Grocery Shopping 101: Unit Price

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

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I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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If you missed the first two blog posts in my Grocery Shopping 101 series, here they are:

So, I am devoting an entire post to unit price because I think it is one of the most important shopping tools that I use at the grocery store to save money.

A long time ago, my mom taught me how to maximize my purchasing power by looking at the unit price of items. I couldn’t have been more than 10-years-old, but I quickly learned that the unit price was the best way to determine the true value of what we were buying.

What is the Unit Price?

The unit price is listed on the shelf sticker next to the price of the product. It tells you what an item’s cost is per pound, gallon, ounce, etc.

In the photo below, the unit price is listed in orange on the left side of the label. In this case, it’s how much you pay per gallon of olive oil. The cost per gallon is $50.67, but you’re only buying 16.9 ounces of olive oil, so you pay $6.69. It might seem like a deal because you’re only paying $6.69, but the cost per gallon is high.

unit price

This same idea holds true for pretty much all grocery (and non-grocery) items: the lower the unit price, the better deal you are getting. So, just because a box or bag is bigger, doesn’t mean that you’re getting a better deal. Comparing the unit price of similar products (example: name brand versus store brand) will ensure that you get the best deal possible without having to do any math.

Here’s an example:

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Check out how the retail price and unit price changes as the size of the olive oil container increases.

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At $31.04 per gallon, you’re getting the best bang for your buck. You’re buying more olive oil (101.4 ounces), but you pay less per gallon.

Especially for grocery staples (grains, nuts, beans, pasta, etc.), buying a product with a lower unit price, even though you are paying more for it upfront, will save you money in the long run. Just make sure you know you will use it and it won’t go to waste. Otherwise, you are wasting your money!

Bottom line: Look for the lowest cost per unit to get the best deal.

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90 Comments

  1. i agree that the unit price is one of the most important aspects of grocery shopping! so many people don’t know to look at it! Sometimes it sucks to have to spend more money at the time, but knowing you’re getting more bang for your buck makes it worth it. thanks for highlighting this!

  2. Unit price all the way! Look out for inconsistencies at Whole Foods, though – you’re better off calculating the unit price yourself than relying on what they put on the shelf tags. (Their product database has a lot of wrong quantities in it. Example: I buy a 4-pack of single-serve somethings. 4 somethings at 8 oz each = 32 oz of something for like $6, right? No – they calculate the unit price as if your $6 bought you just one something.)

  3. I am a unit-price fiend!!! It’s especially useful for paper products (TP, paper towels) because there is so much variety. But it is seriously useful for just about any sort of grocery shopping. So glad you mentioned this!

  4. I always compare the unit price, even as a college student! A friend of mine taught me the trick freshman year and I’ve used it ever since! It is especially helpful in long term buys or frequent buys such as your example of olive oil, or grains (Especially spices and seasoning!!!)

  5. I remember my parents teaching me the same thing from a very early age, so I always check the unit price now! If a store doesn’t display the unit price, I calculate it myself on my phone. I used to carry a calculator in my purse for this very reason!

  6. I’ve always been a unit price comparison shopper, but only as a reference. When it means purchasing a ton more than we’ll use in a reasonable amount of time, or not have adequate space to store, then I consider that as well. Waste adds up around here : (

  7. Wow… I always ignored that unit price – most times I never even noticed it there! But from now on I will definitely pay attention when grocery shopping. It makes so much sense, and is so simple to understand! Thanks for this fabulous post, and for the whole series!

  8. I always do that too! Although sometimes the units are different (gallon vs 2 liter) for the same type of product so you can’t easily compare unit prices, GRR! And sometimes it’s a better idea to buy the smaller product at the higher unit price if you’re really only going to use the smaller amount, otherwise, like you said, the rest of the product goes to waste. Lovin’ these tips, Tina!

  9. I never even thought to look at that. I always see the unit price on the price tag but I never thought to stop and compare the prices. What a great tip! I really like this Grocery Shopping series that you are doing. It’s very informative. 🙂

  10. Cool. I’ve always tried to figure out what was a better deal using the unit price, for for some reason the way it’s laid out here makes even more sense. I love me some bargain shopping!

  11. I remember my mom teaching us about unit prices when we were little. It is still my favorite trick for shopping smart.

  12. If I am trying to decide between to similar products that have almost the same price, I will look at the unit price. It definitely lets me know which one is a better deal.

  13. My parents taught me this too! Some stores don’t list a unit price, so I’m often whipping out my phone to use the calculator to make comparisons myself. It’s useful for “stuff” too (like toilet paper, diapers, cleaner, etc), not just food.

  14. My husband taught me that and I passed on the knowledge to a friend. Something like Olive Oil is something I would buy the big container of – I am always using it for cooking!

    I may not buy a bigger package of chips because I don’t eat chips as often – and they go stale fast!

    Great post!

  15. this is such a great tool to use when trying to get the best deal! i ALWAYS do this, too! but i haven’t found that my stores display the unit prices as clearly as the examples that you showed! i usually end up doing some quick math to figure out which is the cheapest. 🙂

  16. I do look at the unit price, but I get so frustrated when it’s not printed! In general, I find that it’s the no-name brands that are lowest, so I usually go for those.

  17. My biggest beef about grocery stores is that sometimes when things go on sale, they don’t put the sale unit price on the tag. Sometimes it is easy to figure out, but sometimes it is tough math for my “end of the day trying to grab a couple of things before dinner” brain.

  18. My mom taught me this at a very young age as well. How do people go through life not knowing this useful fact? It’s so key for cheapness!!

  19. Yep, I’m glad they post those in the stores. I generally do consider the net contents of things I’m buying, so I won’t hold the 16 oz PB next to the 34 oz PB and wonder which one to get. Don’t be fooled by the size of the packages, people!

  20. That’s how my boyfriend shops. He shops by unit price–even if the actual cost is more expensive. It’s difficult for my brain to grasp the difference and will usually choose the cheaper item.

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