Toilet Paper Economics: A Crash Course

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By the author of the FREE online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture

 

Yesterday, I scooped up well over a year in toilet paper on a super sale. Like I’ve said before, sometimes you have to buy big to save big. Last month, a friend’s deluxe toilet paper habit ended up costing her the equivalent of many YEARS of toilet paper. Got yer attention? 

Yep! In this article, I will share all my accumulated wisdom regarding toilet paper economics with you. I’m hoping that by sharing my secret formulas and the plumbing misadventures of multiple friends, I will help you save BIG in the future! 

A conspiracy? The confusing world of toilet paper

One has only to try and comparison shop for toilet paper and it becomes clear that this is a complex undertaking. For example, what is a “standard roll”? You can’t compare apples to oranges. Comparing roll to roll makes no sense if they have anything different about them: number of rolls, number of sheets, the number of ply (*not even going to discuss single ply here, sorry folks!), and the size of the sheet.

One might start to wonder if, indeed, someone was trying to stop us from understanding the actual price of each roll in competing brands. I am a Frugalite who always strives to overcome, so whatever the reason for this challenge, I simply create my workaround solution.  

My top secret toilet paper formula

My TP bonanza yesterday has left me feeling generous. I am going to share my secret formula that allows me to comparison shop TP and also allows me to know when the price is so good that I must buy buy buy! By creating this formula, I can compare brands that seem to be conspiring to stop my efforts to compare. 

My method is to compare the price of the toilet paper, not by sheet, not by roll, but by the cost of each square inch of TP in the package. With some simple math, this becomes a standardized measure.  

What’s best about doing this calculation is that you only need to do it once. Now that I have compared all of the similar brands available in my locale, I can follow the price of my brand favorite in the flyers and buy when it drops below my target price.

The formula

To get to the standard TP measure, you will need a calculator.

Here are the variables, using the example of my favorite Canadian brand, a “no-name” two-ply bulk pack of 30 jumbo rolls:

Squares of TP per roll: 404

Area of each square of TP: 3.89 inches by 4 inches = 3.89 x 4 = 15.6 inches2

The price of the entire package: $16.25, or 1625 cents

Number of jumbo rolls per package: 30

The formula:

_________________Total price_(works better in cents)___ 

Number of rolls x Number of squares x Area of each square

In this case, here’s how the numbers play out:

__1625___ = 1625 cents = 0.0086 cents/square inch of TP

30x404x15.6 189,072 square inches

Use the standardized measure to compare two competitors

So that we can compare them directly, here are the variables for a bulk store’s basic two-ply pack of 30 jumbo rolls:

Squares of TP per roll: 380

Area of each square of TP: 4.5 inches by 4 inches = 4.5 x 4 = 18 inches2

Price of the entire package: $17, or 1700 cents

Number of jumbo rolls per package: 30

The formula:

_________________Total price_(works better in cents)___ 

Number of rolls x Number of squares x Area of each square

In this case, here’s how the numbers play out:

__1700___ = 1700 cents = 0.0083 cents/square inch of TP

30x380x18 205,200 square inches

 

Here are the variables for the same bulk store’s value pack of “Ultra Soft” deluxe toilet paper also a two-ply bulk pack of 30 jumbo rolls:

Squares of TP per roll: 205 *I hope you’ve noticed something here!

Area of each square of TP: 4.5 inches by 4 inches = 4.5 x 4 = 18 inches2

The price of the entire package: $22.08, or 2208 cents

Number of jumbo rolls per package: 30

The formula:

_________________Total price_(works better in cents)___ 

Number of rolls x Number of squares x Area of each square

In this case, here’s how the numbers play out:

__2208___ = 2208 cents = 0.0199 cents/square inch of TP

30x205x18 110,700 square inches

 

I have boldened the number 205 because the package of this TP still calls these jumbo rolls, even though they have HALF the number of squares in them. This is how the brands can mislead us into thinking we are getting a deal when we are NOT!

If we compare the standard measure of cents per square inch of TP, we have these three:

1) Grocery Store No-Name: 0.0086 cents per square inch

2) Bulk Store Value Brand: 0.0083 cents per square inch

3) Bulk Store Deluxe Brand: 0.020 cents per square inch

So, the first two options are basically the same price. However, if you choose to buy the third option, thinking, “Hey, here are 30 jumbo rolls of deluxe and it’s only five bucks more,” you are going to pay almost two and a half times the cost of the other two brands per square inch. Gotcha!

What about 3-ply, you ask?

Here are the variables using the same bulk store’s super deluxe 3-ply TP. This is a bulk pack of 48 “Mega” rolls:

Squares of TP per roll: 275 *Is mega supposed to be LESS than jumbo???

