Paying attention to unit pricing in the supermarket can be your ally at time when manufacturers are trying to sneak by reductions in the amount of product they’re selling you.
Understanding unit pricing
Here’s a common scenario you might encounter in the supermarket: You’re in the paper towel aisle and you’re confronted with the choice of either a little package that’s on sale or a bigger package that is regularly priced.
Which is a better value? Most people would think the little package because it’s on sale, right?
Not so fast. To find the real answer, you’re going to have to look at the unit pricing, not the actual cost.
Unit pricing tells you how much you’re paying per basic unit of whatever it is you’re buying. So for paper towels, it’s the price per square foot. For toilet paper, it might be the price per sheet. For canned goods, it might be the price per ounce.
Once you understand this, you can see that the smaller package that’s on sale may have a unit price of 1.5 cents per square foot, while you the larger package that’s not on sale has a unit price of 1.0 cents per square foot. So in this case, the bigger package that’s not on sale actually offers more value for your dollar than the smaller package that is on sale.
Unit pricing regulations by state
Using unit pricing to your advantage hinges on one thing: That the store actually discloses unit pricing numbers!
It’s entirely possible that your store may not list unit pricing. That’s because unit pricing is regulated at the state level. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology maintains an updated list of states where unit pricing is supposed to be disclosed. These states include:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Residents of states other than these may be pleasantly surprised to find that retailers in their area do in fact list unit prices. This is often true if you’re shopping a large national chain store. But that decision is entirely at the retailer’s discretion; they would be under no state requirement to do so.