Friday, March 14, 2008

Take along your calculator

My big fat frugal tip of the day is to take a small calculator with you to the grocery store, even if your are not a coupon queen. In my recently reorganized coupon box I have a little room on the side for a calculator. With it's new home, I never forget to take along my calculator when I go grocery shopping, which means no more stopping and crowding the aisle while I fumble with my cell phone calculator because I left mine at home. The biggest or smallest box isn't always the best deal and with several different sizes, prices and brands, it can be tough to decide which item is the best buy.
Today my calculator came through for me. I am easily distracted with eye-catching pretty packages and convenience products. I have to work hard to avoid marketing ploys and save money. When buying dishwasher detergent I had a great coupon for $1 off. The individual dishwasher soap tabs were almost the same price as a box of powdered soap (same brand). I love those dishwasher tabs and they were on sale and I had a coupon, WOO HOO! I was willing to spend a few cents more for a little convenience and a pretty package but my frugal mind never stops and the price of the tabs were easily calculated in my head at a little over 10 cents each (easy math) as I put them in my cart. 10 cents per load, ummm? how much per load would the box of plain powdered soap cost me? A little bit of calculator action showed me that the price per load was less than 2 cents (this was also on sale and with my coupon was cheap too) WOW! the dishwasher tabs are 5 times more expensive. (this may not always be the case) I gladly put them back on the shelf and picked up the box of powdered soap, telling myself that I didn't like all the packaging produced from individual soap tabs anyways.
Without my calculator I would have never been able to easily figure the price per load, I would have more than likely grabbed my dishwasher soap tabs quite happy with my coupon and went on my merry way.

To put it in perspective how big of savings this was:

20 tabs with my coupon costs $2.39 effectively 20 washes
1 box (75 oz) with coupon $1.99 -this took a little math but, If using the same amount of powdered soap as one soap tab (by weight) the box will yield 106 washes.

At the grocery store I wrote down how much weight the box of soap tabs was. When I went home I weighed out enough dishwasher powder to equal the weight of one soap tab. I found that it was enough powdered soap to fill my soap dispenser about half way. I know this seems like a lot of work, I normally don't do all this work for the sake of frugality after all time management is just as important as saving a few dollars, but I was wondering if my calculations in the grocery store were accurate and curiosity always gets the better of me. I found that I probably use to much soap in the dishwasher, if filling it halfway will get my dishes clean and I may not get 106 washes out of my one box unless I'm careful to fill the dispenser only halfway each time.

Becuase I was thinking about this post and I was on a math roll, I calculated how much it would cost me in dishwasher soap for one month (30 washes)

the soap tabs at 11.9 cents each times 30 = $3.57
the powdered soap at 1.8 cents (a measurement equal to the weight of one tab) times 30 = $0.56

I effectively saved myself $3 this month just on dishwasher soap.

Keep in mind that my dishwasher soap example is just something that happened to me and I used it here as an example to show the importance of calculating unit price. This was a unique example because both soaps were on a great sale and I had a coupon that could be used for either item.

A few tips on using your calculator when shopping:

First, always check the shelf price tag, at my grocery store a unit price is printed right on the tag and tells me how much the item is per pound or ounce. This is the easiest way to find the best price, one look tells me that brand A is 35 cents an ounce and brand B is 42 cents an ounce. The calculator comes in handy when I have a coupon for brand B and want to find out if brand B is a better buy than brand A with my coupon. A little simple math is all it takes - subtract the coupon from the price, with the new price divide by the total number of ounces giving you the price per ounce which you can than compare to brand A and find the best deal with or without a coupon.
I also use my little calculator when the unit price on the tag isn't shown with the same unit, one tag may say price per ounce and another lists price per pound. To find the price per ounce I take my calculator, punch in the price and divide by the number of ounces listed on the package, the resulting number is how much each ounce costs.
It may seem silly to tinker around with your calculator in the grocery store-in reality it doesn't take much time and more often than not the shelf tag will give you the unit price. Still, keep your calculator handy, it's always nice to quickly find the best price and know that you're getting the best deal.

For more great Frugal Friday tips go to Biblical Womanhood.


Mama Kat said...

great tip! i don't care that i look like a nerd using my calculator in the store, either! it's too hard to do all that mental math, especially when i'm shopping with my son.

Martha A. said...

I grew up with my mom using her calculator in the store and although it was slightly irritating as a child, it taught me alot growing up!

Also, just a side note, we had dishwasher repair people tell us if you fill the dishwasher detergent cup full you actually drastically shorten the life of your dishwasher. You really only need a Tbl. of detergent as long as it is not too old.

happyhousewife said...

This is a great idea, I often think about doing this, but never do.
Thanks for the reminder!

Sonshine said...

When hubby and I were first married we would go shopping together and he was my "calculator". He is so much better at figuring out the math than I. Now that we have kids, he usually will stay home with some of them while I go shopping! I usually end up using the calculator on my cell phone if I need to figure out some math cause it is just too mind boggling for me to think all those numbers. LOL