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Comparing Costs


Take a walk through a supermarket or big-box store. What do you see? Three or four brands of O-shaped cereal. About a dozen brands of yogurt. And, since 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 prefer one brand over another, the right move is to shop for the best price.

How do you Compare Prices?

Comparing prices, or comparison shopping, involves putting one item next to a similar item to figure out which one gives you more for your money. Because of the way things are packaged, this isn’t always easy. To figure out the better deal, check the unit price. It lets you see how much one measure of an item—like an ounce of candy—will cost you, so you can compare apples to apples. Often, stores show the unit price right on the shelf. If they don’t, you can calculate it yourself (see sidebar, “Candy Calculations”).

Price per unit isn’t the only consideration, however. Ask yourself how much you really need. Food waste is a huge problem. Americans throw away up to 40% of the food they buy, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sometimes, the food goes bad, or we just don’t want it. That’s why almost 160 billion pounds of uneaten food winds up in landfills each year. Before you buy, ask yourself: Do I really need 80 pieces of candy? If not, the 50-piece bag, for $5 less, becomes 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 choose to 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. , which might be just as good. In 2012, Consumer Reports asked people to taste brand-name products and compare them to generics, without knowing which was which. More than half the time, the generic brand was rated the same. And some consumers rated the generic even better.

Max Levitte, founder and CEO of, explains that the companies that own name-brand products pay for research, product development, and a lot of marketing and advertising. The customer ultimately pays for those costs. “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.

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