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Don't buy these 7 things at a dollar store

Dollar stores lure us in with their rock-bottom prices but is everything really a bargain? We suggest you steer clear of these items.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 30, 2014 1:12PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyDollar stores can be great places to pick up inexpensive items, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Rather than ending up with a bargain, you could end up with junk or, even worse, something dangerous. Here are seven items it's best to avoid at a dollar store.


1. Electric cords and other electric devices

If you're looking to bring a fire hazard into your house, you should definitely buy cords and other electric devices from dollar stores. If you would rather not reduce your home to embers, we suggest you steer clear.

That may be a bit overly dramatic, but dollar stores don't have a great track record of quality control when it comes to cords and electronics. All the way back in 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned about faulty power strips, extension cords and surge protectors being sold at discount stores. Made in China, the products failed to meet established U.S. safety standards.

However, the problem appears to persist, with recalls for extension cords, holiday mini-lights and portable heaters all occurring in recent years.

2. Toys

Dollar store toys could be a safety hazard, and some have been recalled for posing a choking risk. But the bigger issue here is dollar store toys are, quite simply, junk.

It's not that the toys have so-so quality. No, we're talking so cheap they'll break if you look at them wrong. The wheels will fall off, the batteries won't work, or your 3-year-old will snap it in two before you've even hit the parking lot. Then, you'll be left with a broken toy, an upset child and a lesson in never buying toys at the dollar store again.

Your experience may differ but unless you're looking for cheap party favors that don't pose a hazard, we say you're better off paying a little more and not dealing with the tears and frustration.

3. Shampoo and beauty products

Opinions seem to be mixed on dollar store shampoo and beauty products, but they get a thumbs down from us. Not because of any safety concern but because they often don't provide great value.

Lipstick © Stockbyte/PictureQuestDollar stores may sell brand-name products, and there has been some healthy discussion on the Internet about whether what you get at the discount store is the same as what is sold elsewhere. The comments against dollar store shampoos range from them being watered down to being the result of diversion, which can mean you are buying outdated or expired products.

However, leaving that aside, we find that many dollar stores stock itty-bitty bottles compared with what you get in other stores. So you may not be paying a lot, but you're not getting a lot either. A better value might be to combine coupons and deals at drugstores where shampoo, conditioner and other beauty products are practically being given away.

4. Kitchen knives

Quality concerns also get kitchen knives placed on the do-not-buy list.

Dollar stores knives can be flimsy and dull. Both are bad when you're trying to cut your food and not your finger. We hear the knives sold at dollar stores overseas aren't much better either.

5. Paper products

You're welcome to try dollar store toilet paper, but we don't recommend it. Often having fewer fibers than other brands, using no-name paper can make for a less than ideal situation.

As for the brand-name toilet paper, tissues and paper towels at dollar stores, you may find the same problem we discovered with shampoo. Small sizes and fewer sheets mean the dollar store price isn't much of a bargain. Try hitting your warehouse club or otherwise buying in bulk to get the best quality for the lowest per-unit price.

6. Canned and boxed foods

Most dollar stores carry a selection of canned, boxed and bagged foods that may include many brand names. Some stores may even have a full grocery section complete with meat and produce.

While the dollar pricing may seem like a bargain, you could find many of these items on sale at your grocery store for less. In particular, grocery supercenters like Walmart seem to win on the price war for canned and boxed foods.

To learn more, you can read one Tampa Bay Times writer's experience living on dollar store food, and Rachael Ray offers some dollar store food buying tips on her website as well.

7. Batteries

Finally, we come to batteries. In a pinch, dollar store batteries will work just fine, but don't expect them to run like the brand names.

Rhett Allain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, put Dollar General batteries to the test against Duracell and Energizer ones. He discovered the dollar store batteries contain significantly less energy and see their voltage drop off quickly. Apparently, a major difference between the brands is the fact that Dollar General batteries are not alkaline and likely zinc chloride instead.

If you want to read all the science behind Allain's experiments, you can head to Wired for his article.  If you'd rather leave all the graphs and math behind, check out Stacy Johnson's video on Money Talks News that discusses it.

Of course, dollar stores vary widely, but we think your best bet is to stay away from these seven product categories. Do you agree?

More on Money Talks News:

Jan 30, 2014 4:06PM

The caviar I bought there was way too salty.

Jan 30, 2014 4:20PM

I can't help but wonder if the author of this article owns quite a bit of stock in WalMart?


