Buyer beware

Consumer Reports warns against purchasing medications and vitamins at dollar stores, noting that these items might not contain the same ingredients as the name brands. Sometimes they are out of date, and often they don't list the country where the product was manufactured. This can be a concern, as some countries do not adhere to the food and pharmaceutical regulations in the United States.

Consumer Reports also recommends that you don't purchase electrical cords at dollar stores, as many of them are not UL-approved (such cords were the subject of a recent recall). Do not purchase toys, particularly those for infants, as many toys on dollar store shelves contain lead and other ingredients that could be harmful.

Toothpaste is another item that you should purchase at a large retailer carrying name-brand products. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about toothpaste from China (which is sold mostly at dollar stores), saying it was "found to be contaminated with diethylene glycol."

You should also carefully consider food purchases at a dollar store. Many food items found on dollar store shelves are from "unregulated" countries, meaning they may not have the same quality as name-brand products.

The bottom line

Dollar stores are a great place to save serious money, but you must be an astute shopper. As the old adage says, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Comparison-shop for not only price but quality as well. Paying a few more dollars for a premium product that will give you years of use will save you more money than buying a cheaper item that won't be around very long. If you have any doubts about a product, don't purchase it. That advice should be followed in every store where you shop.

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