There are a few tips for shopping at any dollar store.
1. If you're going to get the best out of shopping there, shop often and regularly.
Once in a while dollar stores get really great stuff. But it goes right back out the door almost as quickly as it goes on the shelf. If you want the best deals, you've got to know what's regularly there, when the truck comes in every week, and be there in time to get it before someone else does. Because, believe me, there are regular shoppers (I shopped there so often they finally put me to work!)
You never know what you might find! When Borders book store went out of business, Dollar Tree got hands on a large amount of their inventory. For a while we had $25 best sellers on the shelf for a dollar! Dollar store buyers are great opportunists, so you never know...
2. Some items are not worth trading low cost for low quality.
Do buy bandaids at the dollar tree, especially if they don't stay on your kids for more than an hour anyway, like mine. Do not bother buying their generic q-tips however, they're useless.
In the fridge section, skip the prepared foods unless it's a brand name you recognize. They taste like they're worth a buck, and they're not very nutritious. Do, however, buy the Mrs Freshley's goodies in the cookie aisle. They're very good. (especially the swiss rolls!) Do not bother with the microwave popcorn, unless there's a brand name like Act 3 or Pop Secret - the generic stuff can barely be eaten, it's so gross.
As a general rule, you can rely on the list below, but don't be afraid to try something out for yourself. It's only a buck, after all, so you can try something and not be out to much if you hate it.
mylar balloons (Great value, but they will not fill latex with helium, so don't bother asking)
R2 writing pens (best ever, we don't bother buying any other kind anymore)
School supplies in August
Party decorations - they have great seasonal stuff
Gift bags and tissue - they're going to be thrown away an hour after you gift them, why pay more than a buck?
ziplock sandwich bags - just as good as brand name
Dish cloths and towels, hot pads
Knick-knacks (especially Christmas, they have a whole village of little houses and figurines, very cute!)
Dishes and glassware (watch for chips and cracks, though, they get knocked about a bit)
Don't bother with:
Vitamin E - the pills are powder, not the oil that works so well.
white boards (they don't work very well, if at all)
Make-up (though they do get brand names and some nice brushes once in a while, keep an eye out)
Plastic cooking utensils (they melt - you'll save money in the long run spending an extra buck or two for nicer ones)
Can openers (They never work for more than a month)
Tools - unless you just need cheap for one project, because they are not sturdy
Note: Unless you are ordering a huge amount of one thing, don't bother ordering online - the shipping costs can be ridiculous. But if you are planning a big even and need a thousand of something, it is an available option instead of hitting every store in the area, hoping you can gather enough of that one gizmo you need.
3. Never assume something will be in stock.
The store associates never know what's coming till it gets there; we usually find out what's on the truck when it comes through the back door. Most of the main stock stays roughly the same, but it does shift once in a while.
4. Dollar stores are not kid-playgrounds. We love kids, but we are a business, not a babysitter.
Okay, that's not really a tip for shopping there, but it is a tip to keep your friendly neighborhood clerks from going insane. Just sayin'.
That being said - the toy section can be great fun. Just don't expect high quality toys that will last. If you want a toy to keep someone amused for a couple of hours, that's your department. Again, though, keep in mind that those dollar store buyers like toys, too - they'll get good stuff if they can. As of last week, the BeyBlade fighter tops that go for around $9 in the regular stores were at Dollar Tree for a buck apiece! So keep an eye out there, too - you might find some really great stocking stuffers for later in the year.
5. Speaking of holidays..
It is a store merchandising policy that all holiday stock be two to three months ahead of the holiday. Which means Halloween will start in August, and Christmas will start showing up on the shelves in October. The day after the holiday it will disappear to make room for the next big event. So start looking for it early, plan ahead to find the good stuff. If you wait till the week of any given holiday, you will be too late.
* * *
To end with a giggle - I was working one afternoon when a very nicely dressed group of twenty-something young people came in. I had to really try not to laugh out loud when I heard one young man (I swear he was wearing an Armani suit!) on the next aisle over phone someone to excitedly tell them;
"No kidding! I'm in this store, and every thing is a dollar! Can you believe that? I didn't know there were even stores like this!"... "No really - everything!"... "Seriously, they've got food and everything!"
Lucky kid. Must be nice to never know cheap-o stores even exist, right?
Still, I can't help it. I love dollar stores. If I was rich, I'd still shop there.They make my frugal-bone tingle, and that makes me happy.