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Release Date: 07/13/2009

Dollar Store Mania: Deals and Dangers

ShopSmart Spots the Best Bargains in Dollar Stores and What to Avoid

ShopSmart September '09 Cover YONKERS, NY — Dollar stores are growing while other retailers suffer their worst downturn in more than 20 years, but are all those one dollar items really a steal? ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, sent its mystery shoppers across the country to compare the prices of household items at dollar stores, supermarkets, drugstores and discount stores. The verdict: prices at dollar stores were either the cheapest or among the cheapest for many items, but the products are not always safe.

“It’s easy to get into a bargain-hunting frenzy and go overboard at dollar stores,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “But products that cost a dollar are not necessarily a bargain and—more importantly—they are not always safe. Our guide will show exactly how to be a smart dollar-store shopper.”

The Dollar Mania feature in the September 2009 issue of ShopSmart includes side-by-side comparisons of unit prices for household items, five surprising things you might not know about dollar stores and what items you should never buy at the dollar store.

What to Buy at the Dollar Store
Based on the unit price, these items are steals at the dollar store.

  • Heavy-duty Aluminum Foil: At 3 cents per square foot, the dollar store can’t be beat on price.
  • Gift Wrap: Dollar stores had the cheapest price at 2 cents per square foot versus 17 cents at one grocery store. But, skip the tissue paper. It’s more expensive at dollar stores.
  • Cotton Rounds: For something used everyday to remove makeup, the savings could really add up over time.
  • Party Supplies: Gift bags, ribbon, greeting cards, decorations and balloons are all great buys.

Hit or Miss at the Dollar Store
These items tend to be similarly priced at the dollar store and other retail locations.

  • Birthday Candles: Some dollar stores had the cheapest price while others had the highest.
  • Brown Paper Bags: Dollar stores tied with most other stores except CVS, which charged more.
  • Composition Notebooks: Find these for 1 cent per page at dollar, discount and grocery stores.
  • 16 Ounce Plastic Cups: Prices at dollar stores were among the cheapest at 5 cents per cup, but these cups could be found for a good price elsewhere.
  • Napkins: At ½ cent per napkin, they are cheap at many stores.
  • Security Envelopes:  Most stores sold a box of 40 for 1 dollar, so buy these anyplace except CVS which charges 6 cents per envelope.
  • Foam Plates: 8- or 9-inch foam places could be found for about 3 cents a plate.

What to Avoid at the Dollar Store
ShopSmart tested these items in their labs
and found many of them fell short of safety standards.

  • Dangers to Kids: Even with warning labels, party favors and toys with small parts should be avoided as they can become lodged in a child’s throat. Also avoid bottles containing potentially harmful substances. For example, bubble-blowing liquid in containers that look like soda bottles and baby bottles, do not have a label to identify the liquid for Poison Control in case a child drinks it.
  • Fire Hazards: Skip tiki torches (they can catch on fire) and utility lighters (even if they have a “child-proof” latch). Novelty lighters can also be a hazard if they are mistaken as a toy.
  • Electrical Products: Extension cords, lamps and other items may have fake UL labels vouching for their safety.
  • Medication: Aspirin and other meds can be on shelves long past their expiration date.
  • Vitamins: Some dollar store multis do not have the amount of nutrients listed on the label.
  • Kids’ Jewelry: Older products containing high lead content might still be sold in dollar stores, even though they were recalled in recent years.

About ShopSmart magazine:
Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon Consumer Reports’ celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. The magazine features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and “best of the best” lists. ShopSmart is ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Borders, Kroger, Safeway and Publix.  ShopSmart is now available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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