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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| December 11, 2018
If you want to save a few bucks preparing for the holidays this year, learn to cut corners at the dollar store. It’s a boots-on-the-ground savings tactic many large families learned out of necessity long ago. Good thing, too, since Americans expect to spend an average $1,007.24 shopping for the holidays in 2018, up 4.1% from 2017, according to a National Retail Federation survey. The majority of the spending ($637.67) will go toward gifts, naturally. But a big chunk ($369.57) will be devoted to decorations, greeting cards, flowers, food and other non-gift purchases.
“Dollar stores are a source of bargains during the holiday season,” says Courtney Jespersen, consumer savings expert for NerdWallet.com. “They’re a great option for holiday decorating and seasonal accessories.”
So whether decking your halls, prepping the holiday meal or ho-ho-ho-sting a seasonal party, see how your budget has a friend at the dollar store.
Most price comparisons were conducted in early December at a Dollar Tree and a Target in Northern Virginia.
My eyes popped at Target when I saw the price on a single Christmas card from Carlton: $7.99. But at Dollar Tree, card shopping is way thriftier. You can browse through a selection of Expressions from Hallmark cards and other brands, all priced at $1 each.
“Greeting cards are a fun way to take your gift to the next level but aren't always worth the $5 [or more] price tag,” says Sarah Hollenbeck, shopping and savings expert at Offers.com. “Dollar stores are home to many Christmas and Hanukkah themed cards that you can send to loved ones without the guilt of spending more money knowing that they will be throwing it away soon after reading it.”
Oh, and for an even bigger bargain, you can pick up entire boxes of holiday greeting cards for $1 at Dollar Tree. Ditto for boxes of thank-you notes. Target was selling a box of Carlton-brand holiday greeting cards for $7.
Sure, you probably have boxes and boxes of holiday decorations you’ve accumulated over the years. But if you have some gaps to fill in, some updating to do, or if you’re just starting out, you can stock up at bargain prices at the dollar store.
“Festive décor is typically a good deal at the dollar store as long as you stick to disposable items, like tinsel, fake snow and streamers,” says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at True Trae. “Avoid anything electronic, like lights or animatronic figurines.”
At Dollar Tree, we found a 9-foot tinsel garland, Christmas stockings, decorative bows and a plastic tube with 12 globe ornaments, all for $1 each. Prices were considerably higher at Target.
Hoping to be the life of the office holiday party this year without breaking the bank? Deck yourself out at the dollar store.
“Pick the dollar store for your ‘ugly sweater’ party accessories, like a Christmas light bulb necklace or Santa hat,” says NerdWallet’s Jespersen. “Odds are you’ll only wear those accessories once and then throw them away.”
At Dollar Tree, we found a Santa hat for $1. A comparable Santa hat was $5 at Target.
Remember where this stuff is going: Gift wrap will be torn apart – maybe after looking pretty under a tree or on a gift table for a bit – and thrown away. Be economical.
“Wrapping paper, ribbons, bows and other gift wrap items are all very inexpensive at dollar stores,” says Jespersen. “Consider your local dollar store if you need to stock up on bows in bulk.”
Thirty-square-foot rolls of wrapping paper in an assortment of seasonal patterns run $1 each at Dollar Tree. It’s hard to match that price elsewhere ahead of Christmas. However, here’s a pro tip: Wait until after Christmas to snag gift wrap at multiple retailers including Target for perhaps 70% off to use next year.
One advantaged of gift bags over gift wrap is there’s a better chance the gift bag will be re-used by the recipient. Score one for the environment. Another advantaged: It’s far easier to slip a gift in a bag than to wrap it with paper.
We found a wide variety of styles and sizes of gift bags at Dollar Tree, all for $1. By contrast, at Target, various size gift bags ranged from $1.50 (very small) to $5 (larger sizes). That’s up to five times what you’d pay at the dollar store.
“Look for bundles, rather than individual bags” for even bigger savings, says True Trae’s Bodge.
Dollar stores used to be home to a lot of off-brand candies, or name brands that were approaching the expiration date. Now, dollar stores are the place to go for sweet treats for the holidays.
At Dollar Tree, we spotted small (2.75-ounces or so) packages of Hershey Kisses, Hershey Nuggets, Kit Kat bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and Dove chocolates, all for $1. The kicker: The packaging size makes them ideal as stocking stuffers. A box of six candy canes, both Now and Later fruit flavored and RedHots cinnamon flavored, also cost just a buck.
Some name-brand chocolates were selling for a penny or two less per ounce at Target, but not in the ready-to-gift smaller packaging. For example, Hershey Kisses were priced at $6.19 for 18 ounces (34 cents per ounce vs. 36 cents at Dollar Tree), and Reese’s miniature peanut butter cups were going for $3.59 for an 11-ounce bag (33 cents an ounce).
