Dollar stores don't get as much respect as they deserve. Yes, they are full to the brim with probably unlicensed toys and extremely cheap products with no craftsmanship. That said, I go to the dollar store near my house at least twice a week and it's taught me something important: There are some products we are being absolutely gouged on and we don't even know it. What's worth getting at the dollar store?
Batteries There's a great article over on Wired that breaks down the math on this, but here's the basic gist: The more a battery costs, the more energy and use you will get out of it. However, in terms of energy per cost, all batteries essentially produce the same. Now, if you're picking up big D-cells for a flashlight that you might need to always work, you should definitely spend the cash. If what you're looking for is something to power a child's toy until he or she grows bored with it, dollar store all the way.
Deodorant No matter what a commercial tells you, deodorant has not changed significantly in a century. It's aluminum in a paste that plugs up your pores. That's it, and that's probably all it will ever be. The active ingredient in deodorants is almost always exactly the same, and one from the dollar store is just as good as any other unless your particular skin proves sensitive.
Coloring Books The first time I bought a coloring book for my daughter, I couldn't believe the price. I've seen some of them, especially Hello Kitty, for up to $10. Call me cheap if you like, but that is highway robbery. Dollar stores will net you even licensed-property coloring books for a fraction of the cost.
Greeting Cards You probably buy greeting cards as an afterthought. It's just a little something extra to complement the gift. That little something extra usually runs between $3 and $5. It's not a lot until you realize that you're paying for a piece of cardstock with a poem on it. Dollar stores won't usually have a singing card or anything like that, but a basic birthday card usually runs you 50 cents. Let's face it, if a card mattered that much to you, you'd buy a blank one and write it yourself.
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Books and DVDs This is more something that you check out while you're already there instead of making a trip for. Dollar stores are great for children's DVDs as well as cheesy horror and even occasionally real films (I got Slumdog Millionaire at one). Sometimes the book selection is surprising as well. Someone put out a Richard Matheson short story collection to coincide with the release of the movie Steel, which I'm willing to bet most people didn't even know was based on a Matheson story. A couple of years later, the tie-in is meaningless, but I still ended up with a collection of one of the best horror and science fiction writers of all time for pocket change! If you're in the dollar store already, look for the media section.
Religious Gifts I make no judgment about this, but dollar stores are really big on Jesus and the Bible. Everything from children's books to handicrafts are all on display. If you have a religious relative or friend to shop for then the dollar store will probably have you covered. Good stuff, too. There are nice wall signs, books of devotionals, little porcelain angels, everything you could want.
Sewing Kits Want something just for button emergencies? Clothing buttons, I mean, not like big red nuclear launch buttons. Fully stocked functional kits are a staple of the impulse section by the register in dollar stores. In my case, all I needed was a needle and thread for a holiday popcorn garland...popcorn I also bought there.
Cell Phone Car Chargers Sadly, the $20 cable needed to charge your iPhone isn't at the dollar store, but USB car chargers are! I deeply regret wasting nearly $40 at the AT&T store before figuring that out. Like batteries, they aren't the best quality, but the savings in terms of cash per use makes up for it.
Cleaning Supplies If you need anything for scrubbing -- sponges, dishwands, etc. -- buy it at the dollar store. Honestly, the best thing you could do for your health is to make every single scrubbing utensil a single-use item, but grocery store prices make that prohibitive. When it's cleaning day, the dollar store is really the only way to go unless you need something like a rug shampooer. The second it gets a little gunky, go ahead and toss it to buy another cheap one.
Party Decorations Every bloody year I go to Arne's thinking I'm going to get my daughter's birthday party stuff taken care of for around $30 and every year I walk out dazed and considerably poorer than I walked in. While favorite licensed characters may be thin on the ground there (but not always), a good rule of thumb I've put together is to buy half of what you need from the Monster High or Spider-man or whatever collection at Arne's or Party City, then just pick up the other half in complimentary colors at a dollar store. So you'll have ten black and pink plates with Draculaura on them and then ten that are just black or pink. Spoons, hats, noisemakers, candy treats and other party favors can all be filled out far more cheaply.
Tupperware Odds are you have a hard time keeping Tupperware. If you play host, you lend it out and never get it back, but even regular people lose lids all the time, leaving a useless bottom half. I get all my Tupperware from the dollar store. It comes in every size including gallon-size ones great for Halloween candy or dog food. The quality is just as good, but it's usually half the price or less. When times are tough, it's good to learn to stretch a dollar, even if it's just getting a better deal on food storage. Not everything at the dollar store is a good idea to buy, but for some things, they're offering perfectly fair value.
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