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5 Dollar Store Buys You May Want to Avoid

You get what you pay for couldn’t be truer with these dollar store buys

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AARP;(Source: GettyImages(5))

Shopping at dollar stores can be a great way to save money on everyday items, but that doesn’t mean you should buy everything on your list at these discount retailers. Sure, there are some categories — party goods, office supplies, reading glasses and greeting cards — where you can save by stocking up, but there are also products it’s best to avoid.

It’s hard to know how long items have been sitting on shelves, their exact contents and their overall quality at dollar stores, says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at As a result, “there’s some categories to definitely go for but others to avoid,” she says. 

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That’s particularly true when it comes to certain foods, spices and over-the-counter drugs. All those categories have been the subject of recalls by the dollar stores. Most recently, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar took certain brands of ground cinnamon off the shelf after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found elevated lead levels in six brands sold at discount stores. Last fall, Family Dollar recalled more than 300 over-the-counter health products after they were stored at the wrong temperature before being delivered to stores.

With that in mind, here are five categories shopping experts say you may want to avoid when shopping at a dollar store

1. Electronics

Extension cords, electrical devices and lamps can all seem like bargains at dollar stores, but this is one category shopping experts say you are better off avoiding. “You typically get what you pay for” when it comes to everything from power cords to phone chargers, says Samantha Landau, consumer expert at “They may work in a pinch, but they aren’t going to last long.” Buying extension cords and surge protectors on the cheap could also prove dangerous, as they might cause a fire. “You’re better off splurging on power cords from a reputable brand,” she says. 

2. Plastic dishes and food containers

Spending $1 for a microwavable dish or storage container may seem like a good deal, but Bodge says think twice. It may not hold up long in the microwave or dishwasher. Moreover, it could leach harmful chemicals into your food. “If it’s a random brand you're not familiar with, I would tend to avoid that,” says Bodge. 

3. Sunscreen

According to the FDA, sunscreen has a shelf life of about three years, but that doesn’t mean you should buy it at a dollar store, says Bodge. After all, she says, you don’t know how long it has been on the shelf. And if the packaging doesn’t have an expiration date, you may not want to risk it.

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4. Skin and hair care products

Short of a name brand, Landau says shoppers may want to avoid purchasing any skin or hair care products at dollar stores. “The reason they are cheaper is that they have cheaper filler ingredients,” says Landau. Those fillers could result in an allergic reaction or skin irritation. “I would definitely stay away from those types of things unless it's a name brand you trust,” she says. 

5. Food

Dollar stores are stocking their shelves with more everyday items, from cookies to chicken noodle soup. Landau suggests avoiding food items that aren't from a name brand. With off-brand items, you may not be certain of the expiration date or all the ingredients or whether they are OK to ingest.

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