Best Dollar Store Deals

I love a good deal. That said, I was dubious when my editor handed down this assignment. My perception of dollar stores has always been that of subpar or off-label products, but then I talked to a couple of pro money-savers and they set me straight. “You can find phenomenal deals at the 99 cent store,” say Steve and Annette Economides, finance experts and bestselling authors ofCut Your Grocery Bill in Half.  “But you’ve got to know your stuff before you start stretching your dollars.”

Preparation involves several factors when it comes to dollar stores, the couple told me. They armed me with the following:

  • Know your options. Depending on where you live, you may have anywhere from one to a handful of different dollar store varieties. “You’ll get different deals at different stores -- some have produce, some sell greeting cards two for one, so get familiar with the deals and differences in your area,” says Steve.
  • Check the size. Look at the size of the product compared to the price. “I saw a package of really lean lunchmeat ham that looked great on first glance, but then I saw that it was just 4 ounces for a dollar -- that’s four dollars a pound -- pass!” says Steve. Some manufacturers are now making products especially for dollar stores, which means they sometimes make the packages smaller.
  • Look for quality. Annette was thrilled to find an off-brand 1,000-count package cotton swabs. “I was able to feel the tip to know that there was plenty of padding -- a great deal.” You can also garner clues by reading the package labels carefully. If a product looks similar to a name brand product you might see in the store, it could be made by that same manufacturer, but just be designed for dollar stores. And you can also read labels of cleaning products to see how much they are diluted. “Dollar stores carry off-label brands and sometimes the concentration is much less than you actually need, so it really doesn’t save you any money,” says Steve.
  • Have a buy price. Steve and Annette suggest keeping a simple price sheet on products you buy regularly, so you’ll have a quick reference guide when you go shopping. “Stuffing is a family staple for us, and I know that the best deals available for stuffing are at Thanksgiving time, for around 99 cents for a 16-ounce box,” says Annette, “so when I saw stuffing in May at the dollar store, I stocked up.”

Armed with the above tips and suggestions from Steve and Annette, I headed off to my local dollar store to see what I could find. It didn’t disappoint. Below you’ll see a sampling of Annette and Steve’s best deals, along with what I found.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables: Spend. Steve and Annette had told me that I would find great produce, but I must admit I didn’t believe them -- but right they were. I came home with a pound of artisan lettuce (they had told me about this) for a buck (the same lettuce my local grocery store sells for five dollars); a bunch of bananas; tomatoes (five in a container); a bag of nectarines; a bag of five large apples for a dollar; and huge artichokes for 99 cents each. The quality and taste of all were fantastic.

Pantry Items: Spend. You definitely need to check sizes here, but I found great deals on flour, noodles, sugar, spices, mustard, mayo and ketchup. I skipped salt and pepper because I’ve seen better deals at my local grocery store. Annette found a 28-ounce jar of raspberry jam.

Toiletries: Study. I bought toothpaste and shampoo, but I skipped toothbrushes, and deodorant because the former was not great quality, and the latter was almost travel-sized. 

Greeting cards: Spend. Steve and Annette say that their Dollar Tree has a dollar deal that buys you two cards for one buck.

Kid stuff: Study. If you’ve got small kids, the dollar store is a great place to stock up on bubbles and sidewalk chalk, but they still have the cheap plastic swords and other toys that break quickly, so choose wisely.

Cleaning supplies: Save. As Steve warned, a lot of cleaning supplies are heavily diluted, and the quality didn’t seem up to snuff on paper towels. But a gallon of bleach was a good buy. 

Cereal: Save. The dollar store that I was at had plenty of cereal options, but the boxes were all much smaller than what you’d see at your regular store.

Bread: Spend. I found great deals on brand name healthy whole-wheat bread for 99 cents. I stocked up on some extra to freeze for school sandwiches.

Remove Stubborn Stains Like a Pro

Troublesome stains come in all shapes and sizes: an oily handprint on your ivory sofa; black permanent marker on the teak dining table; mustard on your best blouse; and yes, even a tinge on your teeth from last night’s glass of red wine. But rather than settle for all of the above in a perpetually smudged state, we sought advice from professional champions of clean on how to remove stains and keep your teeth, clothes and home in top, stain-free condition.

Perfect Pearly Whites
Coffee, red wine and nicotine are among the worst teeth-staining agents, says Sherri Worth, cosmetic and reconstructive dentist based in Newport Beach, Calif. Her whitening fix: “Once a week, use a mix of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide blended into a paste to brush your teeth.” Worth also says eating foods like veggies, strawberries, and dairy can help strengthen teeth, kill oral bacteria and create a protective stain-blocking barrier.

All About the Brush
Dr. Michael Paesani, a dentist in Falls Church, Va., recommends reaching for a powerful electric toothbrush to minimize staining and buildup when you’re in between professional dental cleanings. “Brushing shortly before and after your morning coffee,” he says,” will greatly reduce the potential discoloration.” Another clever tip: “Keep a bottle of water on hand and rinse after you finish drinking pigment-heavy beverages,” he says.

