar fleece, knit, faux fur lined and water resistant, so you can buy lots of “back ups.”

  4. Seasonal Décor
    Hearts for Valentine’s Day, green everything for St. Patrick’s Day, chicks, bunnies and eggs for Easter, spooky stuff for Halloween, and snowmen and Santas galore for Christmas — you can be sure to find them all very cheap at a dollar store. And don’t forget flags, caps, and other Canuck essentials for Canada Day.
  5. Image source: Shutterstock

    Party Supplies
    You’ll find disposable napkins, plates, cups, tablecloths and utensils, as well as balloons (including fancy foil ones), streamers and other decorations in a variety of colours and designs to suit whatever shindig you’ve got planned—and you’ll save a bundle over buying similar items at a traditional party supply store.

  6. Storage Containers
    Whether you need large bins for out-of-season clothes or small containers for craft or office supplies, the dollar store will have some sort of an inexpensive storage solution to meet your needs. Plastic or Pyrex food containers might also be a good buy, but be sure to test that the lids seal properly before purchasing.
  7. Image source: Shutterstock

    Glassware and Kitchenware
    If you don’t want a full set of highball, martini, or water glasses, you can pick up passable singles for next to nothing at the dollar store. Same goes for cutlery, mixing bowls, and other kitchen utensils.

  8. Travel-Sized Containers
    If you want to bring your favourite hair spray or hand lotion on a flight, you’ll have to decant it into a container that’s 100 mL or smaller according to Canadian travel regulations. The dollar store has a good selection of small containers for liquids, creams, and gels that cost much less than those at drug or department stores—a great way for travel hackers to cut down their travel costs even further.
  9. Packaged or Boxed Candy/Snacks
    Loose snack or candy bars probably won’t be much cheaper than the grocery store, but boxes or bags of packaged snack foods can be a good deal. Look for name brands and be sure to check the expiry dates.

You know those mangled umbrellas you see discarded on rainy days? They probably came from a dollar store.

9 Items to Walk By

  1. Image source: Shutterstock

    Toys/Children’s Jewellery
    Most toys at the dollar store aren’t built to withstand regular use; some will break the very first time a child plays with it. Even worse, some dollar store toys pose safety risks such as choking hazards or exposure to toxic chemicals. Similarly, children’s jewellery or trinkets could contain unsafe levels of lead. A notable safe and well-priced exception in the toy aisle? Jigsaw puzzles.

  2. Generic Household Cleaning Products
    You should be okay if your dollar store stocks popular name brand cleaning stuff, but off-brand products might not only be ineffective, but could also be dangerous due to product mislabelling.
  3. Tools
    Again, these items aren’t made to last, so unless you don’t expect to use them often, you’re better off buying them at a home reno retailer. Some electric or battery operated tools at the dollar store may also display fake certification marks, which means they haven’t been tested for safety.
  4. Household Batteries
    You should always be wary of highly discounted batteries. At best, they may drain quickly due to substandard materials; at worst, they could leak, explode or overheat. Even name brand batteries with unusually low prices should be considered suspect, as there have been cases of counterfeits for sale at discount retailers in Canada.
  5. Ceramic Dishware
    While the prices on dollar store ceramic mugs and plates are attractive, the paint on them may contain lead or cadmium, which are toxic.
  6. Image source: Shutterstock

    Electrical Cords/String Lights/Chargers
    It’s best to stay away from electrical items at the dollar store. Extension cords, outlet converters, and seasonal lights can be miswired or overheat, posing a fire and shock hazard. USB phone chargers are likely safe, but probably won’t power your device effectively.

  7. Toiletries
    Definitely avoid unfamiliar brands of mouthwash, toothpaste, cosmetics, and other toiletries at the dollar store as they may contain unsafe ingredients and chemicals. Canadian dollar stores have also had a problem with counterfeit name brand toothpaste, which was contaminated with harmful bacteria, as well as name brand toothbrushes that posed a choking hazard.
  8. Canned Goods
    Unknown brands of canned food could contain harmful chemicals, such as BPA, or contaminants. If buying name brands, check the expiry dates and per unit prices carefully — some may not be cheaper than supermarket sale prices.
  9. Image source: Shutterstock

    You know those mangled umbrellas you see discarded on rainy days?

    They probably came from a dollar store.

Author Bio

Tamar Satov
Tamar Satov is an award-winning journalist specializing in personal finance and parenting. Her work has appeared in Canadian Living, The Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Parents Canada, Walmart Live Better and many other consumer magazines and websites. She is the former Managing Editor of CPA Magazine, for Canada’s Chartered Professional Accountants, and contributes to other publications for finance professionals including FORUM, for Canada’s financial advisors. Tamar is also a big proponent of financial literacy and had a long-running popular blog on the topic, sharing advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid. She lives debt-free in Toronto, with her husband and son.

Article comments

Doug M. says:

Sorry, I don’t agree with buying dollar store pencils (one school supply) – not all are created equal. My attempt at dollar store pencils got me a collection of pencils that broke the moment one touched paper. Total garbage. My conclusion is dollar stores are hit and miss – if you want to create jobs in China, sure, buy dollar store stuff.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey Doug!

Nice comment. Of course you can take our guidance on which items are worthwhile to buy at a dollar store, but in the end, all preferences are entirely subjective, and if you’re one who appreciates the nuances of a good quality pencil–we can see your point (no pun intended)! Keep in mind that regardless of the economic impact of dollar brands, many Canadians rely on stores like these to stay within their budgets while also getting the things they need for everyday life. Most of the items in the article are completely interchangeable with the expensive versions, as far as functionality goes. Balloons, Tupperware, glass cups—it’s all something that remains largely static between the wealthy and middle class but will definitely vary person by person. Thanks again.


Stephen Z. says:

(it sounds like Chinese factories are the reason why products have poor quality in your tone. (of course, that was just my assumption based on my own interpretation and please forgive me if I misunderstood you)) Purchasing products from the Dollar stores depends on your needs. I believe the Dollar stores meant to provide cheap products so that they suits certain people’s need while the prizes are acceptable. It really depends on the customer if one product, which satisfies the most basic need and asks for the possible lowest prize, is worth the purchase.