Area of each square of TP: 3.89 inches by 4 inches = 3.89 x 4 = 15.6 inches2

The price of the entire package: $44.32, or 4432 cents

Number of mega rolls per package: 48

The formula:

_________________Total price_(works better in cents)___ 

Number of rolls x Number of squares x Area of each square

In this case, here’s how the numbers play out:

__4432___ = 4432 cents = 0.0215 cents/square inch of TP

48x275x15.6 205,920 square inches

So, in this case, the triple-ply deluxe is actually very close in price to the two-ply deluxe, at 0.0215 vs. 0.0199.

This brings me to the stories of my two friends.

They both loved their 3-ply toilet paper……until! The one friend lives in a brand new home. He had to give up his

3-ply after numerous clogs in his system were blamed on the thick and luscious 3-ply tp.

My other friend lives in a war-era home with metal sewer pipes. She recently had a major clog in her sewage pipes in her home. The plumber sent down his trusty camera and found a massive clump of her deluxe three-ply toilet paper clogging the system. The cost to snake this was almost $250.

Yesterday, I found my beloved 30-pack of jumbo store brand rolls on sale for only $11. I know that one roll lasts me around a week. So, I did what any good Frugalite would do…..I bought TWO giant packs. Notice that the cost of my friend’s recent three-ply clog cost her enough that she could have bought enough of my two-ply brand to last….wait for it……TEN YEARS!!!

Toilet Paper: You Do the Math

I have shared my secret Toilet Paper Math formula and some cautionary tales. Of course, there are some alternatives for things you can use if you can’t get your TP, but I know I’d prefer a year’s worth of toilet paper. Could you see yourself trying out my now not-so-secret TP formula yourself? Do you have any examples of great TP deals or disasters to share with us? How do you save money on toilet paper? Please tell us in the comments.

About Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

Colette

Colette

Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, "Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture." Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

24 thoughts on “Toilet Paper Economics: A Crash Course”

  1. I have never heard (or seen) 3-ply toilet paper. Likely be not good for a septic system. You learn something new every day.
    Toilet paper is a racquet. When “mega rolls” first hit the market, a roll did not fit on one of my holders. I ordered non-mega rolls but guess what I got (after I complained, I did get some money credited back for keeping the order). I had to unroll a number of squares off the roll to make it fit.
    Well guess what – I no longer have to do that. And I see there are “super” mega rolls. Allegedly 4 times a regular roll. I’ve seen regular rolls, at least 1/3 smaller than they used to be.
    I have found in-store prices for TP to be the most competitive these days. “Free” shipping tends to not be really free from some businesses.

    1. Hi Selena, What a great comment you made, with historical comparisons of roll size. I love it! I hope all the Frugalites have read this, as it adds another dimension to the tp math. I agree about the so-called free shipping. Time and time again, I just see it added into the price. Much appreciated. Keep up your great Frugaliting!

    1. Hi Streamstone, I’m in Canada. I bought my deal at a local high end grocery chain in a small city of less than 10,000 people. It was an in house deal for “members,” so I had to have their points card to cash in on it. I was popping in there to buy some specialized pickling spices not available at the local discount groceries where I normally shop. Boy, was I ever glad I decided to scan their flyer (on display at the entry door). I learned a good lesson there on never assuming a high end store won’t have a good flyer deal. I hope that helps. I prefer not to name stores. I am neutral that way, or try to be as much as i can. Thanks so much!

        1. Hi Selena, Thanks for sharing that. Just another reason to own a flip phone! Up here, my target was buy at twenty cents a converted standard roll, but that became too complicated to compare across brands, so that is how my “secret” formula was born. Good for you that you have a good amount already stashed for a rainy day! Thanks so much!

  2. Of course, when the disaster comes, one can cut up an old towel and use it wet or dry as toilet paper, wash and reuse, until it shreds to fiber. If one is REALLY prepping, the fibers can go into making high quality paper.

    Many things can be done at home, not just food, if one has the forethought and some “raw materials”. I’m afraid that will be the next step.

    1. Hi Demeter, Yes, I totally agree that tp is not an apocalypse necessity. Having lived in India, I have gone without it for months at a time. The only unfortunate issue is that our toilets are not as well set up to toilet the “Indian” way, although it can be done. I’m with you that I always prefer raw materials and a DIY mindset. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. I’ve found that (so far) my best deal for 2-ply toilet paper has been through Costco. I have not shopped Sam’s yet. I have shopped Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Randall’s (local Texas chain also known as Tom Thumb).

    I also did the total area calculation. The only difference was that I divided the square inches by 144 to get square feet. Easier for me to visualize.

    I’ve also never seen 3-ply. I’m sure it would also clog up my low-flow hippie eco toilets that we must use.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Yes, that is great math! I encourage everyone to alter the formula to suit themselves. For example, if I were using this all the time, I would probably multiply the result by 100 (so comparing price of 100 square inches of tp) just to avoid the decimal places. Thanks for sharing that. Very helpful, Bill.

