15 products to buy at Dollar General - and 13 you should skip every time

Dollar GeneralDollar General is opening 900 stores in 2018.AP

  • Dollar General offers low prices on thousands of products, but that doesn't mean everything the franchise sells is a good buy.
  • It makes sense to buy things like candy, holiday decorations, and cleaning products at the dollar store.
  • But you're better off avoiding certain perishable goods, as well as items you'd typically want to last a long time, like tools and kitchen utensils.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Dollar General is one of the most popular budget retailers in the United States.

Since the first Dollar General store opened in 1955, the company has opened more than 15,000 franchises across the US. As of December of last year, there were 15,225 Dollar Generals in America - more locations than McDonald's and Starbucks have.

While Dollar General offers great prices on thousands of products, it's hardly the best place to shop for everything you need in life. In fact, if alternatives are available, there are a number of things you should never buy from Dollar General.

But in other cases, the store's prices simply can't be beat.

Here are 15 things on which you should spend your dollars at Dollar General and 13 where you should shop elsewhere.

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Buy: Breakfast cereal

Buy: Breakfast cereal

Dollar General offers a number of private-labeled breakfast cereals that are, for all intents and purposes, the same stuff you'd find in a box of Cheerios or Frosted Flakes, albeit for less money. If you want a clone of an organic Kashi cereal or the like, however, look elsewhere.

Skip: Batteries

Skip: Batteries

Batteries sold at Dollar General may well cost less than you'd pay at another shop or even online, but chances are good that they are old and have lost much of their juice, so to speak, having been purchased in bulk by Dollar General after they sat on shelves elsewhere.

Buy: Over-the-counter pain medication

Buy: Over-the-counter pain medication

Two hundred milligrams of ibuprofen is 200 milligrams of ibuprofen, price and brand name notwithstanding. Check the expiration date of any medication you buy anywhere, but if you find over-the-counter pain meds at Dollar General, enjoy the painless pricing.

Skip: Tools

Skip: Tools

If you think you will only have to fix that one loose cabinet shelf one time, go ahead and get a cheap screwdriver from Dollar General. If you want a tool that will actually perform well during heavy use year after year, if you buy from Dollar General … you may be screwed.

Not surprisingly, tools at Dollar General aren't the highest quality, so if you need something that will last a while, it's best to visit elsewhere.

Buy: Books

Buy: Books

For better or for worse, an author's writing won't change if you pay less for their writing, so go ahead and buy novels, memoirs, and other books from Dollar General, which often has extremely marked-down prices on books.

Skip: Earbuds

Skip: Earbuds

You can get a great pair of wireless ear buds from Amazon for $25.99. Or you can get a terrible pair from Dollar General for $8 or even less. Customers said of one Dollar General earbud option that "a pair doesn't stay charged for longer than 10 minutes" and that you can "can hardly hear the music being played."

Buy: Bread

Buy: Bread

While Dollar General isn't the best place to go for all your perishable food needs, bread is often a great deal here, and when you pay less for the same company's loaf of bread you'd get elsewhere for more cash, you're simply saving money on this most basic of staples.

Skip: Steak

Skip: Steak

Buying steak at any dollar store, Dollar General very much included, is an assured way to get an inferior cut, and potentially one that was frozen shortly before a fresh sell-by date elapsed. While not likely to be unsafe, steak from Dollar General is likely to be lacking in taste and quality.

Buy: Razors

Buy: Razors

Notoriously expensive even from big box retailers like Costco, razors are refreshingly cheap from Dollar General. A four-pack of high-quality, brand-name disposables is yours for less than six bucks, while cheaper off-brand razors cost mere quarters each.

Skip: Cooking utensils

Skip: Cooking utensils

Single-use disposable plastic utensils are a fine buy from Dollar General, but for the kitchen utensils you'll use over and over, like a spatula or ladle, it pays to shop elsewhere and spend more.

Buy: Tape

Buy: Tape

Tape can actually be rather expensive, especially if you're talking about double-sided tape, packing tape, or any other specialty stuff. Dollar General sells many types of tape on the cheap, however, and it usually performs just fine, according to many DIY bloggers.

Skip: Dog food

Skip: Dog food

Much of the pet food sold at Dollar General is cheap and minimally nutritious, and is often close to its expiration date. As one shopper put it, Dollar General dog food can make "tummies upset" and lead to overly active bowels.

