You don’t have to go to an electronics store to find tech items; you will find technical equipment at general retailers and even in discount stores. But while it may seem tempting to buy cheap tech from a dollar store, these items are best avoided. We’ll look at common issues with cheap products sold at these places and what you should spend instead.
1. Headphones, speakers and other audio devices
It’s common to find wired headphones, wireless headphones, Bluetooth speakers, and similar audio devices at discount stores. While these can serve as a stopgap when you have no other options, such as if you forgot to pack your headphones on a long trip and don’t want to disturb others in the car, you shouldn’t buy cheap audio equipment otherwise. If you’re buying headphones in a pinch, check out our guide to buying tech at a thrift store for the best results.
As you’d expect, a speaker or headset you find for less than $10 will sound terrible. This will be enough to amplify the sound more than your phone’s speakers, but that’s about it.
Expect a low sound that has no clear bass or treble. Value-priced wireless speakers and headphones are likely to offer short battery life. And thanks to atrocious build quality, the equipment will break or crumble before long.
If you’re not in an emergency situation, your money is much better spent on higher quality audio equipment. For a little more money, you’ll get a drastic increase in music quality and maximum volume. Brands like Anker, available on Amazon, offer solid audio quality without going into luxury prices.
It makes more sense to buy a $40 set of headphones that lasts you a few years, compared to spending $10 every few months on a crap set of headphones that keep breaking.
2. USB sticks
While you probably don’t buy USB drives regularly, if you need USB storage, avoid buying one from a drugstore or dollar store. Cheaper USB drives in these locations will almost certainly use the older USB 2.0 standard, which transfers files much slower than modern USB 3 drives. Check out our guide to USB cable types for more on this.
These low priced drives suffer from poor build quality which means they are more likely to break or fail than a brand name drive. This could end up giving you a lot of trouble if the flash drive stops working with important files.
Another problem with buying flash drives from non-tech stores is that they are too expensive for the storage you get. For example, at the time of writing, Rite Aid is offering a SanDisk Cruzer 32GB USB 2.0 flash drive for $17. Meanwhile, Amazon has a SanDisk 128GB USB 3.0 flash drive for about the same price, a much better product for the money.
If you can’t wait for shipping from Amazon, you can get decent records for a fair price at Walmart. As with the rest of the items we’re talking about, you get more for less by avoiding the cheap stores.
3. Phone chargers and cables
Like the headphones discussed above, cheap cables are another example where you may need to buy one when you have no other choice. But if you can help it, avoid junk phone chargers and go for something better.
The number one reason to avoid dollar store cables is that they can be dangerous. High-quality cables meet certain standards and incorporate technology that helps them manage the charge they send to your device. Ultra cheap cables probably don’t have these standards, which makes them risky.
A lousy cable will, at best, charge your device too slowly (or not charge at all) and crumble after a short time due to poor build quality. At worst, it could deform your device’s battery or even start a fire. It’s not worth the small savings to skimp on something you use all the time, especially when cables deal with sensitive electrical current.
Instead, you should buy a multi-pack of chargers from a reputable brand. Many options are available, such as braided cables for extra strength or long cables that you can use across the room.
While you may be tempted to pick up a spare battery pack at a discount store for your Xbox controller or various non-rechargeable tech, the apparent savings are deceiving.
The biggest concern is that most dollar store batteries are carbon-zinc, not alkaline like standard batteries. Carbon-zinc batteries don’t hold as much charge as alkaline batteries, so you’ll need to replace them more often. They’re fine for low-drain devices like a TV remote or clock, but high-drain devices like a gamepad will drain quickly.
Another issue is that batteries from dollar stores and the like may come from another retailer’s closure, meaning the batteries have an earlier expiration date than those you would buy at a standard store. This makes those batteries a waste if you buy them for future emergencies, like powering a flashlight during a power outage.
Finally, cheap batteries are generally less good than branded ones. They may weigh less than they look the same, or produce less power due to internal inefficiency resulting from poor quality control.
To stock up on batteries, it’s best to buy a large pack from a trusted alkaline brand with an expiration date several years in the future. You can also consider buying rechargeable batteries that you won’t have to throw away.
5. Phones and tablets
While well-known phones and tablets are too expensive to show up in a real dollar store, some variety stores and other discount stores carry these devices in the $15 to $30 range. Like the rest of the items on this list, this initially attractive discount hides a vastly inferior product.
If you see a phone or tablet in this price range, it’s almost certainly an Android device running an older version of the operating system, with a paltry amount of storage, weak components, and an ugly screen. . If you need a phone in an emergency, this might be fine, but you should never buy these devices with long-term use in mind.
There are budget smartphones for $100 or less that will perform much better than anything in a dollar store. If you’re looking for a cheap tablet, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 offers a budget device that’s not miserable to use.
Spend money on the best value
Everyone likes a bargain, but paying a small amount of money for a piece of junk is no bargain. On the contrary, good value comes from buying something that does what you want at an affordable price. Because the technology at the dollar store suffers from poor quality, you’ll get a far superior product for spending a little more.
Once you’re done shopping in-store, be sure to take advantage of the best deal sites online as well.
The 8 Best Sites to Find Daily Deals and Save Money
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