Residents of These 5 Metro Areas Pay Less for Groceries

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  • If you live in Harlingen, Texas, you'll pay 22% less than the average American to buy groceries.
  • Three other Texas metro areas also make the top five in terms of low-cost groceries.
  • Low income is a big factor in lowering grocery costs.

Your location has a big impact on your grocery bill.

Texas dominates the lowest-cost areas to buy groceries, with some Texans paying significantly less than the national average. Texan towns and cities take four out of the top five spots on C2ER's least expensive places to buy groceries.

According to the latest cost of living data for the third quarter of 2022, residents of Harlingen, Texas pay 22% less than the average American to buy groceries. Moreover, if we factor in other factors such as housing, utilities, health care, and utilities, Harlingen is also the least expensive place to live overall.

Groceries cost less in these five metro areas

The C2ER index measures prices for 26 different common grocery items across 265 urban areas. It shows that groceries are cheaper in these five areas:

  1. Harlingen, Texas: 22% less than the national average
  2. Topeka, Kansas: 19% less than the national average
  3. Temple, Texas: 18% less than the national average
  4. McAllen, Texas: 16% less than the national average
  5. Cedar Park, Texas: 15% less than the national average

When it comes to low-cost groceries, southern Texas really takes the crown. Why? Low taxes and relatively plentiful land play a part, but unfortunately, lower incomes are also a major factor. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), the average wage in the Harlingen area is 33% lower than the national average. The crime rate is also much higher than the national average.

In Topeka, Kansas, the only non-Texan city on the list, wages are 16% lower than average, and parts of the city have been designated as "food deserts." Food deserts are places where it's hard to buy affordable food, often because local stores have closed down. Like Harlingen, Topeka also has a relatively high crime rate.

How to cut your grocery costs

Grocery costs have skyrocketed in the past year, wherever you live. Recent BLS data shows that food at home is about 11% more expensive than it was a year ago, and the cost of eggs has shot up 60%. It isn't clear how long inflation will continue to hit people's bank balances, but you can lower your food bill by making a few changes to the way you shop and eat.

  • Maximize your rewards: If you can qualify for a credit card that pays generous rewards on groceries, that's a good start. Combine credit card points with cash back apps to get more back on every shopping trip.
  • Buy in bulk: The only caveat to bulk buying is that you need to use what you buy. Getting a deal on three pounds of cheese will wind up costing you more if you don't eat it all before it goes bad.
  • The freezer is your friend: Not only can you batch cook several meals at once and stack them in the freezer, you can also avoid food waste by freezing leftovers. If you've got eggs or milk that are close to their sell-by date, why not freeze them? (Though you'll need to take the eggs out of their shells.)
  • Shop at lower-cost stores: You'd be surprised at how much you can save by shopping around. Compare prices on the products you buy most often, and where possible, opt for store brands.
  • Cut out food waste: One thing that's made a big difference in our household is a commitment to cutting food waste entirely. It means cooking -- and shopping -- more carefully to avoid ending up with slimy lettuce or worse lurking in the back of the fridge. You can also get bargains using food waste apps that help you buy food that would otherwise be thrown away.
  • Look for bargains on staples: Buy staples like rice, pasta, and beans when they are on sale. These keep for a long time and mean you'll be able to make a quick meal cheaply without needing to resort to ready-made food.

Everybody is coping with the increased cost of living in different ways. The more you can cut your costs, the better. We don't know what will happen next year in terms of the economy. If we do go into a recession, carrying debt will be a big drag on your finances. You might need any extra cash you have in your savings account to get you through.

Bottom line

When you see headlines that groceries are cheaper in certain areas, you'd be forgiven for thinking you could reduce your bottom line by moving elsewhere. The challenge is that many low-cost metro areas also struggle with crime and poverty. Even if they didn't, there are less drastic ways to cut your living costs.

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