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Monday, October 12, 2015

Dollar Tree -- some of the great deals there

The old maxim, "you get what you pay for" is really true for some things. For instance, Kool-Aid is a pretty cheap beverage. Whereas real fruit juice can be 5, 6, 7 times the cost of the colored water peddled to young families with the thirst of oodles of neighborhood kids to quench. But real fruit juice contains many of the nutrients of the fruit it is extracted from. So, on the one hand, colored water with a bit of ascorbic acid added for the cheapo price of a quarter a packet, or, juice from real fruit, with the nutrients, anti-oxidants and phyto-chemicals from that fruit for a couple of dollars per family-size bottle.

That ramshackle house with broken windows, leaky roof and ancient bathroom fixtures may be priced to move, move, move. But in real estate, they say it's all about location, location, location, and I'd add, maybe also a bit about condition. They don't call them tear-downs for nothing. Meanwhile, a clean, well-kept, modest house, priced moderately higher than the falling apart shack, if chosen, would give you peaceful nights of sleep.

So, you sometimes do get what you pay for. If you're willing to pay more, you may very well get a better outcome on your purchase. But this isn't always the case. I've bought nice clothing for dirt cheap, and had it hold up very well for years, and I've spent what, to me, seemed like a small fortune on a pair of jeans that began to pop rivets on the second wearing (drat on that one, as they were cute, flattering, and bought with a Christmas present gift certificate).

And so it is with shopping for groceries and other household items. Sometimes it's just the luck of finding a good sale that brings you value beyond what you paid, like with loss-leaders at the grocery store. Other times, it's a matter of knowing where to buy certain items. You all know that one of my grocery shopping haunts is Dollar Tree. Some of their items fall into the "get what you pay for" category, with cheap, flimsy craftsmanship. But some items are a real deal, and I use Dollar Tree for my primary source of those items.

I thought that today might be a good day to exchange thoughts about what we've bought from Dollar Tree and found to be great deals. I'll start with my list.

