7 Dollar Store Mistakes you Probably Don’t Realize you’re Making

Dollar stores can be a great source for inexpensive household essentials, party supplies, and surprise bargains. However, many shoppers unknowingly make mistakes that negate the perceived savings of these discount retailers.

7 Dollar Store Mistakes You Probably Don't Realize You're Making
7 Dollar Store Mistakes You Probably Don’t Realize You’re Making

From overlooking unit pricing to missing out on credit card rewards, these seven blunders could be costing you more than you realize.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t assume dollar stores always have the lowest prices without comparing
  • Check unit pricing, not just sticker price, especially for food and personal care
  • Use credit cards to earn cash back rewards on every dollar store purchase
  • Avoid buying items likely to expire before you can use them
  • Take advantage of store apps, coupons, and clearance markdowns
  • Compare brand name vs. generic items based on unit pricing

7 Dollar Store Mistakes You Probably Don’t Realize You’re Making

Shopping at dollar stores can be convenient and budget-friendly, but there are common mistakes that people may not realize they’re making. Here are seven dollar store mistakes to avoid

Assuming Dollar Stores Always Have the Lowest Prices

One of the biggest mistakes shoppers make is assuming that just because an item has a $1 (or $1.25) price tag, it’s automatically the best deal. While dollar stores excel at offering low sticker prices, that doesn’t inherently mean you’re getting the lowest cost per unit or quantity.

For example, a 24-pack of AA batteries may cost $6 at the dollar store, which seems like a steal. But if you can get a 48-pack for $10.99 on Amazon or at a membership club, you’re actually paying less per battery buying in bulk.

The key is to always compare unit pricing and total costs to bulk retailers, grocery stores, and online sources before assuming the dollar store price is the lowest available.

Not Checking Unit Pricing on Food and Personal Care

This mistake is an extension of the first, but it specifically applies to consumable items like food, personal care, and household products. Many shoppers see the low sticker prices on these items and assume it’s a bargain without considering the actual quantity or unit pricing.

For instance, you may find a 16 oz bottle of body wash for $1.25 at the dollar store, which seems like a great deal at first glance. However, the same 16 oz bottle costs $2.99 at your local grocery store’s regular retail price. But if you calculate:

Dollar Store: $1.25 / 16 oz = $0.078 per ounce Grocery Store: $2.99 / 16 oz = $0.187 per ounce

You’re actually paying nearly 60% less per ounce by buying the larger bottle at the grocery store. This unit pricing analysis is critical for any consumable products you don’t want to run out of prematurely.

Paying in Cash and Missing Credit Card Rewards

Given the relatively small total at most dollar store checkout lines, many shoppers opt to pay with cash or debit for convenience. However, this is a mistake if you have a decent cash back credit card in your wallet.

While a $10 purchase may only net you 10-20 cents in cash back rewards, those small amounts add up quickly if you’re a frequent dollar store shopper. If you spend $25 per week at dollar stores and put it on a 2% cash-back card, you’re looking at $26 per year in rewards.

Spend per Week 1% Cash Back 2% Cash Back
$25 $13 $26
$50 $26 $52
$75 $39 $78

So don’t deprive yourself of easy cash back earnings just because the transactions seem small. Use your credit card for those dollar store runs and watch the rewards add up over time.

Forgetting to Check Expiration Dates

Given the exceptionally low prices, some dollar store inventory may be very close to its expiration date or best-by date, especially items like:

  • Packaged food and snacks
  • Vitamins and supplements
  • Sunscreen
  • Makeup and beauty products

Always check those expiration dates before buying anything you want to have a reasonable shelf life. While the dollar price tag may seem like a steal, it’s no deal if the item spoils or goes bad before you can realistically use it up.

Not Using the Store’s Loyalty App and Digital Coupons

Most major dollar store chains like Dollar Tree and Dollar General now have loyalty programs and apps that feature digital coupons, weekly ads, and other promotions. Not taking advantage of these is leaving extra savings on the table.

For example, the Dollar General app allows you to load digital coupons directly to your account and scan your phone at checkout for the discounts. You can also browse the weekly ad and see current promotions like buy-one-get-one deals.

Using these apps in conjunction with any paper coupons from the weekly mailer allows you to stack savings and maximize your dollar stretching ability.

Overlooking Clearance Areas and Less Visible Shelves

Like any retailer, dollar stores will have clearance sections, promotions, and inventory placed in less visible areas of the store. If you’re not scanning those neglected spots, you could be missing out on the absolute best deals.

Don’t be afraid to ask dollar store associates when they restock clearance sections, end caps, and other sale areas. Getting there first after a restock can allow you to snag the most heavily discounted overstocked inventory.

Similarly, don’t just skim the eye-level shelves. The real gems may be on those bottom shelves that are less visible and picked over last.

Buying Brand Name Items Without Comparison

Considering their private label and generic merchandise typically has rock-bottom pricing, one of the costliest mistakes at dollar stores is defaulting to brand name purchases without a second thought.

For example, a bottle of 200 generic ibuprofen tablets may cost $1 at the dollar store. That same quantity of a national brand like Advil could be $5 or more. Assuming the active ingredients are identical, you’d be paying 5x more just for the brand name.

Whenever possible, compare brand names to generic or store brand alternatives based on the unit pricing. With most household, personal care, food, and health items, the generic versions are usually the better dollar store value.


While dollar stores have built their reputation on offering rock-bottom prices, it’s all too easy to make mistakes that negate those perceived bargains. From missing out on credit card rewards to buying impulsively without checking unit costs or expiration dates, these pitfalls can quickly deprive you of the real savings you’re seeking.

To truly maximize your dollar store trips, get in the habit of:

  • Comparing unit pricing to grocery, bulk, and online retailers
  • Using the store’s app and digital coupons
  • Scouring clearance sections and less visible sale areas
  • Opting for generic over brand name items when the unit pricing is lower
  • Putting purchases on a cash back credit card to earn rewards

With a few simple adjustments to your approach, you can ensure you’re truly taking advantage of all the dollar store has to offer without making easy-to-avoid blunders. A little diligence goes a long way in squeezing out every possible penny of savings.



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