14 Things You’d Be Smart to Buy at the Dollar Store

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 the list would be long.

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.

Dreaming of Pizza and 99 Cents Store


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, expand into its 20th state, and open a store in my neighborhood.

RELATED: Lessons from a Two-Year-Old

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 14 things you’d be smart to buy at a dollar store:

Greeting Cards

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 Goods

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.

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.

Pregnancy Tests

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.

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.

Reading Glasses

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.

Home Decor

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! 

Cleaning Supplies

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.

MORE: The Story of Soilove

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.

Pet Supplies

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? 

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29 replies
  1. Halena
    Halena says:

    Dear Mary: Just thought I’d mention this. In Canada, there is nothing for a dollar anymore. Our Dollar Stores are all for $2+.
    As always, Canadians earn 1/2 the American salaries, and pay double for ALMOST everything.
    No wonder we seem to be at odds with Americans.
    However, I personally still like you guys, as it’s not your fault that our greedy Government
    does things this way. Halena

  2. SonshineLady
    SonshineLady says:

    The comparable store in our area is called The Dollar Tree. LOVE that store. I began buying bleach there – a large container for much less than the the least expensive bleach at the grocery. Other favorites are various OTC medications, mouthwash, carpet cut into squares that I place under my cats litter boxes and under their food bowels. In the summer I found plastic picnic trays that were perfect for my cat food/water bowls as well. Definitely the place for greeting cards, gift bags, and tissue. Boxes of tissue (sometimes Kleenex brand), various items for the kitchen and organizing – great place to shop!!

  3. Michaela Matjeka
    Michaela Matjeka says:

    Love great deals at the dollar store. I will say I work at a pregnancy center and we have a lot of issues with the dollar store tests. We’ve found they are very unreliable and inaccurate. If you’re looking for an inexpensive pregnancy test, I’d recommend going to a pregnancy center, where they offer free tests. You will typically have to sit through an intake process as if you were at a doctor’s office, but they will take good care of you and offer some referrals you might need. Most do not require you to be in any financial bracket to receive their services.

  4. JA Martin
    JA Martin says:

    I found usb adapters for car plug in to charge my phone. And the usb cord to plug into it! Both cost at least $5-$8 or more at other stores.

  5. sadnana
    sadnana says:

    My dollar store sells things I can’t find anywhere else at any price. My favorites? I buy a mold and mildew cleaner there that works better than anything I’ve ever tried. It’s a generous size (lasts for months) and made in the USA. Their cotton squares are the only ones I’ve ever found that don’t fall apart and disintegrate into a million tiny threads when wet, so they’re great for removing eye makeup. I also like their cleaning tools, especially their foam dish mop that seems to last forever and can even be refreshed in the dishwasher. I also buy their gift bags and tissue paper.

  6. Mrsslam824
    Mrsslam824 says:

    I love getting pens from the dollar store..specifically Dollar Tree in Colorado. We just got a Family Dollar and Dollar General in our area. Since we live a good distance from a good grocery store or Wal-Mart, these stores have become my quick stop for things like milk or something else we are needing before our next big trip to the grocery store. Mary, as far as pizza in Colorado, my daughter says Beau Jo’s is amazing. They have a location in Fort Collins, so I don’t think that would be too far for you, living in Northern Colorado. There are more locations around the Denver area too. I love your column and look forward to it daily! Thank you!

    • Danielle Backer
      Danielle Backer says:

      Hey there, I live in Greeley, and our favorite pizza is a place that just opened within the past couple of years called Right Coast pizza. It’s awesome, and I love the one that has fried eggs on it with green chili’s.

      On our way to Southern California for vacation we stopped at a Beau Jo’s, and OMG. So good! We had a small and it was more than enough for two adults. We also had the crust with the honey – SO great! Perfect yumminess. ☺️

      • Mrsslam824
        Mrsslam824 says:

        My daughter lives in Greeley right now for school..we may need to go to Right Coast Pizza when we go up to visit her! Thank you for the tip!

  7. Birgit Nicolaisen
    Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    The dollar store is a great place to stop before heading into the movies. We save a ton on snacks that way.

