Monday, July 27, 2009

Penny Pinching Tips: Know Thy Dollar Store

Dollar stores are great.


You just have to know what to get there and what to get elsewhere, and you have to be willing to go regularly because their stock changes frequently.

Our dollar store today had fluorescent lightbulbs for $.59. Hooray! Green and Cheap--you can't lose.

We also get salad dressing there. It tastes the same (especially to the kids), is the same size, and half the price. Our dollar store also carries big cans of canned fruit--even pears (which my grocery stores no longer stock for some reason). And ten-packs of sugar-free single-serve koolaid powders, which I use for travel.


Watch the package WEIGHT. Often dollar-store versions of products have the same size package but less IN the package (it's that popsicle scam again!). I'd say this is likely the norm rather than the exception.

Watch the ingredients--sometimes they are cheaper or otherwise unbalanced. For example, the canned pears I get from the church canneries have pears, water, and sugar in them (in that order). Dollar store canned pears have Pears, water, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup in them. While there is some debate, many many people claim that the corn syrups are NOT as good for you as natural sugar, despite the fact that the nutritional content (there's nutritional content in sugar?) is the same. It doesn't taste as good, that much I know.

Watch the quality. For some things (picnic dishes you're going to throw away, small toys, inflatable pool balls, kids play clothes that are going to die a horrible stained death in three days anyway, etc.) it doesn't matter. For some things, the quality is the same or better (hair clippies, videos, bubbles, name-brand products, Jelly Belly "belly flops", pregnancy tests). Some things are garbage (movies burned to dvd? Yeah, I've bought them and then chucked them because they were unwatchably poor quality--worse than pirated flicks; spices with no flavor; a glue gun that exploded in my hands; yoyos that don't yo, etc.)

Be aware of what similar products cost in other stores. For example, there was cream cheese in the refrigerator section of our dollar store tonight. Sounds great if you only ever buy Philadelphia brand. But it wasn't Philadelphia brand, and you can get off-brands of cream cheese for $.88 at most grocery stores on sale--and it's on sale frequently enough that you wouldn't want to jump at this. It's not a deal.

And, finally, beware of products that you've never heard of that brand before that were manufactured or packaged in China. MOST Chinese products are fine (and more now that in the past), but there have been multiple (not just once flukey time) instances of Chinese products not containing what they say they do, having a higher concentration of alcohol or water than you'd expect, having lead-based coloring, or being sweetened with the same stuff they put in antifreeze. There have also been reports of bad Mexican Vanilla (more alcohol, less vanilla than legal) in dollar stores and of little metal pieces on jewelry and used as decorations on, say, shoes being made of lead. Solid lead. Of course, these products are often sold in dollar stores but can be carried in regular stores, too. Always let the buyer beware. And complain to the appropriate agency if there's a problem (like the exploding glue gun I bought once.....) so that ALL the onus to be responsible doesn't fall on the buyers.

Also, if you have a variety of dollar stores in your area, try more than one. Often they carry different products from each other--my 99c store here has food. My sister's Greenbacks in Provo has fantastic toys and bathroom products (like vaseline, which my store doesn't carry). Know your stores.

So, as usual, take advantage of the deals (T-shirts, little girl's slips, name-brand 100% silk ties, little toys, big bottles of bubbles, fresh produce, etc) but beware of scams.

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