The 9 Worst Things to Buy at Dollar Tree
Dollar Tree is the ideal one-stop-shop for errand-running days. Where else can you find toilet paper, toothpaste, snacks, decor, and more in one place—and all for the price of $1.25? But while Dollar Tree is certainly convenient—especially if you live near one—it can also cause you to overspend on items that are disguised as deals. Not to mention, some products at this super-savings store simply aren't up to par. To ensure those items don't make it into your shopping cart, read on to discover the nine worst things to buy at Dollar Tree.
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In Nov. 2021, Dollar Tree upped the price of each of its products from $1 to $1.25. And while that 25 cents might not seem like much, smart shoppers have made some changes to their savings strategies.
YouTuber Bargain Bethany explained in a video that it discouraged her from buying brand-name, non-perishable foods, such as cereals and canned vegetables. "[Dollar Tree's] cereals tend to come in three-ounce bags," she said. "With the 25-cent increase, you're paying even more per ounce. For the same three-ounce bag that I'm going to pay $1.25 for, I can go to Walgreens and get 11 ounces for $1.99; or I can go to Target and get a family-size that has 15 ounces and pay $3.59."
At the time of publication, additional Best Life reporting found that for some cereals—in this case, Lucky Charms—the price per ounce at Dollar Tree was nearly double that at Target.
Anything with a plug
For these items, it's not the price that's the issue, but the safety. In April 2022, Dollar Tree recalled more than a million hot glue guns due to a malfunction that posed fire and burn hazards when plugged in, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Unfortunately, the glue guns caused four fires and one skin burn.
While no other Dollar Tree electronics have been recalled in the past two years, this is a case where it's better to be safe than sorry. As the Washington Post explained in a story about dollar stores: "Off-brand electronics can be risky purchases, as their supply chains are not as consistent as the name brands you find at other retailers. Power strips and chargers are likely to be cheaply made and could damage your devices."
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According to Dollar Tree employees, if there's one item they avoid buying at their stores, it's the $1.25 meat and fish. "I don't eat any of the frozen fish or rib eyes because I don't trust frozen seafood or meat that costs a dollar," one worker told Mental Floss.
Another employee told the publication that they would never buy the steak. "I've heard from more than one person that it doesn't cook [well] and it feels like rubber."
Indeed, in 2016, television station WCPO conducted a taste test with the local fire department. Unsurprisingly, the $1 steaks didn't fare well. "It's pretty chewy, tastes a little rubbery," observed one tester.
In addition to the taste, you may be getting a lower-quality of meat. Len Bleh, co-owner of Avril-Bleh Meat Market in Cincinnati, told WCPO that dollar stores receive "utility" cuts of beef. According to the USDA, this is one of the lowest grades of beef that is "seldom, if ever, sold at retail but [is] used instead to make ground beef and processed products."
This is another item where you won't get much bang for your buck. "Dollar Tree has Tide detergent for $1.25 for 10 fluid ounces—that's about 17 cents a fluid ounce," said Bargain Bethany in her YouTube video. "The same type [of detergent] at Walmart is $0.11 per fluid ounce or $3.29 for 31 fluid ounces. So yes, I'm going to pay more initially, but in the long run, I am saving money."
She notes the same thing is true for name-brand fabric softeners and dryer sheets. In most cases, shopping elsewhere and in larger quantities will save you money (inflation aside!).
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We all want to stock up on hand sanitizer these days, but it's best not to do so at Dollar Tree. In July 2020, the retailer recalled two brands of hand sanitizer (4e Brands North America and ALBEK de Mexico S.A. de C.V.) due to the detection of methanol, a chemical that can have serious health effects, including vomiting, headache, blindness, and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
Staying healthy means loading up on vitamins and minerals. However, you may want to skip the ones at Dollar Tree.
According to a 2012 test conducted by Consumer Reports (CR), some dollar store multivitamins didn't contain the number of nutrients listed on the label.
And in a 2021 article about shopping at dollar stores, CR noted that supplements "aren't regulated as carefully as OTC drugs." Therefore, if you're going to purchase them at Dollar Tree, CR recommends checking "to see whether they bear the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) seal or the seal of another independent testing group, such as NSF International."
Off-brand beauty products
The Washington Post cautions against buying non-name-brand beauty products at dollar stores. "Off-brand products may contain harsher ingredients or be watered down (such as shampoo and conditioner) to keep costs low," they note.
Shopping expert Trae Bodge told Kiplinger that she also avoids off-brand beauty products at dollar stores. "If something is not a name brand, skip it, especially with skin care products, and especially those with SPF, which tends to degrade over time." Either way, though, always check the expiration date.
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The reason you'll want to avoid Dollar Tree's school supplies is that they simply don't offer enough value for the price.
"It doesn't make sense to go to Dollar Tree for things like crayons and markers—especially if you're going to be buying the 'Jot' brand, which is the Dollar Tree brand," said Bargain Bethany on YouTube. "Those tend to have very poor quality in that they dry out really fast. I'd rather go to Target or Walmart or somewhere else and get Crayola."
At the time of her video, Bargain Bethany noted that a 16-count of Crayola crayons at Dollar Tree costs $1.25, while a 24-count of Crayola crayons at Target costs just 14 cents more.
Andrea Woroch, consumer savings and smart shopping expert, agrees, and says that for other items like folders and notebooks, "You can often find generic options from office supply stores or big box stores on sale for less than a buck, especially during the back to school shopping season."
Another area where Woroch says you're not getting value for your money is kitchen items. "A thinly/cheaply made oven mitt won't do the trick when you're pulling hot baking sheets or pans out of the oven, so spend a little more on a quality one."
She also cautions against buying dollar store cutlery, as "dull knives are actually dangerous because they can slip when you're trying to cut food and hurt you." To save on these items, Woroch suggests checking out "warehouse club stores like Costco or Sam's Club for sales on quality knife sets."