When it comes to dollar stores, there’s a lot to unpack—like their tendency to pop up in food deserts, and their impact on a local economy—but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Because regardless of how you view these discount chains, 80% of Americans shop at dollar stores at least occasionally, according to a June 2021 survey from Consumer Reports.
And as long as that’s the case, it makes sense to have a better understanding of which household items are legitimately good value at dollar stores, and which ones aren’t worth it.
Recently, a group of experts from Consumer Reports provided some tips for being a smart dollar store shopper. Here are some to help you get the best deals on necessities for your home, courtesy of John Galeotafiore, associate director of product testing at Consumer Reports.
Don’t pass the automotive aisle
Though you may not think of dollar stores as the place to pick up stuff for your car, it can come in handy for getting general products, like windshield wiper fluid, wipes for cleaning up spills, and cords for plugging in electronics.
And while many stock motor oil, Galeotafiore says to check the bottle and make sure that it carries the American Petroleum Institute’s certification mark. “Even if it’s a brand you don’t recognize, that mark means it meets the latest industry standards,” he explains.
The hardware section has the basics (but not much else)
The hardware aisle of the dollar store may look extensive, but Galeotafiore recommends going in with realistic expectations. Sure, you can expect to find things like measuring tapes, claw hammers, and screwdrivers, but if you’re looking for anything more specialized, or for more complicated tasks, he suggests going directly to the hardware store.
Paper products in a pinch
Not everyone is able to go to wholesale or big-box stores to buy their toilet paper and tissues in bulk. In situations like that, paper products and other household items are likely going to be cheaper at dollar stores than they would be at other local establishments, like convenience stores or gas stations.
People already seem to know that, though, given that a majority of people who shop at dollar stores usually buy household goods there, according to the survey from Consumer Reports.
Pay attention to light bulbs
Yes, you’re going to find light bulbs at dollar stores, and yes, they’re going to be cheap. But according to Galeotafiore, they are more likely to be incandescent bulbs than LED ones. And although the LED bulbs themselves are usually more expensive, they use less energy and last much longer, so they end up being better value in the long run.
“To save time and money,” Galeotafiore says, “note the details of the bulb you’re replacing, so you don’t end up with something that isn’t quite right.”
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