Dollar stores are cheap, but it's easier to waste money there than you think. Without a keen eye, you'll end up with damaged goods, nasty food and last dibs on the best merch. Every dollar store is different, but these strategies will save you money and keep you safe.
Find the Store's 'Hot Spots' and Learn Their Delivery Schedule
Like a warehouse club store, the stock of a dollar store is ever-changing. One week they will have a product in one spot, and in the next it will have moved or be gone. That's why A.B. Welch, the author of How to Shop Mostly Organic at the 99¢ Only Stores, suggests you scan the store's layout and look for the 'hot spots'. These areas are where they always show off the new merchandise.
Once you know where these are you can head directly to them whenever you're out shopping and snag the new goods before they're gone. If you do find a really great deal, strike while the iron is hot and grab what you need. Dollar store items vary by location and rotate over time. Save for a few staples, once something is gone, it's likely gone for good.
Welch also recommends you learn the dollar store's delivery schedule, especially if you ever want to buy produce or other perishables. Ask a manager or employee when shipments usually come in and when the best time to find new items might be. A little recon work can go a long way at the dollar store.
Check Your Dollar Store's Website
When you think of online shopping, you probably don't think of dollar stores -- but you should. Some dollar stores will post information on what deals can be found in their stores and what's new in stock. Dollar King and Daiso are a good examples of this.
Additionally, these websites will provide notices for product recalls and other safety information if you're concerned about a questionable product you bought there. So before you head out to your favourite dollar store, give their website a glimpse.
Examine Everything Closely Before You Buy
Not everything at the dollar store is worth a dollar. As Alice Garbarini Hurley points out, only some of the merchandise at dollar stores actually rings up to be a dollar or less. Other items, like candy bars, snacks, and cereals, actually cost more per grams at the dollar store than at the supermarket. Always double check an item's price before you mindlessly check out assuming everything you grabbed only costs a buck. Look at the price tag or the unit price, and compare the quantity you're getting at the price you'll pay.
While you're checking prices, don't forget to examine other qualities as well. Know the difference between an item that's cheap and a cheap item. Look for damage, check expiration dates where it matters, and always inspect a food item's packaging. Dollar stores are basically selling overstocked goods that other stores or distributors couldn't unload anywhere else, so they don't exactly treat these surplus products with a lot of care. Make sure wrappers aren't torn open, boxes don't have holes, and cans aren't punctured.
You can also check out our list of the best things to buy at a dollar store.