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  • Writer's pictureLisa Lee Freeman

The 3 things to check before buying food at dollar stores!

Shopping at dollar stores is an easy way to slash your grocery bills, but here are three things you need to check to get the best deals—and stay healthy.

Check your smartphone! In addition to checking websites and apps for deals and coupons, use your phone to figure out which items are the best deals to stock up. It's not always easy to compare apples to apples—or eggs to eggs!—at dollar stores because package sizes are often a lot smaller—or larger than you'll find at grocery stores. You may, for example, see a can of coffee that’s just 6 ounces instead of the usual 10.5, or an 18-count carton of eggs instead of the usual dozen. So the only way to spot the really juicy deals is to use your smartphone in the store and do the math. Dollar General, for example, was recently advertising a 24-ounce container of Hunt’s tomato ketchup for $1; Walmart’s price was $1.49 for 13.5 ounces. That looks like a good deal—but you don't realize how good until you calculate the per-ounce prices (simply divide the price by the number of ounces). It turns out that the dollar store price is 60% cheaper!

Check return policies. Many dollar stores now have extensive food sections filled with everything from milk and lunch meats to frozen veggies. Some stores even stock fresh produce and the occasional steak. And they can be great deals. Check dollar-store websites and sign up for emails to keep up on special deals. But keep in mind that items like steak and sliced deli meats might not taste the same as brands you buy at the supermarket, and if your family won't eat the stuff the deal is a dud! I saw some pretty rough online reviews of dollar-store steak. So check return policies to see if the store will take back opened food—some are more generous than others. Family Dollar has a 100% money-back guarantee. Just be sure to hang onto your receipts!

Check ingredient labels—and expiration dates. Just like the supermarket, you can save big with store brands. But unlike supermarkets, there aren’t a lot of healthier options, such as low-fat or low-sodium versions or organics. Also, ingredients might be different. A store-brand box of granola bars that I spotted at a dollar store (shown below) looks very similar to a Quaker Oats product, but the first ingredient is corn syrup—the brand-name product’s first ingredient is granola. Bottom line: It’s no deal if that bargain isn't a great value when it comes to nutrition. So read the nutrition facts and ingredient lists—especially when you’re buying unfamiliar brands. And limit your purchases of packaged foods overall to cut down on sodium, fat, and additives. And of course always check expiration dates! In some cases, dollar stores get products that might have sat around in warehouses for a while.

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