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.

Beach Bag Essentials

My Fair Lady Stripe Hat

Everyone needs an oversized hat to don at the beach for those times when your nose is getting burned or you need extra shade to read your favorite novel. This floppy summer hat is made with SPF 50 material, to protect your hair and scalp from getting fried., $30

Mossimo Large Straw Tote -- Multicolor

Pack everything you need for a day at the beach -- and then some -- in this oversized straw tote from Mossimo. The chic Grecian-key design announces the arrival of summer with bright, bold colors., $35

Kenneth Cole Reaction Striped Hooded Cover-Up

This cute cotton cover-up will give your skin a much-needed hiatus from all-day rays at the beach. The empire waist with drawstrings gives just enough shape to not feel dowdy. Comes with two pockets at the hip and a hood., $30

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

This quirky comedic novel by Maria Semple tells the story of Bernadette Fox, a neurotic Seattle housewife who hates people. It is told through a series of emails, documents and narration by Fox’s daughter, Bee, who is trying to find out what happened to her mother, who disappears while planning a family trip to Antarctica., $10

Alba Botanica Natural Hawaiian Sunscreen SPF 30

This naturally moisturizing, lightweight lotion isn’t thick or sticky like other sunscreens -- and doesn’t clog pores. It has a light, fresh tropical scent that isn’t overwhelming. Best of all, it isn’t tested on animals, and is paraben-free. Water-resistant, it protects against the sun for up to 40 minutes of swimming., $7

Survive Wedding Season on a Budget

June -- the season of love, flora and lots of weddings. Many of us spend our summer traveling from wedding to wedding, and this celebration of love and life can get very expensive.

Here’s a few tips on how to survive the wedding season and emerge with your budget intact:

  1. Never feel like you need to wear a new dress to each wedding, especially if they involve different groups of friends. Invest in a great little black dress. Change up your look with different accessories, and each occasion will feel fresh.
  2. There are many alternatives to buying a new dress. Scour the racks at thrift shops for fun finds. Also, renting is super popular these days! Rent the Runway is affordable and has fabulous deals. Or keep it in the family! If your best friend or sister is your size, do a quick swap. But, if buying a new dress is unavoidable, set a strict budget and stick to it! Keep in mind additional costs such as hair, makeup and nails.
  3. Consider gel manicures. If you are going to be headed to engagement parties, rehearsal dinners and weddings every weekend, you might as well have a manicure that will last you for several weeks’ worth of occasions!
  4. Wear sexy but "just sensible enough" shoes. A new pair of stilettos may be tempting, but not only will they cost a pretty penny, they also won’t be broken in, making a night of dancing and chatting around cocktail tables, more painful than it has to be. Opt for your favorite pair of heels, in this case, the more times you’ve worn them, the better! 


Beat Social Awkwardness

Social nervousness is normal. Walking into a party where we know no one can set the most outgoing of us on edge. According to Dr. Martin Antony, professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, and author of The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook, more than 80 percent of people describe themselves as shy in certain situations. Luckily, there are ways to push past the discomfort. Here, Antony’s surefire strategies to handle any social setting with grace.

Public Speaking: To erase the jitters, know your material, your audience and rehearse your speech ahead of opening night. But more importantly, take a close look at anxiety-provoking thoughts and extinguish them. Remind yourself that the stakes are not as high as they might feel; you are speaking to a group of equally human people, and feeling a little nervous is perfectly normal. Also, pay attention to your body. Take some slow deep breaths, relax clenched shoulders, stand up straight -- and smile. Being stone-faced can actually increase your level of stress. Finally, says Antony, the key to feeling better in front of a group is exposure. The more you do, the easier it gets. Practice makes perfect (and less cringe-worthy).

Dating: Change your perspective. A date is about seeing if you have enough in common with someone; it’s not a measure of your value as a human being. Also, bring down the intensity of the engagement by keeping first dates low-key and short -- a lunch date or a cup of coffee, instead of a five-course dinner and a night at the opera.

Job Interviews: Ease nerves by preparing properly. Make sure to research the company and know the position of interest. Practice mock interviews with friends or family members who will be willing to role-play and ask difficult questions. Next, understand that some level of nervousness is expected. “When I interview someone who seems overly confident, I wonder if they might make for a difficult co-worker or employee,” says Antony. Finally, be yourself -- it dispels nervousness.

Social Gatherings: Small talk is an art, and knowing how to practice it is key to feeling comfortable at parties and get-togethers. Ask open-ended questions to add richness to a conversation and keep it going. So instead of asking, “Do you like your job?” Say, “Tell me about your job.” Next, look for common interests. If you can’t think of any, ask how the other person knows the host, and share your point of connection. Finally, recognize that all conversations have a natural life span. Often people feel like a failure if they can’t keep the chatter going indefinitely, but that’s unrealistic, says Dr. Antony. When a conversation winds down it’s usually because it has run its course. Don’t feel like you have to engineer an excuse to get away. Tell them it was great to meet them and you hope you’ll have a chance to talk later. Then excuse yourself politely.

How to Win People Over

We’ve all been there: frustrated when we don’t get what we want. At times we talk until we’re blue in the face and still fail at convincing the other person to see things our way. 

You don’t have to cajole, whine, beg or intimidate to get your way. There are better ways. “In life, there are times we literally have to ask for what we want,” says Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition.

The trick: To do it in a way that doesn’t come across as demanding, pushy or entitled, says Post. The result: Less stress for you, and a win-win situation for all.

Scenario #1: Your spouse insists on reading the newspaper during breakfast, but you’re hungry for conversation. How do you convince him to put down the paper and talk?

Master It: Often people try to win their spouses over with noise and negativity, but this usually results in the opposite, says Alisa Bowman, author of the book and blog, Project Happily Ever. Just ask for what you want, she says. “Get rid of all the language about your emotions and justifications, using as few sentences as possible,” she suggests. Saying something like, “I’d really love it if we could talk over breakfast,” is succinct and to the point, without unnecessary blaming or nagging.

On the other hand, says Post, you have to recognize that not everyone is a morning person. So don’t be offended if you can’t get your hubby to chat. In this case, persuasion might not be the best route to take. Instead, try working toward a compromise; have a short conversation when you’re waking up in bed, or read the paper together over a cup of coffee, she suggests.

Scenario #2: You live in a quiet, residential neighborhood. Your neighbor’s dog stays outside much of the day and barks non-stop.

Master It: You need to have a face-to-face conversation about the disruption the dog is causing, says Post. You might even want to bring along a peace offering, like brownies, cookies or a bottle of wine, suggests Bowman. “Be positive. Don’t show any dislike for the animal himself, but do show concern for the behavior that’s going on,” Post says. She suggests trying something like, “I want your dog to be able to enjoy the outside, but I’d also like to enjoy quiet as well.” The goal here is to get the other person to be sympathetic to your need -- and not to be defensive about their dog. And remember: it’s the owner’s responsibility to address the problem, not yours.

Scenario #3: You work with a team, but a few people are not pulling their weight; they’re lazy or just not as committed as you, bringing down the performance of the entire group. You don’t want to rat on your co-workers, yet you also don’t want to appear like a slacker to your boss.

Master It: To ensure the project will get done, you need to step up and organize the group as a whole, says Post. Write out who is responsible for what, including the deadlines. Then e-mail the schedule to the group and schedule regular follow-up meetings so you can check in with one another. “This way you have something actionable to turn to, and everyone will be accountable,” Post says.  If and when the boss asks what happened, you have the written proof of exactly what is going on.