Deal or dud: How do you know if you're wasting money at dollar stores?

Everything for 99 cents or less sounds like a great bargain, but not every dollar store deal is a good one.

We shopped the 99 Cent Only store for popular products to see if you're saving or wasting your money.

Yvette Jackson calls herself "frugally fabulous." She says she was sold on the deals after one visit, so we followed her around at the store.

Jackson's first find? Greeting cards.

"All of the cards here are 99 cents. It doesn't matter what occasion," Jackson said.

She's right.  We shopped at Party City and Wal-Mart, and found greeting cards ranging in price from $1 to more than $5. So the 99 cent store is definitely a deal.

The store also got a thumbs up for their price on gift bags.

We found gift bags in all sizes for 79 to 99 cents at the 99 Cent Only store. At other stores -- the bigger gift bags were more than $5!

But don't assume every deal is saving you cash. Doing your research is key.

Take Hefty one-zip bags for example. They are 99 cents at the 99 Cent Only store. We found the same brand at Wal-Mart for $2!  But look closer. You only get six bags at the 99 Cent Only store. At Wal-Mart, you get 22 bags.

That means you'll pay nearly $2 more for the same amount of bags at the 99 Cent Only store.

The school supplies we found at the 99 Cent Only store were definitely a steal.

We found a variety of kid scissors for just 99 cents. The same type was $1.79 at Fry's and more at Wal-Mart -- $1.88.

The only problem? You really can't get everything on your school list at the 99 Cent Only store. There are not enough options.

Other things you may want to pass up at dollar stores? Toys.

Although $1 sounds like a great price, we found shoppers who say in most cases the toys break before they get home.

Also, vitamins get a thumbs down.

Consumer reports found that dollar store multi-vitamins didn't always have the amount of nutrients claimed on the label and others didn't dissolve fast enough to be absorbed by the body.

And you're not getting the best bang for your buck on canned foods at dollar stores. We found non-brand canned foods at Wal-Mart for less than 70 cents per can, and brand name items for less than $1.

But Juan Hernandez with the 99 Cent Only store said don't give up on their store yet.

"Give us a chance and we'll show you we are a treasure hunt store," he said.

We found nine-ounce party cups, seven-inch plates and beverage napkins, all in different colors, for less than a buck at the 99 Cent Only store.

At first glance, it doesn't look like you're getting a great deal because there are so few items:

16 plates... Compared to 24 at the party store.
12 cups at the 99 Cent Only store... 24 at the party store.
And the napkins... 25 versus 50.

But in the end the 99 Cent Only store was still cheaper.

You'll pay about $1 more at the party store for the same amount of cups and plates. And 50 cents more at the party store for the napkins.

We found plenty of other awesome deals.  You'll save on cleaning supplies, holiday items and cooking accessories.

We also found pregnancy tests for $.99. Compare that to generic brands at other stores; Kroger brand costs $4.29 for one test and the Equate brand at Wal-Mart costs $4.

The bottom-line, you can definitely find treasures at the dollar store. But if you don't do your research, you could find yourself spending more cash than you need to.

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