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Coupon column: Playing the paper product pricing game

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“Dear Jill,

Today I shopped for toilet paper and found it difficult to assess pricing due to number of rolls and number of sheets on a roll in a package. Lots of brands, lots of sizes and small print on the packaging contribute to my puzzlement. Can you help me?

Barbara S.”

Bath tissue manufacturers definitely don’t make it easy to comparison shop. Not only are there multiple roll sizes to deal with, there are also varying paper thicknesses. My longtime rule of thumb for buying bath tissue has been this: Don’t spend more than a quarter per roll for a regular roll, 50 cents for a double roll, and 75 cents to $1.00 per roll for a mega roll. These are post-sale, post-coupon price targets that I can usually find by shopping the lowest sale prices and using high-value coupons. (There are even larger roll sizes too, but these are the most common.)

I went to the store on a data-gathering mission for this column. Here are the size counts on three different name-brands of bath tissue rolls. Without naming the brands, one might be described as a “value” brand, another a “standard” brand, and the third a “premium” brand.

“Brand A” has 130 two-ply sheets per single roll, 264 sheets per double roll, and 484 sheets per mega roll, with 352 square feet of tissue

“Brand B” has 116 one-ply sheets per roll, 231 sheets per double roll, and 462 sheets per mega roll, with 291 square feet of tissue

“Brand C” has 71 two-ply sheets per single roll, 176 sheets per double roll, and 352 sheets per mega roll, with 229 square feet of tissue

As you can see, there are quite a few differences here.

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If all of these rolls happened to be the same price, which one would you want? Everyone’s preferences and needs are different. The best advice I can give is to think about the brand, or brands, that you like the best. Then, watch for the best prices on them. I still follow my rule of thumb above, and I tend to buy more double rolls as I find more deals on them than other sizes.

For example, I recently purchased 12-double roll packs of “Brand B.” They were on sale for $5.00 each. The store had a $1.25 store coupon, and I also had a 75 cents manufacturer coupon. Stacking those coupons together brought each package down to $3.00. That’s 25 cents per double roll – a fantastic price, and half of what I would usually consider a good time to buy!

I have a similar rule of thumb for purchasing paper towels. For single rolls of paper towels, I aim to pay 75 cents or less, and I’ll pay up to $1.50 for double rolls. Paper towels have rather expansive descriptions as well – everything from “big,” to “huge,” to “giant,” to “family.” There’s also an enormous quality difference between thinner, lighter-weight bargain brands and thick, cloth-like premium brands.

It’s worth noting, too, that some paper towel brands include more sheets on their plain, white rolls of paper towels than the rolls with printed designs! Unless there is a great deal on the prints, I will buy the plain.

One of my favorite tips for stocking up on paper towels is to watch for changing designs. Some paper towel brands create printed paper towels themed with pop culture characters or seasonal prints. I always keep an eye on these, because as soon as the promotion ends, they often go on clearance.

Last year, I stocked up on multiple 12 double-roll packages of premium paper towels, all printed with designs from a popular sci-fi movie! They were on clearance for $8.99, and I used a $1.00 coupon on each package too. This works out to about 67 cents per double roll – an excellent price, if you don’t mind spaceships on your paper towels.

Next week, I’ll continue this discussion and share my baseline prices for facial tissue, trash bags, and other household disposable items.

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