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Consumer Watch: Look at more than price at the case lot sale

Apr. 12, 2012 - 02:09PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 12, 2012 - 02:09PM  |  
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How many loads?

Based on product information stating how many loads a package of detergent will do, a comparison of some products found in the commissary:
Tide liquid detergent for high-efficiency machines: 64 loads for $14.38, or 22.5 cents per load.
Tide "pods": 66 pods for $16.60, or 25.2 cents per load.
ALL liquid detergent for HE machines: 64 loads for $5.99, or 9 cents per load.
ALL "mighty pacs": 48 pacs for $6.99, or 14.6 cents per load.

When you're shopping for bargains, comparing prices is always your major consideration but it's not the only one. As you prepare for May case lot sales at your local commissary, think about other factors, such as convenience, related to your personal circumstances.

For example, detergent "pods" or "pacs" recently introduced in commissaries are generally more expensive than the traditional jugs or boxes of detergent.

These pods are concentrated individual packages about 1 inch square, filled with liquid or powder, and work in both standard and high-efficiency washers. Each pod does a regular load of clothes.

While they're more expensive, pods might come in handy if you live in a barracks room without a washing machine, for example. Carrying a few pods is easier than lugging a jug of detergent back and forth. And if you're going on vacation or moving, packing a few pods might be easier if you'll be using a laundromat.

When comparing prices, you want to look at what that item costs per unit per ounce or per apple. This allows you to compare different sizes as well as different brands.

Larger sizes don't always mean more value per unit. In a number of cases, I have found smaller sizes to be more economical when they were on sale and the larger size was not.

If you won't be able to use a larger size before it spoils, then you're not saving money by buying it. It may be cheaper to buy grapefruit in a bag than individually, but if half the bag spoils before you eat it, you've wasted money.

Do you have storage space for the items? A package of these individual detergent pods or pacs takes up about the same amount of space in your cabinet as a jug of laundry detergent. But if you're buying 100 rolls of toilet paper, understand that they take up space. When it comes to perishable items, you must make sure you have enough freezer and refrigerator space.

And for troops and families, a permanent change-of-station move may be hanging over your head. If you're moving in the next few months, you should be paring down your household goods. On the other hand, those sale-priced paper towels always come in handy during a move.

To find out when your commissary's case lot sale will be held, visit, click on "Shopping" at the top, then "Case Lot Sales."

The sales will feature about 400 items overall, including diapers, rice, frozen foods, toilet paper, dog food and cat food, just to name a few.

A word about rewards cards

Following my recent column about ways to save money on gas, an astute Army sergeant wrote to express his concern about using credit cards that offer rewards or discounts on gas purchases.

"I am concerned for my fellow service members as I currently have credit card debt," he wrote. "I think in the article it should have included a discussion on interest rates of the credit cards, and if that outweighs saving 5 cents per gallon of gas."

This soldier is absolutely right, and I should never write about rewards credit cards without warning you that if you don't pay off that credit card at the end of the month, you'll start adding up interest charges.

On top of that, as the sergeant noted, "Many service members that I know would not have the discipline just to use the cards for gasoline."

Let's say you pile up the charges and can't pay off your gas expenses for a year. At a hypothetical $4 a gallon, if you buy 20 gallons for $80, you'd save $1 by using your credit card (5 cents per gallon). But if your annual percentage rate is 10 percent, you'd pay $8 in interest for the gas alone over that year.

It always pays to use credit cards wisely.

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