Hey, Look, Basic Math Can Be Really Useful!

Looks are deceiving. But not deceptive.

Looks are deceiving. But not deceptive.

The retail environment takes a huge toll on people who can’t do math. Sort of. This Safeway display is fairly typical: identically-sized packages of the anti-histimine loratadine (generic Claritin) sit side by side, with one price a little higher than the other. Look more closely: those boxes are the same size because the pills are impossibly tiny. One bottle offers more than twice as many as the other.

The photo came through a little small, so let’s break it down. At the regular price, the 48-pill box costs 39.5 cents per pill, and the 120-pill box costs 20 cents, more than twice as much per unit. If you happen to have a club card, that knocks it down to only 32.8 cents per pill for the smaller box, and 16.7 cents per pill for the larger one. Again, more than double.

Of course, we’re ignoring the obvious here: if you only need a few pills because you’re finally venturing outside or are visiting a friend with a cat, then the 120-pill box isn’t a better deal. The better deal is always the quantity you need. Buying unneeded stuff just because it’s a good deal is the road to becoming a hoarder.

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