Friday, October 29, 2010

Prices- Not Always What They Seem

As a bargain shopper, I'm always looking to find the best deals for differnet foods. When I find food at a very low price, I get so excited I can do a little dance. Ok, just in my head.
But... is the lowest priced food always the best deal?
Sure, when you have a 1 pound box of cookies and a 2 pound box of the same type of cookies, and the large box is only 1.5 times the price, you know right away which is the better deal, but sometimes it's not so obvious.

Tomato prices have gone through the roof here lately (probably because of the relentless heatwave that is continuing well into October, and possibly even November!), inspiring much talk about this red vegetable. My husband was listening to the radio and the talk show host was advising people to buy canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes because they're cheaper.
Are they?

When it comes to canned foods, its easy to say "This can of tuna costs only 1 dollar- that's much cheaper than  chicken at 2 dollars a pound!" We may assume that one can is one unit of food, and a pound is one unit of food, so we compare the prices.
Uh oh. No.
See, that tuna at a dollar a can? That was only a quarter of a pound in each can. One pound would be 4 cans and would cost 4 dollars- twice the price of that chicken. Tuna, therefore, would be more expensive than chicken, even if from the first glance it seems cheaper.

Back to those tomatoes.
Tomato prices ranged between 2 and 3 dollars per pound here (the usual price is closer to 40 cents a pound). Canned tomatoes cost $1.75 per can. Even if that can weighed one pound, that doesn't mean the price was better. Why? Because tomatoes are packed in liquid, as are most canned goods. Looking on the back of a can, you'll likely see a regular weight listed, as well as a "strained weight". This, my friends, is the actual amount of tomatoes you're getting. No, not one pound. That can of tomatoes being sold for $1.75 actually weighed a half of a pound. Strained, you end up with a third of a pound of tomatoes, being sold for $1.75.
Do the math and you'll see that those canned tomatoes are being sold at $5.25 a pound- much more expensive than even those sky high tomato prices!

When trying to figure out what is cheaper, make sure that you're figuring out in pounds, and not in units, and that you're finding out the price of the strained foods...
I find that, at least locally, the same holds true for frozen foods, by the way. Frozen carrots will be "only" $2.75 per 1 pound package, while the same carrots fresh will be 30 cents a pound. Again, check true quantities instead of just thinking in terms of units.

Another time that prices may not be what they seem is if the food you buy is stuffed with fillers. I once was really excited to find ground beef for so cheap. It was $2.75 a package, when it is usually sold here for $3.75 per pound! Then I realized that the package was actually less than a pound... and that written in small letters on the package were the words "with added soy protein". Sure, I can also sell you ground meat cheaper if I stuff it with soy fillers. Harumph. Not what I wanted. The beef wasn't actually so cheap. I just was getting less beef, and that's the only reason I was paying less.
I've also seen frozen fish and chicken that were injected with water, so part of the price you were paying when weighing is the price of water...

And yet one more. I usually buy beans (and everything else also) in kilogram packages. These packages of beans are usually $2.25 for each kilo package. I saw black eyed peas being sold for $2.50 for the package and nearly bought it... Then I realized that that $2.50 was for a package of 400 grams- less than half of a kilogram, making those beans be sold for a whopping $6.50 per kilo! Chicken, by comparison, costs $3.75 per kilo. So no, in this case, buying beans would definitely have NOT been a frugal move. (Then again, once cooked the beans would have weighed more than 400 grams- should I be comparing the cooked weights?... Maybe my math and reasoning skills aren't working correctly now...)

I don't have any conclusive answers of what is cheaper and how to know what to buy when... only know that prices are not always what they seem. Make what you want with that.

Have you ever found a food that you were sure was cheap... but then on second thought, you realized that it was quite expensive?

Linking up to Frugal Friday.

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