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How to get the best out of a dollar store Add to ...

Two dollars for a colourful iPad case, $2 for a white serving dish that looked like it came from a high-end shop, and $1.25 for a Tinkerbell helium balloon that would have cost four times as much in a party-supply store.

These are just a few items I’ve recently discovered at a dollar store. I’m not much of a dollar-store shopper, but perhaps I should be.

Wendy Russell, DIY expert for The Marilyn Denis Show , says she’s noticing dollar stores are increasingly getting into home decor. On her latest excursion, she snagged some wall art and a few items that had great potential. For instance, she picked up large, white frames for $1, popped out the glass and replaced them with cork to create pin boards for photos, recipes and shopping lists. I admire her ability to find inexpensive stuff and make it cool.

If you’re budget-conscious but not a natural crafter, then sites like Dollar Store Crafts can give you ideas for projects that are “cheap, chic and easy to do.” Visit this blog or a site like Pinterest.com for inspiration before you start your treasure hunt. If you love mirrored furniture you’ll see how to update a nightstand using mirrored tiles found in the candle section of the dollar store, build Pottery Barn-inspired storage bins with $2 banker boxes and a can of latex house paint, and create centrepieces with inexpensive mason jars.

My local dollar store is more like a twoonie store, but there are still some great deals, such as crafting materials, items to keep kids busy ($1.25 for 1,000 stickers), party supplies and gift wrap. Kitchen supplies, especially items that you will use once a year (icing sugar duster anyone?) and items you use regularly (such as tin foil and sandwich bags) are a deal. You can even get pregnancy tests for $1.25 versus $13.99 at a local drugstore, and both make the same claims of effectiveness. (Be sure, however, to check the expiry date.)

If you have doubts about a product, don’t buy it. Consumer Reports advises against buying infant toys as they may contain lead and other harmful ingredients. Electrical cords and batteries may be faulty and unreliable, and for any type of food or vitamins it’s likely better to steer clear unless you’re certain it’s a safe product in the prime of its shelf life.

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the Globe's personal finance site.

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