Build your stash $1 at a time at the dollar store

Shop2_tnbThis is a guest post by Griffin (Somewhere in California) and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

Based on all the comments from regular readers about the value of dollar stores, I had to see for myself what kinds of great deals I could find. I went to the local Dollar Tree to help me with the 3 Fs of survival (Food, Fire, and Fortification).

There’s tons of information out there on building bug out bags or stock piling for bartering. It’s easy to spend a few grand on gear at REI or specialty outdoor stores.

So what can we get for a dollar these days that can help us prepare when SHTF?

If I had just $5 to build a kit, the 5 items I’d buy would be these (with uses in parenthesis):

  • 10x 30 packs of matches or 3 pack of butane lighters (start a fire)
  • 4 pack of steak knives (defense, process food)
  • 20 pack of 20 gallon trash bags (clothes, water storage, bag to carry supplies)
  • 6 pack of 24oz Crystal Geyser Waters (water supply, holding tank)
  • 2 aluminum cook pans (purify water, cook food)

That’s a pretty good start for $5. Some alternative good items are a pound of trail mix and 55 yards of dental floss.

As I walked aisle by aisle I was amazed by how many useful items there were that would be great to have and cost way less than even a “discount” store like Target or Walmart.

A small categorized list includes:

Hardware: LED flashlights, 8 pack batteries, screw drivers, paracord rope, scissors, glow sticks, super glue, duct tape, ponchos, tea lights, candles, wire brushes, silicon, gardening gloves, and zip ties.

Medical: gauze pads, pain killers, petroleum jelly, ace bandage, antibiotic ointment, multi-vitamins, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, first aid kits, sleep aids, tweezers, anti-diarrheal, q-tips, cotton balls, shaving razors, 6 pack facial tissues, 4 pack toilet paper, and travel toothbrush kits.

Food: 1 lb salt, 1 lb sugar, 1 lb beans, 6x 100 calorie granola bars, 1 lb trail mix, 1 oz beef jerky, cocoa, coffee, cereal, dried fruit, and cooking spices.

Cookware: Variety of knives, can openers, and utensils.

Cleaning: bleach, soap, ammonia, Clorox wipes, shampoo.

A lot of the goods at the dollar tree are generic brands. I’ve tried tons of generic brands for everything from cereal to shampoo. I find that about half the time the generics are chemically the same thing and a better deal at a fraction of the price. The other times I find that the generics just don’t work/taste as well as the originals. It’s really up to you if you care about brand names when the grocery stores are emptied and your dollar bills are worth toilet paper.

In TEOTWAWKI situation, generics will do just fine for barter or backup use, in my opinion.

In Summary, the dollar stores do stock a ton of useful stuff at an unbeatable price. I definitely don’t mind spending $30 bucks for an extra kit if it will help friends or neighbors.

I’ve even debated buying a plastic container and using silicon to seal it so I can bury an extra stash or two on the cheap. I’ll be able to rest a little easier at night knowing that somewhere out there are a few boxes of goods that contain the basics for 3 days of survival and only cost me $20.

What other great deals have you seen at the dollar stores?

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive – Two (2) Just In Case… Classic Assortment Survival Food Buckets courtesy of LPC Survival, a $150 gift certificate for Remington ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner, aWonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads and a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable .
  2. Second place winner will receive – One case of Future Essentials Canned Organic Green Costa Rican Monte Crisol Coffee courtesy
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ courtesy and a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on January 15 2014


  1. I’m a big fan of the “dollar tree” stores. Great list of the items they carry. Good work. It is a great place to stock up on a budget…

    • I also put up some “trade goods”, most of which come from Dollar Tree. There are things that I can get there that are surprising, both in price and quality.

  2. Dollartree in my area carries mouse traps in packs of 4 and rat traps in packs of 2. those rat traps can take squirrel/tree rats making them cheap and silent game getters. as well as pest control, I keep about 100 on hand. candles used to be a good deal (and made in USA) but now they only sell tea-light candles in packs of 8, I can get 144 pack for $5 at another shop.

    they also carry heirloom variety garden seeds, if you check in in October/November you might be able to get their entire leftover inventory for $1 (I got 100 packs of seeds 2 years ago in late fall)

    • My dollar tree sells cases of the storm candles, 12 candles for $12.00

    • You can also catch doves and other seed-eating birds with rat traps–make sure you have a stout string or piece of baling wire to secure it to something. Bait the end of the trap with cracked corn, and a little on the bait pedal. The best way to secure the bait so it doesn’t get lost or used up is to glue it to the trap with Dollar Tree pancake syrup…
      Also, other deals on storable edibles include canned Mackerel (wild caught) for $1 per can, Jumex fruit nectars, Boxed milk (keeps for months), and vinegar…

    • You can get online the 8″ candles for $1 but for the shipping cost I go to Dollar General and pay $1.50.
      I have a cardboard box of 8″ candles because they burn for 100 hours ( I documented that) and that’s a great deal for $1.