  • macaroni and spaghetti pasta (Pegasa brand), 24 oz bags, this works out to 66 cents/lb. For me that's a good price on white flour pasta.
  • toothbrushes, 4-pack, soft, they wear out in about a month, but that's when I feel like I want a new/fresh one anyway.
  • toothpaste -- sometimes this is a good deal, $1 for a tube of Aim, if I'm out. However, I find larger tubes of Colgate, on sale at Fred Meyer about 2 times per year, and for less (usually 89 cents/tube with coupon, but always a limit)
  • bar soap, 3-pack of Dial basics -- again, sometimes I do find it on sale at Fred Meyer, but FM regular price is $1.50 for that same 3-pack.
  • automatic dishwashing detergent, Sun brand, a powder -- this is one of my favorite items from Dollar Tree, because in my dishwasher, it works as well as Cascade did for me. (DT liquid automatic dishwashing detergent is horrible, though.) I'm not the only one who buys the Sun brand of auto-dish detergent, apparently, as they sell out frequently. So when I'm at Dollar Tree, if they have any in stock, I buy several boxes at a time.
  • liquid dish hand-washing detergent, lemon-scented, LA's Totally Awesome brand, 50 oz -- it's not super great at really greasy pans, but good enough for most hand-washing, and doesn't strip the oils from my hands, AND 50 ounces for $1, that's pretty cheap. For some reason, the other scents have not been nearly as good at cleaning as the lemon scent, for us. Go figure.
  • at back to school time, the student planner notebooks. Target sells student planners for about $4-$5 each. The DT ones may not be as "cute" but are a lot cheaper, at a dollar a pop. But the rest of the back-to-school stuff is overpriced at DT.
  • pantyhose, my daughter is trying out a pair this week. I'll get her opinion -- oops, she said they tore/got a run on the first day of wearing them
  • plastic hangers, when they have a bonus pack of 8 hangers, I buy them. I use plastic hangers not just in closets, but we use about a dozen for hanging dry laundry.
  • moisture absorbing crystals (the kind to remove humidity from the air), this is another favorite Dollar Tree item of mine. DampRid is the familiar name brand. Dollar Tree carries the "home Store" brand. I buy these and use in bathrooms, bedrooms and closets. They do help with the mold/mildew from dampness, here.
  • bathroom tile/grout cleaner. It has bleach in it. I use it on the kitchen sink, once per month (scrub with baking soda the rest of the month), and I use it on tile/grout for combo bath/shower, and bathroom sinks/toilets, weekly. I do water it down a little, so it's not so strong smelling. Once watered down, it's better for "maintenance" spraying (every few days, to keep mold at bay), rather than deep cleaning. But I prefer using it this way. Before buying the Dollar Tree tile/grout cleaner, I bought Target's Up and Up brand of the same thing for about $3 per same size bottle as Dollar Tree's cleaner.
  • kitchen sponges, these are the kind with the green scrubbing side. They come 6 to a package. I cut each of mine in half, giving me 12 scrubbing sponges for $1. Good deal.
  • those little felt things that you put under chair legs to help chairs slide on hard floors silently, and w/o scratching a wood floor, a package of 8 for $1, compared to buying a similar item at Target for $4 or $5.
  • epsom salt, when they have plain epsom salt, I buy those bags, several at a time (they keep for years). The scented epsom salts are not as good a value, as the bags are much, much smaller than the plain, and the scents are not essential oils (which I prefer for scenting bath products).
  • baking soda (I bought a case of baking soda last spring, for 59 cents per box). You can do better at a drug store, like Walgreen's, when they have an in-ad coupon, often at 50 cents/box. But I haven't seen that coupon in a year or two.
  • poster board for school projects 50 cents a sheet. This is a great price. We had to buy poster board one year at a local drug store, and spent $1.50 per sheet!
  • greeting cards, yet another huge favorite Dollar Tree item of mine. Most of DT greeting cards are 50 cents each. Some are $1, so you have to check for the 50-cent brand. But for 50 cents, I can send my non-frugal (and so would not appreciate my handmade cards) nieces and nephews a "real" birthday card with a couple of bills in it, and have the card not eat up my gift budget for them. In addition to individual greeting cards, you can buy packages of correspondence note cards. My daughter bought 10-packs of cute cards to send to her Sunday school class, announcing the beginning of the fall quarter. That was 10 cents per card!
  • votive candles, 4-pack for $1. The best time/place to buy votives is after Christmas, at local drug stores, often for 10 to 15 cents each. But if I don't buy enough for summer candles or next holiday season, I can always pick up a 4-pack at Dollar Tree.
  • crackers, savory types, as well as graham crackers and animal crackers, pretzels and rice cakes. I don't buy crackers, pretzels, rice cakes all that often. Those are special treat items for us. But when I do, I always buy them at Dollar Tree. Ritz-type crackers go on sale near the holidays for just under $2 a box at a regular grocery store. I buy the same sort of cracker, in about the same size package, for $1 at Dollar Tree. More elegant-looking crackers (for swankier shindigs), the large, circular crackers (Monet-brand at Dollar Tree), that you might use for making appetizers are also sold at Dollar Tree. When I'm babysitting, I bring little baggies of animal crackers, which I get at Dollar Tree, then portion out into small baggies. Rice cakes are over-priced (for what you get) in regular grocery stores. But at Dollar Tree, they're worth the splurge to me. 
  • Dove chocolate bars, individual bars, 79 cents each. Dove chocolate bars are more expensive than the rest of the candy bars in grocery stores, usually 99 cents to $1.19 in a traditional grocery store, but only 79 cents at Dollar Tree.
  • paper coffee filters -- I use these, as is, in the large coffee maker, made smaller as an individual cup coffee filter (for an old 1 cup at a time coffee maker, the washable filter is torn, and can't be replaced any longer), and sewn into tea bags for loose leaf tea.
  • soy milk, comes in a 1-quart, shelf stable carton. I rarely see soy milk on sale below a dollar any more, so Dollar Tree's price is the best around. The brand is West Soy, a regular supermarket brand.
  • kitchen washcloths. I actually buy these in 2-packs in the bath towel section. I buy the white ones, and use for wiping down counters in the kitchen. This is Dollar Tree, so you can imagine that these are not luxury, plush washcloths, but very lightweight, all-cotton cloths that are perfect for kitchen use. (I'd be disappointed in them if I was using them in the bath, though, way too thin.) 2/$1 is a pretty decent price for kitchen washcloths. And when they start to look dingy, I spread them out in the kitchen sink and spray the tile/grout cleaner on them, and allow to sit for a couple of hours. The sink and the cloths come out clean and white, once again.

