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Grocery shopping: Is this a good deal?

It’s a bean!

You walk into a store and look around. There are shelves stocked with products and goods. Each is trying to get your attention. Each manufacturer wants you to buy their product instead of the competition. Each claim that their product is the better value because it is the better quality. While quality is a consideration, I want to look at a different area of value.

If you are a person that believes the brand name makes a difference in the quality and that this is the most important part of shopping, you might not be interested in this article. If, on the other hand, you are one that believes a bean is a bean and costs are the most important, read on.

I am going to look at grocery shopping. We all need to eat and, with the cost of food, finding the best price is important. As mentioned above, each manufacturer is claiming their product is the best and you should buy their beans.

Let’s keep this simple. You want the best price for that can of beans. The manufacturer wants you to buy their brand so they can make money and the store doesn’t care as long as they make money from the sale. In reality, all three of these things are going to happen to some degree. The store will make money on the sale. They would not be there otherwise. The manufacturer is going to make money if you choose their product. They package their product to look good so you will buy it. You are going to choose the product you think is the best price.

Question; “Is this the best price?” How do you figure out if these beans cost less than those other ones? This may sound simple since a can of beans is a can of beans, right? Let’s back up and look at this. We have figured out that a bean is a bean and we want the best price. The store doesn’t care as long as they make money. The manufacturer is making the package look good so you will buy. But, gee, there are all these sales and sizes and stuff.  So, how do we figure out the best price?

The trick is to get down to a common unit. Grocery items, for the most part, are priced by the unit. This unit might be an ounce, pound, can or other measurement. Stores often have a “sale” on a brand of beans. A trick used to get you to buy the sale item is to price it so that it looks like a sale but costs as much, or more, than the item that is not on sale.

Remember, the bottom line is cost per unit. Do the 16 ounce can of beans cost less than the 20 ounce can? Is the five for a dollar sale a better price than the regular price of the item? What about Brand A sale versus Brand B regular price? To get the answer, look at the cost per unit. Many stores give you that comparison on the price tag of the item. The tag will read ‘Brand A beans, ‘X’ cents per can” and then below that will be the cost per ounce. Compare the cost per ounce, not the cost per can. The item is priced per can even if one brand is 20 ounces per can while the other is 16 ounces per can. Watch out for this!

If your grocery does not give you the comparison, just do the math. Always carry a calculator with you when you go to the grocery store, market or anywhere to shop … unless you are a math whiz. Even if you are good at math, the calculator is faster, more accurate and easier all around.

So, how do you figure out the cost per unit? First thing is to get to a common unit. If one product is per pound and the other per ounce, you would probably convert the pound to ounces. Sixteen ounces equals a pound. If you are buying in bulk, you might not want to deal with hundreds of ounces so pounds could be a better common unit. Ten 16 ounce cans equal ten pounds. Remember, the concept is a common unit. This does not have to be the lowest common unit.

So, a 16 ounce can of beans at 32 cents per can is two cents per ounce (.32 ÷ 16 = 0.02). With that knowledge, it is easy to see that the sale of three cans for a dollar is not a good sale no matter how good it sounds. Three times 16 is 48 ounces. That comes out to a bit over two cents per ounce. Not a lot, but it does add up when you are buying several ounces, or cans.

I hope you find this helpful. Just remember that comparing among stores is good, but comparing within the store is also needed. Manufacturers make their products look good to get you to buy. Stores make the prices look good so that you will buy. You need to know what *is* good when you buy.



What do you think?