Two dollar shops are a minefield of cheap junk and questionable food, but there are also some great deals on stuff you use every day. If you know what to look for and what to avoid, you can make the two dollar shop the first stop in your grocery shopping quest and get the most bang for your buck. Two dollar store shelves image from Shutterstock. Photos by Brian Bennett, Antonio Delgado, stefernie.
The Best Two Dollar Shop Buys
Everything usually only costs a few dollars at the two dollar shop, but that doesn't mean everything is worth a few dollars. That said, you can find some great deals on certain items. Here's what you should definitely pull the trigger on:
- Cleaning Supplies: The household cleaning products at the two dollar shop, like window cleaner, bleach and dish soap, are just as effective as the pricier stuff at the supermarket. The ingredients are pretty much the same, they will just have cheap labels and silly names.
- Tools: Depending on your local two dollar shop, you can usually find decent tools. You're not going to find brand-name power tools, but there are screwdrivers, hammers, tape measures and other simple stuff that works and gets the job done. If you want to put together a basic toolbox for small, occasional projects, start at the two dollar shop.
- Kitchen Utensils and Tableware: Spatulas, tongs, mixing bowls and even tableware like plates and cereal bowls from the two dollar shop are affordable, and often just as sturdy as something you'd buy elsewhere. I personally outfitted my entire table set, including utensils, from a two dollar shop and they actually look pretty great. Some items, like pots and pans, appliances and chef's knives are probably worth spending some money on though. You don't have to pay for a set of knives, but you'll definitely want a few nice ones.
- Shampoo, Deodorant and Other Bathroom Products: If you don't mind using generic or off-brands, Consumer Reports explains that shampoo, deodorant, soap and body wash are basically the same ingredients you pay more for elsewhere, and in some cases, the same companies that make the brand name stuff make the generic versions. Even first aid items like bandages and antiseptic cream are a good buy. Toothpaste, however, can be hit or miss (more on that below).
- Storage Containers: Most two dollar shops have everything from simple baskets to thick plastic containers to organise your bathroom, cleaning supplies or your closet. In fact, search "dollar store hauls organisation" at YouTube and you'll see some great examples.
- Hair Accessories: On his blog, Dave Ramsey suggests you buy brushes, combs, hair ties, hair elastics and other accessories. They all get the job done and cost you less money. Unless you need something of particular quality, a hair tie from the two dollar shop is just as good as a hair tie from the supermarket.
- Reading Glasses: If you can find them, reading glasses at two dollar shop are basically the same thing you'd find at the pharmacy or supermarket, only a lot cheaper. You don't have to worry about breaking them or losing them, so grab a few pairs.
- Frames, Vases and Other Home Decor: Two dollar shops often have picture frames, fake plants, vases and other glassware can help you decorate your home on the cheap. You should also check out their seasonal decorations. You can decorate your home or office for holidays like Easter, Christmas and New Year's for only few dollars.
- Canned and Non-Perishable Food: Canned and shelf-stable boxed goods are the best bargains you can find at the two dollar shop. The caveat here is you have to make sure it's not just as cheap somewhere else, and that it's all food you'll actually eat and you're not just stocking up because it's all affordable.
- Greeting Cards: In most shops, a card will cost you $4-$7. That's why Casey Slide at Money Crashers suggests you check the card selection at the two dollar shop. You can usually find them for around $1 each, and they have the same vaguely heartfelt messages inside.
- Party Supplies: Real Simple suggests you look for paper plates, tablecloths and balloons at two dollar shops specifically. Also, keep an eye out for cheap cups, bags of lollies and decorations like streamers, confetti and other party products.
- Gift Bags and Wrapping Paper: They may "feel" cheaper, but two dollar shops are a great place to pick up gift bags for those same parties or wrapping paper for birthdays or the holidays. Ultimately it will all get ripped off and thrown away, so save your money.
Keep an eye out for brand name products regardless of where you shop, explains Consumer Reports. Two dollar shops are gradually becoming more grocery friendly and are competing to become more of a one-stop shop for all of your basics.