Perhaps the worst deal at Dollar Tree is found in the home improvement/automotive section. It's the duct tape. You get hardly any tape on the roll, 10 yards. It's mostly cardboard roll. Whereas, at Home Depot, you can buy 55 yards of general purpose duct tape for $3.98. That's 5 & 1/2 times the duct tape for only 4 times the price, or like getting 15 yards of duct tape for free by buying it at Home Depot.

So, tell me, what are your favorite Dollar Tree items?


  1. I'm glad to know that the Sun dishwasher detergent is good. I used to buy the Finish powder at the commissary and have been brand-hopping now that we no longer can shop there, trying to find something that works well for an equivalent price.

    I tend to buy gift bags there, as well as serving dishes for the occasional event or gift-giving of baked goods. Also, the tiny plastic rectangular containers for my kids to use when they take salsa or Ranch dressing in their packed lunch.

    1. Oh, and batteries, when not buying rechargeable ones.

    2. Hi Cat,
      Oh yeah, batteries. They are a pretty spectacular deal there, especially for the smoke detectors, as I replace twice per year, so they never really die.

      Dollar Tree also has some bread-slice shaped plastic containers, for sandwiches, 2 to a package. I like these because they are slimmer and take up less space in backpacks, and they're top-rack dishwasher okay (at least in my dishwasher they are).

  2. I've never been to a dollar tree. I don't shop very often at dollar stores simply because I don't use a lot of stuff. Batteries--my husband works for a major hospital and he gets a ton of AA batteries that are used in surgery but cannot be used again so those get dumped, recycled or staff take them home. We have two large bags full! I might have to give a dollar store a little looksy one of these days.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Wow! That's a lot of batteries! I guess I understand how they couldn't possibly reuse them at the hospital. If you have those small flashlights that use AAs, you will never be without light in a power outage! ;-)

  3. Like you, Lili, there are some things that I get at Dollar Tree that I can't imagine paying "other store" prices for.
    Green rectangular "scrubbie" squares (without the sponge) are great for so many cleaning jobs. They come in a multi-pack, and I cut them into halves or quarters to use at the kitchen sink, for scrubbing the tub or shower, sinks, etc.
    I buy boxed business and letter sized envelopes there, and an occasional large gift bag when it's a difficult to wrap item. The tiny watch/calculator batteries are a steal when they have the correct size. Reading glasses--I have three pair around my home and one in my purse just so I don't have to go looking for them when needed. Every once in a while I find a book there that I enjoy. Craft supplies, like the flat glass marbles, stickers for kids, and glitter are great there.
    The 3-pack Dial soap, poster boards, and felt pads for chair legs are things I buy there too. I'm not much of a shopper except for groceries these days, but when I do need something, I think of whether or not I can get it at the Dollar Tree first!

    1. Hi Mary,
      One of my daughters loves their craft supplies. I do sometimes buy artificial greens/flowers for projects, too.

      I'm like you, when I need something, I think first if Dollar Tree has it, and add it to my list.

      Oh yes, envelopes, both letter and large mailers. I've not noticed the watch/calculator batteries, but now I will check. Thanks!

  4. This winter, when we're up in Vegas, I'm going to take another look at the Dollar Tree stores. If I recall correctly, is there also a Dollar General?? There is also a Family Dollar, but most items in that store is not $1. Our favorite go to store is "99c" for a few of the toiletries that we are unable to pack with us (liquid handsoap and detergent, hairspray, rubbing alcohol and case water are definite 99c store favorites). I like to eat a kiwi a day, and often this store sells a whole bag of kiwi for 99c. From past trips, there are occasional good finds like name brand Libby's foil packages of corned beef and spicy beef, only 99c, that are sold here for $3.99. Also, we do find some good hardware items for our work cheaper than Home Depot prices. Another is those cheap 99c calculators....I keep these handy in my purse for in store calculations....still lasting from a year ago. I made a mental note to myself to pick up at least one more this trip, maybe I should pick up a few as gifts since these gadgets have the potential to save literally hundred times its cost lol

    At home, for HABA, candies and snack type items, I usually find good coupon/rebate deals at Target and Longs (CVS) that are probably worth more than paid for.

