There are two kinds of shoppers: Those who swear by so-called "dollar stores" (retail outlets where everything costs one buck—or close to it) and those who swear about them.
Depending on the shopper you talk to, dollar stores are either the greatest places to buy since Charles Henry Harrod opened his world-class department store 175 years ago in London, or they're the repository of junk merchandise that's not worth even a single greenback.
Personally, I'm a dollar-store devotee, even though I admit that not everything you can find there is a bargain. For example, a one-liter bottle of soda can usually be scored on sale at the grocery store for less than the buck you'll pay for it at most dollar stores. The inferior quality of some items at the dollar store (particularly paper products and things like plastic wrap, in my experience) may not be worth the cost savings.
It's also important to know that no two dollar stores are the same. Many dollar stores are independently owned local businesses with varying inventory. Others are part of a growing number of national chains, including Dollar Tree and 99¢ Only Stores. Even the selection of merchandise at national chain stores varies from store to store and frequently changes.
So if you see an item of interest at a dollar store, you'd better grab it while you can, because it may not be there on your next visit.
Keeping in mind the pluses and minuses of shopping at dollar stores, here are my top-12 dollar-store deals:
- Spices: Perhaps not the most exotic selection, but a buck each for large-sized containers of such kitchen basics as cinnamon, parsley, basil, chili powder, and pepper? It can't be beat.
- Toiletries: Save big on shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, and other toiletries and bath items.
- Greeting Cards: Greeting cards are usually priced two for $1 at many dollar stores (and the messages inside are just as corny as if you'd paid full price).
- Gift Wrap: Of course, I save my wrapping paper and reuse it repeatedly. But if I have to buy new, I get it here.
- Party Supplies: Decorations for birthdays, weddings, and other special events and holidays seem to be increasingly popular at dollar stores.
- Household Cleaners: Most off-brand cleaners contain the same basic ingredients as brand names, which cost much more.
- Kids' Toys and Novelties: As a special treat, a friend of mine gives each of her grandchildren a single dollar bill and lets them loose in the dollar store. "You should see their smiles, knowing they can buy anything in the store," she says. "They get more joy out of spending that dollar than they'd get from a $20 toy if I bought it for them."
- Some Food Products: Check perishable products to make sure they're not nearing their expiration dates. At my favorite dollar store, canned items, such as olives, pickles, relishes, and condiments are particularly good buys.
- Kitchen Utensils: You'll find a nice selection of kitchen tools at most dollar stores, and they are just as useful as some of the higher-priced gadgets sold at department stores.
- Picture Frames: My local dollar store has a big selection of frames, which make nice gifts when you put a family photo or other piece of memorabilia inside.
- Candles and Incense: Another great, simple, inexpensive gift item, candles with popular scents (vanilla and apple, for instance) are just as available here as in higher-priced shops.
- Reading Glasses: When you lose as many pairs as I do, you need to buy them by the dozen. At a buck a pair, that frequency is doable. Now, where did I put my glasses?…
Jeff Yeager is the author of the book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His Web site is www.UltimateCheapskate.com.