Discount stores like Dollar Tree can be great ways to save money on your groceries, particularly if you’re able to make them part of a two-stop shop. But they don’t always offer the best value or the best quality. The trick is knowing what to buy — and what not to buy. Not only can some items in dollar stores be more expensive, but some things are worth paying slightly more for.
Here are four products I’d never buy at Dollar Tree.
Dollar stores often change the package sizes to keep the price per item low, so it’s important to look at the price per ounce when making comparisons. For example, buying toothpaste at Dollar Tree does not make financial sense. A 2.4 ounce tube of Crest Fresh Mint Baking Soda & Peroxide Whitening toothpaste cost $1.25 at Dollar Tree online. That works out at $0.52 per ounce. You can get a 5.7 ounce tube of the same stuff for $2.12 at Walmart, which is just $0.37 per ounce.
You can buy a pack of four alkaline AA batteries or six so-called “Super Heavy Duty” AA batteries for $1.25 at Dollar Tree online. Getting four — or even six — batteries for $1.25 feels like a bargain. That is, until they run out shortly after you’ve started to use them. According to calculations by Wired, dollar store batteries have about a third of the energy of big brand ones.
Or worse, they leak and ruin the gadget, toy, or whatever else they’re powering. Even worse? One of the reviews on Dollar Tree’s website says the battery exploded: “Terrible product plan to sue as it exploded and got battery acid in my wife’s eyes.” Another complained they ruined a $125 toy, saying, “Exploded in my son’s fisher price smart house toy. I opened the toy to replace the batteries to find all four batteries leaking battery acid and disintegrated one of the connectors.”
I love a good deal, but no amount of savings could make me risk exploding batteries.
3. Vitamins and supplements
If you buy over-the-counter medicines at Dollar Tree, they’ll almost certainly be FDA-approved, even generic brands. These can be good value. However, vitamins and supplements are a different matter — according to Consumer Reports, there’s less regulation around these products. Unless they carry an independent stamp of approval, such as NSF International or U.S. Pharmacopeia, you may not be buying the supplements you think you are.
Personally, I prefer to get nutrients at the source by eating more fruit and vegetables when I can, but that’s not always feasible. I often struggle to get enough iron and I’ve tried discount iron supplements, with varying degrees of success. These days, I’d rather stock up on the slightly more expensive iron tablets when they’re on discount. The dollar store versions sometimes upset my stomach and I’m not even confident I’m getting an iron boost.
4. Laundry detergent
Buying tiny bottles of laundry detergent rarely works out cheaper than buying a bigger bottle in another store. To give you an idea, Dollar Tree online charges $1.25 for an 8-fluid-ounce bottle of Tide laundry detergent. Walmart online charges $15.94 for a 115-fluid-ounce bottle. That’s $0.16 per fl oz, compared to Walmart’s $0.14 per fluid ounce. At the time of writing, Walgreens sells a 92-fluid-ounce bottle for 12.99, with an additional $3 coupon saving. That works out at about $0.11 per fluid ounce, which is significantly less than Dollar Tree.
It may only seem like a couple of cents on each fluid ounce, but it can add up to several more loads of washing. Now, perhaps your budget only stretches to $1.25 for laundry detergent right now, in which case the Dollar Tree bottle may be the right choice. But it’s worth watching for coupons or offers on cash back apps to see if you can get a decent deal on a bigger bottle. You might ask a friend or family member to go halves on a bigger bottle so you can both save.
Saving money on your groceries can translate into more cash in your bank account for other things. Don’t assume that everything in Dollar Tree is automatically a better value — sometimes you will get better deals in other stores. And sometimes it’s worth paying more for a product that will last or do the job you want it to do.
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