    But I also like to "not buy" as much as possible, so for kitchen scrubbing cloths, I have a hard time spending even a dollar if I can make it. My husband is oddly very picky about this has to be a certain weight and density he says. The cloth we use today was bought at the 99c store when we were looking for one on the trip (last trip nada). At home, these cloths are ridiculously priced. So my solution was crocheting a mix of nylon netting and yarn to make my own scrubbie cloth. I made a few as back up when this one breaks. So this trip we're on a hunt again for the scrubbies at 99c stores. Just as a side note, I recently redeemed Recycle Bank points for some dish cloths (hopefully for washing not wiping dry), 1,500 pts for 3 dish cloths including shipping. If you are not familiar, Recycle Bank is a good tutorial to be more ecologically minded, plus you can earn points for nice gifts.

    We don't have these types of dollar stores where we live. Though many stores have a cheap $1 or $1.99 type section in their stores so I regularly browse through that aisle. Ten years ago, we had a very good Japanese dollar store and some of my favorite plastic kitchen items (still holding up today) were only $1.

    $1 for soymilk is a very good price. I have never bought epsom salt ever, Lili, what do you use this for? (feels like I'm missing out on something here)


    1. Hi YHF,
      Does your Target have a dollar section? They have great gifts for kids/grandkids in that section.

      Yes, as Sara said, epsom salts are rich in magnesium. And magnesium is one mineral that can be transdermally taken up (either with a patch, magnesium oil, or with epsom salt). So, I use it to make bath salts (as gifts and for myself), or as a foot soak. It is really great for sore, tired muscles, to soak in a bath with epsom salts. The other use is for growing tomatoes. You add a tablespoon to the planting hole, and mix in with soil. Then later in the growing season you can dissolve the salts in water and use as a spray on the foliage. Tomatoes in particular can suffer from magnesium deficiency.

      Great idea on making your scrubbing cloths/pads with crochet and nylon netting plus yarn!

    2. Yes, there is a dollar section at our local Target. It's at the front of the store, and come to think of it I have never looked at it because usually I bypass it when going into the store since I feel I don't have the luxury since I'm dogged about getting all the items on my list, and when checking out, I'm so consumed with double checking my math and making sure I have all the coupons, cartwheel, etc that, I forget to look at the bins all over again (haha you get the picture lol)

      Thanks for the info about epsom salt, Sara and Lili...You know, I now vaguely remember about 20 years ago reading about using epsom salt as wash for gardening. Speaking of magnesium, ..eating beans is an excellent source for magnesium in our diets.


  5. I buy cards, tissue paper for gifts, gift bags. I also buy their Mr. Clean pads, two pads to a pack. SOS pads that are small and just the right size to clean the top of my stove. I rely buy food there but like their hot sauce and some snacks. You need to know your prices, some hings can be higher then my walmart. Cheryl

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      that's a very good point, that you do need to know prices. And especially with the food items, as $1 can sound like a real bargain, but the package size might be much,much smaller than what your mind is comparing it to, from the traditional grocery store.

  6. Lili,

    We don't generally shop the dollar stores (due to location, extra stop, etc.); but I think that this conversation is important both for discount stores and for generic/store brands. I had half brand-name buyers and half discount shoppers in my family. So, I have been fortunate to be willing to try cheaper brands, and find out for myself which products tasted/worked enough better to be worth a higher price. Happily, we prefer the taste of many store-brand products, so have saved a LOT of money over the decades since I first started housekeeping. :) Like your Dollar Store items, it's worth at least trying to find out!

    YHF, epsom salts are good for lots of medical, household and even garden things (do an internet search, and you'll be impressed.) My favorites are improving your magnesium through a soak in the bath (15-20 mins, max, though for that) and adding to handwash water with or without starch to refresh worn clothes and curtains.

