Discount stores are all the rage for
budget-conscious shoppers. In fact, Dollar General is planning on opening 975 stores before the end of 2019, which is more brick-and-mortar stores than any other retailer is currently planning. Chances are, you’ve also heard of other popular dollar stores, such as Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Five Below, as well as Aldi, the discount grocery chain.
But while discount stores are known for having inexpensive merchandise and goods, they may have a limited stock selection and may not be the best quality. And though prices are low at these stores, often between $1 and $5, you may not get much for your money. Plus you run the risk of getting nickeled-and-dimed. For example, some discount stores provide cash back when you use your debit card, but
charge a small $1 or $1.50 fee for using your debit card.
With that in mind, if you’re considering purchasing products at discount retailers, experts say here’s what you should buy — and skip — to
stretch your dollars further.
What to Buy
“Given that canned goods could survive the apocalypse, you’re probably OK with buying canned goods, as long as it’s a good deal,” says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at TrueTrae.com and former U.S. News contributor.
This March 14, 2018 photo shows canned goods at the campus food pantry of Schenectady County Community College in Schenectady, N.Y. New York is making free food pantries a standard fixture on all its public college campuses. It’s part of efforts across the nation to deal with the ripple effect of rising college costs and changing student demographics that make it hard for some students to afford basics such as food. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)
Vivian Young, a Los Angeles-based senior content manager at LotteryCritic.com, takes her 90-year-old mother on a weekly shopping excursion that includes a visit to a Dollar Tree outpost. “Save your money by buying disposable aluminum baking pans at the dollar stores,” Young says. “Expect to pay over double or even triple at regular supermarkets or the big-box discount stores for these essentials.”
This Oct. 16, 2017 photo provided by Katie Workman shows some must have Thanksgiving tools in New York. Pictured are a roasting oasting pan with rack, baster, instant thermometer, glass baking dish, glass pie plate, casserole pot, mixing bowl, chef’s knife and storage containers. (Sarah Crowder/Katie Workman via AP)
Young says dollar stores often have cheap but perfectly good reading glasses. “Buy reading glasses in bulk for a buck each,” she advises, noting that they’re ideal if you tend to misplace or break expensive specs. “Stash them in the car, nightstand, kitchen drawer and office.” She says that you can find glasses that typically range from +1.0 to +3.25 diopters. Typically, at a store like Walgreens, reading glasses cost around $20, making picking up specs at a dollar store a compelling deal if you’re on a tight budget.
Office Supplies and Party Essentials
“Packing tape, masking tape and Scotch tape can be a good buy, but take note of the square footage, as I have sometimes found that the rolls are smaller than at the office supply or big-box store,” Bodge says. In other words, to optimize savings, do some comparison shopping. If Scotch tape is only a buck, you may be getting a much smaller roll of tape than you would at another store.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to tape an inexpensive birthday-themed tablecloth to a table for a kid’s birthday party, it’s a smart idea to visit a discount store, says Joy Hearn, a Los Angeles-based coupon expert who has a Facebook page, CardsandClips, devoted to coupons and gift cards. “If you’re looking to save big on party supplies, such as plastic cutlery, then a dollar store should be the first place you go to for those items,” she says.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, FILE)
ASSOCIATED PRESS/Seth Perlman
What to Skip
As a general rule, Young advises consumers to be wary about buying produce at a dollar store. She recommends inspecting fruits and vegetables for things like bruising and discoloration.
“On an impulse, I bought two mini-watermelons for a dollar. When I split one open at home, the inside looked like a melon from the Chernobyl waste site — splotches of white, orange, pink and day-glow green,” Young says. Since that experience, Young has opted to stick with her local farmer’s market to pick up produce.
Bodge advises being wary of other foods as well. “With perishable and packaged foods, including candy and drinks, freshness and quality can be questionable, so I would proceed with caution,” she says.
Kitchen and Laundry Supplies
The problem with picking up kitchen and laundry supplies often isn’t the quality, but the quantity. Hearn points out that often dollar stores are selling products for such low prices that if you do the math, you’ll realize you could do better elsewhere. For instance, she says that trash bags, even brand-name ones, are often a bad idea at a discount store.
“Dollar stores will bait you with name brand trash bags but if you look at the fact you’re paying $1 for a pack of two or three bags. It’s not worth it,” she says, adding, “Usually the trash bags are cheap and tear easily as well.”
She also says that last year one of the dollar stores began selling a two-pack of Cascade dishwasher pods for $1. “The problem with this is in most mass retailers such as Target or Walmart a 14-pack of pods averages between $4.50 and $5.50. Buying seven packs at the dollar store can mean you will overpay by $1.50 to $2.50,” Hearn says.
Batteries or Tech Supplies
“You get what you pay for. Most of the time the batteries are either already dead or don’t last longer than a week,” Hearn says.
Bodge also recommends buying batteries elsewhere, unless they’re a known brand, like Energizer or Duracell. Otherwise, she would be leery of putting a possible subpar battery into, say, a kid’s toy.
For the same reason, Bodge says she would also be worried about buying anything in a dollar store that you would attach to electronics. “You’ll find plenty of power cords, earbuds and other tech accessories and the price will be appealing, but there’s no knowing if the manufacturing of these items is up to snuff,” she says. “Given that you’d be plugging them into your beloved smartphone or tablet, why chance it?”
Getty Images/iStockphoto/Roland Magnusson
Hearn is not a proponent of buying knives at discount stores. “Your luck with getting a good cut out of a $1 knife is just as good as your chances of winning the lottery,” she says. “Much like plastic cutlery, it wears easily and rusts pretty quickly.”
This Nov. 13, 2018 photo shows an Opinel Cheese Knife and Fork Set on a JK Adams Cherry Cheese Server in New York. It is a compact set of an interlocking fork and cheese knife made from stainless steel and a blond beech-wood handle. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
See: 12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget.]
See: 20 Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store.]
See: 25 Summer Budgeting Tips.]
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What to Buy (and Skip) at Discount Stores originally appeared on usnews.com