Those holiday coffee or tea mugs have a short shelf life of just a few weeks max each year. So why spend $5 at Target when you can pick up holiday-themed mugs at Dollar Tree for $1? Your party guests will never know the difference.
Alternatively, a $1 holiday mug filled with some of that dollar store candy makes for a festive but inexpensive gift for teachers, co-workers and others on your shopping list.
Speaking of inexpensive holiday gifts, why not put all those selfies to use by gifting them to friends and family analog-style. If you’re not picky about picture frames, you’ve got a wide selection at Dollar Tree.The good part: It doesn’t matter what size you need; they’re all $1. The bad part: The quality isn’t so hot, though, hey, if people are just putting it on a shelf or nightstand, what’s the big deal?
Picture frames at Target started at $2.
Those silver serving platters a well-intentioned relative gave you as a wedding present are a bear to polish – and expensive to replace if they get lost or damaged. So whether you’re hosting a big family gathering at home or going to a holiday party at someone else’s abode, think disposable.
“If you’re baking sweet treats for friends and family as gifts, pick up inexpensive platters from the dollar store. You can find options in seasonal styles too,” says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. How inexpensive? Platters of varying sizes are $1 at Dollar Tree, while we found holiday-themed platters at Target for $3.
Mom’s famous baked lasagna (45 minutes at 375 degrees covered, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes) is delish, but that pan is a pain to clean. Choose the dollar store option. There you can find various sizes of foil pans for $1, sometimes two for $1. Target offered various size foil pans starting at $2.49 apiece.
Leftovers? You bet, and you’ll need something to wrap them up with. Dollar Tree sells generic aluminum foil (27 square feet) for $1. Target’s house brand Up&Up aluminum foil will set you back $1.79 for 30 square feet.
The household dishwasher has indigestion and just can’t handle all of those dirty dishes and utensils after the madcap family holiday party at your house. Disposable kitchenware may be the easier route this holiday season.
“If company is coming over for dinner or just staying for a few days, that’s a list of expenses you may not have seen coming,” says Hollebeck of Offers.com. “Dollar stores are a reliable mainstay for plastic plates, napkins, cups and cutlery. Plus, many of these items are holiday themed, making it easy -- and cheap -- to show your holiday spirit.”
We found 20-piece disposable cutlery sets and a pack of 20 party napkins for $1 each at Dollar Tree. At Target, a 30-count cutlery set was selling for $5 and a 20-pack of holiday-themed paper napkins was $3.
Guests are nice, but try as they might, they’re messy. You have to clean before they arrive and after they leave.
“Cleaning supplies can be a good deal at the dollar store, but make sure you are buying name brands, or the quality could be lacking,” says Bodge. “I would suggest leaning toward items like Brillo pads, Scotch sponges and Comet, as those items have an unlimited shelf life. Liquid cleaning products can lose their efficacy over time, and there’s no telling how long the items have been sitting there.”
At Dollar Tree, we scoped out a 12-ounce bottle of Dawn Simply Clean dish soap, Comet (25-ounces) or Ajax (28-ounces) cleanser, and Comet Classic (24-ounces) toilet bowl cleaner, all for $1.
This is a new one on us: Perfume from the dollar store. But nothing smells fishy about this shopping tip, promises one of our experts.
“You may find yourself turning up your nose at the idea of getting beauty products for yourself or for others at the dollar store, but you would be missing a great opportunity to save yourself some money,” says Hollenbeck. “Many name-brand companies such as e.l.f. and NYX can be found in the shelves of your local dollar store for much less than what you would pay for the exact same products at anywhere else. That way, you can stock your daughter’s stocking or get yourself dolled up for holiday festivities for less this year.”
I wonder if they carry Night Swept cologne? (Fans of “The Office” will understand.)
Sure, you need those little power sources available when toys and gadgets start getting unwrapped, but don’t put your faith in batteries from dollar stores. Shopping experts have long been warning people off buying batteries at dollar stores, especially carbon-zinc batteries. They don’t last as long as name-brand alkaline batteries, and they can damage devices if they leak.
“As you might guess, some dollar store products are cheap because they’re lower quality than their more expensive counterparts,” says Jespersen. “Keep this in mind while you shop.”
The $1 packets of “heavy duty” batteries we found at a Dollar Tree came under the Sunbeam and Panasonic brands and both were stamped with a warning: “Use for low-drain devices,” such as remotes and clock radios, which are on the far side of cool holiday gifts. The best place to buy batteries? In bulk at warehouse clubs such as Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club.