Jamie’s Gift Bag: Dollar Store Edition

Throughout this month, we’ll be featuring weekly gift ideas by Jamie. This week: cheap thrills.

People meet their spiritual needs in all sorts of ways. Some go to church. Others like to meditate. I go to the dollar store.

The dollar store is my sanctuary. A trip down the off-brand body wash aisle is a pilgrimage. I take my communion in the food section with a near-expired Nilla wafer. Aisles of cheap junk sustain me. When I enter a dollar store, my heart swells with the hope of finding something awesome for the low price of four quarters plus tax.

When I leave the dollar store, though, I usually feel deflated, guilty, used. When I look at my haul, I think things like, Why did I buy this 10 pack of pastel colored loofahs? or What am I even going to do with this unlicensed Precious Moments angel figurine? Buying tons of crappy plastic things from the dollar store without reasons makes me feel wasteful. Buying gifts for my friends, however, makes me feel awesome! I’m not hoarding—I’m generous. Some of the coolest gifts I’ve ever made/thought of have started with a single dollar. Here some things to keep in mind when you go spelunking in the crap cave for gifts:

1. Not all dollar stores are created equal. Where you should go depends on what you are looking for. Small, independently owned dollar stores are my favorite type. Not only does sourcing my mass-produced crap from a local business makes me feel less gross about buying mass-produced crap, but these shops often have the best stuff. Crowded, messy shelves increase your odds of finding something weird or old. The weirdness factor is also heightened by the fact that a regular person orders inventory, not some branding-minded corporate type. An independent shop is much more likely to stock a goofy tchotchke simply because the owner found it neat. These weird finds can be the basis for a great gift.

That said, larger chain dollar stores, like Dollar General or Dollar Tree, are good for some kinds of things, like craft supplies and food. On my shopping trip for this post, I hit up three shops—two independents and one big guy.

Me in church, aka the dollar store.

2. It’d be nice to be able to make a list of items that you need before hitting the stores, but one of the best parts of dollar-store livin’ is never knowing what kinds of things are going to be in stock. A shopping list is futile when inventory is mysterious and ever changing, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t focus your mission. Print out some pictures of things you find visually exciting and bring them with you to the store. Fashion collections, works of art, and photos of cool places all make excellent sources of inspiration. As you comb the aisles, look for items that capture the spirit, mood, and aesthetic of your photographs. This dog tether

Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalism

reminded me of the sporty rope used in Proenza Schouler’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection, so I used it to make a bracelet.

Proenza Schoulder bracelet. Source: Lacing Up.

My creation.

The bracelet needed a home, so I made this jewelry tray/catch-all out of a plastic basket, some fake flowers, and a lot of hot glue.

The colors reminded me of the Mexican food carts I always see parked around Little Village in Chicago.

Source: Carinderia

3. A semi-sad truth of dollar-store gift buying is that you are almost never going to walk into a store and find tasteful, well-made items presented in an attractive display. If you want craftsmanship on the cheap, a thrift store is where you should be looking. Where dollar stores reign is in the kingdom of tacky. Flimsy plastic, garish colors, and kooky novelties are always in abundance. Don’t fight it—embrace it. A gift can be thoughtful and interesting without being substantial in size. Look for little trinkets that remind you of the people you are shopping for. I picked up this Earth nightlight for my geography major roommate. It’s offbeat enough that it’s interesting, but not so out there that he won’t use it.

4. Finding an awesome piece of kitsch is a dream come true, but if you aren’t so fortunate, don’t fret. Almost all dollar stores are champs when it comes to stocking basics. Solid-colored headbands, empty boxes, tote bags, and mugs all make awesome canvases. One dollar, a printer, and a jar of Mod Podge can be the ingredients for the most awesome gifts—it’s just a matter of coming up with a cool idea. Decorate a tin with photos of you and your friends and fill it with baked goods. Glue some pretty things to a headband and put it in a nice gift bag. I turned these boring candles from the floral section of my dollar store into a unique gift for about $4. With a little creativity, and probably even less money, you can do the same. (Um, obviously this particular version isn’t for, like, your old-school grandparents or your Sunday School teacher.)

Aaaand a closeup.

Gift giving, at least with my friends, isn’t really about getting things—it’s about hanging out and laughing and feeling great because everyone took the time to think of you. At the low price of one dollar plus time, your new dollar-store prowess will let you think of lots of people this holiday. ♦


  • Chimdi December 2nd, 2011 7:04 PM

    oh my… I am officially getting candles & fake flowers at the one-dollar store…thanks for this article Jamie!!!

  • moonchild December 2nd, 2011 7:05 PM

    YES! this is the EPITOME of awesomeness! UPSCALING IS SO COOL!