  3. Rob in Ontario says:

    I agree the “Dollar stores “are great places to pick up things, here Dollar Tree doesn’t have as good selection as Dollerama but has good food section but tools are no good , I too have large first aid kit mostly outfitted from there. and Paper plates,cups utensiels. even have great quality socks, and starting to carry shirts and pants.

  4. I buy earplugs, fuel treatment,reading glasses,candles,I call them barrell candles ,I think that you know what I mean.Auto windshield solvent.various cleaners. Spagetti sauce,beans,pinto and black,various misc food and spices.I like the dollar trees in my area.I work for a auto parts store and I get car stuff at the dollar tree.

  5. Donna in MN says:

    I noticed the dollar stores in my area don’t sell much for a dollar anymore. It’s not all cheap and very little goes into that catagory these days. I got $1 tea candles there that lasted only a half hour. The ones for $2 at walmart lasted an hour.

  6. grandma bear says:

    I stock up on shelf stable milk when they have it. Also leamon juice for canning. Also mataches and lighters. Love this store!

    • Be careful on some of the shelf stable milk.Some are soy milk. if that’s what you’re wanting ,that’s ok.

    • AND, grandma, that milk lasts lots longer than 9 months.
      I have used it many months past that and it is fine….kept in a cool unlighted closet.

  7. You have to watch the Dollar Store – in which ever name.

    Most of the items are great deals, however, I’ve personally found some of their stuff is more expensive than you could buy it at a regular store.

    Just be wise and compare prices.

    I LOVE the first aid section there.

  8. Dare Tuitt says:

    Love the aseptic packaged milk! I like it because it has a long shelf life and tastes better to me than powdered coffee creamer. I also like to grab the soup in a tube – all the ingredients for a pot of soup, and can also be used to flavor beans, etc. The single servings of coffee, similar to tea bags are really valuable – easy to store long-term and so barter-able! Coffee filters which can be used to filter a lot of things besides coffee. So many items – too numerous to list.

  9. I too like dollar tree, but would nor recomend the larger trash bags from there. My DH won’t let me buy them anymore because they are too thin for trash and would definetely not work for storing water(IMNSHO)

  10. dollar tree has candles 6 to a package that i buy. I also buy my macaroni,spices,and cheap razors for prep storage there.

  11. Mountain girl says:

    My nearby dollar stores don’t seem to be really great for deals, except for first aid supplies. The food generally isn’t cheaper and the “stuff” is usually so cheap, it’s not worth the price. I would rather pay 20.00 for a can opener that’s going to last versus 5.00 for one that’s going to break right away. However, the cheaper stuff might be good if you’re trying to put together some kits to give away. Not to be mean about giving cheaper stuff to others than what you would use yourself but if you don’t have the budget to build your supplies and put together give-away kits…

  12. I go to a dollar store about once a month, to get prepping food, etc. However, I would not recommend getting tools like screwdrivers there b/c the quality is so low they won’t last long. Better to go to a pawn shop for better quality hand tools.

  13. Michael Fassari says:

    Be careful with foodstuffs made in China (If I don’t want to feed my dog food from China, I sure as hell don’t want to eat it). Also, I would spend the dollar for one ‘good’ lighter as opposed to 10 cheap lighters, same with a lot of the Dollar Store stuff. I’ll take my $5 to a garage sale.

  14. Yep, Dollar Tree is great! One thing no one has mentioned is the extreme variety of glow tick products. I keep the “bracelets” handy for drink stirrers, color coded for each person.. And your glass doesn’t get lost in the dark! Glow sticks are attached to every first aid kit, and handy to crack to find the also included led flashlight that comes from Dollar Tree. Only difference I have found with those is they don’t come with batteries included, vs the multipack of led flashlights from Harbor Freight which do come with batteries and cost more unless I have one of their super duper coupons. The seed packs they have are pretty stingy on the amount of seeds, but you get what you pay for!
    Chalk, gift wrap, pop rocks and first aid supplies. I keep multiple digital thermometers from there so everybody has their own, and tons of the anti-itch cream which works really well on fire ant bites, real and grandchild imagined!