  4. Yeah, that deluxe TP really can be murder on old pipes. I’m not sure if it’s 3 ply or not but there is one brand of store TP that I have to be really careful with – it’s designed to be thicker and more absorbent and it really grabs ahold of my pipes!

    1. Hi Redbranch, Oh my! It sounds like you have had experience with this….I appreciate that you mention that it may just be the thicker and “extra absorbent” tp that can cause this. I found it interesting that so far, no one in America seems to have come across the 3-ply tp. I wonder if this is a uniquely Canadian product (and danger!). Thanks so much for your comment to add to the knowledge here!

  5. I was shocked to learn that some people just pull off a lot of tp rather than using 2 or 3 folded squares. A terrible waste that is probably contributing to clogs.

    1. Hi Mary, YES! I couldn’t agree more. I’m sure that excessive use contributes to clogs. Toilet paper is made of trees, and I feel that it is good to be mindful of its use. Every square uses a lot of the earth’s resources to create it, so I do my best to use it mindfully. Thanks for raising this important issue!

  6. I use “Family Cloth”, basically washable/re-usable TP, with a homemade solution for wiping. I use a small step trashcan, and there is NO smell. For #2, I wipe with regular TP using the solution, then again with Family cloth and solution.
    This works really well for me, especially because I have a constant yeast infection due to a certain medication I’m taking, the solution helps with irritation. Although I live alone, for family’s you could use cloth that is colored for each person.
    There are MANY posts about Family Cloth. Check it out. You can make your own, or buy them from many places. ( I like ETSY, or Under the Nile from Amazon) Just be sure to get something that absorbs, and NEVER use dryer sheets as they make fabric ‘waterproof’. If you have trouble with static, use White vinegar in the rinse cycle.

    1. Hi Carol, I very much appreciate your sharing your experience with washable TP. I think this is the direction that we will all be going, due to the environmental impact of TP for the billions on the planet. I hope that Frugalites will check this out. I give you a lot of credit for being an early adopter! We can all benefit from what you have shared. Thanks so much!

  7. While I have no issue with clothes, one must factor in the washing of the cloths. Which in “normal” times is not an issue. But a stash of TP for “non-normal” times is food for thought (as well as disposal of said tissue).

    1. Hi Selena, I agree that having a stash of TP is a great idea for anyone. As I described in the article, I got more than a year’s worth for around $20. In a “non-normal” time, I could even ration this to stretch it out. In terms of a complete, all-on apocalypse, I’ll be glad I had my experience in India, as going without TP would not really be a big deal to me at all. I even looked into installing an Indian style squat toilet in my home, and simply couldn’t find an importer! Thanks so much for sharing an important factor to consider when using cloths. Much appreciated!

  8. At a particular store they had TP on sale in varying “comfort levels” — original, plush and extra plush.
    All were two ply.
    Nicely printed on the package was the meters squared that told me how much was in each package.
    It went from 15.7square meters, to 17.8, to over 20.
    All said they were the “equivalent of”.
    I just grabbed the one with the highest square meter, stayed within my shopping limit to get the sale price, and added it to the stockpile.
    Now I can from the comfort of my home, sit down and do the math and create a price book so that I know when whatever brand of 2 ply TP is an excellent buy, a good buy, or it’s about the normal. By doing this it will also most likely show me the trend of when it goes on sale, how often, and how much shrinkflation and inflation are hitting the shelves.

    1. Hi Joe, What a great TP shopping story you have told. I was so delighted, because you had grasped my exact intention behind the article. Like you, I have done the square inch math on all of my local available brands in their various sizes. With all of this done, I am able to have my own benchmark for when to buy and when to wait. It has made life simple in that area, as as you read, I am now well stocked for over a year. Good for you and thanks so much for posting! Wishing you the best with your TP math and research!!!

  9. Breaking news – I was buying TP at the grocery store yesterday (Kroger chain) and saw 3-ply TP. It’s the Quilted Northern Ultra Plush. Bleah. I was fondly thinking of this article as I looked at the 30 pack for $20 – and the 12 pack for $5 – both store brand. Doing the square inch math it made more sense to grab a couple of the smaller packs so I did.

    As an aside, I find that Albertson’s store brand that tries to be extra soft is the harder one on my pipes while the Kroger stuff wipes as well but doesn’t grab as badly. Arizona pipes pick up a lot of calcium and that just holds on like nobody’s business. Figured I’d give specifics as some might be curious.

    1. Hi Redbranch, AHA!!! The three-ply rears its plush ugly head in America! Thanks for being our reporter on the front lines, so to speak. It is really making my day to read all of your stories about how you are already applying the TP square inch math to your shopping. How fun! I welcome specifics on these brands, as I know that many folks will benefit and I don’t have access to this information. Like you, I have very hard water and have to be careful for that reason. Very helpful information. Thanks for sharing this breaking news with all of us. It brought a smile to my face this morning!

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