Pay Attention to Grocery Store Shelf Labels

With the ever-increasing prices of groceries, savvy shoppers are always seeking ways to save money. Buying while saving has long been the conundrum of savvy shoppers, do you buy in bulk or dirt cheap off brand?   Is it worth it in the long run?  Do you really save money?

The real trick to save money is to pay attention to grocery store shelf labels.  Do not get carried away with groceries on sale, some of them have regular prices as sale prices.

Does Paying Attention to Unit Prices Save Money?

The idea of purchasing something for a dollar would appear to be the better bargain, the smaller packaging and lesser-known brands impact the overall value of what is being received.  You pretty much get what you paid for, and it’s not much.

Similarly, stores following the discount concept of $1.00 per item have a strong following.

Customers are drawn into these discount establishments as everything in the store costs $1.00.

There is a great appeal to the “$1 per item” concept as it naturally creates the feeling that you are saving money.  Paying $1 for something is almost unheard of today, outside of dollar discount stores.

Check supermarket unit price tags

Check Grocery Store Unit Price Label

Shopping at dollar stores isn’t as cheap as you think. On the surface, purchasing an item for $1.00 appears to be a bargain.

However, when you calculate the cost per ounce, unit, sheet, or bag, often times, this average is higher than if the purchase was made at Costco or another wholesale-type store.

  • Stores such as the Dollar Tree, Dollar Store, Dollar General, and Family Dollar have been on a steady path of growth, indicating that they remain popular.
  • Their minimal space and low overhead make it easy to open stores up in strip malls or other retail shopping centers, which is easily accessible by customers.
  • Dollar discount stores are widely profitable as a business model, as they typically obtain their products overseas or from low-cost suppliers.
  • While spending a $1 on a roll of paper towels seems like a bargain at the discount store, the smaller quantity of sheets can actually mean that you are ultimately paying more.
  • While both concepts focus on saving the consumer money, which one can have the most impact on your household budget?

We compared different products sold in Dollar Store, Costco and Walmart to determine which offered the best price per unit.

The products on the Walmart website could be supplied by different vendors, whose prices were higher.  Therefore, only products that were sold and supplied by Walmart were included.

In many cases, the product quantities differed, we determined the cost per unit, as opposed to comparing the total cost paid per box or package.

For the first five products selected, Costco appeared to offer the best prices, based on the unit per item.

Red Plastic Cups

  • Costco Kirkland Signature Red Plastic Cups: $ 12.99 for 240 cups
  • Dollar Tree Home Store Brand Translucent Cups: $1 for 16 cups- minimum quantity purchase of 48 cups.

If you divide the price of $12.99 by the total number of cups, the price per unit comes out to $.054

If you divide the price of $1 by the total number of cups, the price per unit comes out to $.0625

Cheaper prices at Costco

The cost per unit is $.0088 less at Costco than Dollar Tree. An alternative way to evaluate this would be if you were to purchase 15 packages of 16 count cups from the Dollar Stores (for a total of 240 cups), this would cost you $15.00.

If you purchase similar cups from Costco for $12.99, you would save $2.01. One other thing to note, the Costco Kirkland cups are 18oz, compared to the Dollar Store cups which are 16oz.

This appears to support the smaller packaging practice at the dollar discount stores.

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Generic Groceries Save Money on a Tight Budget

Coffee Filters

Not only is the price less than if you purchased them at Costco, but the quality of the product is also better as well.

  • Costco Connaisseur 8 – 12 Cup Basket Coffee Filter: $3.99 for a quantity of 700.
  • Dollar Tree Fresh Cup Paper Coffee Filters: $1.00 for a quantity of 150 / Paper Coffee Filters that fit 8 – 12 cup machines.

You pay $3.99 at Costco, for 700 coffee filters.  Paying $4.00 at the Dollar Tree you get 600 coffee filters. For the same price, Costco gives 100 more coffee filters than the Dollar Tree.

coffee filters

As an added bonus, Costco’s coffee filters are oxygen-cleansed, giving you a little more bang for your buck.

Cleaning Products

Traditionally, dollar discount stores were known to have better prices on cleaning products than their competitors.

In case you don’t mind using a lesser-known brand, might just save you a little money. To test this, we selected a few comparable cleaning products to evaluate their prices.

                        Costco has better unit prices                                
  • Costco Windex Original Glass Cleaner Plus Refill: $12.99 for 32 oz bottle and 176 oz refill, for a total of 208 ounces.
  • Dollar Tree Home Store Glass Cleaner: $1.00 for a 32 oz bottle.  To determine the cost per ounce, divide $1 by 32 ounces, which yields $.031

Purchasing glass cleaner at the Dollar Tree is almost 50% less than at Costco.  Assuming that both products are similar in strength and composition, there is a definite price differential.

If you were to purchase 208 ounces at $.031, this would equal $6.45, which is half of what you would pay at Costco.

Disinfectant Wipes

  • Costco Clorox Disinfecting Wipes – Scented: $16.49 for 5 boxes / 78 count (total quantity is 390) Divide the cost of $16.49 by the total quantity of 390, the price per unit/sheet is $.0422.
  • Dollar Tree Good and Clean Lemon Scented Disinfectant Wipes: $1.00 for a can of 24.  Divide the cost of $1 by the total quantity purchased of 24 sheet, the price per unit is $.0416.
  • Purchasing the wipes at the Dollar Tree would actually save you a little bit of money.  However, if you’re already at Costco, go ahead and pick these up anyway.

The savings comes out to roughly $.25 and wouldn’t be worth a special trip.

pay attention to unit prices to save money


  • Costco’s Kirkland Signature Ground Saigon Cinnamon $3.49 for 10.7 oz
  • Dollar Tree Supreme Tradition Ground Cinnamon $1.00 for a 3oz bottle

To determine the cost per ounce, divide $1 by 3 ounces, which yields $.333.

Pay attention to unit prices to save money

Hydrasense nasal rinse

  • Costco sells a two pack of  Hydrasense 210mL bottles for $17. Blood Glucose testing supplies are considerably cheaper than elsewhere too.
  • Walmart for a 100mL bottle Hydrasense nasal rinse is from $10.97.

Purchasing larger quantities at a wholesale store provides overall savings to the consumer as they receive the benefit of lower prices due to bulk purchasing.

  • Shopping at Costco and other warehouse stores has its own cons like finding nearby parking space, traversing the enormous stores, sometimes waiting in the long check out lines.
  • Shopping on unit price is great for paper towels and canned soups and other stuff that will keep forever, but not as good on milk or other perishables.
  • While the dollar stores are smaller in size easy to transverse. Shopping there isn’t as cheap as many of us believe.
  • Bulk purchase is not always cheaper. Buying by the unit is sometimes cheaper. Buy two smaller packages to increase the volume of a particular item you need, instead of buying in bulk.
  • Price per unit is good, but when different sizes of an item are listed in different units, it becomes useless.

For example toilet paper, one will be listed in square feet, and the other will be listed squares of paper, while the other will be listed in rolls.

  • Pay attention to packaging as well. The more packaging involved, the more price per unit. Small Individual pasta sauce is more expensive than a big jar of pasta sauce.
  • You do not need small pasta sauce jars when cooking at home, rather invest in some Tupperware containers to keep the remaining pasta sauce. Smaller packages are suitable for work lunches etc.
  • Do you have an android mobile, download the app “Unit Price Compare” from Android Market.

The app calculates checks grocery store shelf labels and calculates unit price of similar products in different units,  sold in different sizes/qualities. It tells you which item is less expensive.

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