At least a couple of times a week, someone will ask me what I miss most about living in Southern California. Because we lived there for 47 years before pulling up roots and relocating to Colorado, you might assume that it would be a long list.
But my usual response is “Not much!” and not just to get a laugh. Truth be told, I can only think of two things: Good pizza and my beloved 99 Cents Only Store—the best “dollar” store ever, AND the food retailer no one knows. The company’s nearly 400 stores derive close to 80% of their sales of $2.4 billion from categories such as fresh, grocery and consumables that overlap with those of traditional grocers and discounters.
Admittedly, I have not tried every pizza option in our new location, so hope springs eternal. But I cannot find even a hint of a plan to expand 99 Cents Only Stores to Colorado, and that’s a cryin’ shame.
Good thing there are other brands of dollar stores nearby while I wait for 99 Cents Only Stores—the gold standard when it comes to good stuff cheap—to get smart and open a store in my neighborhood.
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Here’s the reason I love dollar stores in general: It’s easy to match quality with need when what I need does not require much quality. Let me show you what I mean about need vs. quality with this quick list of 17 things you’d be smart to buy at a dollar store:
Don’t expect Hallmark’s complete line to show up at the dollar store. But you can expect first-quality greeting cards for just about every occasion. This is my go-to source for greeting cards that I know will be opened, enjoyed for the moment, and tossed. Nothing wrong with that, but I sure don’t want to spend $3.99 or more for a disposable card when I can get it for a buck!
Gift Bags, gift wrap
A dollar store is the best place to buy gift bags and gift wrap for a fraction of the cost of traditional stores. And why not? The gift bags and all that gift wrap are going to end up in the trash in just the time it takes to rip open the gift. So who needs super, high-end quality for disposable gift wrap? Dollar store quality is plenty good, and cheap to boot. Gift bags and wrapping paper are my favorite examples of matching quality with need.
Paper plates, cups, disposable tablecloths, plastic cutlery, balloons, and even theater-size boxes of candy—if you need it for a party and don’t need it to last for more than a few hours, the dollar store is the place to find it.
Wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil
These are hard to compare price-wise because the square footage is different in the boxes at the dollar stores than the boxes in the regular grocery stores. However, they are still cheaper per inch. I also really like the pre-cut pop-up foil sheets that are huge frustration savers.
Seasonal decor and favors
Want to decorate for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and any number of other holidays? Love to fill Christmas stockings with trinkets, small gadgets, and other kinds of fun stuff? You’ll find everything from packages of spider rings, to glow sticks, streamers, wall and door decor and on and on—all super cheap—at the dollar store.
Hold on. It’s true—most dollar stores sell pregnancy tests for a dollar that would cost upwards of $15 or more in a drugstore. Are they reliable? I suppose they are if they do what they say on the label. And assuming the test kit is sealed and not beyond its expiration date, why not? If you’re worried about a false response, buy a few kits to make sure. At a buck each, you’ll still save a bundle.
You can get 130 inches of this tape at the dollar store. This is a shorter tape than the 450-inch roll for $4.79 at Staples, but it is still cheaper per inch.
Beauty and personal care
Get ready to be blown away by all the shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream, soap, body wash, razors, hair accessories, hair care gear, bandages, and personal care items in the typical dollar store. You may not see a lot of name brands—but then again you might, depending on the day. As for unknown brands, check the ingredients. It may be junk or you just might find products that are similar if not the same as the more pricey options you’re used to.
Containers to get organized
Why pay $3.99 each for plastic shoe boxes with lids to organize the kids’ rooms when you can get them for a buck at the dollar store? Dollar stores are notorious for their containers, bins, boxes, and organizational helpers.
Having a Garage Sale or need to sell a car? Dollar stores are the place to find ready-made plastic signs for posting. Just use a marker to fill in your specific information in the spaces provided and you’re set.
Yep, you’ll find them too, at a dollar store. Probably not a huge selection, but you’re sure to find at least a couple of options that fit and in the magnification strength you need. And when you do, grab a few pairs because you know how easy it is to misplace reading glasses.
Where do you go when you need a picture frame, a flower vase or wreath, doormats, or another kind of home decor? Check the dollar store!
Look on the shelves of the cleaning aisle at any dollar store and you’ll find lots of off-brand bleach, cleansers, dish soap, laundry detergent, stain treatments, toilet cleaners, glass, and mirror cleaners, too. And don’t be shocked to find an occasional name-brand in the lot. Look for microfiber cloths, sponges and scrub brushes and other equipment as well.
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Kitchen utensils and accessories
I suggest caution when considering cutlery, tongs, spatulas, and so forth from the dollar store. Much of what you’ll find is not worth spending a dollar on. But on occasion, you’ll come across a super bargain on name brand, excellent-quality kitchen utensils, and accessories that will bring a great deal of value to your kitchen. Things like measuring spoons and cups, spoon rests, name brand kitchen scissors, peelers, scrubbers and cutting boards; towels, pot holders, and placemats, too.
I have rubber spatulas, serving spoons, glassware, and measuring cups from 99 Cents Only that I’ve had for many years and they’re still my favorites.
Not every tool in a home or garage needs to be a top-of-the-line, name brand with a life expectancy of many decades. Take a tape measure, duct tape, glue or maybe even a tiny set of screwdrivers for the kitchen. You’ll find all those things at a dollar store. Picture hanging kits, handy assortments of screws and nails, too.
Non-perishables and produce
The main thing I miss about 99 Cents Only is the fresh produce. Not kidding! I would make 99 Cents my first stop on the way to the supermarket. Beyond bananas, I couldn’t predict what I would find in the fresh produce section, so I’d stop there before going on to the supermarket. Oh, the bargains on beautiful, locally grown produce!
You will find lots of food in the typical dollar store. The array of canned goods and other non-perishables is impressive. Just make sure you know your prices. You don’t want to pay $.99 for a can of soup that is regularly priced $.69 at the supermarket. It can happen.
Clay flower pots
Look for great flower pots, especially if you like to decorate clay pots. They make great gifts, or awesome decor for windowsills, patios, and porches. You’ll see the same $1 pot at Lowes is $3.97.
From name-brand pet food for dogs, cats, and fish to vet-approved toys, leashes, food dishes, and even an occasional doggie sweater or Halloween costume—the dollar store lets pets live the good life without their owners worrying about the cost. You just might be surprised by what you’ll find.
In closing, let me remind all of us of this important principle: Even the best deal in the world is not a good deal at all if it’s something you don’t need or won’t use.
Question: Do you frequent a dollar store? If so, what’s the best—or worst—thing you’ve purchased there?