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7 Do’s and Don’ts of Dollar Store Shopping

What to buy, what to avoid, and why many items sell for more than a buck

spinner image A customer exiting a dollar store that has a yellow and red one dollar "wow" poster in the window.
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Although the rate of inflation has subsided a bit in recent months, prices remain nearly 5 percent higher than they were a year ago. Many consumers are looking for ways to stretch their paycheck, including frequenting different types of stores and being strategic about their purchases.

Oftentimes that means making a visit to a dollar store, such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General or Family Dollar to pick up some necessities. Consumers are shopping more frequently at dollar stores — there are more than 35,000 locations nationwide — with the increase slightly higher among high-income shoppers, according to data from Numerator.

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“The dollar retail channel is having its moment,” says Brad Godwin, SVP, head of CPG/Retail partnerships at Shopkick. “If you haven’t been there in a while, it might be time to give it a shot. You might be surprised at the value there.”

Shopping experts say that visiting dollar stores and other such discounters can be a smart strategy, but some buys at dollar stores are better than others.

“There is so much value at dollar stores, especially when you need to bulk-buy things, such as for a party or a classroom,” says Kimberly Palmer, a spokesperson with personal finance website Nerdwallet. “They serve a great purpose, and you can get great deals there in certain categories.”

Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind for your next dollar store shopping trip:

1. Do expect to find items that cost more than a dollar

Although dollar stores still have great deals, inflation has forced them to raise their prices along with most other retailers. Last year, for example, most Dollar Tree stores raised their base price on many items to $1.25. The chain has also recently introduced its Dollar Tree “Plus” store format, which features items priced at $3 and $5.

2. Don’t purchase items that need to last

Dollar stores keep prices low by selling items that aren’t built to last or for multiple uses. So, it’s a great place to stock up on items like seasonal decor, paper goods or office products. But you may want to avoid picking up tech items or fragile goods with multiple parts.

“It’s really good to shop at dollar stores when quality doesn’t matter but quantity does,” Palmer says.

3. Do use coupons and cash back

All three of the large dollar stores accept both manufacturer’s coupons and their own store coupons. You can get additional savings by using a rewards credit card or sending your receipt to a rewards app like Shopkick or Fetch.

The large dollar stores also have their own apps that highlight sales and provide additional coupons for users.

4. Don’t make unnecessary purchases

One of the dangers of shopping in dollar stores and other discount stores is that it can be tempting to make nonessential purchases because the prices are so appealing. Keep in mind that adding items you don’t need to your basket can cancel out the savings you could get on the things that you do need.

“The biggest mistake you can make at the dollar store is to purchase items that you don’t need,” Palmer says. “Then you end up with things that are expiring before you can use them or you’re just creating clutter in your house.”

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5. Do try out the store brands

While you’ll find many recognizable brands at dollar stores, you’ll also see plenty of less familiar branded goods under the store’s private labels. Since these items are manufactured specifically for sale at the dollar stores, they’re often priced even better.

“Like drug stores, these retailers have done a very good job of investing in their private labels,” Godwin says. “Most people don’t realize that the same factories that make the brand name items also might be making the private label as well. The formula might just be slightly different with some of the ingredients tweaked, but you’re going to see the same level product.”

6. Don’t be loyal to one store

Individual dollar stores often have different inventory. If you have more than one dollar store in your area, visiting multiple locations might yield savings unavailable in one store or the other.

“While multiple stores may have similar inventory, sometimes it’s limited, but you can find everything you need at more than one store,” says money consultant Andrea Woroch. “So, if you need three packs of themed paper plates and one store has only two, you might be able to pick up the other one across town.”

7. Do go early in the day

Dollar stores are facing labor shortages like all other types of businesses, and as they’ve become more popular, the lines for checkout can get long. Woroch suggests heading this off by visiting the store close to when they open in the morning, when lines tend to be shorter. Another benefit: Many stores restock their shelves after closing, so you’ll get first dibs on any new items.

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