When you're shopping on a budget, it’s beneficial to cut coupons, shop sales, and compare prices. If you're looking for a spot where you can always find a good deal, your nearest dollar store is a sure bet.
But, even when you're on a budget, there are some things that you should never toss into your cart—and some things that are downright dangerous to buy in a bargain bin. We spoke to the experts to find out the items you should always skip at the dollar store—and why.
1. Travel-size products
When you are stocking up for a trip, don’t buy your travel-size beauty products at the dollar store: you may not be getting the best bang for your buck. “Dollar stores will often try to up-charge travel-size shampoo and conditioners because customers think $1 for everything is a great deal no matter what it is. But more often than not, you can find a great deal on multi-packs of travel-size items at your local grocery store,” says Sarah Hollenbeck, a shopping and savings expert with Offers.com.
You are better off buying toys at at the toy store. What may seem like a fun toy could become dangerous if it’s poorly made. “Cheaply made toys can be a choking hazard, as parts can come off more easily on these products than their more expensive counterparts,” says Hollenbeck.
3. Garbage bags
Taking out the trash is enough of a chore without dealing with the bag leaking or breaking. “Garbage bags from the dollar store are much weaker, even the ones that say no-tear,” says Hollenbeck. You’ll be glad you stuck with a name-brand bag. When we tested the best trash bags on the market, we found Glad ForceFlexPlus Advanced Protection blew the competition away.
Don’t fill your tool box with dollar store supplies. “Dollar store versions of items such as hammers and screwdrivers are unlikely to be as sturdy as the ones from more reputable retailers and could cause injury if falling apart,” says Jennifer McDermott, a consumer advocate for the personal finance comparison website, Finder. Think of the hammer-head flying off as you try to hang your art—now head to Home Depot.
5. Phone and laptop chargers
You spent a lot of money on your devices—don't let the urge to skimp on a proper power cord cost you. "Most off-brand chargers for the phones and tablets won't last more than a month, and some can even harm or short-circuit your devices,” says Hollenbeck. Spend a little bit extra to buy a power cord that will keep your devices in working condition. We tested the best charging cables, and the AmazonBasics Nylon Braided Lightning Cable ($13) aced our tests.
6. Pet food and treats
Your pet deserves the best—and that may not be dollar store brand food and treats. “Pet food is a slower-moving product in many deep discount stores, which means it often sits on the shelves well after its expiration date. There have been numerous recalls for pet food in dollar stores over the years, including a dog treat recall in 2015 due to possible Salmonella contamination,” says Jeff Procter, owner of the personal finance blog, Dollar Sprout. “When it comes to your pet’s food, pay attention to ingredients and expiration dates, and remember that you’re better off shopping at pet food stores,” he adds.
7. Anything plastic
Plastics from the dollar store can be problematic. “A 2015 report tested 164 products from discount retailers for known carcinogens. The study found that 81% of the products tested contained at least one hazardous chemical at a concerning level,” says Procter.
Steer clear of plastic items, especially cooking gadgets and tools, which have been known to have high levels of bromine. "When these utensils are exposed to heat, they release the toxic chemical, which can then be ingested via food,” Procter adds.
8. Canned food
You may actually find yourself spending more money when you buy canned foods at the dollar store. “At Dollar Tree, you might find cans of soup or veggies selling for $1, though you'd find the same items priced lower at the supermarket or on Amazon,” says Doug Whiteman, editor-in-chief of the personal finance site MoneyWise.com
Dollar store batteries are made with zinc chloride and not alkaline, according to Whiteman. “They may be cheaper up front, but name brand batteries typically save you money in the long run. In addition to that, these cheaper batteries are more prone to leaking, which could ruin your electronic devices,” he says. Splurge for the better batteries.
10. Medicine and vitamins
“Don't roll the dice on cheap medicines and vitamins sold at the dollar store. Even if the ingredients are for real, the product may be past its expiration date, making it ineffective or even dangerous,” says Whiteman. Head to the drugstore or the doctor for any medicine and supplements your family needs.