    Have a great day, ladies-- Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      With the items I mentioned, above, we've been pleased with the quality. But there have been other items that we felt were not up to our standards. It's worth trying a house-brand, generic or bargain store brand, at least once, to see if it would be "good enough".

      Several years ago, Dollar Tree had a bunch of potato chips/snacks by a brand we'd never heard of before, on clearance -- 3/$1. We bought one, took them out to the car, tried them. Thought they were good enough, and went back in and bought a bunch more. They were a treat to have, and at 33 cents /package, a steal for a treat item.

      Thanks for the tip on refreshing worn clothes/fabric with epsom salts. I'd not heard of that use before. Sometimes an all-cotton blouse from the thrift shop will look "tired" but otherwise very good. I'll use this tip when I make a find like that again!

    2. Lili--

      We've had a couple of experiences like your chips/snacks and gone back for more, too! Isn't that fun? And what a shame for folks who are afraid to even try them because it's unfamiliar. We were traveling and tried an unfamiliar brand of sunflower seeds. Turns out it was a local company, and the best seeds we ever had!

      You can use epsom salts alone or with a little starch, and it works great. I add a little to the water when I wash older broomstick skirts, especially.

      Sara :)

  7. HI Lili,
    I buy batteries, tissues, floss piks for my DH, toothbrushes, made in USA quart of white vinegar for kitchen (food) use, Lance packs of vanilla sandwich cookies, peanuts and peanut butter crackers for taking on trips/errands, some candies, potato chips for a special treat, Marie Callendar brownie mix, foil baking pans, wrapping paper, tissue paper, greeting cards, some candles, books for gifts, artificial flowers, brown sugar, Dollar Tree "damp rid", and always look out for good stocking stuffers!
    Jo Ann

    1. Hi Jo Ann,
      You reminded me of the other reason we sometimes shop Dollar Tree (with your Lance packs of sandwich cookies). Before vacations, we often pick up the snacks at Dollar Tree. I like getting those single-serve packages of snack items. They're a real treat to my kids, and less expensive than buying a treat in the airport, on the plane, or while vacationing. And especially helpful when a trip has come up rather suddenly and I don't have time to plan for things like snacks while in-flight. I know someone else who likes the Marie Callendar's baking mixes. They're that good?

      The do have great stocking stuffers. At our Dollar Tree, at the check-out, there are some really great items for stockings.

    2. I bought some of the snacks for our recent vacation at the Dollar Tree, too. I always check to make sure any food I buy there says, "Made in the USA." I've been buying my mom little snacks at the Dollar Tree lately as well. She's in adult care facility & enjoys a little treat now and then. I've also been buying dog treats there. We're training our puppy. They carry treats with minimal ingredients (sweet potato, rice flour) & they're made in the USA. I'm shocked when I see the prices of dog treats in regular stores. I agree, the Dollar Tree has great stocking stuffers, as well as gifts for Samaritan's Purse Shoe Boxes. Melissa

    3. Hi Melissa,
      Oh yes, the small toys and toiletries for the OCC boxes. Dollar Tree is terrific for that!

      I also check where the products are made (especially the food items). It's just sensible, I think. And I do that with produce from the grocery store or produce stands, as well.

      That's so nice to do for your mom. It's those little things that really brighten someone's day. What a good daughter you are to know that!

  8. As mentioned before, our Dollar Tree is smaller than some and doesn't carry some of the products mentioned above. However, it is my go to place for greeting cards. Also, a word about poster board. It is thinner than the more expensive kind and that may or may not work for what you use it for. I buy it and use it as a blotter on a desk top that I'm trying to protect the wood on. It works great for this and I can change out the colors as my mood strikes.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      that's a great use for the poster board!

  9. I like the LA dishwashing detergent and it is a good price. I like the bottles of Spic and Span cleaner too. I always find so many good and useful things in there when I go too. We plan on making a trip this week if the timing is right. :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I haven't tried the Spic and Span cleaner. I've seen it there, and will check it out. Thanks!

