Saturday, December 8, 2012

Oh Dollar Tree

Oh Dollar Tree, oh Dollar Tree
How lovely are thy prices
Oh Dollar Tree, oh Dollar Tree
How lovely are thy prices
Much cheaper than the other stores
But is the value really more?
Oh Dollar Tree, oh Dollar Tree
How lovely are thy prices

How's that for a little Christmas ditty? It literally just popped into my head one day as I was brainstorming for this post. Because inevitably, any blog about saving money has to include at least one post about the Dollar Tree, right?

I truly love my local Dollar Tree. Well, I do now, anyways--a few years ago, I was still a Dollar Tree Scrooge. The fact that I had never actually shopped there didn't stop me from assuming that it was probably just a dumpy store filled with poorly-manufactured knock-offs, expired medications, dented cans, and cheesy seasonal decor. Although you can probably find all of these things there if you look hard enough (or, in the case of the decor, right as you walk in), what you'll also discover are a lot of great deals. I don't remember why I finally chose to give the Dollar Tree a chance, but I'm so glad I did. The savings have especially come in handy this year, since I've had to purchase so many things--from hand soap to oven mitts--for the very first time.

So for those of you who have yet to jump on the bargain bandwagon, let me be your fearless guide! I know that many people are hesitant to buy items such as toiletries, cosmetics, and especially food at discount stores, and that's okay! I used to be in that boat, too. In fact, one time a fellow Dollar Tree shopper herself even reacted with skepticism upon seeing my basket full of spices! "Are those any good?" she asked rather loudly, wrinkling her nose. (Oh, the irony.) But I quickly got over my qualms when I realized that in order to maintain my inordinate rate of nut butter consumption and stay within my means, I would have to cut costs elsewhere. 

Before I launch into a discussion of specific products, here are 3 important things to keep in mind while shopping at a dollar store:

1. Be wary of the "It's only a dollar!" trap. As with any other store, it's best to bring a list and stick to it--or at least buy things you know you'll use (read: put down the musical Christmas ties.)

2. Don't assume that things are always cheaper. Crazy, I know, but it's possible to actually pay more for an item at the Dollar Tree than you would at another store. Sometimes the price difference is minimal (for instance, the same tube of Chapstick might be $0.97 at Walmart), but other times there is quite a disparity. Always compare the price per unit to ensure that that teeny tiny tube of toothpaste is actually saving you money.

3. Weigh the expected lifetime of the product against its price. Sometimes it might be more economical to invest a little more money if the product will last longer. 

Follow those three guidelines, and you're already off to a great start. For a rundown of specific products that I have personally tried and used, read on, my frugal friends. 

Category 1 consists of items I consider a great bargain, especially given their prices at other stores. Category 2 includes products that are satisfactory when you're looking for something that will get the job done but aren't expecting much more. Finally, Category 3 includes items that aren't worth a penny, much less a dollar. 


Category 1: No way...This was only a dollar?!