  • Marie December 2nd, 2011 7:15 PM

    Are you my long lost lil’ sister??

  • Dylan December 2nd, 2011 7:27 PM

    oh yes oh yes oh yes

  • Tanya December 2nd, 2011 7:29 PM

    This is brilliant! I must now go on my own journey to the church for some wonderful finds :)

  • Jamie December 2nd, 2011 7:50 PM

    my gift bag brings all the budget conscious people to the yard

  • Bren December 2nd, 2011 7:52 PM

    Most Christmases, I get a bunch of tall holiday themed mugs at the Dollar Tree, a box of candy canes, hot chocolate packets that we always have a surplus at my house (because every winter we go “Oh, look at us trying to be all suburban and white with our Nestle hot chocolate” and then we go back to drinking Chocolate Abuelitar 2 weeks late), I then buy a bunch of candies fill the mug with all items, then wrap it in (usually valentine´s) themed cellophane treat bags that my mom stocks up on for no discernable reason. They make nice presents without making me spend a lot of money.

    Seriously Dollar stores are the best.

  • darksideoftherainbow December 2nd, 2011 8:08 PM

    i’m stealing the bracelet idea!!!

    OH MY GOODNESS…excellent job with the candle!!!

  • Kathryn December 2nd, 2011 8:14 PM

    YAY DOLLAR STORES. this was great gift inspiration! I’m pretty sure once I get my license in March, I’m going to make daily trips to the dollar stores and thrift stores in my town.

  • AndieP December 2nd, 2011 8:50 PM

    I love the dollar store, I love going there when I find some extra cash lying around. I have a GIANT bin full of dollar store junk. A lot of it jewelry and glass beads and glass pearls (who would have thought? Glass pearls at a DOLLAR STORE?) They’re usually in so-so condition so I love taking it apart and remaking it into something even better. :)

  • Adrienne December 2nd, 2011 9:10 PM

    Oh my gosh I love this so much!!! Please please please do a DIY on the dog leash breacelet. :)

  • FashionHauties December 2nd, 2011 11:00 PM

    The dollar store is SO great.
    Here is an awesome Jewelry Hanger I made from mostly dollar store items:
    I LOVE it and use it every day. It gives me more floor space and gives my tiny room a cute boutique-y feel. I think the final project cost about $10, but it looks way better than that! :)

  • Hedwig December 2nd, 2011 11:12 PM

    Ummm when me and my neighbor were little we made a religion based on the Dollar Store as heaven and mcdonalds as hell. To celebrate we drew pictures, bought candles frequently, and always visited there before a movie for cheaper candy and fanta/shasta. My latest finds there have been japanese erasers(!!!!), fake flowers for crowns, and cow tales candy. So, when I was reading this, it kinda felt like I had written it.

    Jamie. May not the junk, But the quality junk always be with you.

  • Hazel December 2nd, 2011 11:14 PM


  • LittleRed December 2nd, 2011 11:57 PM

    This was a great read. Love the candles. X

  • freelybre December 3rd, 2011 12:33 AM

    Those candles are priceless. Lindsay Lohan?! Who woulda thunk..amazing job Rookie

  • joZ13 December 3rd, 2011 12:40 AM

    I definitely pray at the alter of the dollar store…mainly to fill my compulsive spending urge without breaking the bank but also cuz the crafting potential is outrageous! LOVE the candles!!

  • sayitontheradi0 December 3rd, 2011 1:20 AM

    I have a totally different perspective of Dollar stores now!!! :)

  • thecultfollowing December 3rd, 2011 2:37 AM

    I really love this article. I work next to a dollar store and it seems like after every shift I end up there. I really love the Dollar Tree and Dollar General. I also like unique stores like this local business called, Yankee Dollar. I love a weird store at the mall called “Everything”s A Dollar”. I buy printed wrapping paper there and use it for collages. I also love the cheesiness of Lisa frank, so I stock up on packs of rings there. I can spend forever there. I love buying weird girly socks that glitter or have cool cheetah prints, and it seems like every store carries them. I think the stores are great for arts and crafts supplies, and the tacky clothing items, but I also think they’re great to go to when escaping from the drudgery of term papers and housework. When I’m alone and have time to waste I always end up in the video section. I love the video cassettes because not only are they outdated but they have the weirdest titles like “The Making of Ricky Martin Unplugged on MTV” and bizarre kid classics like “Muppet Babies”. It’s really worth the time and the couple of dollars to find something unique, completely useless, but extremely special. Strolling through the dollar store is something I’ll always do, even when I can’t afford to for both money reasons and time.

