Dollar stores are known for their incredible deals -- but there are ways to save even more on their already low prices.
GOBankingRates talked to shopping experts to find out how to get the best prices at dollar stores, what sets the different chains apart and the surprising things you should always -- and never -- stock up on when you go.
Last updated: Aug. 25, 2021
Some Dollar Stores Have Useful Apps
You might not be aware, but both Dollar General and Family Dollar have their own apps.
"Download the apps for both," said Kendall of The Freebie Guy. "Most weeks, both will do a digital [coupon for] $5 off $25."
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Dollar General Has Major Clearance Days
Dollar General already has low prices, but you can save even more during its clearance days.
“They do an additional 50% off on their clearance items," Kendall said. "They have things like shampoo, soap, paper towels, etc., that are normally 10% off on clearance that will be an additional 50% -- which is when I try to stock up on paper towels."
Dollar Tree's Customer Appreciation Events Can Help You Save More
Dollar Tree also has special savings events. During the chain's Friends and Family Events, you can save 10% off your purchase of $10 or more. These events typically happen in the summer and during the holidays, according to The Krazy Koupon Lady. Follow Dollar Tree on Facebook to see when the next event is taking place.
It's Important To Take Time To Read the Labels
You can find hidden gems at a dollar store, but be sure to read the label before purchasing anything with an expiration date or any off-brand items.
"The key to knowing what to -- and what not to -- buy is by checking the label," said Rebecca Gramuglia, retail expert at TopCashback.com. "Review the expiration date, as well as the list of ingredients to ensure you’re getting the best product for less."
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A Dollar Store Item Isn't Necessarily Worse
If a product passes your label check, you have no reason to not buy it.
"Just because you bought it at the dollar store for less does not mean that the product lacks quality," Gramuglia said. "Browse all of the aisles because you never know what you’ll find.”
You Can — and Should — Stack Savings
“Don't forget to check for coupons and additional ways to save before you shop," Gramuglia said. "Like your local grocery stores, dollar stores offer great additional savings via coupons — either online or via your Sunday newspaper."
You Can Save Even More With Cash-Back Apps
Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar are all compatible with the Ibotta app, which allows you to earn cash back on your in-store purchases. You can also earn cash back on specific items you buy with the Checkout 51 app and Fetch Rewards.
You’re Better Off Buying Brand-Name Items at a Grocery Store
It's exciting when you spot a brand you love at a dollar store, but be aware that brand-name items might not actually be well priced.
"Dollar stores typically offer brand-name items, but in smaller quantities than you'd see at the grocery store," said Michael Bonebright, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. "This means you can end up overpaying per ounce or per count. For example, Dollar General offers a 22-ounce bottle of Lysol All Purpose Cleaner for $2, but Walmart has a 32-ounce bottle of the same product for just a few cents more.”
Dollar Tree Is the Best Dollar Store for Household Goods
"Different dollar stores offer different user experiences," Bonebright said. "For example, Dollar Tree has more household items [and] paper goods."
Dollar General Is the Best Dollar Store for Groceries
Dollar General has a larger selection of groceries than other dollar store chains, Bonebright said.
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But You’re Better Off Buying Groceries Elsewhere
Even though you can purchase groceries at Dollar General, Bonebright doesn't recommend doing so if you have access to other options.
"If you have the ability to do all your household shopping at a big-box or grocery store, I'd avoid making those purchases at a dollar store," he said. "Because dollar stores sell smaller quantities of goods, you'll have to go shopping more often. Larger chains also offer a wider selection of goods, especially fresh foods, so your family will have the opportunity to eat healthier if you avoid dollar store groceries."
Not Everything Costs $1 at Dollar General
Despite the name, Dollar General sells items that cost more than a buck.
"If you’re comparing dollar store chain options, you may likely find better deals at Dollar Tree since everything is marked at $1, while Dollar General offers deals and more name products at a discounted price — not necessarily marked at exactly $1," Gramuglia said.
School Project Supplies Are Cheaper at Dollar Stores Than Elsewhere
“I buy all my children's school project supplies at our local dollar store," Bonebright said. "School-age necessities like posters and art supplies are significantly cheaper there.”
You Can Shop Popular Dollar Chains Online
If you find shopping in a store overwhelming, you can do your shopping online at some chains -- plus you can save even more when you do.
“Sometimes it pays -- literally -- to shop the dollar chains online, especially since popular ones like Dollar Tree and Dollar General can earn you cash back on purchases when you shop through cash-back sites like TopCashback.com," Gramuglia said.
The Selection Changes Constantly
The more frequently you shop at dollar stores, the more deals you'll get. The stock is constantly being updated, so the deals change frequently too.
You'll Get the Best Selection of Holiday Items if You Shop Early
Dollar stores famously have a great selection of holiday supplies and decor, so people know to stock up around the holidays. The earlier you go, the better the selection you'll get. If you wait too long, you'll be left with the picked-over scraps.
