What to buy at the dollar store

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I used to work in a dollar store.  It was my first retail job ever.  I wasn’t very good at customer service then:

Customer: “This is terrible, blah blah blah blah…”

Me: “Well… you’re welcome to leave.”

Customer: “You can’t talk to me like that.  You think that because your father owns this store you can talk to me like that?  Blah blah blah…”

Me: “The manager is a white, gay male.  I really don’t think he fathered me.”

Customer: [ attempts to exit through enter door ]  “Let me out!  How do I get out?!”

Me: [snickers…]

Photo credit: Original photo by mod as hell via Flikr http://www.flickr.com/photos/modashell/3359233601/


Aside from the poor customer service provided by my 16 year old self (and the inability of people to discern which door is the exit door), dollar stores don’t have the best reputation.  They’re known for tacky children’s toys and funny plastic smells.  But there’s a lot of great things that you can get at the dollar store.

  • Gift bags and wrapping paper: There’s actually quite a few quality gift bag makers that supply dollar stores.  I should know – I spent many hours unpacking them and hanging them up!  It’s much better to pay $1.50 for a gift bag than $4.99… or more!  Similarly, why pay more for wrapping paper when the recipient is just going to throw it away anyways?  Hit up the dollar store the next time you’re rushing off to a birthday party.
  • Party supplies: Whether it’s for a child’s birthday or a bachelor party, dollar stores are a great place to get party supplies.  Things like party favours, novelty napkins or plates, coloured toothpicks… You might save more per item if you buy these products in bulk, but do you really need 100 blue napkins with Finding Nemo on them?  No.  You need 20.  So just buy a pack or two at the dollar store and don’t worry about the unit cost.
  • Kitchen odds and ends: I would not buy a chef’s knife at a dollar store, but I do buy things like ladles, plastic containers for storing nuts and cereal (don’t put them in the microwave!), and organizers.  Basically, any plastic-y things that help you cook and organize your kitchen can be found cheaper in the dollar store.  Just be careful about using products that might come in contact with hot food – depending on the type of plastic, it may leach chemicals when heated.
  • Gum, candy and pop: Junk food products at the dollar store come from the same brand name suppliers as you get at the regular supermarket.  They’re able to sell the products for so much cheaper because companies price based on what they think the retailer can sell it for.  So for example, at the dollar store where I worked, we sold cans of Coke for 50 cents each.  We purchased them from Coke for much, much less.  The only concern may be that the products are not as fresh because the stock does not rotate as quickly.


So save yourself some money!  The next time you need a sugar hit or a few party supplies, consider supporting your neighbourhood dollar store.

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  1. I need to get in the habit of going to the dollar store more often. I admit that I’ve let their bad reputation lead me to avoid going there. I did buy some random kitchen things there a while back, but now you’ve got me all paranoid about using the plastic cooking spoon. By the way, awesome customer service conversation lol.

  2. My wife actually own stock in Dollarama in her TFSA. These stores rock for some products (their competitors have too much clutter and many are filled of junk).

    I hate wasting money on party supplies (we have a collection of so many gift bags).

    I agree that Greeting cards are cheaper but I wouldn’t buy any plastic from there.

    • CF says:

      Dollarama has really gotten huge in the last few years. Their selection is decent, especially for seasonal items and gift bags. I was there the other day to grab a watercan for the garden – $1.50 🙂

  3. I used to love getting candy at the dollar store!

  4. Haha amazing conversation with the customer. I worked in retail for over 5 years but never really told the customers what I felt (for fear of getting fired of course). And I totally got most of my kitchen cooking utensils from the dollar store and they are still awesome. The dollar store is also good for cheap frames and canvases.

  5. I like this post. It’s very funny and I can relate to your story.

    As a kid I did work at my parent’s store and had a few conversations like that with customers. One older man was kinda drunk and thought I was laughing at him as he was checking out, but I was really laughing at what another employee had just said. It got pretty ugly but the next day he came back and apologized. That rarely happens though.

    We have two dollar stores sitting side by side in a local shopping center. One is tacky and over crowded with party supplies and such. The second one is big, well maintained and sells food, household items, canned goods, as well as chips and chocolate bars. They sell a ton of different stuff. We go there to buy body wash for the shower at a dollar a bottle. The same bottle is $8 at WalMart or anywhere else. I love it!!

    • CF says:

      The dollar store was my very first retail job. I have lots of great memories from working there: having drinks with my boss, making fun of customers… I was an awful person. 🙂

      I am always surprised at the things you can find at dollar stores. It’s awesome that you found the Walmart stuff for so cheap!

  6. Eddie says:

    That’s a pretty funny convo with the customer, something I’d probably say…hahah!
    I wish I made more purchases at the dollar store, yet I never utilize my local Dollarama!

    • CF says:

      Me too! There isn’t a Dollarama close by and the dollar stores that are close are only so-so. I will need to make a trip soon though – need more scrubby pads.

  7. I always go to the dollar store for gift wrap and gift bags. Its amazing what kind of stuff you can get for a dollar and how much more expensive it is for the same stuff at other stores. My bf sometimes buy snacks from the dollar store. I’ve tried them, they tasted kind of off. I’ll most likely just stick to buying pop and gum from there instead.