Jan 30, 2014 3:33PM
I buy TP & other paper products at the dollar store, also batteries.  Since I'm not that picky about these items, it works fine for me. I understand why other people might feel differently, but to me the cost savings is worth it.  After all the whole point of going to the dollar store is to save money, right?
Jan 30, 2014 4:23PM
Has this writer actually ever been into a Dollar General store? Their canned/boxed foods are major brands; not expired and less than any other store I've shopped in. They also have many name brand toys. We've had no problems with batteries (name brand) that we've bought there As with all stores you should know the prices of items before you buy to know if you are getting a good buy or not. I will continue using Dollar General as my go to quick trip store.
Jan 30, 2014 4:14PM
MSN strikes again !! Another one of the endless stupid articles they seem to bombard us with.
Jan 30, 2014 3:00PM
We've had very good luck with Dollar General batteries.  They last about 75% as long as Duracell, but are less than half the price.

"The comments against dollar store shampoos range from them being watered down to being the result of , which can mean you are buying outdated or expired products."

I would be beyond p*ssed to get home and discover my Irish Spring was outdated or expired.

Jan 30, 2014 4:29PM

I save quite a bit of money buying at Dollar Tree etc , but  just like buying anywhere else , use good judgement . Some sizes may be smaller , so knowing price per ounce etc is important . Dollar stores actually have a lot of different items that are a very good buy , compared to most grocery stores , department stores , and even walmart . Most items , including many name brands , are overstock items the warehouses need to cut back on , so that is the reason that many times items are limited and not always offered . Many of the snack foods and boxed items can be as much as half the cost somewhere else , just watch the expiration dates etc. I buy well known disposable razors (8-10 per pack) that last for 4-7 shaves each, for a buck . Why would anyone want to pay $10-25 for fancy razor blades at another store? Sure , there are things you don't want to buy at the dollar stores , but the same can be said for the other stores also .    

Jan 30, 2014 4:48PM
I always buy napkins at the dollar store. You get 200 for $1, compared to $3 - $4 anywhere else. You use them once! No need to spend more on such a disposable item. Also love bag clips, crayons, and coloring books from the dollar store. Huge savings there.
Jan 30, 2014 4:56PM
How can you hate on the Dollar Tree? I've brought batteries, toys, name brand beauty products such as Nivea from there. Even name brand make-up!!! The Awesome cleaner is the BEST YOU WILL EVER BUY for a buck or otherwise. This is a stupid article from someone has apparently has never been to the dollar store! Oh yea and I miss Pamida!
Jan 30, 2014 3:17PM
Ok,  we'll be if we are so stupid about shopping for cheap things that we don't know already.
Jan 30, 2014 4:37PM

our 99 cent store has fresh produce and I think it is just as good as what you get in a grocery store.  Granted, the selection is limited, but I can get a 5 pound bag of potatoes, 2 good sized portabello mushrooms, a bag of onions, 3-4 garlic heads, peppers, 4 pears, salad mix and such for 99 cents each.  I have had no problems with quality either. 


I think it is a matter of being careful of what you buy and checking expiration dates and such. 

Jan 30, 2014 3:18PM
it is funny,, how sometimes I have read that buying items at 99 cents stores can save you dollars, but yet this articles says otherwise. I guess it is a matter of opinions and of course budgets.
Jan 30, 2014 4:18PM
There is a HUGE difference between a  $1.00 store and a Dollar General or Family Dollar discount store. Products in the discount store are the exact same as Walmart or Target. The $1 stores are where you find the things listed in this article.
Jan 30, 2014 4:58PM
Love the Dollar Store. So far no Problems.
Jan 30, 2014 4:21PM

Certain dollar stores have the Panasonic batteries, they are much better than those crappy family dollar ones.

Jan 30, 2014 4:48PM
I bought a pairing knife at a dollar store in college and still have it today 18yrs. later .  It is one of my favorite knives, yet have never been able to find another like it.  Gues it was my lucky day.  Mostly I buy balloons, cards and party decoratins.
Jan 30, 2014 4:42PM

Don't know who thinks this stuff up, but the last article was what you should buy at the dollar store for a dollar and those things are not a dollar any more.

Jan 30, 2014 5:18PM
This article has so much wrong with it that I am struggling with what to address first. The article brought up a couple of valid concerns about being careful when buying electrical items and toys and then tried to elicit concern over a myriad of other items.  It would have been far more responsible and fair to mention that the ability to purchase food and home essential items is making it possible for so many people to weather the economic climate that lower income families are struggling to survive. There are some amazing bargains at the Dollar Tree and 99cent stores that make it possible for parents to feed their children and keep their homes clean.  Middle income families are now turning to the discount chains to offset the higher medical expenses and rapidly escalating costs of maintaining their households. Instead of constantly looking for ways to undermine resources available to struggling consumers, try taking an approach of fairly evaluating the options and not using scare or shame tactics to make people feel uncomfortable shopping at businesses that make it possible to live more comfortably on meager paychecks.
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