The Aisles Aren't Always Organized by Category
Dollar store aisles can contain a hodgepodge of items, so it's worth walking down each one to find unexpected deals.
Dollar Tree Accepts Manufacturer Coupons
If you know there's a specific item you want to buy, check online and in your paper for a manufacturer's coupon. You can use an unlimited number of newspaper coupons and up to two printable coupons per day at Dollar Tree, according to The Krazy Coupon Lady.
Dollar Tree Offers Free In-Store Pickup
If you prefer to do your dollar store shopping online but don't want to pay shipping fees, take advantage of Dollar Tree's free shipping to your local store.
Dollar Stores Are the Best Places To Shop For Party and Holiday Supplies
“The best deals you can score at the dollar store are on items that are disposable like party decorations, balloons, gift bags and stuff for Halloween costumes," Gramuglia said. "These items are usually pricey elsewhere, but you can find these same items at a dollar store for much cheaper."
Don’t Overlook the Decor and Housewares
Be sure to peruse the decor items to find great pieces for less than you can get anywhere else. This is especially true for seasonal items.
"Don’t shell out big bucks on decor or houseware items that may break or lose value," Gramuglia said. "Instead, head to your local dollar store to find seasonal decorations like Halloween-themed kitchen towels, mugs, candle holders and bins for organizing."
Parents Can Find Big Savings at Dollar Stores
Savvy parents should head to a dollar store to stock up on kid-friendly supplies.
"Dollar stores are a perfect place to find inexpensive items like books, puzzles and stickers that will not only keep the kids busy on rainy days, but also act as perfect goody-bag fillers," Gramuglia said.
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Be Wary of Buying Beauty and Cleaning Products
You can find makeup, beauty products and cleaning products for cheap at dollar stores, but these are items where the quality really does matter.
"Products in these categories at dollar stores typically are generic or off-brands and may have harmful chemicals in them," Gramuglia said. "The better -- and safer -- option is to use coupons at supermarkets and drugstores if you’re looking to save money on these types of products."
However, It’s a Great Place To Find Cleaning Supplies
While you shouldn't buy cleaning products at the dollar store, it's a smart place to pick up the other supplies you need to get your home sparkling.
“You can easily find household accessories like buckets, dish rags and sponges for less at the dollar store," Gramuglia said.
Avoid Buying Vitamins and Medications
“Don’t sacrifice your health for a good price," Gramuglia said. "Studies have shown, for example, vitamins and other drug-related products sold at dollar stores have been altered with other ingredients and are not FDA-approved.”
Know Your Store's Shipping Schedule
Ask your local store when they get their shipments of the products you buy most. This way you get first dibs on the items you want, which is especially important if you purchase perishable items.
Dollar Store Toys Can Be Dangerous
Books, puzzles and craft supplies are fine to buy at the dollar store, but plastic toys should be bought elsewhere.
"Plastic toys sold at dollar stores can often break into small pieces and become a choking hazard," Gramuglia said.
Kids' Pool Floats Should Also Be Purchased Elsewhere
Think twice before purchasing a pool float at a dollar store. While the quality could be fine, it's better to not take a chance.
"With anything involving safety, you’re better off paying more for quality and durability somewhere else," Gramuglia said.
You Can Find Surprisingly High-Quality Kitchenware and Barware
If you're looking for seasonal kitchen items or want to add some flare to your at-home bar, a dollar store is a good place to go.
"The dollar store is a great place to get wine glasses, Coca-Cola-themed glassware, and even catering trays and platters for as little as one buck," Gramuglia said.
You Can Buy the Sunday Paper at a Dollar Store
You can pick up the Sunday newspaper -- for a discount -- at your local dollar store, according to CheatSheet.
You Can Use Coupons To Get Items for Free
If you have a manufacturer's coupon for $1.50 off toothpaste and Dollar Tree is selling that toothpaste for $1, you can use the coupon to get it for free, according to The Krazy Koupon Lady. However, you won't get the extra 50 cents as cash back.
Dollar Tree's Loyalty Program Offers Sneak Peeks and More
Get sneak peeks of what's to come in-store, and get early access to special offers when you join Dollar Tree's Value Seeker's Club loyalty program. It's free to join.
Greeting Cards Sell for 50 Cents
The dollar store is the best place to buy greeting cards for every occasion -- they sell for less than a buck.
"You will find the best price at the dollar store, where you can snag them for 50 cents each," said budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. "Stock up when you go: Think ahead to which celebrations and birthdays you will be celebrating over the next six months and buy enough cards for those events. Buying ahead ensures you have them when you need them and don’t end up spending 10 times that amount out of convenience at the grocery store or Walmart."
Dollar Tree Does Not Accept Returns
Before you go crazy and buy a bunch of things you don't need or can't actually use, it's important to note that Dollar Tree will not give you your money back for a returned item. You can exchange items, however.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 34 Dollar Store Secrets You Need To Know Before You Shop