This Is the Cheapest City to Buy Groceries

The consumer price index for April was ugly. It rose 8.3% from last year, a sign the rapidly growing inflation is here to state, at least for several months. Among the items that drove the increases were fuel, cars and certain meats, grains and dairy products. It has gotten much more expensive to buy groceries in America.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, a single adult can expect to pay an estimated $3,404 on food in 2022. This amount varies across the country, however. Despite rising costs, there are many major metropolitan areas where Americans are paying far less than the estimated national average for food.

Using data from the EPI’s Family Budget Calculator, 24/7 Wall St. identified the U.S. metro areas with the lowest food cost. Metro areas were ranked on estimated food expenditure in 2022, assuming a nutritionally adequate diet for a single adult with almost all food bought at a grocery store and prepared at home.

In metro areas with the same estimated annual food cost, the metro area with the lower food insecurity rate (defined as the share of the population not always able to afford or otherwise access well-balanced meals) ranked as having lower food costs.

Among the metro areas we considered, estimated annual food costs ranged from $2,428 to $2,951. Most of the metro areas we looked at are in the South, including 14 in Texas alone. Lower food costs in these places are often a reflection of what residents can afford.

For many of the metro areas we examined, food costs are not sufficiently low to offset the low incomes, as in most of these places the share of residents receiving government assistance to afford groceries in the form of SNAP benefits, or food stamps, exceeds the national recipiency rate of 12.1%.

The metro with the lowest grocery costs is Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas. Here are the details:

  • Estimated annual food costs for single adult: $2,428
  • Median household income: $41,200 (the lowest of 376 metros)
  • Food Stamp recipiency rate: 24.0% (fifth highest of 376 metros)
  • Food insecurity rate: 14.2% (16th highest of 376 metros)

In the Family Budget Calculator, the EPI estimates the annual food budget necessary for families to maintain a modest yet adequate standard of living. The budgets are created for 10 family types for U.S. counties and metro areas. We used estimates for a single person with no children.

We used the 384 metropolitan statistical areas as delineated by the United States Office of Management and Budget and used by the Census Bureau as our definition of metros.

Metros were ranked based on the EPI’s annual food cost estimates. The food insecurity rate (the share of the population that lacks adequate access to food) is from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program’s 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report.

Additional information on median household income and the share of households that receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey (ACS). Because the Census Bureau did not release one-year estimates for 2020 due to data collection issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, all ACS data are five-year estimates.


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