Shopping Basics 101 – Understanding Unit Prices
SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ – Some of us may seek out sales when we are grocery shopping, and some of us may faithfully clip coupons, but that does not always mean we will be getting the best deal.
It can take sometimes take all of the stars to be aligned when you read of these success stories of mega savings at the supermarket, for example a cart full of groceries for under $10. It’s for the die-hards that clip coupons to the point of obsession, keep a hawk’s eye on the store flyers, use store loyalty cards, subscribe to Internet coupon savings through the stores, and work with the double and triple coupons that some stores offer all the time, some offer occasionally, and some, never at all.
Some of us may clip coupons vigorously, and some, none at all. Some may also have loyalties to certain brands, and buy them regularly, coupons or not. Others will only buy those items when they are on sale, and especially if they might be fortunate to have a coupon to top it with as well.
The best deal also does not come necessarily from shopping at one particular store. For the best deals, it’s ideal to be open and knowledgeable about prices from different brands and stores.
Before delving into the topic of couponing and deals however, let’s start with the basics, and how to know one is getting the best deal on what they buy. As mentioned at the start, just because one has coupons does not signify the best deal.
It took me some time to understand this too because, we are not necessarily trained for this. I grew up thinking that coupons were the end-all. Most tend to casually look at the price, and then assume because there’s a coupon, that means a great bargain always. Many times, even with coupons, there’s always a better deal, and sometimes, it’s not even on sale.
Understanding Unit Prices
And for those of us who may have been raised to look at the final price to pay for an item, when one looks at the unit price, that changes everything.
For those who are asking what the unit price is, it is the price that a consumer pays at a grocery store per unit of measure. Some units of measure include: price per pound, per ounce, per count, per quart, per gallon, and per package. Unit prices began to be implemented in grocery stores in the 1970s.
For example, in the photo, I have shown two brands of tea, with 20 bags per count in each box. With the box on the right, the tea bags are listed at $4.49 per package of 20, equating to approximately 22 cents per tea bag (you can check the math and divide $4.49 by 20. When it’s multiplied back, you can see the approximate price with .22 times 20…equating to $4.40).
In most grocery stores in the U.S., the unit price is typically on the left, and the sale price of the item on the right. If for some reason the unit price is not listed, and you’d really like to super analyze the cost of your purchase, you can do it the way I’ve mentioned above.
Most stores, however, these days will have the unit price, which will break down for us the cost per unit. As depicted with the brand on the right, the unit price for 100 tea bags is $22.45 per 100 tea bags. The brand on the left shows $14.95 per 100 tea bags. The brand on the left in the photo is of course then, less expensive.
However, the brand on the left is on sale…note that the regular price is $3.29. Even so, that is still a lesser price than the brand on the right. Even with the regular price, by dividing $3.29 by 20, it still only yields a little over 16 cents a tea bag.
If one really would like to microanalyze their budget and strive for the best price on every item purchased, each of these products must be judged on a case-by-case basis of course. What if you as a buyer had a $1.00 off coupon for the brand on the right and the store doubled it? That would lower the cost of the product’s end price to $2.49 per 20 tea bags. Then, the price would be approximately 12 cents per tea bag for the brand on the right, making it a better deal than the one on sale on the left.
To summarize, without coupons and sales, of the two types of tea bags sold as pictured, the tea bags on the left are a better buy because of the lower price per unit, in this case, price per tea bag.
For many of us, our eyes have been taught to focus on the price the item sells for…when we need to first focus on the price on the left (unit price), and then look at the right (price item sells for) on every tag.
Here is another example of pricing per unit. These Fig Newton cookies are $3.17 per pound. Calculated, these cookies are $4.99 per 25.2-ounce package. Yet, these cookies are on sale with the price plus card, $1.50 off, for a final cost of $3.49, which equates to $2.22 per pound.
Remember when you’re shopping, those that run grocery stores are business owners above all. Grocery stores are out to make a profit and they are buying at wholesale, to sell to you the items you buy there, as all stores do, at retail prices. Those who work in the industry have revealed grocery stores have their own methods to set prices based on different factors, such as wholesale costs, what competitors are charging, supply and demand, and other factors. Some have said markups on some products can be as high as 50 to 100 percent of the wholesale cost the store has paid.
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