  15. When I hit the dollar store, I look for stuff made in the US and Canada. I avoid any personal care products made in China, and things you would consider ‘durable goods’ (knives, tools, etc) made there as well. Take care with the batteries, sometimes they’re on the far end of their shelf life and were sold in bulk to the buyers at a steep discount.

    I’ve recently acquired a bunch of US-made screwtop plastic containers, shaving creams and soaps, and matches. Last fall, when they had their back-to-school sale, they sold string backpacks and I made a couple ‘handout’ kits for people showing up at my door. Ten bucks and they had the bare minimums for getting by in an emergency, including the carrier. I gifted half of them and keep the rest in one of my bins for when the ‘big one’ hits.

    • patientmomma says:

      Rick, I agree about Chinese products. I check to make sure the products are made anywhere but China. NEVER eat any food products from China, the whole country is polluted! Even the Chinese won’t eat food grown in their country (except for the very poor); foreigners and rich Chinese buy food grown elsewhere. Some things made in China are ok; like lighters or gift bags, etc., but do not eat food products grown in China!

      • They use human manure for fertilizer and I have cases of mushrooms to dispose of.
        I found mushrooms from Indonesia(I think) at IGA and will never buy China mushrooms again.

  16. In the spring time, I picked up a whole case of solar yard lights at Dollar Tree. These can be charged outside and used inside. I haven’t seen the six pack of emergency candles there in quite some time.

    When I went in, yesterday, I picked up some plastic drop cloths, clothes line rope, antiseptic wet wipes, emery boards, pencils, sharpeners, and extra erasers, med spoon and dropper kits, medicated lip balm, shower curtain liners (for the car first aid kit), liquid hand soap, and 100 plastic gloves (to use when putting gas in the car). I never touch the pump handle. You don’t know who has touched it before you or if they have the flu or not.

    • Hunker-Down says:


      We use hand sanitizer after coming out of any store. The DW has a compromised immune system and was always coming down with something before we started with the hand sanitizer.

      I never thought of the gas pump handle. THANKS. It belongs in the same category as the door knob on a public bathroom.

      • H-D,

        The most germ laden public surface is the grocery cart handles–nastier than public restrooms.

    • good point.I always wash my hands after touching a menu.they seldom wipe those things done,& when they do it’s hap hazard

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

      Yup, Dollar Tree has a pair of generic chap stick for $1 – burns with same intensity as the original product which is $2 for one tube – thats worth it.

      Also noticed Progresso soups and gravy starters are 1/3 the cost of Wal-Mart, half of other department stores. A good portion of soup too – mix with a canned chicken and you have a tasty meal.

  17. In my area we have a new grocery store that has a dollar aisle where everything is a dollar. I have tried several items and will be going back. Many of the food items are name brands in smaller quantities which is great for testing purposes or for my dorm living daughter who has little storage space. Like with all stores, know what you are looking for and what the Walmart/Target price is before shopping and check the country of origin.

  18. livinglife says:

    Many generics start as name brand and don’t pass the QC for the big name(s) or are the result of producing too much.
    Great article.

  19. OuterLimits says:

    Dollar Stores are great BUT…. You really have to watch their product lines. Many of the items that they sell are now smaller portions than what is sold in other “full price” stores. Also my local WallyWorld sells many of the same exact health care products on a designated shelf in the health care and pharmacy department for .88 cents! You really have to watch what you are buying. Also the GV line of health care products are the same items for the most part as the name brand lines.

    Something to ponder…Do people really think Albertson’s or Wall Mart have a toothpaste factory or a French fry factory…NO, the contract goes out to firms that do this full time. I know I work in a food processing factory and the same name brand item goes in one bagging line and the store brand goes in another bag line…kind of like asprin or other items. It;s not always this way but trust me you would be surprised what kind of profits are generated due to the color of the box of bag and the NAMEBRAND on it. Its all about consumer brand loyalty for these big established megacorporations.

    AND…if you don’t want to ingest CHINESE produced foods….LOOK AT THE LABEL especially on frozen items. Our DT sells frozen strawberries and some mixed vegitables from the land of chemicals and low hygene….However, they also sell name brand frozen French fries from a nationally known name brand maker as well as what is known as B Grade fries. Those are products that don’t make the quality grade and are sold under other off-brands or store brand names. There is nothing wrong with B Grade its just not up to the makes high standards for color, sizing, or other factors and would otherwise end up as cattle feed if not sold to a re-packer as a store brand or independent brand item.

