Whether you call it a supermarket, grocery store, bodega, food mart or the corner shop, shopping for groceries is one of the biggest lines on any family budget. But prices for core grocery products fluctuate widely depending on where you live and what's for dinner.
Factors like distance from distribution centers, cost of living, transportation and population help determine where a meal is pricey and where it's quite affordable.
So, what are the most affordable cities for groceries in America? Many are in Texas, and most are in the south or in the heartland, to no surprise. We researched prices for 10 of the most common items purchased at the grocery store — steak, eggs, milk, cheese, margarine, bread, potatoes, cereal, orange juice and bananas — and ranked each in price among 256 cities in America.
Then, we added up those rankings to determine an overall grocery price score for those locations to uncover the top 10 most affordable cities in the U.S. for an average trip to the supermarket.
Round Rock is not just the first of six Texas cities among the top 10 cheapest in the nation for grocery shopping, but one of three along the I-35 corridor between Dallas and Austin. Why? The factors range from proximity to beef and grain production on a massive scale to an unmatched transportation system of Interstates and railways that reduce the cost of moving food.
The categories where Round Rock scores as among the 10 most affordable cities in the nation include steak and margarine (products from cattle) and bread and cereal (products from wheat). The vast ranches and farms throughout central Texas allow those products to come to market in Round Rock quicker, cheaper and easier.
But Round Rock is no hayseed bumpkin town. It's a bustling suburb just 20 miles north of Austin, ranked as the seventh-best “Small City To Live" by Money Magazine and CNN's second “Fastest Growing City in the U.S."
The tech economy in Round Rock is booming, as well, as the world headquarters of Dell Technologies. Other modern industries followed including clean energy, next gen manufacturing, healthcare and life sciences.
A self-titled “super suburb," Round Rock plays well as a retail, economic and commuter hub on the other side of Austin's laid-back hipster vibe coin. An average one-bedroom apartment here rents for $1,068 a month.
Despite its position as the ninth most affordable city for groceries, Lynchburg does not rank in the top 10 for any individual product and with the exception of the cost of steak, isn't in the top 30 for any category. But what Lynchburg has is consistency across the board, resulting in a low cost at the supermarket cash register for an entire trip.
This observation tracks for the city's economic standing in general, consisting of a low unemployment rate combined with a low cost of living. This benefits Lynchburg's highly skilled labor force, uncommon for its central Virginia location, far from the coast and Washington, D.C.
With modern industry centered on nuclear technology, education and pharmaceuticals, Lynchburg's economic boon has helped revitalize its growing downtown. In the early 2000s, historic warehouses were converted into hundreds of brand new loft apartments, with an additional 225 created or under construction within the last half-decade.
A significant surge in restaurant and retail business followed along the James River, including the $6 million Lower Bluff Walk, a new walkable district closed off to street traffic, and expansions of the Academy Center of the Arts and Amazement Square Children's Museum.
The family-friendly city is also affordable for single-renters and couples, with monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit averaging $834.
Being just an hour from the University of Alabama and two from Auburn University — the two historic Iron Bowl rivals — Birmingham is in prime SEC territory, tailor-made for throwing the best football parties. Fortunately, a trip to the grocery store to stock up on sandwiches, steaks and grilling essentials won't break the bank, as it's the most affordable city in the Southeast for supermarket shopping.
But Alabama's largest city is more than just football (although some residents may not agree). The city can tout its own importance as an education hub, as the home of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Samford University, with its acclaimed Cumberland School of Law.
And its impressive growth from a cotton and steel center to a modern economy for banking, transportation, telecommunications and healthcare has diversified its workforce and community.
Birmingham's downtown has undergone extensive revitalization, as well, transforming into a thriving 24-hour district brimming with refurbished converted lofts and trendy restaurants, cafes and breweries.
In fact, both the New York Times and Washington Post have called the city out as a vital new food and cuisine scene for the New South. Downtown also hosts several key cultural institutions, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Birmingham Museum of Art, the largest of its type in the Southeast.
Stocking up on groceries isn't the only category for affordability in Birmingham, with an average one-bedroom listing for $995.
With its central location in one of the world's largest wheat and dairy production regions, it's no surprise Salina is among America's most affordable cities for groceries. Its strategic location at the junction of Interstates 70 and 135, as well as being a major stop along the Union Pacific Railroad's Kansas Pacific Line, fresh food and packaged goods consistently flow into the city, keeping costs down. As a hub for dairy farming, Salina is one of the nation's most affordable cities for milk and margarine, both among the top 10 most inexpensive in America.
