Note from Hint Mama: For my daughter’s first birthday party, I spent at least $100 on party supplies from a well-known party supply store. For my daughter’s second birthday party, however, I wised up and hit the local dollar store instead, cutting my party supply bill at least in half. Party supplies are just one of the items parents can pick up for less at their local dollar stores, as Hint Mama contributor Karen Witham explains in her latest hint.
Dollar stores can all blur together, can’t they? In fact, Family Dollar is slated to merge with Dollar Tree, and there’s also Dollar General. These stores can be hit-or-miss, but they typically offer some surprising parent-friendly deals.
The pricing varies by store: In general, most items are $1, but there may be some exceptions that cost a bit more. In all cases, though, the prices at dollar stores are likely to be very low. It’s worth braving the occasionally grimy and disorganized shelves to benefit from these great discounts.
In fact, I suggest making the dollar store your first stop when preparing for the holidays or a birthday party, and today’s hint is six kid- and family-related things you should look for first at your local dollar store.
1. Gift-wrapping materials. You can find gift bags, gift wrap, bows, tissue paper, tags, tape and related items at your local dollar store. The selection may be limited, but solid colors for wraps and bags are always a classic and can be dressed up with ribbons, stickers and kids’ artwork.
2. Party supplies. Dollar stores are great for stocking up on supplies for birthday parties, baby showers and holiday parties. Think disposable plates, napkins, cups, tablecloths and utensils, usually all available in several colors. Add in balloons, tabletop decorations and party favors too – my local store offers Mylar balloons and a helium tank. As Cheapism.com points out, at dollar stores, you often can snag $1 balloons filled with helium that can go for $3 to $8 elsewhere.
“Since these are items you’re going to throw away afterwards, there is no reason to pay the higher price found at party supply stores,” Jon Lal of BeFrugal.com aptly points out over at U.S. News Money’s The Frugal Shopper blog.
3. Party favors. For my daughter’s birthday last year, I stocked up on $1 boxes of crayons and coloring books and gave them out as party favors. Another time, I bought pails and shovels, pool “noodles” and floats, and water toys. These made perfect favors for my son’s August birthday party at a local beach. These summertime toys were likely available because it was the end of pool/beach season, so keep seasonal timing in mind when looking for deals.
4. School supplies. The dollar store I go to seems to have everything from pencils and notebooks to homeschooling supplies, like alphabet charts and math workbooks. I’ve also seen dictionaries, atlases and other reference books, and all kinds of stickers.
5. Health and baby basics. I’ve found toothbrushes (for kids and adults), toothpaste and dental floss at the dollar store. You can also stock up on standbys like Epsom salts, rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. And while you’re at a dollar store, check out its baby and toddler aisle to see if any of your favorite brands of items like diapers and wipes are available.
6. Snacks, candy and gum. OK, if you read this one, you acknowledge that your kids may not always be eating raw, organic vegetables (which are NOT available at the dollar store). At my local dollar store, I’ve scored brand-name potato chips, crackers, cookies and gum for treats and parties. I gave away ring pops at one birthday; they came four to a bag at the dollar store, so I got them for $.25 each. That’s how much candy cost back in, as my kids say, “the olden days” when I was a kid!
One advocacy organization is calling for dollar stores to “green” their shelves by stocking more eco-friendly products. When it comes to buying things that we’ll be putting in or on our bodies, I tend to only buy items with name brands that I recognize. I also carefully read the ingredients labels, when relevant, to make sure I’m okay with the components of an edible or personal care item, and I check expiration dates.
In addition, before buying party favors, you’ll want to make sure to be on alert for choking hazards and cheap, imitation products that may fall apart quickly (Cheapism.com has a nice round-up of dollar store purchase no-no’s).
Finally, I wanted to make a special mention of a unique dollar store import, Daiso Japan, which has tons of low-cost Japanese products. It’s a fun shopping and cultural expedition with your kids if there is a store in your area.
What are your dollar-store shopping tips?
Karen Witham is a mother of two children who she can’t believe are already ages six and seven. She spends her time on both sides of the Bay, working full-time as an editor and writer in San Francisco and living in Oakland. A transplant from the East Coast, she spent ten years living in Boston and also loves New York and most of all, Paris. Karen has a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from Emerson College. She blogs at Thoughtstream. Connect with her on Twitter at @kewitham or LinkedIn.