What You Should Buy… With Caution
Some items at the two dollar shop are questionable when it comes to safety, and others are only worth your money when you need them for something specific. These items could be a steal in the right light, but give them a closer look before you head to the checkout counter:
- Paper Products: For something like a birthday party or other one-time gathering, two dollar shop paper products might be fine, but when it comes to quality and daily use, the supermarket stuff is actually a better buy overall. For example, cheap paper plates for a neighbourhood barbecue are fine, but no one wants to use single-ply, two dollar shop toilet paper every day for a month, you follow?
- Plastic Wrap and Aluminium Foil: Both of these are available at two dollar shops, but sometimes you can find a much better deal at the supermarket or by buying in bulk. Quality is another factor. If you want to save on this stuff you have to do the maths yourself and determine the amount of square meterage you're getting per dollar.
- Toothpaste: Toothpaste can be a little risky. Sometimes, toothpaste found at two dollar shops are imported off-brands. The US FDA had to issue a warning about toothpaste from China that contained the poisonous chemical diethylene glycol (DEG). The stuff has many different names too (the most common is Diglycol), so just be cautious if you plan on buying two dollar shop toothpaste. It could be a deal, but sometimes it's not worth the risk.
- Makeup: If your budget is a little tight, Kristine Rose at xojane suggests checking out the basics at the two dollar shop. You can find blush, eyeshadow, lipstick and even a decent nail polish if you're lucky. Just don't expect to find a lot of choices in colour or skin tone, or for any of it to be particularly high-quality.
- Batteries: According to Howcast, most off-brand two dollar shop batteries are made out of carbon zinc, not alkali, so they won't last very long. You could probably do better with a massive pack of IKEA batteries. That said, if you can find name-brand batteries on the shelf, they might be worth your money.
- Spices: Spices are hit or miss at the two dollar shop. If they have any at all, they will only be few of the most popular spices, they will all be a no-name brand and they might be really old. Check to make sure they aren't expired before you buy, and don't get your hopes up. If you're stocking an office "lunch emergency kit" to spruce up your leftovers, they're perfect though.
- Basic Office Supplies: Most two dollar shops have a decent office and school supply section. You'll find tape, paper clips, staples, folders, pens, pencils, all the stuff you would expect. These are great buys as long as you're sure they're not cheaper somewhere else. Regina Novickis, consumer savings expert, explained to Today that you won't save much when shops like Target are having back-to-school sales though, especially since those places will have high-quality, brand name options.
Every two dollar shop is different, so don't expect a product you found at one shop to be the same quality at every shop.
What You Should Avoid at All Costs
As you might expect, two dollar shops also have items that aren't even worth your two dollars, but may look attractive because of that low, low price tag. Don't be fooled, or worse, make yourself or your family sick. Avoid these items entirely:
- Toys: Toys at the two dollar shop are the cheapest of the cheap. It's not that a kid wouldn't have fun playing with them, but they break very easily. The colouring books don't have many pages, and most of the toys usually come with super small parts that pose a choking hazard. When Consumer Reports investigated two dollar shops a few years ago, they found an item that looked like a toy that packed a hidden lighter. More recently, Consumer Reports explained that the toys are getting safer, but the risk still isn't worth your buck.
- Vitamins and Medication: Consumer Reports also found that most vitamins at the two dollar shop don't contain what they claim to, or have problems dissolving properly. And make sure medication isn't expired and past its point of maximum effectiveness. You're better off spending a couple of extra bucks to buy a still-cheap, generic brand at the supermarket, where stock is usually more strictly controlled.
- Soft Drinks: Soft drink is one of the many items in the two dollar shop that looks like a deal, but isn't. You can often find similar deals on name brand soft drink at supermarkets that make $1 litres of off-brand soft drink look like a complete ripoff.
- Pet Food: This might look like a great way to save some cash, but don't do your pet like that. Knock-off food just isn't worth the risk, says Novickis. Besides, you can often find large bags of dry food or cases of name brand canned stuff for the same prices or less at other shops, especially in bulk.
- Light Bulbs: Two dollar shop light bulbs are cheaply made off-brands that burn out pretty fast. Plus, they're incandescents and less energy efficient, so you don't really save that much in the long run anyway. They're fine for lights you don't have on all the time, but not ideal.
Be diligent while you shop and keep safety in mind. If an item looks questionable, put it back on the rack. Saving money is never worth risking your personal well-being.