38 Things You Should Always Buy on the Cheap

Things You Should Always Buy on the Cheap

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Things You Should Always Buy on the Cheap
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It's not easy being a consumer as brands try to dazzle buyers with useful-sounding features and aesthetic upgrades that often do nothing to improve a product's actual functionality, but merely raise its price tag. To avoid spending more than is necessary on household essentials, here are a few items you should feel confident buying on the cheap.

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The best way to save money on water is by simply drinking from the tap, which is the source of most bottled-water brands anyway. Tap water is free, environmentally friendly, and generally as safe as bottled waters, although some may want a filter for taste. If you must by bottled water, opt for generic brands and larger containers that produce less waste.
We Recommend: Brita 10-Cup Water Pitcher, $22.50 at Target

Baby formula
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Cleaning Products
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In addition to being cheaper, store-brand milk is more likely to be from local farms than a nationally branded equivalent. But be wary of other store-brand dairy products, such as generic yogurts that often come with unnecessary additives and differences in taste.

Courtesy of walmart.com
Courtesy of walmart.com


Nearly every big brand-name cereal has generic substitutes selling for less, and often in larger quantities. The ingredients and nutritional benefits remain fairly constant, so the only factor might be what shape the tiny marshmallows come in.
We Recommend: Malt-O-Meal Frosted Flakes Cereal, 40.5 ounces for $5 at Walmart

Baking Staples
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Pantry essentials including flour, sugar, and salt must all meet the same FDA requirements before being approved for sale, so paying extra for a brand-name salt or all-purpose flour won't accomplish much, especially since it's best to transfer ingredients to resealable containers as soon as they're opened.
We Recommend: Great Value All-Purpose Flour, 32 ounces for $2 at Walmart

Media Cables and Batteries
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You don't need expensive cables to complement a high-end home theater setup; cheap cords bought online conduct electrons just as well. For batteries, brand-name versions do tend to last longer, but not enough to justify the cost -- in terms of value, it's best to buy midrange generic brands that die a little faster but cost considerably less.
We Recommend: High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet, $4 at Monoprice

Be Frugal on the Road
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Make sure to refuel with the right octane gas and otherwise always choose the cheapest fuel available, whether the gas station is independently owned or part of a chain. Cheaper fuel won't harm a car's engine, and the additives in more expensive options have no obvious benefits on mileage or performance.

Party Supplies
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Most dollar stores have an aisle devoted to low-cost party supplies for occasions year-round, so it's easy to be prepared with plastic utensils, banners, and party favors for any size gathering.

Wrapping Paper
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While picking up party supplies from a dollar store, don't forget to grab a few gift bags and rolls of wrapping paper. They may use thinner materials and come with simpler patterns, but it's rarely worth the extra cost for something that ends up in the trash immediately after it's used.

Fresh Produce
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Don't pay extra for exotic vegetables and prepackaged salad mixes from name brands; it's far more cost-effective to buy regional generic produce in season. Look at farmer's markets and big-box stores such as Costco -- and remember that buying organic makes a significant difference only in certain cases.
We Recommend: Fresh produce at Costco

Hair Accessories
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Hair accessories such as bobby pins, plastic clips, and elastic bands are easy to lose or break. Buy brushes and other accessories in packs at dollar stores or other discount retailers, so it's not so much of a loss when they become worn or lost.
We Recommend: Goody SlideProof Bobby Pins, 60 for $1 at KeepHairUp

Greeting Cards
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Whether at the drugstore or dollar store, the most important thing to look for on any tube of toothpaste is the American Dental Association's seal of acceptance, which ensures it's meeting objective standards for safety and effectiveness. Additional features such as whitening power might boost price but not effectiveness, and may just wear down tooth enamel.
We Recommend: Pepsodent for $1 at Walmart

Reading Glasses
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Eyes lose elasticity as people age, but a pair of dollar-store reading glasses is all that's necessary for most. If the problem becomes more pronounced or you have trouble seeing objects from a distance, it's probably time to visit the optometrist for prescription glasses.
We Recommend: Reading glasses from $8 at CTS Wholesale

Office Supplies


Dollar stores offer many of the same office and school essentials found for higher prices at specialized stores such as Staples, and even at warehouse retailers such as Sam's Club. Don't spend extra on office supplies that merely need to be functional, including pencils and paper clips.