In the Bag
A Saturday-night movie at home usually means sharing a bowl of buttery popcorn on the couch. Should an oily fingerprint or two pop up on your upholstered furniture, Meg Roberts, president of the maid service and house cleaning company Molly Maid, says all you’ll need is a brown paper lunch bag. Place the bag on the oily spot and run a warm iron over it to lift the oil from the upholstery and into the paper. 

Not So Permanent Markers
If your tot misses her target when drawing, and you’re left with permanent marker on your hardwood floors or wood furniture, Roberts says a little non-gel toothpaste on a microfiber cloth rubbed in a circular motion on the stain works wonders. For spills on carpeting, pat the stain with a white cloth and a bit of soda water. “People tend to scrub because they get anxious, but rubbing back and forth might deepen it into the carpet fibers.”

Cut the Elbow Grease
Vigorously scrubbing toilets to remove tough stains is tiresome. Instead, try a toilet-freshening trick that Roberts’ grandmother pioneered: denture-cleaning tablets, such as Polident or Efferdent. “She’d drop [them] in the bowl, walk away and let them fizz up,” Roberts says. The tablets’ fizzing action loosens grime inside the bowl, thus lessening your cleaning time and effort.

Hold the Mustard
One of the harder stains to remove from fabrics is mustard, says Mona Weiss, co-owner of detergent company Eco Nuts. To attack mustard on non-dry clean only items, use cold water to rinse through the back of the stain. Apply liquid laundry detergent and allow the garment to sit for ten minutes. Rinse and repeat as needed, then add an enzyme stain spray and launder normally. “These enzymes will eat the stain while leaving the fabric alone,” she says.

Grease Lightning
For grease stains on your clothes, Weiss recommends using dish soap. “Rub it in gently,” she says, “and let [the garment] sit at least ten minutes before washing.” Check that the stain has come out before throwing an item in the dryer, Weiss cautions. “The dryer can set that stain forever.” Also helpful for absorbing mild grease stains on clothes: rub chalk or cornstarch onto the stain and let it sit.

Easy Energy Savers for Your Home

Out-of-control energy bills are all too common for most homeowners. And it’s not hard to see why: Constant computer use, washing dishes, doing laundry, heating and cooling your home, cooking dinner, and even taking showers all contribute to that shockingly high monthly number. The good news, however, is that here are more than a few simple (and insanely cheap) ways to transform your home from an energy-eating money pit to a more efficient, money-saving powerhouse.

Here, several green-living experts take on different rooms in the average home and offer their best ideas for quick, no-cost or low-cost fixes, plus larger energy-saving investments that pay off big in the long run. 

The Attic

When it comes to your attic, there are two keywords to remember: air seal. “Particularly in a home that’s more than 10 years old, [look to see if] you have any settlement gaps or other openings that have happened over time,” says Jeff Bartos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia-based home energy assessment company Mark Group Inc. Bartos suggests using caulking or weather stripping to seal any gaps or cracks in the attic that are bringing in cold or warm air. How to spot those leaky gaps? Energystar.gov recommends looking for areas where the insulation is darkened due to filtering dusty air in from the house.

Bedrooms

In high-use areas such as bedrooms, Bartos says consider swapping outdated incandescent lightbulbs for either compact fluorescents (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). While slightly more expensive than standard incandescent bulbs, CFLs and LEDs have longer life expectancies (upwards of 50,000 hours), use about 85 percent less energy and emit less heat, which will help protect your bottom line.

Bathrooms

“If the hot water in your shower can scald you,” says Dan Ruben, executive director for Boston Green Tourism, “you’re throwing money away.” Ruben suggests turning the hot-water heater down to 120 F or lower for maximum money-saving effects. Other inexpensive energy savers to implement in the bathroom? Switch out existing showerheads for low-flow versions (prices start at around $5, depending on the brand) and add an aerator (about $3) to all of your faucets -- both products mix air into the water, so you don’t even notice a change in water flow.

Home Office

Sure, the photo montage of your kids that pops up on your computer when you’re not using it is adorable, but Bartos suggests you skip the screensaver. And never leave your computer running while you’re away. “If homeowners are putting [their computers] into sleep mode instead of shutting them down, they’re using more energy than they think.”

Kitchen

Are your kitchen appliances Energy Star-certified? If not, it may be time to replace them. According to EnergyStar.gov, an Energy Star-certified refrigerator is required to use 15 percent less energy than a non-certified model, which can cut your energy bill by more than $80 over the appliance’s lifetime.

But if replacing a pricey appliance isn’t in your current budget, Shel Horowitz, author of Painless Green: 111 Tips to Help the Environment, Lower Your Carbon Footprint, Cut Your Budget, and Improve Your Quality of Life -- With No Negative Impact on Your Lifestyle, recommends either unplugging your kitchen appliances or hooking them into a standard power strip that allows you to turn off all your appliances with one flip of the switch. Even if a plugged-in appliance is turned off, he notes, it’s still using power and costing you money.

