Dollar Store Shopping 101: What to Buy and What to Skip

Dollar Store 101: What to Buy and What to Skip | Positively Smitten #deals #shopping #dollarstore

I’ll admit it: I love Dollar Tree. If you’ve never been, it’s a discount store that sells all of its items for exactly $1. Some may scoff at the Dollar Tree, but I think it’s kind of a hidden gem. I shop there pretty regularly for everything from cards and wrapping paper to household items and the basic items to create an entire gift basket.

In fact, the dollar store is how, as a kid, my brother, cousin, and I gave Christmas gifts to our family. With $20 each, we were able to purchase one item for each person in my (large) family — it made is feel so good to be able to give and to receive gifts on Christmas morning, even if the items we sometimes gave were a little cheesy! I’ve learned a lot about shopping since then, including what items from these chains are great, which ones to be cautious with, and which ones to skip all together.

Here’s my guide to Dollar Tree shopping:

Dollar Tree Dos

Dollar Store 101: What to Buy and What to Skip | Positively Smitten #deals #shopping #dollarstore

You can get two cards for 50 cents each, or for slightly more “upscale” cards, $1 apiece. Worth it either way.


The vast, cheap card section is what first drew me to the almighty dollar store. I realized that cards elsewhere were kind of expensive – around $4 each – and it added up. But the dollar store cards are significantly cheaper, and often just as nice. Cards from the dollar store are especially perfect for kid gifts (when you know the card will all but be tossed directly into the garbage) or for stocking up (having a collection of cards for when you’re in a pinch is a great idea). In truth, most of my cards come straight from the Dollar Tree; their selection has vastly improved over the years and now they sell much more than just birthday cards.

Gift wrap

This is the other item that I think is a must when it comes to the discount store. Wrapping paper and those bags that you put gifts in can get pricey, and quick! Before you know it, you’ve dropped $50 on a gift and another $10 just to wrap it and include a card. Their wrapping paper, gift bags, tissue paper, and ribbons are all must buys.

Party supplies

When I was helping my dad decorate for my mom’s birthday party, I remember being completely shocked by how much places like iParty and Party City charged for silly decorations like streamers. Dollar Tree offers these same items for significantly cheaper. If you’re a parent/guardian to young kids, this is also the perfect place to get items. While they don’t necessarily carry big names – you probably won’t see The Avengers-themed decorations, for example – they do carry the basics: cups, paper plates, napkins, and even some goodies to put together really cheap party favors.


Dollar Store 101: What to Buy and What to Skip | Positively Smitten #deals #shopping #dollarstore

These puzzles include Cinderella, Avengers, and Fisher Price.

Around Christmas, I love to buy puzzles – which do feature mainstream characters, like Disney princesses – and donate them to charity. Puzzles are fun and they can be a great gift for little ones and adults!

Seasonal items

The Dollar Store is a fantastic place to stock up on holiday decorations. Right now, their stores are filled with Halloween gear and soon, it will be overloaded by Christmas items. Even in the summer, there are awesome finds like bubbles, water guns, pool toys, and pool floats.

Disposable items

Paper plates, napkins, cups, utensils… these are no different than the items you’d get elsewhere, and since you’re actually throwing these items right into the trash once they’ve been used, $1 per pack hurts your wallet way less.

Books/activity books

Coloring  books, Sudoku puzzles, and crosswords are great finds at the dollar store. Browse through the books, too, and sometimes you’ll find some gems.

Aluminum foil/saran wrap

Significantly cheaper than anywhere else, and works just as well.

Dollar Store 101: What to Buy and What to Skip | Positively Smitten #deals #shopping #dollarstore

Other places charge you for the balloon and for the helium — but these are just $1 each.


They have balloon for most occasions now, and yes, they are only $1! An excellent investment, given that most places charge you not only for the balloon, but for the helium to blow them up as well.