Courtesy of dsw.com


Thrift stores provide ample opportunity for savings, but especially when it comes to wardrobe. Most garments at Goodwill and other thrift stores are durable and cost under $20, with a negligible amount of wear and tear. Steeply discounted designer clothes can be found at stores such as Marshalls and DSW.
We Recommend: Clearance shoes starting at $10 at DSW

Baby Clothes
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Babies outgrow clothes almost immediately, so spending a small fortune on wardrobe every couple of months makes little sense. Turn to friends and family or local thrift stores for used garments that are usually still in good condition after such a short period of use.



Sunglasses are as easy to lose as they are to break. Skip the $100 Ray-Bans in favor of dollar store sunglasses, or any durable pair going for about $15 or less. Both do the job.
We Recommend: Sunglasses at Target

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Why spend extra on footwear that's easy to lose, provides poor support, and is used for only part of the year? Dollar store sandals can be as durable and effective as brand-name competitors -- just remember to look for ones with some amount of cushion and arch support.
We Recommend: Sandals at 5dollarfashions

Reusable Bottles
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Specially designed canteens and reusable bottles that promise better insulation and other enticing features can still be lost or end up with a leak. Lighter-weight versions can cost far less ($3 to $10 vs. $20 to $30).

Frozen Fruit and Vegetables
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Though fresh fruit and vegetables are almost always preferable, frozen can be as good in smoothies, baked goods, and the like. And there's no reason to spend extra on frozen brands.

Canned Vegetables and Beans
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Similarly, generic canned goods sell for less and generally taste the same as brand-name equivalents. Beans and most vegetables remain constant in taste and texture no matter the can, but watch for certain goods that do have variations in taste between brands, such as canned tomatoes.
We Recommend: Great Value Black Beans, a four-pack for $2.50 at Walmart



They say print is dead, but there are plenty of used bookstores nationwide offering classic and little-known hardcover titles for a fraction of what they'd cost new. Used books can also be found for cheap at many thrift stores, or even better, for free at local libraries.

Snack Foods
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Pregnancy Tests
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Whether paying $1 or $10 for a pregnancy test, the outcome will be the same 99 percent of the time. More expensive brands may be able to detect pregnancy earlier; couples using the cheap variety should wait as long as a week after a missed period for a conclusive result.
We Recommend: Wholesale Sure-Aid Pregnancy Test for $1 at Concord Import

Picture Frames
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Kitchen Utensils
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Generic and name-brand medicines must adhere to the same safety standards, which means generic drugs are generally as safe and strong as name-brand equivalents, though they cost far less. Use a Food and Drug Administration database to confirm whether a generic drug is "therapeutically equivalent" to a name-brand.

Storage Containers


Look at dollar stores first for cheap home storage solutions. Buyers will find lightweight baskets and thick plastic containers of all shapes and sizes to help organize and consolidate in any room of the house. Look online for additional ideas on dollar store products.

Bath Products
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Generic bath products such as shampoo, deodorant, and bath soap have essentially the same ingredients as name brands -- often made by the same company. Look for cheap yet effective bath products at dollar stores or large retailers such as Walmart, but not at drugstores, where prices will often exceed even those at supermarkets.
We Recommend: Arm & Hammer Natural Essentials Unscented Deodorant for $2 at Walmart

Printer Ink & Toner


Printer ink is one of the most marked up consumer goods on the market. Generic or off-brand ink sells in stores or online at sites such as Inkgrabber for less than name-brand cartridges, but is just as effective in marking up printer paper.



Rather than buy an entire toolset for a simple fix that requires only a wrench, look for gently used individual tools at thrift stores or on online forums such as Craigslist. The price will be lower, and the functionality of hardy tools such as hammers, saws, and shovels usually won't have been affected by previous use. If you must buy new, there are still methods to filling your toolbox on the cheap.