Once upon a time I would never have set foot in a dollar store. I thought, “Why would I waste my money on their cheap, shoddy merchandise when I can buy a better quality brand name?”

Then about ten years ago dollar store giant Dollarama came to my Calgary neighbourhood. I don’t know what impulse made me go into that store, but once I did, I was hooked. Now, if I want to buy something I don’t particularly want to spend much money on, that’s the first place I will check.

I’m always surprised at the products they have every time I go.

With revenue reaching $1.5 billion annually for Dollarama, it’s not surprising that the selection of merchandise is growing too.

Saving money at the dollar store

What to buy at the dollar store

A dollar store is the best place to buy greeting cards, gift bags, wrapping paper and tissue, which normally get tossed as soon as they are received by the giftee.

Related: Will the gifts you give end up at the thrift store?

I’ve bought miscellaneous household and kitchen supplies such as sponges, spray bottles, microfiber cloths, a 1.9L bottle of liquid soap that I use at my kitchen sink, and a huge non-stick spatula that’s perfect for flipping pancakes. My husband picks up sponge paintbrushes, masking tape and twine.

Here are some other things you’ve probably been paying too much for:

  • Kid’s birthday party decorations and supplies.
  • Kid’s books and colouring books, craft materials and hair accessories.
  • Seasonal and holiday decorations.
  • Storage containers.
  • HDMI cables, adapters, phone and tech accessories
  • Household accessories – candles, picture frames, albums and vases.
  • Cleaning supplies may be a bit diluted, but they still work just fine.
  • Clothing – socks, hats, T-shirts and baby clothes. (I once saw a customer at the checkout with a couple of men’s button down shirts.)

A dollar store is a great place to buy decent quality cooking and dining accessories such as glassware, dinnerware and flatware, especially for students or someone just starting out in a place of their own.

The reason Dollarama can offer quality products at competitive prices is that it deals directly with brand name manufacturers rather than through a distributer. The money saved trickles down to the consumer.

Alas, dollar stores don’t live up to their name any more. Dollarama items are priced up to $3 and some other stores can have products as high as $10 – $20.

Cheap doesn’t always mean best

I’m still a bit iffy on dollar store food, especially generic imported items, but I do see other shoppers buying packaged and canned goods, spices, and candy. Be sure to check expiration dates on food items.

Avoid buying:

  • Toys with small parts, or kid’s jewelry.
  • Batteries.
  • Tools can be flimsy and break on first use.
  • Decorative food storage containers may contain lead.

The trick to saving money sometimes is not to spend money. Be sure to make a list before you go. Just because an item costs a dollar doesn’t mean it’s a bargain if you didn’t need it in the first place.

Related: Are store brands as good as name brands?

I’ve seen shoppers with carts piled high with what has to be impulse buys. It’s easy to buy extra things when everything seems like a good deal.

Final thoughts

The next time you go shopping, don’t underestimate the dollar store. It can be a great way to save some money.

With all that extra dough you’re not spending, consider putting those dollars you’ve saved to work. You might even want to invest in a publicly traded dollar store. Dollarama (DOL) shares have risen nearly 30% in the past twelve months.

What’s your take on dollar store shopping?

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9 Comments

  1. DaveG on August 17, 2016 at 5:01 am

    There appears to be more and more folks checking out what Dollarama has to offer. The store puts even more money back in your pocket when you invest in their shares!

  2. Michael O'Byrne on August 17, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Dollorama are similar to most stores except their prices are far more reasonable. I just bought several pairs of foam kneepads for about $2 each. The same pads sell elsewhere for $10 to $12. The pads work better than the heavy and awkward professional grade pads that I’ve used costing $50 or more. They won’t last as long but they are comfortable to wear and so I use them more often and (hopefully) will avoid knee injury as a result.

    I think some of your comments are a little unfair when used to single Dollorama out from other stores:

    “Be sure to check expiration dates on food items.”
    That’s excellent advice but not just for Dollorama. The large chains and the specialty stores are just as likely to have expired items on their shelves.

    “Avoid buying” . . . . several items.
    Again, good advice but just as applicable to any store.

    Why single out ‘kid’s jewelry” or a toy with a small part? Sometimes that’s exactly what I have been looking for. Of course I’m not giving a toy with a small part to a young kid but for certain hobbies and older kids, that’s exactly what they want – model railroading for example.

    You say avoid buying batteries. Our local Dollorama sells Panasonic batteries. They are probably some of the best I’ve ever bought. One of the few times I’ve relied on a Brand Name.

    “Cheap doesn’t always mean best.” Conversely, Brand Names don’t always mean best either. And Brand Names don’t mean you will get better customer service and support either.

    I can also highly recommend their non-alchoholic beer. I’ve bought Grolsh and Krombacher and found both to be an excellent alternative to regular beer. $1.25/bottle!

    If you buy glasses or china, be aware that you are probably getting seconds. If you compare two items you might find the base is thicker on one, or the top of the glass might be slanted a bit. The ‘defects’ don’t make any difference in daily use but might not be something you want to use for a formal dinner. Again, this is true for buying low-cost items in any store. I’m delighted that Dollorama gives us the option.

  3. Jr on August 17, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Unfortunately, many dollar store items are terrible for your health. The spatula, cables (HDMI, phone chargers, etc) are cheaply made and noted as releasing health harming chemicals into the air you breathe and the food you eat from studies that have been done. Gift bags, wrapping paper and cards….sure….great deals. But putting your health at risk or a sweet deal…..no thanks.

  4. Dividend Earner on August 17, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Definitely the place to go for birthday parties and some other items. I don’t know about school items for high school kids. They are at an age where they want their binders to last the entire year.

  5. JPalmer on August 17, 2016 at 11:42 am

    A Dollarama just recently opened in our small community RIGHT NEXT DOOR to another dollar store which is locally owned (franchised)and had been building up a great rapport with customers etc. This giant chain can just bully their way in and wipe out a family business in no time. I am not opposed to free enterprise but I think they could have located somewhere else.

  6. wsiemens on August 17, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    As my Grandpa would say, “Buy cheap and you know what you got.” I do use the dollar store but only for a very few items where I’m not very concerned about the quality. The other day I made the mistake of buying a couple dog toys thinking to myself “this will last a week and that will be worth it” – but in reality, both toys lasted less than 20 seconds each before they were torn apart and had to be taken away.
    Be very selective.

  7. Chloe on August 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    I bought my favorite hairbrush at Dollarama. The whole thing is one piece of wood so it won’t break in half. Sounds silly but it has happened more than once while blow-drying my hair…

    Also, for couples trying to conceive, you can’t get cheaper pregnancy tests anywhere else.

  8. Jessie's Money on August 18, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I’m a big fan of the dollar store in my town. It’s not a chain store, but same idea. It’s a great stop for some of the simple things you mentioned.

  9. Nicole on August 21, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Band aids. Fabric large patch band aids are $1.25 for 5 large patches. About 1/3 of the price of name brand and work wonderfully.

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