I don’t think of these things as nefarious in any way, they are just little marketing gimmicks that work, and because they work, they will be used over and over again. Once you have the secret and can see through them, they won’t affect you, and you can do the best deals possible to save your family the most money.
On paper goods, watch the square footage. Toilet paper and paper towels are really confusing when it comes to this. Looking at the aisle with the toilet paper, you’ll see the brands next to each other, each claiming to give you the most for your money (before sales and coupons) and declaring in multiple colors and large numbers on the package that theirs is the greatest deal. I saw ones that had “12 rolls” but then the 12 would be crossed out, and below it, written “Like getting 18 rolls!” or they use language like “12 BIG rolls!” or “12 GIANT rolls” or “12 SUPER rolls!” or “12 MEGA rolls!”. So how do you figure it out? Is a “mega” roll bigger than a “super” or “colossal” or “ultra”? Ignore all that. Look at the square footage. What do you care how big a roll is if it runs out faster than the next one? You’ll know by looking at the square footage, in tiny print at the bottom of the front of the package. Ignore ALL the marketing language and the number of rolls and how many rolls it is “like getting!” and just look at the base number, which they can’t fudge with. You might use the calculator function on your smartphone, or a pen and paper, but it won’t take long to spot the truly best deals. And the best part is, once you have that square footage number in your head and know approximately what a good deal is (I pick a base dollar amount like $5 and figure what is a good square footage for that, you might have a different way to do it) you won’t have to calculate every time – just do an over/under and that will be your yes/no.
Facial tissues is really tricky in this regard. There are so many variables. I saw one brand, Kleenex, that had identical size and decorated boxes, right next to each other on the shelf, with different per-box tissue counts. Food Lion had a deal with Kleenex for 2/$3, which in and of itself is not a good deal. However, they had a “get $5 back when you buy $15”, plus I had 50 cent coupons, and now suddenly it’s a good deal. But going to the shelf, there were identical boxes, and me being me, I checked the fine print and looked at the count numbers. A box might have 150, 160, or 180 per box, at the same price. Guess which ones I picked?
Paper towels are also really competitive, marketing-wise, and so they use a lot of marketing language on the packaging. Don’t be fooled, again, look at the square footage. Here is one place where I might be a little bit bendy about it though – I prefer the select-a-size ones, I have found you just don’t use them up as fast as the full size ones, Your family might be different, but we are often grabbing a paper towel for just quick things that we plan to throw away right then – like an icky bug that came in when we let the cat in, or a blob of something that drops on the floor. For most of the things we need paper towels for, we don’t need a large sheet, so I tend to prefer the select-a-size ones. However, a good deal is a good deal, and I’ll get whatever is the most economical price. Anyway, point of that is you have to be careful because each SHEET size is different. So, you can’t go by the number of sheets, you have to watch square footage. And again, don’t be thrown by the language of how many sheets or rolls it is “like getting”, go by an absolute that they can’t fiddle with.
Baby wipes – same thing happened! Right next to each other on the shelf, for the exact same price, and very similar packaging, I saw wipes packaged in 48, 51, and 60 wipes. In this case, square footage means nothing, because you know what you need wipes for, as long as they do the job, a quarter inch here or there means nothing. You want quantity – number of wipes. Watch the language on your coupon if you are using one, sometimes they specify a size. If, for example, they specify “must be used on 50 or more” on the coupon, and the 48 and 51 are the same price, you’ll save more by getting the 51 and using the coupon. Just an example, though. In most cases, those coupons do not specify a size, they will just say “excluding trial and travel size”.
It should be really obvious at this point, but that gimmick is used for most of the storage type goods as well. Plastic bags, aluminum foil, trash bags, pretty much everything in that aisle. The packaging will look similar and even brand-to-brand or even within the brand, you have to watch the important number (number of bags, foil square footage, etc.) to be sure that the price is a good deal. I never go by the language as to whether it is “colossal” or “mega” or “extra”, only the bottom line number of what I will actually use the item for.
This is where a price tracker will come in handy. After tracking prices and figuring out per-unit for a while, maybe a few months, you will recognize patterns and you’ll have loose guidelines in your head that you will not need to study your guide every time. I don’t even bring mine to the store any more, having done this a few years now, I have the basics in my head so I can do a quick accept/reject of a “sale” to see if it is really a “sale”. It seems like work at first, but everything worthwhile does. Once it becomes common practice for you, it will be easy to spot the real sale prices and the “buy now” threshold will be obvious to you. You will work at it less and less as you practice and get used to your bottom line “buy now” prices.
Please contact me with any questions or if you need any help with this. This is exactly the sort of thing I did for a couple of decades as a marketing/branding manager, so it is second nature to me, but I can totally understand if I might need to explain it a little better one-on-one if anyone has any particular questions.