A smart dollar store shopper separates the 'junk' from the 'good stuff'

How to be a Smart Dollar Store Shopper

by Marlene Alexander

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Not every purchase we make is entirely satisfying. Recently, I had to return a winter jacket to Sears after only two months of wear because a couple of the seams had started to fray. But dollar stores seem particularly susceptible to criticism that "everything" they sell is junk. Personally, I can't agree with that, but I do admit that there are some things that dollar stores shouldn't try to sell for a buck or two.

An informed shopper is a smart shopper. So, if something in the dollar store looks too good to be true, maybe it is, maybe it isn't. How can you tell? Here are some tips that will help you to decide and become a smarter dollar store shopper.

  1. Touch it. If something has a nice weight to it, it will probably be a good buy. For instance, I don't buy hand towels if, when I hold them up to the light, I can see through the weave. But I've always found dollar store tea towels to be of excellent quality. If I heft a pair of metal pliers and they look and feel sturdy, the store has made a sale. And, I might add that I've been very happy with my small-tool purchases. Glass vases and candleholders are usually always good buys. You can easily tell if the glass is flawed or has ripples in it.

  2. Test it. Always check lids. Do they come off and go on easily? If they don't, leave that item on the shelf. My local dollar store recently started selling small, colorful wastebaskets with swinging flaps in the lids. The lids come off easily, but just try to get them fitted back on. They slide all over and refuse to snap back into place. Garbage day should not include a frustrating puzzle. On the other hand, the lids on the glass and ceramic canisters I've bought in recent months have performed beautifully.

  3. Try the zipper. The zipper on a tapestry cushion cover I brought home last year would only open half way, making it impossible to use. That was, I suspect, just a fluke because when I tested the zipper on a similar cushion cover recently, it worked perfectly.

  4. Check expiration dates on food. My personal experience with dollar store food has been favorable, but I have heard complaints of infestations in cereals and rice or stale cookies. The simple fix is to check expiration dates on packages.

  5. Be aware of varying clothing sizes. Most dollar stores sell some clothing. I like the socks, but you need to be aware that sizes can vary from one pair to another. I've bought socks that were labeled size 9 in women's sizes that were far too big for me. The sport socks, on the other hand, are a good fit and long-wearing, although foot length does vary slightly between pairs. The other thing I've noticed is that things like camisoles and other undergarments are often a size smaller than what's written on the label. So a medium would actually be a small and a small would be extra small.

  6. Learn from experience. A few months ago, I bought a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth for two bucks at the dollar store. It seemed perfectly sturdy. Turns out that it should have stayed out of the kitchen because it couldn't take the heat. Within a few weeks, the color began to fade where hot plates had been placed and then bits of tablecloth started to flake off. It's unlikely that a new $2 purchase would perform any differently. Same for the plastic-handled can opener I paid a buck for. It fell apart the instant pressure was applied to the lid of a can.

Sometimes, these things are only flukes, but at dollar store prices, you can't be sure.

In my experience, "You only get what you pay for" isn't always true. Sometimes you can get a darn good deal for a buck or two. You just have to know what to look for and what to avoid. Often, the only way to judge something is to try it.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes tips and ideas for home decorating using only items from the dollar store at DollarStoreStyle.com

Marlene has also written an E-Book, Christmas - Dollar Store Style, which shows you how to decorate, entertain and create beautiful gifts using only items from the dollar store. Find it here.

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