The Grocery Project: Food and Cost of Living

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Food and Cost of Living Across the US

I’m overly excited for this project that Kayla of Shoeaholic No More put together.  Not just that, I’m pseudo surprised by the results, especially where my beloved Pittsburgh, dubbed one of the most affordable cities in the country numerous times, ranked!  Read on for some food for thought.  Oh, puns.

As personal finance bloggers, we tend to always think our area is a high cost of living area, which may not always be true when compared to other places throughout the world. To discover where the cost of living truly is high, a group of bloggers got together and compared the cost of a few different grocery store staples, things like a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk, to find out where the cost of groceries is truly highest. The full results of this study can be seen below.

Of course “high cost of living” is also relative to how much money you make too, but that isn’t as easily comparable as not everyone is comfortable sharing that information with the world. 😉  But, we all know that one of the budget areas people tend to struggle with the most is keeping grocery costs under control.

Femme Frugality in Pittsburgh, PA, Laurie at The Frugal Farmer in Minnesota, Natalie at Budget and the Bees in Brooklyn, NY , Mrs. FW at Frugalwoods in Cambridge, MA, and myself in Kansas, put together our price lists for comparison. Here is what we found:

How does food factor into the cost of living across the US?

Overall, the price of the grocery staples we compared seems to be highest in Pittsburgh, PA and Brooklyn, NY. As one might expect, that is especially true for most meat products. In fact, only one product’s highest price was outside of these two areas.

On the low end of things, Kansas, Minnesota, and Cambridge, MA seemed to have the lowest grocery prices out of the places we compared. This does seem to make sense as generally these areas in the Midwest (KS and MN) are lower cost of living areas. We were somewhat surprised to see that Cambridge had such low grocery prices, maybe this helps to make up for the inflated prices they see in other areas that make up the cost of living, like housing.

Bargain and sale shopping does make a different in these prices as well and can greatly affect how much you spend on groceries each month. If you decide to hop around and view each blogger’s post, you’ll see that we all have tips to help you save on groceries.

Femme’s Tips

My first tip for shoppers, at least in Pittsburgh, is shop the suburbs!  I was amazed at how much more food cost in the city when I first moved here. These numbers were pulled from a city store, the cheaper of the two chains I usually use because of their “low” price.  It’s not always possible to make a half hour drive to get what you need, but when you can, the savings can be astonishing.

My second tip is to know your stores.  I use coupons.  And I shop deals.  But I don’t do either obsessively.  I don’t have time for all that.  I do know the stores in the area, though.  I have two favorites.  The rest have questionable food quality (did you hear about that Aldi’s and horse meat thing?) or are ridiculously over priced.  The one I pulled data for has better food prices when things aren’t on sale.  The other has higher food prices, but their sales are so good it’s insane.  So I go through both circulars each week, seeing which staples are on sale.  One trip will be to the sale store, the other to the lower regular price store. I’m sure I’ve missed a deal or two, but I’ve also managed to keep our sanity while maintaining our budget.

Also, the husband wants me to mention that food is not taxed in PA.  He’s curious if that leads to higher food prices.  I have no idea.  But it’s a thought.  

I hope you enjoyed our grocery cost comparison. We really enjoyed putting it together for you and we hope you’ll take the time to learn how each of us save money on groceries.

Femme Frugality’s Money Saving Tips

Laurie’s Money Saving Tips

Natalie’s Money Saving Tips

Mrs. FW’s Money Saving Tips

Kayla’s Money Saving Tips

How do you save money on groceries? How does your area compare price-wise with all of ours?

 

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47 thoughts on “The Grocery Project: Food and Cost of Living

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  4. Laurie Frugalfarmer

    Interesting about the tax question. We don’t pay taxes on our food here, either, but our prices seem to be somewhat low. Wonder if FWs pay taxes on food? Great to be doing this series with you FF!

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Yeah that was total conjecture on his part. I wonder, too! She seems to have a pretty bomb discount store in her area, so that helps a ton! Love working with you, too! It’s been so fun to see the results!

      Reply
  5. Natalie @ Budget and the Bees

    That’s really interesting that food is not taxed! Shopping in the suburbs is a smart idea. I don’t know if that would help in NYC, but I can’t imagine a scenario where it would be worth it for me. I don’t drive here. It would have to be a heck of a savings for me to cart my groceries on a subway or bus every week.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      NYC is such a different beast than the Burgh! With the exception of our southern suburbs, our public transport leaves a lot to be desired. Having a car isn’t a must for everyone, but it is for a lot more people, especially depending on where you live/work.

      Reply
  6. Jenna

    I live about two hours away from you in PA, and these look about right. I shop between Wegman’s, Giant (lots of sales), and Walmart. I’ve found Giant to be the cheapest on most things, but the produce is so tasty at Wegman’s that I often shop there.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Ohhh with those great stores in guessing you live close to the NY state border? I miss Wegman’s! Super interesting that your prices are comparable! Thanks for letting me know!

      Reply
  7. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    We save by shopping at a discount grocery store (which also is the closest store to our house in the suburbs).

    Our prices seem to be average-to-high from the chart. I read over at Frugalwoods today that they used prices from the local “ugly” grocery store, so that might be why it did so well if you and the rest were using the standard chain stores?

    Still, a surprising study!

    Reply
  8. Mrs. Maroon

    I’m working my way through all of the posts from your group. I love seeing everyone’s ideas. I too like to shop at multiple stores. By knowing my prices, I have upper limits for what I’m willing to spend for each. This helps me avoid overpaying at one store and trying at another. If it’s still too high, we eat something else for the week. I have particular go-to items at each place. In the long run, I expend extra effort for it. Time is at a premium in our house, but then again, achieving large goals does require hard work and a bit of sacrifice.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I did put a lot of time into all of it at first, but I feel like I did it for long enough that now I’m like you and have a pretty good feel for my stores and what the alternate’s price is. So I have my Sundays back now!