    2. I use the Spic & Span cleaner too.
      We use some of the same items at DT that you do too. I like the green scrubbie sponges but the thin ones that are only the green, we use them for cleaning the showers & we cut them in half too! I get a lot of my greeting cards there, sometimes they do not have what I am looking for but most times they do. We love the chicken flavored crackers, will have to try some of the others too. Someone else mentioned the plackers flossers, I always get those there. Sometimes I find Pringles there but most times the Lay's chips in the can are there so I get those, we like them too. I use the foam boards they have to sit my ebay items on when I take the photos & they work great for that & when it gets worn looking I just get a new one.
      Sorry I have been MIA from commenting. We were away for a few days last week & I am still getting up with blog reading. We were supposed to go away for a week in September but my Father in Law passed away & we did not get to go, so we went last week & took the MIL with us & I think it did her good to get away.

    3. Hi Rhonda,
      I'm so sorry to hear that your father-in-law passed away. What a difficult time for your family. Taking your mother-in-law on your trip was so thoughtful and likely was a good distraction for her grief.

      I'm going to have to try the Spic and Span cleaner.

      I'm very curious, what sort of things do you sell on ebay? And have rising shipping costs affected your interest and feasibility of maintaining this business? This is a whole other blog topic, for sure, but I'm investigating all sorts of options right now.

  10. Hi Lili,
    About ebay, I will sell pretty much anything I think I can make a profit on. Some people specialize in certain areas but I will sell pretty much whatever. I typically do not do clothes & shoes as I do not want to deal with returns too much & I think with clothes & shoes you can open yourself up more for that type of thing. I will sell those on occasion if they were something of ours we no longer wear & is in good shape but I do not actively source them. I typically source at yard sales & there is 1 thrift store that has an outlet section that sells things for 29 cents a pound & I try & go there once a week or so. Things I do well with are new & sealed blank VHS tapes & audio cassette tapes. The old Rolodex's I do ok with, not a large profit but they are a steady seller. If I find new sealed computer ink really cheap I always pick those up, they pretty much always sell but sometimes the profit is not that much depending on the type. I have done well with old view master reels, as long as they set is complete. The old vintage blue ball mason jars are good but they are hard to find & can be a challenge to ship. I won't pay more than a dollar for them, unless there is a number 13 on the bottom, those can sell for around $20.00 each as there is something about the number 13. I do really well with craft & sewing things, like thread spools, needles, buttons, notions, I usually put them in a large lot & can make a really good profit. Cross stitch, needle point kits & embroidery kits do well, some can sell for a lot & be a great profit & others wind up being only a few dollars. Also, I do great with things like cross stitch, plastic canvas & crochet & knitting leaflets, I wait until I have a bunch & sell them in a lot. I have sold new & sealed puzzles, some people sell used but then you have to count the pieces to make sure it is complete so I usually stay away from those. New & sealed older games I have found a few times & done well with. I have also done well with the old boom boxes from the 80's with the cassette player in it. They can be a great profit but are a pain to ship! Plus I have been burned many times that after I buy them & get them home the cassette player does not work & even though I only paid a few dollars that is wasted money so I have been staying away from them more lately.
    Shipping charges are a issue sometimes, you can charge shipping to the buyer but it can be a challenge to keep those costs down. I am on teh east coast so if someone lives say in your area I can wind up losing some money on the shipping, but on the other hand if they live in a near by state then sometimes I make a profit on the shipping. For small items I do a lot of free shipping, it is kind of one of those things that you have to see what other sellers of the same item are doing, if it is small enough to go first class then it costs the same no matter where in the US it is going. Also I mentioned before about returns, you do not have to accept returns on ebay, but if you do not then you can't get a top rated seller rating, which just means that you sell a certain amount of items each quarter, offer returns & ship within one business day of payment. I also have a store which you do not need to sell on eaby, you can list I think 20 items a month for free without having a store, then you pay the fee when it sells, which is about 13% between ebay & pay pal fees.
    Ok, did I babble on too much here? I was trying to give as much information as I could. Please understand I am not an expert seller & still have much to learn but hopefully this will give you some ideas. Also I have learned a lot for several blogs about ebay over the last couple years. If you would like more information on what I sell I will contact you via your contact email & also I could give you a few blog names that have been helpful to me.
    Thank You for your thoughts on my FIL.

    1. Thank you, Rhonda! This is all very helpful -- not babble at all! It gives me some ideas of what to take into consideration. Again, thank you!


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