  • Paper lunch napkins (20 ct):  Available in a variety of colors and patterns and for practically every season and holiday, these napkins were a fun lunchbox staple when I was growing up. 
  • Greeting cards (2 for $1): You won't find me dropping $5 on a single card and envelope ever again now that I've seen the selection at the Dollar Tree.
  • Wrapping paper: This paper is a decent weight and available in many attractive colors and designs. I've also used it as a pretty drawer liner (along with some double-sided tape) and as a backdrop for photo collages. 
  • Jot Dry-Erase Markers (4 ct): These markers, which erase cleanly and have a good ink flow, are still performing beautifully months later. In addition, the odor doesn't seem to be quite as strong as that of Expo markers.
  • Small gift bags (2 for $1): These are another way to make gifts look great without spending a fortune. Last year, I found enough pretty Christmas designs to give each of my girlfriends her own unique bag.
  • April Bath & Shower Anti-Bacterial Hand Lotion (5 oz purse size): This thick, lightly scented cream leaves hands feeling smooth and non-greasy. Given how severely dry my skin is naturally, I feel confident in recommending this product. 
  • Foaming hand soap (9 fl oz): These soaps create a good lather and are available in a variety of pleasant scents. (I currently have the Coconut Lime in my kitchen.)
  • Liquid hand soap (15 fl oz): Again, these create a good lather and come in a variety of pleasant scents. (Strawberry Pomegranate is currently in my bathroom.) The Dollar Tree also sells the well-known brand Soft Soap; however, given the generic brand's much larger size (15 fl oz vs. just 5.5 fl oz) and "thrifty" pump (which dispenses just the right amount--no more soap puddles!), I have found it to last much, much longer than Soft Soap.
  • Plastic bins and totes: These are available in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and bright, fun colors to serve in a variety of storage and organization needs. They're not the sturdiest, so I wouldn't recommend filling them with anything too heavy, but they seem to do just fine holding my cleaning supplies. I even use one of the totes as a bathroom wastebasket. 
  • Supreme Tradition spices (cinnamon, chopped onion, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, basil, parsley flakes, oregano leaves, chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt): Stocking a kitchen for the first time can be expensive, so I was pretty pumped when a college budget cookbook recommended purchasing spices at a dollar store. I'm no gourmet chef, but these have served my kitchen needs well so far. I would just recommend avoiding the seasoned salt (which contains some fillers and artificial colors), the black pepper (which tastes good but isn't ground very uniformly), and the vanilla extract (which is "imitation" vanilla and not "pure" extract). Otherwise, season your heart out!
  • Cooking Concepts Vegetable Peeler: I'm not entirely sure why I found this necessary when I moved to IU as a freshman, but I'm sure glad I have it now. In its 2+ years of use, it has performed just as well as the more expensive peelers my mom has at my house. 
  • Scrub Buddies Microfiber Chenille Duster: You might remember this little guy from A Good Green Clean. It's like a Swiffer Duster, but cheaper and re-useable! And I'm happy to report that the duster portion survived the laundry and was good as new afterward.
  • Soft foam earplugs + plastic case: If it weren't for earplugs, I'm not sure how I would have gotten any sleep in college so far (I'm like the Princess and the Pea--but with noises). However, since earplugs inevitably wear out and get lost, I've gone through quite a few (somewhat pricey) packs of women's foam earplugs from the Walmart pharmacy. Although I did like the smaller size of the women's earplugs, the ones from the Dollar Tree block sound just as well and don't seem to wear out as quickly. 
  • Microwave splatter covers (2 for $1: one 7" and one 9"): These are a great re-usable alternatives to paper towels and other disposable means of preventing microwave messes. Plus, they're dishwasher-safe!
Category 2: About what I would expect for a dollar. 
Most of these items are pretty self-explanatory (not much to say about a toothpick), so I'll only go into detail about a select few.
  • The Home Store White Paper Napkins (160 ct)
  • The Home Store White Foam Cups (45 ct): While I don't advocate buying Styrofoam anything from an environmental standpoint, sometimes life requires it. You can at least avoid spending a fortune. 
  • Facial tissues (Boxes & 8-ct pocket packs):  I find these to work just fine for everyday sniffles and make-up smudges, and the boxes come in some surprisingly cute designs; however, if you have a serious cold, you might want to splurge on the Puffs Plus to avoid looking like Rudolph (although I'm sure the Dollar Tree also carries some sort of seasonal hat or headband with reindeer antlers, so you could always go that route, too).
  • Mesh back support: This is helpful for maintaining good posture during long hours at a desk or in a car; however, more expensive brands have a strap that enables you to keep the device from sliding around or falling off the chair--a feature that might be worth the extra money.
  • Cotton swabs (350 ct)
  • Nail polish remover (6 fl oz)
  • Crisper liner: I actually use this to open jars and keep cutting boards in place! 
  • Cooking Concepts Comfort-Grip Pizza Cutter
  • Blistex lip balm
  • Baking soda 
  • Fruit knife
  • The Home Store Cotton Oven Mitt (single)
  • The Home Store Cotton Pot Holders (2 pk)
  • Toothpicks (800 ct)
  • Vinegar & oil glass storage bottles: I proudly featured these in The Bonus Jonas. They're pretty enough to display on the counter, and the nozzle prevents you from dispensing too much liquid at once--when the nozzle stays on, that is. It easily comes loose, and more than once it has completely come off and fallen into the dish I was preparing. 
  • Latex cleaning gloves (1 pair)
  • GoodSense Zipper Seal Freezer and Storage Bags (12 ct gallon size or 20 ct quart size)
  • Large plastic canisters w/ twist-on lids: These aren't the prettiest, but I store my flour and sugar in the pantry and not on my counters, so it's not an issue for me. 
Category 3: I paid a whole dollar for this?!
  • Microfiber dish cloths (3 pk): I love me some microfiber, but these seem to do a lot of smearing and not a lot of actual cleaning.
  • The Home Store Crystal Beads Air Fresheners: These smell great--if you stick them directly under your nose. Otherwise, you'll never know they're there.
  • Jewel cases (5 pk): These were extremely flimsy and didn't even close completely.
  • Sponges (single): Just...don't. 
Whew! That was long. (If you're still reading, give yourself a pat on the back--you made it!) I'm sure there are many more Dollar Tree bargains and busts to be found, so get on out there and shop--then report back here with what you find!

