I shop at the Dollar Tree or Dollar Store or 99 Cent store, and I am not ashamed when it comes to buying stuff for a buck.

When the grandkids were little, I would put them in the cart and go up and down the aisles, letting them play a version of “Supermarket Sweep.” For less than $20, we got bubbles, jump ropes, coloring books and all sorts of fun things for them to amuse themselves with.

That was a while ago, and only one grandchild is still mildly entertained with the store and its goodies. I decided to research the bargains at these stores and find out which items are truly a deal.

With a plethora of kids and grandchildren, as well as several dear friends, I still like sending birthday cards along with a token happy birthday post on Facebook. There is a decent selection of cards you can choose from at two for a dollar or $1 apiece. They are not as fancy as Hallmark’s, but for sending a hello or a happy Easter, these are fine.

My monthly purchases of greeting cards used to run about $100, but now I can get all of my cards for less than $15 a month. Most people read a card, keep it for a few days and then toss it. To me, this seems like a good deal.

Wrapping paper and bows are also a dollar. The roll of paper can be used to wrap several decent-size boxes, and gift bags of all sizes also have the dollar price tag – another wonderful savings. For Christmas, I still prefer Costco. Those rolls last for years, but some extra decorations are still a great find at the dollar stores.

Other savings include party supplies, such as plastic tablecloths, paper products and, most importantly, Mylar balloons filled with helium. For a grandchild’s birthday party, there are many products that are much more reasonable than any place else. Again, we are talking about disposable items that will be used once and tossed for sure.

There are several aisles that have kitchenware, storage containers, dishes and mugs. Buying a set of good stoneware is always nice, but for those who just need a few pieces, you can’t beat the price of those dishes. The larger storage bins can be used for clothes, shoes or anything that needs organizing.

Lots of us use reading glasses and have a few extra pair around the house to supplement our prescription glasses or use as backup pairs. The assortment at the dollar venues is expansive, and you can buy several pairs to leave in different rooms. Check with your optometrist to see if they are safe to use on occasion. They are not for distance, just reading and other up-close activities.

From headbands to bobby pins, you can find hair accessories at a fraction of the usual price at dollar stores. Combs and brushes can be a bargain, too. The quality is comparable to what you might get at mass merchandisers. As a bonus, you can typically buy only the items you need, rather than being forced to purchase a set.

Movie Tuesday is $5 at AMC if you have the card. Once inside, you may need to take out a loan for candy or other snacks. Movie-theater-style boxed candy and bagged candy is a real bargain at the dollar store. On any food item, always check the expiration dates, but I have never seen any expired Dots or Good and Plenty.

Finally, I have found that coffee filters are an excellent deal. For about one-third of the price, Grandpa can make his coffee for months with the filters from the dollar stores.

That’s just a sample of the best things you will find, but there are also things that are not as economical or recommended.

As mentioned before, some products have expiration dates and those need to be checked before purchase. Over the counter medications, vitamins, batteries and any food product that will not be used immediately are not ideal. They come in smaller packages and may not make sense monetarily either.

Other products are just not quality enough to skimp on. These include make up, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, oven mitts, tools and knives. Some toys are ok, but are not made too well, so read the package and the warnings. You are still safe with those bubbles, coloring books and crayons.

Being on a fixed income and watching a budget is a challenge, so finding the right bargains is imperative. Even a dollar can be wasted on a bad product. Hope this helps!

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at marla2054@aol.com.

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