Clark Howard: Unit price holds the key to finding a bargain

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

ClarkHowardPaying attention to unit pricing in the supermarket can be your ally at a time when food manufacturers are trying to sneak by reductions in the amount of product they’re selling you.

The New York Times reports manufacturers are doing this especially when the packaging promises that the product is “new and improved.” It’s happening in a variety of product categories across the country, including canned goods, condiments, soups and crackers.

I was in a warehouse club using coupons to buy bars of soap recently. I noticed the soap was in new packaging and saw that the package contained 16 bars of 4 ounces each. But I had a hunch the package contained more the last time I bought it. So

I got down on my hands and knees to dig around and find an old package. Lo and behold, the old packages had 16 bars of 4.5 ounces each. Now, it’s not much of a difference, but I felt totally vindicated when I bought the old package and got more for the same price.

You can do the same by paying attention to unit pricing the next time you shop. Look at those labels that most people ignore on the shelves and you’ll be rewarded.

There’s an old trick in the snack business where the extra large package of whatever it is in many cases will cost more per ounce than a regular-sized bag. Snack manufacturers make the assumption that people who go for the extra large bag are not price sensitive. Knowing that can save you money.

If you just pay attention to the unit cost, you can defeat the manufacturers at their own game and fatten your own wallet. Plus, if you opt for the smaller package, you may thin out your own body, so that’s a real twofer.

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions at You can also listen to his radio show live 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB.

5 comments Add your comment


April 28th, 2011
7:00 am

Good tip! With the new packaging on the soap, the consumer is being cheated out of two bars of soap.
[16 bars * 4.5oz = 72] – [16 bars * 4oz = 64oz] = 8oz or 2bars)

I’ve noticed this. Also, a new trick is increase the little dip at the bottom of the bottle. i.e. Mayonnaise and instant coffee. By doing this, the packaging looks almost the same, but we’re being cheated out of approx 4 oz of the product.


April 28th, 2011
8:01 am

I am so glad that I am not the only one who has noticed these slight changes that the manufacturers are trying to get away with. My family and friends think I’m crazy and just wasting time when I take my time to actually research the lables and the quantity of my purchase…alas, I now feel validated (although it didn’t take this article to make me feel this way. However, it did add validity to what I have been saying and doing for quite some time now).

I may have been a little shy of an A student in math but when it comes to saving and getting more for my money I’m a genius! :o )

Thanx Clark for the article….hopefully more people will stop and take their time to do a little research before throwing away their money for less.

mystery poster

April 28th, 2011
11:20 am

That’s one of the things I miss about being up north, by law stores HAD to have the unit prices on each item. It made it much easier to compare prices. Most of the stores do here, too, but not all.

One pet peeve: When two sizes of an item give different units for their unit prices (for example, the price per ounce on one size, and the price each on a different size).


April 28th, 2011
1:53 pm

Huh? I never noticed stores didn’t have to show unit prices down here. The big chains like Publix and Kroger tend to have them but the ethnic stores seem to uh, lax about a lot of things.

Deb K

April 28th, 2011
3:27 pm

Great Article! I heard about a new Grocery Deal Site at church. It is MyGrocerySpy dot com.
It’s pretty cool. It shows which stores have the lowest prices on what items. It updates twice a week. It helps me use coupon match to the lowest price. I can build my shopping list and even have it sent to my cell phone. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and really like it.