  8. crabbyoldlady
    crabbyoldlady says:

    I absolutely love my dollar store! In my area we have Dollar Tree, which is picking up lots of brand names lately, including Hallmark cards! I really can’t come up with the best thing there, so much of it is great, but I will caution on the worst. We used to let the grandkids loose with 5 dollars each to spend. I’m glad those days are over, because the toys were a huge disappointment. They broke with just a small amount of play time. Books are great, coloring books, and the candy assortment is very good. I second every item Mary mentioned.

  9. Rebecca Stuurwold
    Rebecca Stuurwold says:

    Be careful with the pet items from dollar stores. While it’s fine to get things like inexpensive leashes and doggy-doo bags from dollar stores, I would not trust pet health products such as flea and tick repellent. Some of those products have caused seizures and even death in dogs and cats. Best to get flea and tick repellent and other things like heartworm medication from your vet or a quality pet store.

  10. Shannon Robbins
    Shannon Robbins says:

    I would be very cautious about any food item at a dollar store. Check expiration dates. I worked for an auction company briefly and when we would hold an auction for a business that was closing, dollar store owners/managers would come and bid on items. However, I found it very disturbing that some of them would go behind the scenes and try to bring things out (or put them in the “auction line”) – even after they were told that the items had expired and would not be sold. One even said, “It’s not a big deal. I’m just reselling it in my store.” Not okay. Turned me off to those types of stores.
    On the other hand, I do like getting their Christmas containers and plates. My extended family holds a “Cookie Day” (which is really Thu – Sun) where we bake LOTS of cookies, several varieties. I fill the containers and give the treats as gifts. I find them easier to transport than the trays.

    • PatriotPeg
      PatriotPeg says:

      shannon, i have safely used things far past their expiration dates. they r only for the store, they should not sell past expiration dates. i have used meds that were just fine past expiration. Industry wants u to lob all items out upon expiration to ensure we go and replace everything. now i am not saying u should b using food items that r 5 yrs old. there is this thing called common sense. if it’s food and u r in doubt-smell it!!!!!

      • Marla
        Marla says:

        Agreed PatriotPeg.
        The FDA doesn’t even regulate expiration dates, best-by dates or use-by dates (except in the case of baby food and infant formula – the FDA does regulate those dates). As you said, they are designed for stores to use to help rotate their stock. Most manufacturers use these dates as a means of indicating when they think their product will be past it’s peak of freshness but it has nothing to do with safety. They aren’t even a requirement.

  11. Mara Cain
    Mara Cain says:

    We used to give a birthday cake for needy moms and we got all of the items from a dollar store. The aluminum cake pan, mix, frosting, sprinkles, candles, The idea was to spend only 5 dollars for the supplies.. Mom and kids could bake and decorate the cake. Other groups purchased color books and crayons, personal items, etc. Made giving affordable.

  12. Bonnie Saal-Feldbush
    Bonnie Saal-Feldbush says:

    For our church food pantry, it’s a great place to shop for dish soap (“my” store even has Dawn occasionally!), laundry detergent, shampoo, large size tubes of toothpaste, etc. I have a tendency to purchase items that cannot be bought with their bridge card/food stamps. For the food pantry, I also check the food choices for both price and expiration date; I’ve gotten some really good deals for both our family and those in need. I also buy Betty Crocker food storage containers for use in the fridge/freezer/kitchen.

  13. joni514
    joni514 says:

    I found packages of lunch meat in the cooler section that were nearing sell by date marked down to 25 cents…totally perfect to use . Come to think of it they once had their 8pk of eggs marked down to 25 cents also. I get their frozen veggies and especially their sliced pepper and onion mix. Always a good deal to be found!

  14. Emily Booth
    Emily Booth says:

    I would add office supplies like envelopes and liquid paper.

    Know your prices! Comet cleanser is actually cheaper at Target than the dollar store in the area where I live. Liquid hand soap, too.