  • kittenpuke December 3rd, 2011 5:40 AM

    In England we have ‘Poundland’ and you can never find any cool stuff :(

    • Jamie December 3rd, 2011 10:12 AM

      sound so whimsical though!!

  • heccapeas December 3rd, 2011 7:03 AM

    This has really inspired me to create quirky things from dollar or pound shops( I live in the U.K)
    Thank you x

  • Emma S. December 3rd, 2011 7:38 AM

    Xmas shopping = done

  • soybrain December 3rd, 2011 8:22 AM

    ohmygod I love the lindsay lohan candle!

  • Jamie December 3rd, 2011 10:12 AM

    somebody posted about a tutorial for the rope bracelet, but I can’t find the comment. I used this one:

  • EmmaAmerica December 3rd, 2011 10:30 AM

    Glad to know I am not the only one that loves dollarstores. When I was little, I would spend all summer in this tiny village with no stores, and once a week we would make the trip out to the nearby town. My friend and I would get a loonie each and spend the ages trying to pick something.
    I now live in the uk, and still spend ages in poundland given the option. This year I am buying agenda’s (which are kind of boring) and decorating them with pictures, quotes and suduko puzzles. Because everyone loves suduko puzzles :)

  • Flower December 3rd, 2011 12:52 PM

    This Christmas I am wayyy too skint to buy Christmas presents for my family, so I just found appropriate objects for them all on my bedroom floor! Is that really stingy? Yeah…

    • Jamie December 3rd, 2011 3:00 PM

      it really is the thought that counts. in high school i would just make people really thoughtful cards a lot of the time

  • youarebananas December 3rd, 2011 5:21 PM

    omg, LOVE the candles–totally doing that for EVERYONE for xmas!

  • Chandler December 3rd, 2011 5:25 PM

    I love this post! Such great ideas. I loved the bracelet, would you be able to do a small DIY on it? Thanks! xoxo Chandler

  • Dakota December 3rd, 2011 6:55 PM

    The candles are so, sooo great! Can you explain more about how you made them?

    • Jamie December 4th, 2011 2:43 PM

      mostly just collaging papers! i used a glue stick to glue on the papers. i used hot glue for the google eyes.

      if you want a glossier, more professional look, you could use mod podge, ie the best collage glue ever.

  • MaggieMae December 3rd, 2011 9:16 PM

    My team always goes to the dollar store for secret sister presents. Gotta love off-brand goldfish and cheap make-up! :)

    On a side now though, I found the candles a little offensive. As someone who honors saints, I don’t think it’s very respectful to paste pictures of celebrities over them.

    I know that not everyone shares my religion (which is awesome that we all have different beliefs) but I thought I would throw my opinion out there.

    I so far have loooved everything that rookie, and (earlier tavi )have posted, but the candle craft idea was highly disappointing.

    • Jamie December 4th, 2011 2:23 PM

      i don’t want to speak for the whole magazine, but i’m pretty sure that everyone would agree that we’re all about showcasing all different kinds of art, opinions, sense of humor, and life outlooks.

      i’m sorry you were offended by the candle. i hope you don’t let something that i personally find clever turn you off from rookie on the whole.

  • absolutewannabe December 4th, 2011 11:46 AM

    The Lindsay Lohan candle makes me so happy…she looks so irritated to be praying

  • Mememeo December 4th, 2011 6:43 PM

    Once I went into a dollar store to straighten up my skirt. A women working in the store walked into the aisle while I fixing and looked at me as if I was about to start stripping.

    So I don’t go there anymore. :(

  • Spence December 5th, 2011 12:45 AM

    OHHHHH I LOOVVE THE DOLLAR STORE! My mother always took me there as a kid and taught me the value of , not the dollar, but the dollar store!

    I can even remember watching Arthur as a kid ,(and later…like now later whenever arthur is on PBS!), and the rich girl Muffy went into the big city with a artistic relative expecting to go to fancy shops and buy expenise things ‘n such. Well instead, THEY WENT TO THE DOLLAR STORE!!! And Muffy got an awsome cow print beret and had the best time!

    And as far as chains go, i’m stuck with Dollar General and Dollar Tree. But they both have their moments! I miss B&P Dollar and Dollar Market so bad! I always got my studded bracelets from B&P and got some man-briefs for Rocky Horror last year and spray painted them gold…FOR A $1!!! Can’t beat those memories!

    So i’m off to do some shoppin’ at the Dollar Sto y’all! ;)

  • Cruicked December 5th, 2011 11:59 AM

    Poundland does not offer such amazing finds. I wish the pound shop in my town was that cool, but there aren’t any fake flowers, headbands, candles or anything I like.