Living Room

To reduce energy loss via windows in a living space, Ruben says window coverings are an energy-efficient must. In the summer, keeping your windows shaded both inside and out can keep your home cooler by more than 70 percent. Keep your blinds or curtains closed from sunrise to sunset. Also, consider your landscaping. Planting shade trees on the south and west sides of your home could lower summer electric bills by $25.

Eating-right Resolutions for Busy People

Since eating more healthful foods and losing weight are popular new year’s resolutions, I decided to reach out to the experts for advice. Here, Patricia Bannan -- author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight -- gives her stick-with-it advice:

  • Think “veg out and fruit up.” Five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day is optimal. Always carry portable fruit, like an apple, boxes of raisins or a bag of dried banana chips in your purse. Opt for a vegetable-heavy dish, such as a salad or sandwich loaded with veggies, for lunch.
  • “Appe-size” the meals in which you tend to overeat. Consider an appetizer, which tends to be lower in calories and takes time to eat, as an appetite speed-bump. Before your meal, sip broth-based soup, order a cup of hot herbal tea or enjoy a 100-calorie snack that includes protein, like a few tablespoons of hummus or 30 pistachios.
  • Energize in 3 to 5. That means strive for energy balance throughout the day by eating every three to five hours. Keep healthy snacks on hand or set a reminder on your phone to keep on schedule.
  • Laugh! Stress cannot only make you sick; it can make you gain weight as well. Humor defuses stress and the stress hormones it produces. So surround yourself with light-hearted people, watch comedies or try to find the funny in your daily life.

Do Your Spring Cleaning Now

It’s a fact: Mess leads to stress. In one survey of 1,000 men and women, about 40 percent admitted that their clutter caused them considerable anxiety. And you don’t need any more of that -- especially during the holidays.

“Set aside a couple of hours to organize your house now; it will pay off big-time during the onslaught of presents, cookies and guests,” says Lea Schneider, a professional organizer in Pensacola, Fla. Just follow our room-by-room guide to holiday harmony.  

                                         

Kitchen

·    Clear countertops. You’re going to need all the room you have for cookie sheets, dishes and other holiday goods. First, make a sweep of everything in your kitchen that doesn’t involve cooking, like bills, catalogs or your kid’s school folders. “Place it all in a laundry bin, and cart it off to where it belongs,” suggests Schneider. Then evaluate your small appliances: If you don’t use a gadget at least once a week, find room in a cabinet for it -- or even stash it on a shelf in the garage.

·    Plan for extra groceries. Chances are, you’ll be buying lots of baking supplies, plus party and holiday dinner food. Where is it all going to fit? Clear your pantry of out-of-date items to create space for new goodies. Bonus: It’ll help you find out whether you need to restock baking basics, like cinnamon or vanilla extract. “When you bring home the new non-perishable groceries, store them in a plastic bag by recipe,” says Schneider. “So, when you want to make chocolate chip cookies, for instance, all the dry ingredients are together.”

·    Tally your tableware. Don’t wait until the last-minute to discover that you don’t have enough china for a 12-person dinner party, or that some of your favorite holiday cloth napkins are stained. “Do an inventory of your plates, glasses, flatware and linens now to see if you need to replace or borrow anything,” says Jodie Watson, of Supreme Organization in Sherman Oaks, Calif.  

Bathroom

·    Streamline the vanity. Let’s face it: No holiday guest needs to see your hair gel or deodorant. Stash all your supplies under the sink, including paste, floss and toothbrushes. Even though it’s not really a faux pas to leave out toothbrushes in a pretty holder, they’re better off out of sight so that bacterias don’t get on them every time the toilet is flushed.

·    Make way for supplies. You’ll need extra soap, toilet paper and cleaning products this time of year. Either designate a space in the bathroom closet for them or find somewhere else to put them.

·    Add a couple of hooks. Nothing looks messier than an overstuffed towel rack! If you have guests staying with you over the holidays, pick up a couple of removable hooks to hang bathrobes and towels.

Living Room

·    Decorate smart. Some of your regular decor will need to disappear to make room for your holiday stuff. Stash it in a labeled tote before you pull out your seasonal favorites.

·    Pile on the presents. “Wrapped gifts are beautiful and shouldn’t be hidden away in a closet unless you have young kids,” says Schneider. Designate a place in the living room for them now so you won’t even have to think about where they go later.   

·    Make a fun center. Gather board games, books and holiday CDs near the coffee table so guests can help themselves, says Watson.

Kid’s Room/Play Room

·    Tidy up the toys. If you have a young child, of course you do this every day -- even every hour! But organization experts say to use the weeks leading up to the holidays to clear out toys that are broken, have missing pieces or ones you’re certain he’s outgrown. So when new presents come in, your house won’t look like Toys “R” Us.

·    Organize holiday clothes. Put away pumpkin T-shirts and other fall-specific wardrobe pieces. Designate a section of the closest for holiday outfits so you can easily pull out a cute shirt when your family is invited to a cookie exchange, or for the holiday party at school.

·    Keep it merry and bright. You don’t have to deck out your kid’s bedroom for the holidays, but think about one little touch -- maybe a New Year’s countdown calendar, paper garland or a snowman music globe.

Have more tips? Share below or tweet us @Completely_You