As an average shopper, I cannot honestly say that I have put much thought into unit pricing on my weekly shopping trip. However, have you ever been wandering down an aisle at the grocery store and spotted two similar items, one larger and more expensive and the other smaller and less expensive, from two different brands? I’ve experienced this countless times – just yesterday, I picked up two bottles of vanilla: a larger (more expensive) bottle of (organic) vanilla extract and a smaller (cheaper) bottle of (fair-trade certified) vanilla extract from another brand. I instinctively put the cheaper one in my cart, but after pondering on it for a second, I realized I didn’t know 100% that it was the better value.

There are so many choices at our grocery stores, all with slight differences, it is often hard to make a decision. You could choose to purchase the smaller item because it is less expensive and you didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a new product you’re just trying, or you could purchase the larger product because you assumed it had more value.

Either way, you might not have made the best financial choice. This is because brands and retailers can actually be quite deceptive and present products to you in a way that culminates in you unintentionally spending more money for less product, resulting in a larger profit for them. 

So, to counteract this, I really stopped and thought about what would be the best, for my wallet and other important factors to me – like how much I actually need. To do this, I used some of the tips and tricks I’ve listed below, which ultimately allowed me–and will hopefully help you–not to succumb to retailers’ deceptive marketing tactics and ensure my money is spent skillfully.

1. Check the unit pricing:

  • This is quite literally the easiest but also most effective way to check different products and make sure you are purchasing the most financially smart option. “Unit pricing” simply means the cost for a single unit of measurement in that particular item. So, for example, if I bought a 12-ounce jar of granola butter for a cost of $12.95, the unit price of it is equal to its total price ($12.95) divided by the number of units in that item (12 ounces), so about $1.08 per ounce.
  • An easy-to-remember formula for this is:
    • Price of item / number of units in the item = unit price
  • So, now that you know the basics of finding an item’s unit pricing, here is where the somewhat tricky part comes in; comparing different items’ unit prices.
  • To help illustrate this, when shopping for a protein bar, you could be deciding between Brand X, which costs $2.49 for a 1.83-ounce bar, and Brand Y, which costs $1.79 for a 1.76-ounce bar. Using the formula presented above, we can get the unit pricing for Brand X to equal $1.36 per/oz and Brand Y to equal $1.02 per/oz. Now you may think the choice is obvious; you should get brand Y because it’s cheaper, but here is where the more difficult part comes in… 

2. Compare the ingredients/quality of ingredients in both products:

Comparing nutrition values is as important as comparing unit pricing.
  • Buying the cheapest option may not always be the best option for your body, as sometimes cheaper options can have less nutrition and fewer quality ingredients in them.
  • My favorite saying is “turn and learn,” which means turn the product over and look at the nutrition facts label, read the ingredient list, and use your logical deduction skills to determine which you think is the best between the two. I’d say if they’re similar nutritionally and ingredient-wise, go with the cheaper one. But if one is vastly more nutritious and has better ingredients, and isn’t carving a significant dent in your wallet, go for that one.
  • Going back to the protein bar example, while Brand X may cost $0.24 more cents than Brand Y per unit, it offers more nutrients and has more whole ingredients, versus Brand Y, which is high in added sugar and has many preservatives. So you have to decide for yourself if the better nutrition and ingredients constitute the $0.24 increase per ounce.

As you can see, unit pricing is multifaceted, and there isn’t always a straightforward answer for which product is better. Cheaper doesn’t always mean more bang for your buck. And buying in bulk adds another dimension to the table, which you can read more about here.

Next time you’re shopping at the grocery store, try using the formula I provided above to determine the unit pricing of two products you’re comparing. Then, compare the products holistically, keeping the nutrient value and difference in unit price in mind. The more you do this, the easier it becomes – your wallet and body will thank you. 

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