    Sadly, we have lost two of our regional private dollar stores in the past few years due to mismanagement. We have lost a GREAT DEAL of selection with just DT in our towns. Another threat to dollar stores future are the exchange rates between currencies. The last few years have been good for dollar store consumers but a change in that ratio can and will spell doom to the buying power of the dollar for US citizens.

    Beware and become educated and profit from being a good consumer.

  20. whoisbiggles says:

    I have found Dollar stores to be a great starting point for cheap tools.

    I’ll make a purchase, learn how to use, work out what I like / don’t like before buying a more expansive version at the local hardware store.

  21. mom of three says:

    I buy the matches, the Reynolds wrap that are all ready cut 25 per box. Lasagna noodles , some bar soaps. I will not buy anything from China, only USA 🙂 or Canada:) . The emergancy candles, they don’t sell anymore they use go be 10 then 6, now 7, but the seven are smaller and burn 3 1/ 2 hours , the six burned 5 1/2 hours, so I try and look for them at thrift stores. I really stop shopping at the Dollar Tree, I buy most of my stuff at Big Lots.

    • I have noticed the same thing with the emergency candles at the Dollar Tree we stop at on the day trip to our daughters. Now we buy the tall candles in glass jars some have religious pictures on them. They will burn for 20 hrs or more I think. I have never used one all the way down. We are now buying a few every month.

  22. midnight1st says:

    I have bought window alarms at DT that go off if the window is raised.

  23. Frugalmom3 says:

    Vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide are just a few of the items I purchase at the dollar store for stocking up our supply.
    I use these items in my everyday use so it makes sense to have these stored up in case of an emergency situation.
    As far as the whole “Made in China” deal- I try to purchase items not from there so, while I do frequent dollar stores, I am very picky and tend not to purchase food stuffs or hygiene products.

  24. cynthia rafler says:

    I only have a month worth of supplies to shelter in place atm. But I have bought most of my preps at the .99cent store when I have a few extra dollars or I am doing my regular shopping there. I just pick up a few extras as they’re always changing their stock. January’s great buy has been the Chex Mix if they haven’t run out. Great for the game and we will need treats when we are stressed like no other time when SHTF.

  25. Love shopping the dollar tree for many items to stock up on. If you don’t have one near you, you can get their catalog and order online. Also if you order a case of something you can have it delivered for free to the closest store to you and pick up. Ordering a case something you might want to split with a family member.

  26. Ziploc Baggies, spices, rubbing alcohol,gravy mixes….. NO BATTERIES! Don’t be fooled/take chances – SAVE at the Dollar Store FOR your FRESH ones @ Home Depot,etc – (high turnover/restock rate!) Be well – prepared! 😉

  27. I’ve noticed they have some nice canned food, like canned strawberries and pie fillings that you don’t find elsewhere.

  28. Maggie Harris says:

    I have yet to see anyone post that they purchased iodine tabs for your thyroid, in the event of a nuclear mess. We have several power plants along the coast of California and if problems begin there, the wind will certainly carry the radioactive crud through the air in a hurry! Although I live in the desert southwest and not next to a possible Fukishima, those tablets will definitely be used.

  29. Southern Belle says:

    Thanks for a great article. I love the Dollar Store and all the useful things you can find there. I have found great kid/baby items there that I put in my barter bin. 🙂

  30. cynthia rafler says:

    I will definitely look for iodine tablets next time I am at a $1 type store. I live near San Onofre and we are constantly having shakers. Darn I was just at the .99 cent store last night just getting groceries for the week.

  31. Pascal Campbell says:

    Dollar Tree has window/ door alarms for $1 that can be used as perimeter alarms. They come with batteries.

  32. Texanadian says:

    A person who worked in a specialty coffee plant told me that the beans that don’t make cut for starbucks get ground up and put in the dollar store cans. Nothing wrong with the beans they are just not cosmetically appealing.

  33. Zark’O Hillbilly Lady
    Even the hand sanitizers are made in China- who knows what is in them? I am going to start making my own and putting them in tiny spray bottles. Recipes on line and on survival sites- containing things like tea tree oil, distilled water and other essential oils. Enjoyed other’s tips too Thank You All

  34. Thought you weren’t going to publish name sheesh1

Before commenting, please read my Comments Policy - thanks!