  15. Sue in MN
    Sue in MN says:

    I like to keep a few quart boxes of shelf stable milk for times when I run out. At Dollar Tree it’s $1, compared to $2.19 or more at the supermarket. Also almond and soy milks are often available, these go to the food shelf because many of the customers are unable to drink cow milk. Also the cheapest source for my favorite brand name toothpaste and mouthwash.

  16. Kathleen French
    Kathleen French says:

    Mary, I moved from Southern California all the way to South Carolina (Myrtle Beach) after 24 years in CA. My response to that question you referred to about missing CA is the same as yours. I don’t know if they have them in CO, but if you can find a Dollar Tree, check them out. They are the next best thing to The 99 Cents Only Store.

  17. Dana
    Dana says:

    My very favorite item to purchase at the Dollar Tree (everything really is $1), is the moisture absorbers to go in our closets. They aren’t the “DampRid” brand but work just as well at less than 1/2 the cost of the name brand.
    I also purchase envelopes (even large letter sizes), batteries, super glue, and things like generic “white-out” there.
    In the kitchen supplies, I like to buy disposable pans for taking meals to the family when someone has passed. I don’t want them to hassle with washing my pans and returning them. However, sometimes I can buy real cake pans there for $1 instead of the disposables. If those are available that’s what I buy. Then, I still don’t worry about getting my pans back, but they can keep them if they choose.
    In the personal care isle, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, generic “icy-hot” in the tubes and the patches. (These are great to save money when sending care packages to soldiers.)
    I once bought a spray on leather cleaner there and loved it, but they’ve never had it again. That’s the one drawback… it’s hit or miss sometimes.

  18. Barb
    Barb says:

    My #1 piece of advice is to take the time to go down every aisle at Dollar Tree. Over the years, I’ve found such items as full size study lamps, regular size boxes of Muesli, packs of three women’s Fruit of the Loom briefs (slightly irregular, but I couldn’t find the flaws), and tee shirts. Some of my current favorites are chlorine bleach, color safe bleach, incense (packs of 40 sticks, which I burn to freshen a musty basement), and the Sudoku and other quiz/puzzle books. I recently bought a good Indian cookbook there. Among the snacks, some of the best are Mrs. Freshley’s Buddy Bars (a real treat if you like crunchy chocolate & peanut butter) and the Lay’s Stax in barbeque and sour cream & onion flavors (I don’t like the original flavor as well as Pringles – the Pringles at Dollar Tree are usually in a small size). Occasionally they are healthy items such as flax seeds, too. Recently I’ve been using the Chic ‘n Sassy foundation makeup and like it very much. The pantyhose are handy in a pinch. I get complimented on a couple of my Dollar Tree scarves, although only a few of their designs are attractive. In the spring, I buy their seeds (usually 4 for $1). I could go on and on! What I avoid is anything consumable made in China. If any item is questionable, I buy only one the first time.

  19. Mary Wilson
    Mary Wilson says:

    I love Dollar Tree, nothing is over a dollar and Dollar General. Dollar General has a wider variety and the use of digital coupons.

  20. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I no long buy gift bags at the dollar store.Dollar Tree has tote bags for a dollar. Why buy a bag that will be tossed out?

  21. Jane
    Jane says:

    My mom is elderly and is not always able to get out. I have purchased 12-15 cards of varying kinds at a time at the dollar store for her to have on hand. She loves being able to send them out. If you know an older person, this is a great gift/help to them!

  22. Victoria Statz
    Victoria Statz says:

    I buy the packages of 6 toothbrushes that come in a plastic container for a buck. We put two in a zip lock baggie and put in our Operation Christmas Child boxes for children overseas. We do two so the child can share. I also buy the clothes pins (usually 36 for a buck, use the toothbrush container to put the clothes pins (about 9-12) in along with a 30 ft. twine/cord for older girls to use as a clothes line. Other ideas from the Dollar Tree: soaps, usually three bars for a buck, sometimes I can find wash cloths 18 for a buck, combs that come 18 to 30 in a package for a buck. Lots of kids toys, cars, coloring books, puzzles (sometimes 2 for a buck), socks for kids. So much we can get for the boxes that are a thrill for kids who never have received a gift box in their life. Life is about giving, the more we can share, the bigger the satisfaction.


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