Skip to main content

Comparing Costs


Take a walk through a supermarket or big-box store. What do you see? Many brands of O-shaped cereal. About a dozen brands of yogurt. And because it’s October, there are probably shelves of Halloween candy. Which bag should you buy?

Sweet deal? A shopper compares candy prices at a wholesale store. The lowest total price is not always the best deal.


Well, the answer depends. Your family may have its favorites. If there’s a brand you like more than the others, you might be willing to pay a little extra for it. But when you don’t like one brand over another, the right move is to shop for the best price.

How Do You Compare Prices?

Comparing prices means putting one item next to a similar item to see which gives you more for your money. Because of the way things are packaged, this isn’t always easy.

To find the best deal, check the unit price. It lets you see how much one measure of an item—like an ounce of candy—will you cost you, so you can compare apples to apples. Stores may show the unit price on the shelf. If they don’t, you can calculate it yourself (see sidebar, “Candy Calculations”).

But unit price isn’t the only thing to consider. Ask yourself how much you really need. Food waste is a problem. Americans throw away up to 40% of the food they buy. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sometimes, the food goes bad. Sometimes, we just don’t want it. So ask yourself: Do I really need 80 pieces of candy? If not, the smaller bag, for $5 less, is the better buy.

Brand Names Come at a Cost

Sometimes, what you’re paying for isn’t just the product in the package. It’s the brand name brand name EDRZAMBRANO—GETTY IMAGES a name that might be familiar, widely known, and/or seen in advertisements (noun) Christina will only eat peanut butter with brand name. on the package. That’s why many stores offer a generic generic HERO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES an item for sale that doesn't have a recognizable logo or brand name (noun) When shopping for ketchup, Emily always chooses a generic. . In 2012, Consumer Reports asked people to try brand-name products and compare them to generics. More than half the time, the generic was rated the same. Some consumers rated the generic even better.

Max Levitte is the founder and CEO of He says companies that own name-brand products pay for research, product development, and a lot of advertising. The customer pays for those costs in the end. “Beware of the bells and whistles,” Levitte warns. —By Simone Johnson

Candy Calculations

In a store, you might see a bag of candy that has 50 pieces for $6.99 right next to a bag that has 80 pieces of the same candy—same brand, same size—for $11.99. It’s easy to think “bigger bag, better deal.” But is that really true? You can calculate a unit price—in this case, a single piece of candy—to find out. Here’s how.

Take the total price of a bag and divide it by the number of pieces.

For the first bag:

$6.99 ÷ 50 = about $0.14 a piece.

For the second bag:

$11.99 ÷ 80 = about $0.15 a piece.

Each piece in the first bag costs about 14¢. Each piece in the second bag costs about 15¢. Saving one penny per piece adds up! The first bag is the better deal.

Click here for the Grade 4 Teacher’s Guide.

Extra! Click here to read a related article from TIME for Kids.