dollar store items

I recently ran into my older sister at the dollar store. We chatted while we went through the aisles, and I managed to go through checkout first. I looked back at her and bragged, “$35!”

As we were loading our car, she came out of the store, and with her arms in the air in a victory pose, she yelled out, “$72!” She just had to outdo me!

We had great fun teasing each other, but in all seriousness, spending $72, or even $35 at the dollar store isn’t doing any favors to our finances. Since everything is $1, it is easy to spend without thinking. The tiny price tag seems to not even register in our brains. This phenomena is often called “nickel and diming ourselves.”

So, how do we survive a trip to the dollar store without going crazy and spending more than we should? Here are some of my best tips. I have to remind myself of them every time I go shopping.

Always use a list

I have walked innocently into the dollar store many times, and couldn’t believe how high my bill was. This was due solely to lack of a plan. I walked into the store and anything that caught my eye ended up in the cart. This is lack of self control, plain and simple. Now, I shop smarter. I always use a shopping list.

In between trips, I take note of things we actually need, like notebooks, pens, contact paper, etc. When I head to the dollar store, usually after my daughter finishes at the orthodontist, I stick to the list. No coffee mugs or stickers or toys for my little boys are allowed in the cart. This one tip has saved me quite a bit of money.

Use cash

I will make no secret of the fact that my husband and I use a credit card. We pay our bill in full at least once a month, sometimes more often. But, in places like the dollar store, where it’s easy to overspend, using cash is a must. If I only have a $20 bill in my wallet, I will be forced to make spending choices, and this is a very good thing. In my case, I would need to decide that I don’t need 4 new packs of pens. Just two packs will do the trick.

If you are struggling with overspending at the dollar store, or another particular store, plan ahead and only take a certain amount of cash with you.

Know your prices

It’s easy to think that the dollar store is the cheapest place to buy things, but that isn’t always the case. This is particularly true in the food department. The dollar store often has canned goods, snacks, and drinks for a dollar. But, many grocery stores can beat that price. Know your prices at your local stores, so that you aren’t paying more than you need to.

On the other hand, office supplies, beauty products, cleaning supplies, and kitchen items are often far cheaper than the competition. Again, just know the prices for the items you buy on a regular basis.

Count your items

You can also limit your spending by counting your items. My husband often pops in the dollar store on his way home from work. He particularly targets drinks and peanuts. His simple trick for not overspending is to only stock up on 10 drinks and 3 jars of peanuts. This way, his spending is predictable and manageable. I, on the other hand, have a weakness for office supplies, so I have to limit my office items to 2. Otherwise, I could easily come home with 7 packages of pens, and just as many post-it notes. Do the math. That adds up real fast!

Need or want?

It’s amazing how often this little question comes in handy. Wow! The dollar store has fuzzy slippers! Look at this cute little sign to hang on the wall! Oh, I could totally use this plastic basket to organize something! By golly! Pull out the need or want question!

Do I really need fuzzy slippers, or did the pretty colors just catch my eye? Do I know exactly what I would organize with this basket, or could I wait and figure it out first? Do I really need more pens, or do I still have 10 unopened packages at home?

Read this post if you need a little more help evaluating your purchases.

My latest trip…

So, while writing this post, I had an opportunity to head to the dollar store, and I practiced my survival skills! Here’s how I did.

  • I went in the store with a list. You can see the picture in this post.
  • I counted the dry erase markers, and stuck to only two.
  • They didn’t have sticky tiles, contact paper, or elastic, which accidentally helped me.
  • Turns out it was a happy accident that they didn’t have the sticky floor tiles. I called my husband, and he found tiles at Walmart for $0.87. Know your prices!
  • I paid with cash, which kept me more mindful of what I put in the cart.
  • The only mistake I made was taking my teenage daughter in the store, which accounts for a few of the items on the conveyor belt. Thankfully, she is learning money management, and often pays for her own items.

Here’s my total. Not too bad, but always room for improvement.

Before you head to the store…

Which tip do you think will be most helpful for you at the dollar store? Do you have your own tricks for keeping your dollar store purchases low? Share them in the comments!

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