9 items to buy

  1. Paper Products. Greeting cards are some of the best deals at the dollar store, especially if you have a bit of time to pick through the rack. Some even include higher-end details such as ribbon or rhinestones and look (but don’t cost) like a Hallmark card. Greeting cards aside, you really can’t go wrong with anything made of paper at the dollar store — including gift bags/wrap, notebooks, calendars, datebooks, journals, colouring/puzzle books, loose-leaf, stationery, construction paper, poster board, and sketch books.
  2. School and Office Supplies. Pencils, pens, binders, folders, report covers, protective sheets, paper clips, highlighters, markers, etc., are all available at a lower cost than most other retailers. Quality is generally decent enough, too, especially for those who are likely to lose or misplace a pen or marker long before it runs out.
  3. Winter Accessories. Keeping with the theme of lost items, dollar stores can be a saviour to Canadian parents facing the constant search for their kids’ forgotten gloves/mitts, hats and scarves. There are many good $1-$3 options including polar fleece, knit, faux fur lined and water resistant, so you can buy lots of “back ups.”
  4. Seasonal Décor. Hearts for Valentine’s Day, green everything for St. Patrick’s Day, chicks, bunnies and eggs for Easter, spooky stuff for Halloween, and snowmen and Santas galore for Christmas — you can be sure to find them all very cheap at a dollar store. And don’t forget flags, caps, and other Canuck essentials for Canada Day.
  5. Party Supplies. You’ll find disposable napkins, plates, cups, tablecloths and utensils, as well as balloons (including fancy foil ones), streamers and other decorations in a variety of colours and designs to suit whatever shindig you’ve got planned—and you’ll save a bundle over buying similar items at a traditional party supply store.
  6. Storage Containers. Whether you need large bins for out-of-season clothes or small containers for craft or office supplies, the dollar store will have some sort of an inexpensive storage solution to meet your needs. Plastic or Pyrex food containers might also be a good buy, but be sure to test that the lids seal properly before purchasing.
  7. Glassware and Kitchenware. If you don’t want a full set of highball, martini, or water glasses, you can pick up passable singles for next to nothing at the dollar store. Same goes for cutlery, mixing bowls, and other kitchen utensils.
  8. Travel-Sized Containers. If you want to bring your favourite hair spray or hand lotion on a flight, you’ll have to decant it into a container that’s 100 mL or smaller according to Canadian travel regulations. The dollar store has a good selection of small containers for liquids, creams, and gels that cost much less than those at drug or department stores—a great way for travel hackers to cut down their travel costs even further.
  9. Packaged or Boxed Candy/Snacks. Loose snack or candy bars probably won’t be much cheaper than the grocery store, but boxes or bags of packaged snack foods can be a good deal. Look for name brands and be sure to check the expiry dates.

You know those mangled umbrellas you see discarded on rainy days? They probably came from a dollar store.

9 items to walk by

  1. Toys/Children’s Jewellery. Most toys at the dollar store aren’t built to withstand regular use; some will break the very first time a child plays with it. Even worse, some dollar store toys pose safety risks such as choking hazards or exposure to toxic chemicals. Similarly, children’s jewellery or trinkets could contain unsafe levels of lead. A notable safe and well-priced exception in the toy aisle? Jigsaw puzzles.
  2. Generic Household Cleaning Products. You should be okay if your dollar store stocks popular name brand cleaning stuff, but off-brand products might not only be ineffective, but could also be dangerous due to product mislabelling.
  3. Tools. Again, these items aren’t made to last, so unless you don’t expect to use them often, you’re better off buying them at a home reno retailer. Some electric or battery operated tools at the dollar store may also display fake certification marks, which means they haven’t been tested for safety.
  4. Household Batteries. You should always be wary of highly discounted batteries. At best, they may drain quickly due to substandard materials; at worst, they could leak, explode or overheat. Even name brand batteries with unusually low prices should be considered suspect, as there have been cases of counterfeits for sale at discount retailers in Canada.
  5. Ceramic Dishware. While the prices on dollar store ceramic mugs and plates are attractive, the paint on them may contain lead or cadmium, which are toxic.
  6. Electrical Cords/String Lights/Chargers. It’s best to stay away from electrical items at the dollar store. Extension cords, outlet converters, and seasonal lights can be mis-wired or overheat, posing a fire and shock hazard. USB phone chargers are likely safe, but probably won’t power your device effectively.
  7. Toiletries. Definitely avoid unfamiliar brands of mouthwash, toothpaste, cosmetics, and other toiletries at the dollar store as they may contain unsafe ingredients and chemicals. Canadian dollar stores have also had a problem with counterfeit name brand toothpaste, which was contaminated with harmful bacteria, as well as name brand toothbrushes that posed a choking hazard.
  8. Canned Goods. Unknown brands of canned food could contain harmful chemicals, such as BPA, or contaminants. If buying name brands, check the expiry dates and per unit prices carefully — some may not be cheaper than supermarket sale prices.
  9. Umbrellas. You know those mangled umbrellas you see discarded on rainy days? They probably came from a dollar store.
Tamar Sotov Freelance Contributor

Tamar Satov is an award-winning journalist specializing in personal finance and parenting. Her work has appeared in Canadian Living, The Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Parents Canada, Walmart Live Better and many other consumer magazines and websites.

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