    • CF says:

      From my experience, the snacks just don’t rotate quickly enough to stay fresh. You need to buy them when they just hit the shelf. Sodas and candy have a longer shelf life, so buying them at the dollar store usually doesn’t hurt.

  8. I always buy cards at the dollar store. I can’t fathom why I should spend $5 on a birthday card instead of $1. Nobody really keeps them anyway. SO I feel the same way about gift wrap, and we have some kitchen utensils (spatulas, etc) from the dollar store. Actually, some of our favorite bowls came from the dollar store too!

    • CF says:

      Exactly! I hate spending gobs of money on stuff that’s just going to get thrown away. I love making pretty presents though, so it’s a good compromise to get wrap from the dollar store.

  9. Gekko says:

    Sometimes I wish to speak with my customers just like this, but no can do, because my customers are internal ones, from colleagues to the VP so… Oh well maybe when I will put my resignation letter, then, I could curse a little.

  10. Carla says:

    I decorated my daughter’ s Baby Shower almost totally with Dollar Tree items. We used blue baby themed napkins, balloons, plates, cups, punch cups, and other decoration for the centerpieces and wall hangings. We even used plastic forks and spoons from there. I received ALOT of compliments and nothing at all looked cheap,or tacky or I would not have used it.

    A couple or years ago Consumer Reports had a great article. One thing they said NOT to buy was food items that are not national brands. Could be poor quality made in another country. I have found good deals on brand name foods, with expiration dates well into the next year.

    Have fun shopping!

    • CF says:

      Good tip! I love decorating for parties as well, and it would be prohibitively expensive if I went to a regular department store or party store.

      I will also have to look up that Consumer Reports article – sounds interesting.

  11. We just had a Dollarama open not far from our place, and I have been there a few times already. In particular, it was great to load up on stuff for our wedding. One thing I would add to your list is office supplies – paperclips, tacks, etc. are all really cheap at the dollar store and just as good as what you get at Staples.

    • CF says:

      Yes, that’s a great suggestion. I’ve bought packages of envelops and notepads at the dollar store before.

      For weddings, I found that Michaels, the arts and craft store, often has nice items on sale as well.

  12. Haha your entrance into the world of customer service cracks me up! I love the dollar store. I don’t shop there for everything, but another thing I love to buy there are candles.

  13. jefferson says:

    great tip on the party supplies.. when it comes to creating the “gift bags” that are all the rage at little kids’ birthday parties.. the dollar store is the only way to go.. you can put together about 20 bags for under $10 at a dollar store.. try doing that at target!

    • CF says:

      Keeping the costs on gift bags down is definitely important for kids parties, specially considering most of those gift bag items will be lost/destroyed/abandoned anyways.

  14. I love shopping at dollar stores. I have gotten numerous things that have surprising lasted. We got a bunch of spice containers there that work great. I also find they have a great gift card selection. To me if I paying a dollar for something, I don’t expect service to be great. I mean what are they paying people out of that dollar purchase.

    • CF says:

      I wish that the dollar stores around here had a better card selection! I usually end up buying cards from Chapters, which is not cheap at all.

  15. Squeezer @Personal Finance Success says:

    I love shopping at dollar stores. I get a lot of my basic supplies from there such as shampoo and shaving cream.

    • CF says:

      Do you find that it is the same quality? Or are you able to find the same national brands at the dollar store?

      I would consider buying bath products at the dollar store, but the stores around here only carry brands from overseas, which kind of sketches me out!

  16. Lynda says:

    Ah, the dollar store. I like buying acrylic paints here too!

    Ever since my theatre dropped the no-outside-food rule, I sometimes drop by my dollar store before I head off to the movies. Three bag of chips, candy, and two bottles of pop at the dollar store = one medium popcorn at the movies.

  17. Jose says:

    The dollar store is usually my first stop when I need storage containers to store or organize my tools and various related items in my workshop, the quality is no worse than the big box stores and the prices are typically a lot better!

    • CF says:

      I love storage in a weird and bizarre way. 🙂 I don’t have a lot of tools to store but I do like getting little organizers for bookcases and drawers.

  18. kathryn says:

    The dollar stores do sell cheap stuff….especially everything made from China.I’m tired of supporting China’s economy, so have decided to only buy things that are made in our country from there (is it possible?) Don’t know, I haven’t been back for about 6 months.
    Other ways of buying cheap stuff is to buy from secondhand/ thrift type stores, yard sales, etc. Even if they are from another country, the stores aren’t replenishing the shelves.
    My little bit won’t make any differnec,but it makes me feel better about at least trying to save our jobs. Maybe you can help a bit too? Just being aware of all the overseas junk our stores purchase is a start.

    • CF says:

      Hmm, it’s been a while since I’ve worked at the dollar store. But I do remember that most, if not all, of our stock came from China, India or sometimes Russia/Eastern Europe.

      Although I have been buying food local, I admit, I don’t always look to see where household products are made. Trying thrift stores is a good idea though. I’ve gotten many excellent quality serving platters and wine glasses from our local thrift store.

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