      Reply
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  10. vickie morgan

    Aldi’s is my favorite place to shop and they have a great selection of quality products. You know I completely forgot about Aldi’s horsemeat scandal since it happened back in 2013. That did not even have any effect here in the U.s. it was in the United Kingdom and it also effected other stores that were supplied by that vendor. Here is an article about it http://www.snopes.com/food/tainted/aldi.asp

    I’ve noticed different prices also when we have traveled -our milk is cheaper here in Michigan than many states. It would make me think twice about a bowl of cereal.

    I shop the sales and stock up when I can so that helps me save money.
    Great post -have a great day

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Still scares me! I used to do Aldi’s for non meat products even before 2013. If there was one closer to where I lived I still might. If it were up to me we’d eat all grass fed and organic, but the budget won’t comply. :p

      Reply
      1. vickie morgan

        I would love that too – all grass fed and organic! I was just discussing with my husband that maybe one day it will all be organic for the same price.,,I might be dreaming LOL

        Reply
  11. Mrs. Frugalwoods

    We’ve found the same thing with the suburbs here in Boston. We do make the 20 minute drive to get to Costco once a month, which is totally worth it! Fortunately our discount grocery store is walking distance from our house, but all the other cheap stuff is a ways away.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      The price difference is staggering! And then our housing market is backwards… (generally) more expensive in the burbs…

      Lucky for waking distance and a discount store that sells good food even if it’s in “ugly” aesthetics!

      Reply
  12. taylorqlee

    Wow was definitely not expecting Cambridge to be on the low end (though teeechnically Market Basket is in Somerville, it’s certainly close enough for Cambridge residents to shop at). Note to self: make the trek uphill, it’ll save you, like, a bazillion dollars.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      There may be absolutely nothing behind that. Lol. If there was, I’d imagine it would only be on state regulated products like milk.

      Reply
      1. Mom

        Have you noticed the difference in prices on the various types of milk? Whole milk is more expensive than 1% – stupid if you ask me, but that’s what I’ve noticed.

        Reply
  13. HappinessSavouredHot

    We noticed that groceries were way more expensive when I took care of them, so for many years now, hubby has been in charge. I don’t know precisely how much we have saved, but we surely benefit from his goal-oriented, NON impulsive shopping style! 🙂

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      That’s actually the price per pound, a whole chicken probably being somewhere between 3-5 lbs. Let’s say 4 lbs, the cost is $6.36 here in Pittsburgh. But it all depends on how much the dollar is worth in your country! $6.36 here might not be worth as much as $5 there!

      Reply
  14. Terri Roper

    I’m in Pittsburgh too, and though grocery prices have been creeping up I am surprised that compared to others they’re so high. I’d be curious to see a comparison with some west coast cities. I try to use coupons, but my #1 rule is if it’s not on sale I’m not buying. I buy off brands when I can. Shop N Save carries “everyday essentials” brand and they are definitely comparable to brand name items. I usually get produce and frozen shrimp at Aldi’s, and if the big chains have BOGO meat I try to stock up.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      So am I! It seems really crazy to me, especially given our reputation for being such an affordable city. I guess we make up for it with our housing market? I like your rule!!! And I’d be so interested in a west coast comparison, too. I think we’d come in lower than a Californian city or Seattle, but, heck, I thought we’d come in lower than NYC!

      Reply
  15. Joyce @ My Stay At Home Adventures

    Oh PA!! You are costing us money! Southeast PA is pricy. Walmart dairy prices are high compare to Giants, Aldi, and Redners. Seeing others food prices that down I want to cry. But like you said you have to know where to show and how to get the deals to bring the cost down. Love that you all joined in for this.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Now I’m wondering how the prices compare across the state. Are they eerily similar, despite cost of living in different areas? We’d have to take a page out of Christine’s book and get someone in Amish country. But I’m even wondering just Pittsburgh vs. Philly area, because as far as I’m aware our cost of living is very different.

      Reply
        1. femmefrugality Post author

          Yeah, you have to pay a tax to work in the city of Pittsburgh, too. I think it caps out at $51/year, but that info may be quite a few years old. Our city income taxes are nuts. They were only eclipsed by the state last year when they did that major tax hike.

          Reply
  16. Christine

    I live in the South where there is tax on most groceries, but I am from Pennsylvania (Amish country). It seems whenever I go home to visit my family, the groceries are cheaper. They have Amish run stores and bent and dent type stores.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I’m wondering how the price in Amish country compare now! I used to live in the South. Do they still do tax free back to school weekends in your area? We totally miss out on those being in a state where there is no tax on clothing, either. But without a tax break to celebrate, we also don’t get the beyond killer sales. Just regular back to school numbers.

      Reply
  17. Prudence Debtfree

    We are saving lately by cooking large, slow-cooking meals that are cheap. (I’m using recipes from the cook book Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown.) I often freeze about half of each meal so that we can rotate through the week and not get tired of any of them. It takes time and effort on the week-ends, but it’s doing the trick. And it makes the house smell like home : )

    Reply
  18. Ms. S

    Same grocery store used in each city or no? Wondering if someone shopped at designer stores and others at the neighborhood grocery. I may have missed that part. Good comparison though. I’m not moving to Pittsburgh. 🙂

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality

      No. We don’t have any stores here that aren’t regional aside from the discount chains. But Mrs. FW in Massachusetts did use a discount store. Don’t let the food prices scare you! Believe it or not, we have a great cost of living here.

      Reply
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