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Your Guide to Dollar Store Discounts

You need to shop strategically to save, even at the 99 cent store.

There’s no shame in shopping at the dollar store. In fact, you’re in good company.

While many retailers posted disappointing earnings reports for the third quarter of 2008, the Dollar Tree, one of the biggest discount chains in American with 3,572 stores in 48 states, posted an 11.6% sales increase. "Sales were consistently strong throughout the quarter," president and CEO Bob Sasser said in a press release. "Dollar Tree continued to demonstrate its relevance to consumers with our expanded selection of basic products, great seasonal merchandise for back-to-school through Halloween and surprising values across all categories in our stores. Customers responded with increased traffic and larger average transaction size."

But to save money at the dollar store, you need to shop strategically. “Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap,” says Karen Hoxmeier, owner of and a budget shopping expert. “If you don’t use it it’s not a good deal.” Hoxmeier clued MainStreet in to some of the real deals, and warned against items that can easily sabotage a bargain hunter.

Gift Wrap and Gift Bags
You can easily spend a bundle on wrapping materials, and really, for what? “I’d rather put that money toward the gift,” notes Hoxmeier. “Wrapping just gets tossed.” Gift bags make for super simple gift wrapping so they’re a time as well as a money saver. They can also be reused. After holiday parties collect any that are left over. And if anyone gives you guff, plead green and tell them you’re saving trees.

Girls’ Hair Accessories
Little girls, and let’s face it, big girls too, lose hair accessories all the time. Hoxmeier buys her daughters’ hair bands and barrettes at the dollar store. “They’re the same quality for something that costs a couple bucks each at Target (STOCK QUOTE: TGT) or Walmart (STOCK QUOTE: WMT),” she says. Colorful scrunchies and decorative barrettes also make for great, inexpensive stocking stuffers.

Greeting Cards
“I picked up a greeting card at the grocery store the other day and I realized that the average card is now about $5,” says Hoxmeier. That comes out to several dollars savings per card. Between the card and the gift bag you could save enough for a movie ticket.

Dollar store cuisine is in. Author Christiane Jory has even written The 99 Cent Only Store Cookbook (, with the discount store of the same name. “All I can say and spices!” says Jory. While not all dollar stores carry wine, spices that can cost a bundle in the grocery store are exactly the same at the dollar store. Stock your spice rack for a fraction of the cost. Jory also advises shoppers to keep an eye open for unusual items. “The other best thing is the inevitable surprise that pops up with every visit,” she says. “Something like Carr's Lemon Ginger cookies, high quality balsamic vinegar and even champagne.”

Breakfast Cereal
Even if you’re left lukewarm by the prospect of preparing recipes like Jory’s artichoke spinach bake, dollar stores can yield some surprising food bargains. Dry cereal is one of the best deals – boxes that cost $4 or $5 at the grocery store can be had (well, their generic equivalents) for just a dollar. Non-sugary cereals that are vitamin fortified pack the most nutrition per penny.

What NOT to Buy

“Your mascara might be a little dried out,” warns Hoxmeier. Dollar store makeup tends to be a little over the hill, which is fine for paper products, but the oils in most cosmetics tend to degrade over time, making for an item you won’t want to use.

Hoxmeier says that lots of dollar store batteries have an extremely short life span. “Even for their low price, it’s just not worth it,” she says. “Especially in a digital camera – five shots and you’re done.”

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