Dollar stores are booming. And for good reason. Whether the Dollar Tree, Dollar General, or the plain ol’ Dollar Store, these havens for lost cost deals are wildly popular with price-conscious consumers because there are indeed tons of bargains to be had.
But just like a dollar bill, there are two sides to every dollar store. Along side all those legitimately sweet deals sit lots of products that are, well, terrible deals at any price. Here are some categories to avoid when wheeling your cart through the aisles. You may love the price tag, but these products range from cheap to shoddy to outright dangerous.
Medication and vitamins: Many vitamins sold at the dollar store are falsely labeled or may not dissolve properly, according to research by Consumer Reports. The medicines are sometimes past their expiration date, or so close as to dramatically reduce their effectiveness. If you’re looking to save money on drugs, buy the store brand at a supermarket or Walmart. You’ll be happy you spent the extra money on the pink stuff when your kid wakes up at 3 am with the stomach flu.
Soda: A liter of soda pop for $1 may seem like a bargain. Until you realize it’s some lame off-brand with a name like Dr. Fizzy Kola. Because the soft drink business is as fiercely competitive as a knife fight, you can almost always get a comparable deal on name brands at the super market, Target, Walmart, et cetera.
Light Bulbs: Feel free to buy light bulbs at a dollar store, if you don’t mind coming back in a few weeks to buy more light bulbs. Dollar store light bulbs are typically poorly made products with a short lifespan. What’s more, they are old school incandescents that are less energy efficient than newer versions. It’s OK to use a dollar store bulb for the rarely used attic light, but you don’t want them over the kitchen stove or in the bathroom, where no one seems to be able to remember to turn out the light when they’re done.
Fresh food: Dollar stores are increasingly offering meats and produce. Um, no. You have no idea how long it’s been on the shelf, and the staff likely has limited knowledge of food products. But you aren’t missing out by skipping this section. The prices typically aren’t much lower than you can find at a discount supermarket or Costco-type store.
Spices: These will likely be unbranded products that were bottled a long time ago. So, if you are fine with just a suggestion of oregano, go for it. But don’t expect raves from dinner party guests.
Pet Food: Let me ask you something. How much of your daily diet would you trust to the dollar store? (See above.) OK, then, give your pet the same respect. Dollar store pet food is dubious in every regard, from its origins to the content. If you’re cool feeding your loving companion cheap chow, buy it somewhere like Walmart, where you’ll at least recognize the brand and bulk deals are often available.
Toothpaste: Unless it’s a name brand you trust, it’s better not to stock up at the dollar store. Many of the dollar stores’ offerings are made overseas, in places like China. Not long ago the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that toothpaste made in China often contains a poisonous chemical known as DEG.
Toys: Just don’t. Even if it’s Christmas Eve and you still haven’t bought your nephew a present. The toys at dollar stores are notoriously cheap and sometimes dangerous. Remember that Saturday Night Live sketch with the toy manufacturer whose products included “Bag of Broken Glass”? Here’s a true-life version: In one dollar store, Consumer Reports discovered a “toy” that included a hidden cigarette lighter! That’s an extreme case, but the playthings sold at dollar stores tend to break easily, and often include small parts that pose a choking hazard.
Batteries: Be careful here. Most of the batteries sold at dollar stores are not alkaline, and thus won’t last very long. If you do find a pack of name-brand alkaline batteries, be sure to check the expiration date before tossing them in your cart.