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10 Tech Items You Should Not Buy at the Dollar Store

It's no secret that dollar stores are packed with great deals. How do they do it? By buying up aging inventory from larger retailers, and by finding additional products at rock-bottom prices. It's a great business model, but it also means that some of those low prices aren't quite the bargain they seem. Here are 10 tech items you should NOT buy at the dollar store!

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Speakers via Jipen/Shutterstock

Speakers

Speakers for your home theater or computer are delicate pieces of equipment, carefully calibrated to deliver the highest quality audio. Unfortunately, the ones offered at dollar stores are usually tinny and subpar. They’ll produce sound, and if all you need is something in the background they may be great, but if you want true audio quality you’re better off looking elsewhere. Here’s an amazing home theater build from a Family Handyman reader!

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Close up view of three different travel adapter plugs for mains power isolated against a plain white background. Left to right ar the adapters for the USA, UK and Europe.Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock

Adapters

Whether you’re traveling abroad or dealing with old, ungrounded outlets, a good adapter can be worth its weight in gold. However, the ones found on dollar store shelves are usually of limited use. Adapters are still mechanical devices, and their connection can weaken and wear out over time. The lower quality items sold at a dollar store often wear out very quickly indeed. Plus: If you want to upgrade old two-slot sockets but don’t want to open walls, consider installing a labeled GFCI outlet.

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USB stick with wooden backgroundPaolo_Ius/Shutterstock

USB Sticks

USB sticks have become a ubiquitous symbol of modern plug-and-play technology. These storage devices are widely available for a modest price. In order to compete, dollar store versions usually have decorative add-ons, such as a knock-off cartoon character or decorative flair. These “added value” features often add weight and cause more problems than they’re worth. Speaking of USB, here’s a run down on how to get faster USB backups by upgrading your computer to USB 3.0.

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Young blonde woman holding work tool rolling up cable garden extension cord.Voyagerix/Shutterstock

Extension Cords

It may seem like nothing could be simpler than an extension cord. Unfortunately, some dollar store suppliers skip best practices and try to avoid proper certification. Counterfeit Underwriters Laboratory (UL) labels are a genuine problem, and are often found on devices at deep discount stores.

Avoid the potential headache by buying a quality extension cord.

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Close up of black smartphone charging battery with cable on wooden table and sunlight with copy space and blurry background. Vintage tone and soft light. Selective focus.Triple D Studio/Shutterstock

Phone Chargers

Chargers for phones or other electronic devices have to supply a set amount of power. Too little, and the device will take forever to charge; too much and the delicate circuitry may be damaged. The risk of picking up chargers at dollar stores is that the power supply may be erratic, possibly causing more headaches than it’s worth, and definitely making it one of the tech items you should not buy at the dollar store. Don’t have a USB outlet at home? How to easily install a USB outlet!

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Young woman holds in her hands white earbud headphonesMichael Kachalov/Shutterstock

Earbuds/Headphones

Like tiny speakers, headphones and earbuds are relatively easy to make, but difficult to make well. If you simply want a spare pair of earbuds to keep on hand, dollar stores have great options. If you really want to hear music the way it was intended, you’re better off spending a little bit more and getting a quality device. If you do decide to go the low-end route, you may want to bookmark this article on repairing earbuds for future reference!

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Group of batteries isolated on white backgroundTatiana Popova/Shutterstock

Batteries

There are two problems with buying batteries at dollar stores. First, if the battery was bought as aging stock from a larger retailer, those name-brand batteries may be approaching their expiration date. Second, some low cost, off-brand batteries may be made with carbon–zinc rather than alkaline. That means they are more prone to leakage and have a shorter lifespan. Plus: Wondering if those old batteries around your house are still good? Find out with a multitester!

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protected hdmi cable connected to the monitor.Alexander_Evgenyevich/Shutterstock

HDMI Cables

HDMI cables are an interesting case. Like many of the other chargers and cables on this list, dollar store versions often skimp in essential areas such as the head/cable connection, meaning that they are more prone to failure. At the same time, HDMI cables purchased at larger retail locations tend to be hugely overpriced (often three or four times the actual market value). Your best bet is to check online at an electronics specialty site, and get a quality cable at a reasonable price.

There’s a reason pros recommend high-quality cables for your home theater!

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Two cordless drills with drill bits working also as screw guns.monticello/Shutterstock

Power Tools

As a general rule, power tools found in dollar stores are bottom-of-the-barrel devices. If you’re going to start a project that will likely destroy a tool by its end, that can be fine. But if you want to keep that tool for years to come, you probably shouldn’t lay down money for a power tool at the dollar store.

Next, check out ten power tool hacks for DIYers.

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hand the child put the batteries in the blue toyElRoi/Shutterstock

Battery-Operated Toys

Dollar store toys are a mixed bag, and should be examined closely before purchase. Keep an eye out for fragile parts that could shatter under the hands of an enthusiastic child, and keep in mind that the lifespan of any electronic components could be very short. Or you can always find a fun DIY project to tackle with your child instead!

Dan Stout
With over a decade spent on residential and commercial construction job sites, Dan Stout has the hands-on experience to speak to builders, contractors, and homeowners with the voice of authority. Much of his work centers on demystifying the building industry by simplifying construction jargon for homeowners and laying out best business practices for contractors. Dan's non-fiction has appeared on numerous blogs and vendor websites, while his prize-winning fiction has been featured in publications such as Nature and The Saturday Evening Post. His debut novel Titanshade is scheduled for a 2019 release from DAW Books.