Buy: Planters

Buy: Planters

A 9.5-inch terra cotta flower pot costs $5.23 at Home Depot at the time of this writing. A slightly larger 10-inch planter costs just $2 at Dollar General. So that's less than half the price for even more size.

Skip: Beverages

Skip: Beverages

Dollar General usually has higher prices on beverages than you'd find at a dedicated grocery store, from soda to seltzer to juice, and they can't compete with bulk beverage sales from warehouses. One trick the small-box shop employs is to sell drinks for very low prices but in smaller packaging — a one-liter container instead of the two-liter ones you'd find at a supermarket, for example.

Buy: Laundry detergent

Buy: Laundry detergent

In side-by-side comparison, Dollar General beats Amazon on laundry detergent pricing. The same brands sell for pennies and even dollars less from Dollar General than from the leading online retailer, with Amazon's only advantage being the ease of the Prime delivery option.

Skip: Makeup

Skip: Makeup

According to experts in the health and beauty sector, dollar store makeup is a hard pass. The makeup sold on the cheap at Dollar General is almost sure to be inferior to that sold at other retailers. It is also often expired, customers have reported.

Buy: Birthday cards

Buy: Birthday cards

You can pay as much as five dollars and beyond for birthday, holiday, and greeting cards when you shop at a Target, Hallmark, or a grocery store. Or, you can pay a dollar or less for such cards purchased from a Dollar General, since they all eventually end up in the recycling bin anyway.

Skip: School and office supplies

Skip: School and office supplies

Dollar General prices on things like pencils, pens, paper, and other school and office staples can't compete with the prices you'll pay at an office supply store, especially during back-to-school sales. You probably have to buy supplies in bulk quantities when shopping at these stores in order to reap the savings, but the price per unit is almost always cheaper when you do so.

Buy: Seasonal decorations

Buy: Seasonal decorations

Dollar General has a great selection of décor items perfect for decorating your home at Christmas, throwing a Fourth of July party, or creating a Halloween tableau for the front stoop. As long as you're OK with some of the items potentially being restocked from previous years.

Skip: Condiments

Skip: Condiments

According to the numbers crunched by Clark.com, you're better off buying your ketchup and mustard from a regular grocery store, or better yet, from a bulk retailer like Costco. Ounce for ounce, the same product usually costs more at a Dollar General.

Buy: Household cleaning products

Buy: Household cleaning products

As long as you check the labels carefully and make sure there are no chemicals you wish to avoid, Dollar General cleaning products can be a steal. The exact same formulas of glass, wood, and other surface cleaners are usually available at cheaper prices than you'd pay online or at a competing brick-and-mortar, and not only for off-brand labels.

Skip: Milk

Skip: Milk

There are two reasons to pass on the milk at a Dollar General. First, it's probably not a good deal, with higher-quality milk for sale at lower prices (usually thanks to larger quantities) at grocery stores. Second, there's a good chance the milk in that dollar store from Dollar General is close to expiration.

Buy: Reading glasses

Buy: Reading glasses

You can often find reading glasses at Dollar General indeed priced at one dollar, and from a series of calls placed to Dollar General locations up and down the East Coast, we found a reliable price point of $5 or under, making these oft-misplaced items an excellent deal at Dollar General.

Skip: Sunblock

Skip: Sunblock

Don't take chances on your health with dollar-store sunscreen. Reader's Digest wrote that the sunblock sold at such retailers "might be expired" or, worse, mislabeled, with a package stating the product to be SPF 30 "really SPF 15."

Buy: Candy

Buy: Candy

Sugar is sugar, so why pay more for that bag of Sour Patch Kids? Better yet, shop at Dollar General for their generic candy brand, Sweet Smiles, and you will pay rock-bottom prices to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Skip: Electronics

Skip: Electronics

From power strips to chargers to hair dryers and beyond, Dollar General (and dollar stores generally) sells poorly rated electronic products. At best, they will perform poorly and fail eventually; at worst, they will short out and create a potentially serious hazard.

Buy: Sponges

Buy: Sponges

If you follow the conventional wisdom of tossing a kitchen sponge out every week or two, then Dollar General is a great place to shop for sponges. While you'll pay at least $5 for most sponge six-packs from Amazon, you can get six sponges from Dollar General for a dollar.

Buy: Tissues and toilet paper

Buy: Tissues and toilet paper

You can get great deals on tissues and toilet paper at Dollar General. That goes for both generic brands as well as name-brand products from companies like Kleenex, Cottonelle, or Scott.

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