Bargains for a Buck

by Deborah Ng

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I have a confession to make. I'm a dollar store junkie. There was a time when I wouldn't admit to this in public, but with today's equivalent of the Five-and-Dime gaining in popularity, I've come to realize that I'm not alone. I used to walk by these places and write them off as nothing but purveyors of cheap junk, gag-gifts, and household kitsch. One day, however, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to take a gander. It was love at first sight.

On my first foray into the world of a buck-and-under merchandise, I came away with a real bargain. Foil baking pans, the kind I use to bake my holiday bread, were being sold four for a dollar. At the supermarket, these can easily run two dollars each! Because the bread (and pans) is given away as Christmas gifts, I can appreciate the savings. Since making this thrifty discovery, I've made stopping at the dollar store a regular part of my shopping routine.

Baking pans aren't the only bargain I've come across. The dollar store also sells a variety of inexpensive children's toys and gifts, perfect for filling birthday party goody bags. Small bouncy balls and miniature cars make ideal party favors and the price can't be beat. Frugal party-goers can find a collection of gift bags, greeting cards and wrapping paper. Why spend two to five dollars on bags at the card store, when the dollar store has similar items for less? The quality is decent and there are many from which to choose. For the creative gift giver, the dollar store offers a wide assortment of boxes, baskets, ribbons and bows. When purchasing gift wrap, however, make sure to check the package for yardage. Sometimes, the roll is very small and you might be better off paying full price for a large roll elsewhere.

Household items abound at the dollar store. In the kitchen aisle, one can find measuring cups, plastic tumblers, mixing bowls, and inexpensive gadgets such as garlic presses and jar openers. Even durable food storage containers are stocked on the shelves. If you're a person who gives leftovers away to your dinner guests, this may be something you'll want to look into. Everyday potholders and dishtowels are also for sale, as are washcloths and linen napkins. These may not be the sort of items you want to put on display when hosting a formal party, but for everyday use, they're great. Dollar store towels are perfect for washing the car and doing the weekly dusting. Your good towels can be put away until company comes.

The dollar store is also handy for disposable goods such as paper plates, plastic utensils, paper and plastic lunch bags and other items you'd throw away after one use. Staples such as baking soda, dryer sheets, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide are just a small sampling of what the savvy shopper can find for a buck. I've even purchased name brand chocolate bars at two for a dollar.

Certainly, you get what you pay for though. Purchasing coffee filters and sponges, the items one can find in the dollar store, is certainly comparable to that carried by the local supermarket, but sometimes it just doesn't pay to go cheaper. Paper goods, such as napkins and paper towels for example, come in smaller packaging, and the quality of the food isn't like what you'd find at the grocery store. One should always check the label for quantity and size.

Quality is another issue. If one is purchasing a dollar store t-shirt, one shouldn't expect it to last as long as the $30 t-shirt from Old Navy. A large-sized shirt purchased for a dollar makes a great smock for crafty children, however, and you don't have to worry about good clothes being ruined.

With roughly sixty percent of Americans now frequenting the dollar store, is it any wonder there is now something for everyone? There may not be name brand or designer items, but there are definitely bargains to be had. Why not stop in and give the aisles a browse? Chances are you won't leave empty-handed.

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