What are your favorite stores for low prices and great deals? Do you have a nearby Dollar Tree? If so, would you ever go there to buy toiletries, cosmetics, or even food?

4 comments:

  1. Wow, good post Paige. I've never been to the Dollar store/Tree because like you said, I wasn't sure about quality. But this is a good, convincing argument. I wonder though, about time. Is the dollar store like a yard sale? That is, do you just have to keep looking and looking till you find what you need/want for the price you want/need? I like the convenience of finding everything in one place even if it means I have to pay a little more, it saves me time. I'd like to save some money but if I have to scrounge around at the dollar store and spend more time (and a little more gas), idk.....

    But this post makes me more motivated to take a trip over there. :)

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  2. Great question! The Dollar Tree is set up like a typical store, with designated, well-labeled sections for party supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies, kitchen gadgets, etc. You can also visit their website (http://www.dollartree.com/home.jsp) and search for products, read reviews, etc. I can say from experience, though, that they don't always have the *exact* same selection every time you go; for example, one time I saw a thermal grocery bag that I considered buying, but when I returned later, they no longer carried the bags anymore. So my Dollar Tree strategy is this:
    1. I keep a running shopping list going at all times. When it comes time to shop, I look at the items on the list and decide if there are enough Dollar Tree items to warrant the extra trip. If not, I'll decide to either buy the items at Kroger or Walmart or put off buying those items for another week (when I might need more things from Dollar Tree).
    2. When I do go to Dollar Tree, if I see a *really* great deal on something that looks well-made and that I know I'll use, I go ahead and buy it. And if I'm going for something I buy frequently, like hand soap, I'll buy a little extra in case they don't have the scents I like in stock next time.
    Also, I'm lucky to have a Dollar Tree on my way to Kroger as well as one not too far from Walmart, so the extra trip isn't too big of a deal. Maybe you could plan to go to the Dollar Tree once when you have a little extra time, peruse the aisles and see what you think, and then decide if it's worth the extra time and gas in the future? Just an idea. Let me know what you decide! :)

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  3. Ah, good idea to keep the running list! Hmmm, it is on the way to Wal-mart and I'm headed there this week to buy non-grocery stuff (paper products, health and beauty, etc.). Maybe during the break I can cruise over there and see what it's like and if I like it, I guess I could shop there on the weekends, I usually have time for that :)

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  4. All of the wrapping paper I have used during the past 5 years has come from Dollar Tree. My daughter uses it to decorate her locker as well. I also recommend the helium balloons; you can't order ahead, but if you have a few minutes to wait while they are inflated, it's a bargain! The cosmetics are really hit or miss; I usually check to see if there is brand name mascara for another daughter who goes through a lot of it. And the larger size cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup...a staple in the pantry!

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