The Do and Don’t of Dollar Store Shopping

Dollar stores exploded in popularity during the Great Recession and their growth shows no signs of slowing down. Two of the nation’s larges dollar store chains – Family Dollar and Dollar General- opened more than 1,000 stores across the U.S. last year.
There is no question that dollar stores are a great way to stretch your budget for grocery and household essentials, not to mention the fun of throwing a few extra finds in your cart when your budget allows. But because something is just a dollar doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good deal. Read on to learn which items to go for at the dollar store, and which items to leave on the shelf.
Seasonal and Party Goods: You can’t beat the dollar store for great deals on seasonal and holiday decorations, party accessories, greeting cards and wrap supplies. Some stores even offer helium-filled Mylar balloons.Cleaning Products: Bleach is bleach and toilet bowl cleaner is toilet bowl cleaner. The makers of brand-name cleaning products would like you to believe otherwise, but it simply isn’t true. The product’s active ingredients are going to be similar regardless of the name of the bottle or the scent of rain-kissed wildflowers.
Spices: While you probably wont find pricey, exotic spices, the dollar store is the perfect place to stock up on pantry basics like cinnamon, black pepper, onion powder and chili powder. Just remember to check the expiration dates to ensure maximum flavor.
Grooming Essentials: You will find all your grooming basics at the dollar store including deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream, bar soap and body wash. And don’t be surprised if you see recognizable brand names. Dollar stores often buy excess inventory of limited edition or seasonal scents and packaging.
Other dollar store do’s: Picture frames, plastic storage containers, boxed movie theater candy, and hair accessories.
Toys: Most dollar store toys aren’t even worth a dollar. They simply don’t last long enough to be worth it. Plus, the parts and paint used to make them may not conform with U.S. regulatory standards. You are better off spending a few extra dollars on a safe toy that lasts.
Batteries: A buck a pack might seem like a bargain. Until you realize you have to buy five packs to get the battery life of one back of the name brand. Dollar store batteries lose power quickly and, like toys, may contain unregulated, unsafe components.
Vitamins and Over-the-Counter Medication: Saving a few dollars isn’t worth your family’s health. Dollar store vitamins and medications may not be subject to the same regulations and testing as drugstore brands. And a Consumer Report investigation found that some dollar store vitamins contained less of the active ingredient than the labels stated.
Power Cords, Strips and USB Cables: Don’t sacrifice your expensive electronics by connecting them with dollar store cables and cords. Subpar manufacturing standards can damage your items or worse, start a fire. Stick with cords from the electronics or big box store instead.
Other dollar store don’ts: Pet food, bottled beverages, knives, scissors and cotton balls.
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How to Shop Smart at Warehouse Clubs

Shopping at warehouse clubs such as Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s can be a great way to save money. Maintaining a well-stocked pantry and keeping household basics on hand can help reduce those in-between shopping trips that end up costing more than you planned. But you have to shop warehouse clubs wisely. If you don’t, you can end up wasting more money than you save.
Stock up on the household basics, including toilet paper, paper towels, laundry supplies and cleaning supplies. Unless you are an extreme couponer, these items will almost always be cheaper at a warehouse club rather than buying smaller quantities elsewhere. Remember to store the items in an area that is protected from pests and extreme temperatures.Load up on dry goods with a long shelf life, including dry pasta, rice, flour, sugar, dry beans and other staples. Be sure to store them in airtight plastic, metal or glass containers to maintain freshness and mark the containers with the purchase date.
Set a spending limit and shop with cash. This will help you stick to the list and avoid adding in extras just because they look like a good deal.
Split large quantities with a friend or family member. If there is something you need but you know you won’t use it all before it goes bad, see if you can find someone who wants to split the cost and share the item.
Overbuy perishable products. Always check the expiration dates on meat, fresh produce, dairy products, prepared salads, refrigerated juices and other perishables. The low prices may seem irresistible, but if the food goes bad before you have a chance to use it, it is money wasted.
Get tempted by samples. It wouldn’t be a trip to the warehouse club without enjoying the samples, just don’t be tempted to buy them all. Unless it is something you or your family already loves and you had planned to buy it anyway, just enjoy the sample and move on.
Pay with a credit card- don’t even bring one with you. It will be too tempting to add extras you didn’t plan on buying. Plan to pay with cash and keep track of your total as you shop so you don’t go over your pre-determined spending limit.
Forget to factor in the annual membership fee.  If you only shop the warehouse club a few times a year, it might not be worth the annual fee you have to pay.
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How to Create Your First Budget

There are many milestones of being an adult. Signing your own lease for the first time, being able to rent a car, having someone call you ma’am.
But being an adult also means being responsible for your own finances. Like many things, you can’t have a successful financial future if you don’t plan for it. The best way to do that? Create a budget.
Creating a budget can seem daunting, but it just requires a series of steps. See below for help on creating your first budget.
Track your expenses######
Before you can start a budget full of limits, you need to know how much you’re spending right now. Take two or three months to spend normally and track your transactions in Mint.
Fixed expenses like rent, insurance and utilities will be easier to monitor than variable expenses, such as groceries, entertainment and travel, which will fluctuate month-to-month.
You should also write down what your income is. That amount will be the same every month for many people, but if you work hourly, on commission or are self-employed, tracking your income for a few months will give you a good idea of how much you take take in each month.
Write down your main goals######
Make a list of what you want to save for. Is there a friend’s wedding in Ireland in six months? Write that down. Do you want to buy a house in two years? Put it on the list.
Then, do some research on how much each of those goals will cost and write that amount down as well. Once you have the goal, the amount you need to save and when you want to achieve that goal, you can figure out how much you need to save per month to make it happen.
List your debts######
Once you have your goals, income and expenses figured out, it’s time to write down everyone’s least favorite part of budgeting: your debt. Write down what you owe, what the interest rate is, how many months you have left and what your monthly payment is.
While you have to pay the minimum each month, you also have two strategies to choose from when it comes to paying off debt early.
You can choose to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most on how much total interest you pay each month.
Another popular method is to pay off your debts in order from smallest balance to largest balance. This will help you knock out your debts faster and make you feel like you’re making more progress toward your debt.
Start a retirement plan######
One of the most important parts of budgeting is making room for a retirement plan. Ask your HR department if your employer offers a retirement plan and if you are eligible. Many 401k plans also have free matching funds so make sure to put in enough to receive the matching.
You can also start a retirement fund on your own if your company doesn’t offer one. Many people recommend investing in index funds through an IRA or individual retirement account. Robo advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront can create personalized retirement plans based on your age and other factors.
General recommendations say you should contribute between 10-15% of your salary toward your nest egg.
Put it all together######
Create a spreadsheet and add up how much you spend each month, what you should save for your goals, how much you should put away for retirement and how much debt you owe. If those numbers add up and are less than what you earn, you’re golden.
But for many people, that amount is greater than what they earn. That’s when they have to make sacrifices and changes to their budget. Maybe they need to move to a new apartment and save on rent or eat out less. Maybe you should postpone your goal of buying a house or take a break from traveling until you pay off that credit card.
The key is to make sure you don’t spend more than you earn and have a little bit extra each month just in case.
_Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.**