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Dollar store best (and worst) buys

Best buys for a buck? Here's which dollar store items to buy and which to leave on the shelf.

SAN ANTONIO — You may be overlooking money-saving opportunities if you're not shopping at the dollar store.

“I think that you are missing out if you are sort of turning your nose up at shopping there, because there are a lot of great values there,” said Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert with TrueTrae.

The trick is to look for inexpensive items that are quality.

“Just because it’s cheap doesn’t make it a good buy,” said Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert. “If you’re buying something for a dollar and it doesn’t work well or it breaks shortly after you buy it, that means you have to buy a new one and likely after that, another new one. So if you are constantly replacing something, it’s not really a good deal.”

First, make sure you are going to a dollar store where everything is a dollar.

Bodge and Woroch recommended these best buys beginning with name-brand personal care items.

“If you can find Colgate toothbrushes or Crest toothpaste, things like that for a fantastic value,” Bodge said. “But don’t buy off-brand items in those categories because you can’t know for sure if the quality is there.”

Party supplies and decorations like gift bags, tissue paper, wrapping ribbon and helium balloons are a good value.

“I always recommend go to the dollar store first, then go the other party suppliers after to add in whatever items you’re missing,” said Woroch.

Plus, stock up on greeting cards.

“Think ahead to the next six months maybe even a year whether it’s Mother’s Day, a birthday, a wedding celebration, a baby’s new arrival,” Woroch said. “I always have those inexpensive greeting cards ready to go. I’m not running out to the local drug store where prices sometimes are as much as $5 to $7. You’re getting them for 50 cents apiece. That’s a huge savings. It's more important about what you actually write in the greeting card than what the greeting card looks like.”

The exception might be tape and wrapping paper.

“Sometimes the square footage is a little bit shorter in those items at the dollar store,” Bodge said. “You might want to be mindful of what it comes out to in terms of unit prices. You might find that you’re getting a very thin roll of wrapping paper for a dollar. You’ll realize, oh, this is barely enough for me to wrap two gifts.”

Find craft supplies at a good price like vases and pots; just make sure to inspect carefully for any breaks. 

“A lot of people do some DIY stuff where you can spray paint them or paint them to look a little more decorative,” Woroch said. “They also have a lot of filler so your faux moss, the little iridescent rocks, seashells, all that kind of stuff, if you want to decorate your home.”

Certain kitchen items are a good value, too.

“A glass cooking dish that’s 100% glass—go for that. I think ceramic dishes can be a good value,” Bodge said. “Just be mindful of checking for cracks.”

One kitchen item to leave in the store:

“Oven mitts,” Woroch said. “I bought a couple there and thought, 'Hey, this can’t be. Why do you need a good quality mitt?' I learned my lesson when I was pulling a hot dish out of the oven. You actually want protection when you’re using an oven mitt.”

Yet, not every item is bargain. Best to beware of batteries and avoid electronic accessories.

“Extension cords, any adapters, just any type of HDMI type of cords, they may not be certified,” Woroch said. “I’ve heard stories where people’s computers have burnt up. You don’t want to fall into that situation. Cheaply made batteries could leak and also damage your electronics or toys or TV remote. It’s better to stick with a name brand battery.”

Food should stay out of your cart as well. 

“For the most part, it’s not dated, so you don’t know how long that food has been sitting there,” Bodge said. 

The exception is movie theater-style candy.

“If maybe you’re planning on an at-home movie night and you kind of want to make it feel a little bit special,” Woroch said.

You might want to walk by the cleaning supplies.

“You would think a good buy at the dollar store would be cleaning supplies because you’re buying a whole big container of laundry detergent, but if it’s an off-brand product, I would not buy it,” Bodge said. “You can’t be sure of the quality of that product and so that ends up being a dollar wasted.”

Some office supplies are a good price, others are a pass.

“Things like composition notebooks, poster board, foam core board, things like that, I find to be a good value. But there are a couple of things that I will also avoid in that category, which would be loose-leaf paper is often not a great quality, pens, markers I would also avoid,” Bodge said.

You can also use coupons at some dollar stores. Look online for them before you shop.