Teaching/school supplies

If you’re a teacher, Dollar Tree is totally where you should be stocking up on items for your classroom. There, they’ve got tons of items for the walls, stickers for graded papers, and basic classroom supplies that won’t break the bank. For parents, you can absolutely find things like pencils, erasers, and even staplers here for your kids. One awesome note for kids who  have projects to do: they sell all kinds of posterboard!


Stock up for cheap — they have 8-packs for just $1!

Dollar Tree Don’ts


I’m an avid stationary fan. Probably addicted, even. But the pens at the Dollar Tree are not great. I’ve purchased three separate packs of pens here (each time, thinking the last pack I got was a fluke) and none of them have lasted. No thanks.

Air fresheners

They don’t smell great, and they don’t last. Pass.


Dollar Store 101: What to Buy and What to Skip | Positively Smitten #deals #shopping #dollarstore

I admit I haven’t tried every candle from the discount stores — but for the ones I have, I’ve been unimpressed. I recommend trying candles from A.C. Moore instead.

In my experience, the candles here have a hard time burning. Their scents aren’t so great and it’s just not worth the effort to buy them. For affordable alternatives to things like Yankee Candle, I’d skip the dollar store and instead try A.C. Moore.

Flash lights

They don’t always work and, more often than not, are really flaky. Maybe they’re fine for back-up or for your car where you’ll pretty much never need to use it, but as your sole “emergency” flashlight? I’d say no.

Grab bags

I’m not sure if they offer these anymore, but at some Dollar Trees they used to offer “grab bags” for a dollar. Basically, it was a brown bag stuffed with the reject crap they couldn’t even sell for $1.

Dollar Store Maybes


You get what you pay for when it comes to the toys. Some of them are great – I found some really cute Wii remote covers here in the shape of a baseball and a golf club (perfect for playing Wii Sports!), for example. Some are total duds that will probably break before you get out of the store. That said, there’s nothing wrong with letting your kids go crazy and pick out 5 items here that they want, rather than taking them to Toys ‘R’ Us and letting them pick out a toy. If one toy breaks, they’ve got four others.

Kitchen utensils

Things like measuring cups, Tupperware, and even oven mitts are great picks, but some of these items can break pretty easily. I bought two metal spatulas from here, both of which broke within a week or so, until I learned my lesson. Similarly, I used some pans from the dollar store just fine, while others, I couldn’t even use because the glue that holds the sticker price wouldn’t come off!


I must admit I have not purchased food from here, other than candy. The candy is always pretty good, and with the food, I would warn you to check the dates on them and just to overall be careful.

Dollar Store 101: What to Buy and What to Skip | Positively Smitten #deals #shopping #dollarstore

Look closely: that eyeshadow is Rimmel London brand. You can also find CoverGirl and Sinful Colors items. Sorry, no MAC.

Beauty supplies

Some items in the Dollar Tree are actually repackaged, name brand items. I’ve actually found some stuff from Sinful Colors, CoverGirl, and Rimmel – but you have to look for them. Similarly, some of the makeup ended up at the dollar store because it’s gross and old, especially nail polish. Some of the more basic items, though, like Q-Tips, are fine.

Cleaning products

Again, can be hit or miss. I’d recommend any Lysol or Mr. Plumber products, but I’d pass entirely on the knock-off all-purpose cleaning wipes. I can’t tell you if they work or not, but they smell awful.


While some frames are totally fine (and you can’t even tell they’re from the dollar store), others are chipped, misaligned, and otherwise just not a great investment. For a few bucks more, you can get nicer frames at Target.

Which items are on your “buy” or “skip” dollar store list? 


5 responses to “Dollar Store Shopping 101: What to Buy and What to Skip

  1. I haven’t been to a dollar store in years, but after reading this post, I plan to give it another try. Thanks Crystal!


  2. Crystal, this is awesome! I get a little overwhelmed when I go to the dollar store because it is so difficult to discern which items are a steal for me, and which items are a steal for the Dollar Tree (as in they are the ones robbing me). I trust your judgment and appreciate all your tips. 🙂


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