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February 13, 2008


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I've started to limit my trips "inside" Costco. I still go there to get gas but when I go in the store, 99% of the time, I come out with something I never planned to purchase in the first place.

Have you ever noticed that quite often they use different units on the tiny per unit price parts of the sticker?

For the larger items I have seen them use $x per pound, and for the smaller of the same product they list $y per ounce.

Being a single person for years and now married for a couple of years with no children, it didn't make much sense for me to shop at Costco or Sam's for bulk items. The old bulk would buy is staples like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent or foods that would not go bad in a few days but would last for months. I found that I did a better job at getting good deals by watching the ads and using my coupons and stocking up on things when they were on sale and not when I ran out of them. I was never one to compare the unit prices, but after this column I think I just might.

Some of these "helpful" tags that supermarkets place on the shelves (below the full price of the item) to reveal the per-ounce or per-unit cost serve only to obfuscate. I was in Kroger in Michigan last week trying to get the best deal on peanut butter, which often comes in 18-ounce jars.

Some of the tags listed dollars per ounce. Some listed dollars per pound. Some listed dollars per 18 ounces. I was in a hurry, so I ended up buying the biggest jar of Jif they had, which happened to be on sale.

True, I could still do the math, but isn't that the whole point of the "help" tags to save me from doing the math?

I have to agree with other commenters. I am single with a live-in girlfriend (marriage is soon). I have a Costco membership and "stock up" on paper towels, toilet paper, bottled water, butter(I bake), frozen individual fish, chicken, and other items because the prices are consistently less than grocery stores. I track the cost per unit religiously that I pay at Costco and look for deals at grocery stores if I happen to need something.
Often, the timing just does not coincide with my need and budget, so Costco it is. Chicken is always hard to find at grocery stores - their inventory is gone the day of the sale! I have not found that produce is a super deal at Costco, and you run into the mold/spoiling issue. But for the items I listed, it is hard to beat especially since it is in one location. Now the question is does it save me my $50 membership renewal and then some? That is involved to figure out.

The different per-unit pricing is one of my biggest pet peeves when grocery shopping. The worst is when one product's unit pricing is by weight and another is by volume. I hate having to dig out my phone and calculate the difference.

We use our club membership (BJs in our case) mostly to buy non-perishables and frozen food. We love the brand of tortellini they have, and can't find it anywhere else; we also buy bulk packaging of frozen TV dinners and Hot Pockets, since we know we'll eat them, and it is definitely cheaper than if we bought them at the grocery store (unless they're on sale, of course).

In Europe (most of the countries, France for me), laws requieres that shops always mark cost per unit (liters, kilogram or article) on the shelf labels. This is really a good help when u go shopping...

One of the truly surprising things I've found is that it's often cheaper to buy bagged/packaged items than buying the same items from the bulk foods section of the store. I fell into that trap for a while, till I calculated an actual per ounce cost on a bag of Fritos vs. the bulk version in the bins (as well as a few other items). You gotta do the arithmetic in order to avoid being suckered in.

This is definitely true! I used to buy my shampoo at Sam's Club, which was expensive but in a huge bottle. Then I actually calculated the price per ounce and realized it was actually cheaper at Target. Much cheaper. All the bulk stores do this, which I find especially irritating at places like Costco and Sam's where you pay a membership fee to get low "wholesale" prices (allegedly).

That guy needs to freeze those bagels... and then toast em...

The 5 pack of mac and cheese is one example of something more expensive in the pack. The issue with costco, sames, etc is that you can't use a coupon. With the coupon at a grocery you can usually land the bulk price

My comments are on a few things I have read in these postings and on a few other things.
First, we had a membership at Sam's which we realized was a complete joke. You wind up paying more and more for your membership instead of less like you'd think would happen with a valued customer. Second, when we would go there was the issue of constantly standing in line for an average of 20mins.
Next thing, I have a friend who likes to shop at Wal-Mart religiously. Here is the thing I fail to understand. Taking where I live and what is close to me; if you have a Kroger's 3 miles from your house and a Martin's (local chain) 3.5 and the closest Aldi's is 6 miles away and Wal-Mart's is 7 how are you saving anything significant unless you have a huge family to go 4 or 5 miles out of your way for the 'lower' price? Though I am a male I regularly do the grocery shopping and I challenge anyone I know to out shop me and I don't go looking for coupons. I play it smart and stock up on expensive stuff like coffee when it's on sale and as others mentioned the necessities. Take milk for example, it's up to over $3 a gallon now. Kroger's will have the half gallon's on sale about every other week 4for5 and once in a while a bit less. Reality is that most places people run to are not all that good a deal. They don't include the gas factor to drive all the way to wherever in their shopping endeavors. That is the thing I fail to understand, not looking at the savings difference between one store and the other to see if the extra distance warrants the drive. Most times if you do the math it does not. Also, as one post said above before, is what your buying making that membership pay for itself?

This issue is why keeping a price book is a very good idea. In Australia the supermarket industry is dominated by two main chains. They don't have any unit cost pricing, and they are resisting the introduction of it, even though Aldi introduced it a few months ago.

Another thing to keep an eye on is wether the amount of an item has decreased while the shelf price, excluding specials and coupons, has stayed the same. Toothpaste, tinned vegetables and breakfast spreads have had this happen in the past few years in my country.

There have been numerous studies done addressing the alleged cost savings of member-only warehouse stores and also stores that use free member-savings cards. These same studies have found that people unknowingly pay more when using these programs, and that the lowest prices are regularly found at stores that do not use any type of member-saving program. The conclusion that is often mentioned is that regular grocery stores spread their savings out over more of their inventory, whereas the warehouse stores and stores that require you to have their savings card do just the opposite. Also, don't forget that the studies have factored in the cost of any membership fees. Funny thing though, is that few people believe the results of the studies.

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