Avoiding dollar store duds

In General

How To Avoid DollarStore Duds                                   

First published on Moneyville
Sept. 8, 2011

I’ve found some great buys at dollar stores for only a buck or two, among them brand name personal care items like Lady Speed Stick deodorant and Dove body wash and even electronic gear like a four-port USB hub that works great. I’ve also had my share of dollar store duds. 

When something is priced at $2 or less it can be hard to tell if it’s a great deal or a regret waiting to happen. Here are some tips to help you decide if that dollar store purchase you’re considering is a good buy or not.

Food fallacies – The dollar stores are full of foods from foreign parts and there are differing opinions as to whether or not this food is a healthy option. The short answer is, some is and some isn’t.


Careful shopping reveals some acceptable food purchases.


There’s a whopping 1640 mg. or 68 per cent of your daily value of salt in Nifty Noodles instant beef soup mix. Add to that 30 per cent of your daily value of fat and these soup cups aren’t exactly a healthy choice. What they are is cheap, costing only a buck for two. 

I do, on occasion, buy the canned mushrooms from China. I figure that the same item at Metro is from China too, so what’s the difference? And the price for mushroom pieces and stems is a buck per can in both stores.

The breads and rolls at Dollarama come from bakeries in Canada and are very good quality. I once served dinner rolls from the dollar store to unsuspecting dinner guests and heard comments about how good they were.

I’ve never had stale food from Dollarama but mistakes do happen so it’s always a good idea to check the best before date on things like bread, cookies and other packaged foods.

Weighty matters – There are some things you can judge the quality of by weight. Rather than drinking glasses that look thin and feel light in your hand, choose glasses that look and feel solid. A glass with a weighted base is a sure sign that the manufacturer hasn’t skimped on quality.

Judge dollar store tools in much the same way. Look for hammers, screwdrivers and pliers that are made of metal and feel substantial.

Be touchy-feely – I don’t buy the thin hand towels at the dollar store. When you hold them up to the light you can see through the weave; not a good recommendation for absorbency. Dollarama does, however sell hand towels that have a department store thickness and softness to them. They come in sets of two for $2 and you can also get matching washcloths that come in sets of four for two bucks.

Get closure – The zipper on a tapestry cushion cover I once brought home would only open half way, making it impossible to use. That turned out to be a fluke because, when I tested the zipper on a similar cushion cover in the store later, it worked fine. Just make sure the zippers on things like cosmetic bags and pencil cases function as they should before you buy.

Whether you’re buying a jar with a screw-on lid or a plastic storage container, you should test to see that the lids come off and go on easily. Recently, there were some small glass bowls that came with lids at the dollar store. When I tried to put one of the plastic lids on a bowl, it proved to be impossible. You’ll want to be sure that any storage container you’re buying has a good seal and is easy to use.

Fool me once – A set of two tea towels and two dish cloths that were folded together in a neat little square and tied up with a piece of fabric ribbon cost $2. When I got it home and unfolded the pieces, I was dismayed to find that they were considerably smaller than the other tea towels and dish cloths sold at the dollar store. Better to buy these separately.

You get four
pieces but sizes were skimped on.

Some ear bud ear phones I bought were attractively packaged in a window box and came in a variety of fun colours for $1.25 but, as I wanted them for listening to music, I was disappointed by the sound quality. Fancy packaging does not necessarily mean a quality product.

Give me a sign – Electrical products that haven’t been tested by an independent source like Underwriter Laboratories (UL) or Canadian Standards Association (CSA) could prove to be fire hazards. Look for either of these certification marks on the packaging before buying things like electrical cords and light bulbs.

Learn from my mistakes
– The dollar store plastic wrap I bought only cost $1.25 but it was so thin that it tore coming off of the roll, leaving me with less wrap than I needed. Trying to find where the tear began on the roll proved so frustrating that I finally just threw it out. Some things are just worth paying more for at Walmart or a grocery store.

(Dollarama has since added better quality plastic wrap)


It’s better to buy a
name brand plastic wrap to ensure good quality.

Cotton swabs are cotton swabs, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The ones I bought came in a package of 400 for a buck but when I tried to use them, the stick folded in half under pressure and the cotton on the tips was thin and tended to come off of the stick.

These cotton swabs
should be used for crafts only.

One inexpensive alternative is to buy irregular cotton swabs at Walmart. They come in a bag of 500 for $1.27. The sticks may be different lengths and one or two may be missing cotton on one end but otherwise, they’re as good a quality as the more expensive brand. 

Sometimes you can only judge the quality of something by trying it. If it doesn’t meet your expectations the first time, it’s unlikely that it will perform any better the next.