Steaks and cheeseburgers for the grill are affordable fare all year round, attributable to the city's low cost of living. Directly west of Kansas City and directly north of Wichita, top-level barbecue is prevalent in Salina, heavily influenced by KC style, rubbed with spices and served with a thick tomato-based barbecue sauce.
Home to Shockers, Jayhawkers and Wildcats alike, Salina is a Midwest hub for transportation and commerce, where an average rental runs at $525* monthly.
McAllen might only be the 22nd biggest city in Texas, but it's the number one when beef is what's for dinner. Whether you're making sizzling fajitas or carne asada, there's no better grill top town than this Texas/Mexico border region hub.
For parillada in the backyard with your amigos, you get the most bang for your buck when steak is on the menu in this heavily Latino and Hispanic city, where that demographic represents 84.6 percent of the population.
While the city is known for its binational tourism and rich agricultural past, McAllen has grown into a modern, thriving city, with attractions like the million-square-foot La Plaza Mall, historic Cine El Rey Theatre and the International Museum of Art & Science.
Situated directly on the primary migratory path between North and South America, McAllen is also the premiere bird and butterfly watching city in the U.S., which you can learn all about at the World Birding Center.
The nearly 5 million people that cross the Rio Grande each year between McAllen, Hidalgo and Reynosa, keeping the rental market in this transient South Texas town fluctuating. A one-bedroom runs for $779 on average each month.
As the largest city in Texas, what comes first to mind is beef. But it's not steak that places Houston on the list as the fifth most affordable city in America for groceries, it's dairy. The city is in the top five for affordable margarine, and in the top 25 for both milk and cheese.
That should be no surprise, with those dairy categories as primary staples for every meal and Houston's history as an important goods transportation hub for rail carriage and one of the world's most important shipping and receiving ports, lowering shipping costs.
But another less considered factor that also contributes to prices are the recent fluctuations in Houston's population. The Houston metro area gained a million new residents between 2000 and 2016, many in 2005 as a refugee city for Hurricane Katrina victims.
But growth has leveled off significantly since, due to the oil recession and flight from Houston's own disaster, Hurricane Harvey in 2017. As the population increased, so did demand for perishables. But as it leveled off, a surplus of goods within a large transportation infrastructure lowered price points.
The decrease in population growth also led to an increase in available housing, which caused a related decline in rental rates, with an average one-bedroom apartment now listing for $1,197.
As one of the southernmost cities in the Central U.S., under an hour from both the Mexican border at the Los Indios International Free Trade Bridge and the Gulf of Mexico at South Padre Island, Harlingen is a mix of cultures and economies. Its location at the junction of Interstate 69 E and Interstate 2 has allowed the biggest city in the fast-growing Rio Grande Valley to become a large-scale shipping, industrial and distribution center.
Of the 14,000 residents of Harlingen, nearly three-quarters are of Hispanic or Latino heritage. Additionally, a significant portion of the population is what's known as “Winter Texans," seasonal citizens from the Midwest, similar to the snowbirds of Florida and Arizona.
All these inhabitants, young and old, will find a relatively low cost of living, which includes affordable trips to the supermarket. Harlingen falls into the top 10 most affordable cities for steak, milk, potatoes, orange juice and cereal.
For some of the best Mexican cuisine in the U.S. and proximity to some of the best beaches on the western Gulf Coast, it will run you $738 a month for an average one-bedroom unit.
The word Kalamazoo is derived from the Potawatomi term for "boiling water," which refers to an annual footrace the local Native Americans held where contestants had to run to the river and back before a pot of water boiled. Or it means "the mirage" or “the reflecting river." Honestly, no one knows for sure. But what we do know is that The 'Zoo is one of the best places in America for a cheap breakfast at home.
The name of the game in southwestern Michigan is cereal. The neighboring city of Battle Creek, just 40 minutes to the east, was where John Harvey Kellogg invented modern breakfast cereal and set up shop, as did morning rival C.W. Post. It then comes as no surprise that Kalamazoo, the larger of the two cities, is the fourth most affordable city in the U.S. for cereal prices.
But as the commercial says, cereal is only part of a nutritious breakfast, which is no problem for Kalamazooians. The city is also the number one most affordable in the nation for both eggs and orange juice, and number two for bread. Now that's a healthy start to your day after you wake up in your one-bedroom apartment, which rents for $790 a month on average.
“Deep in the Heart of Texas" isn't just a cartoonish refrain from an old country song. There's a real, honest-to-goodness Heart of Texas region, and that's where the city of Waco lies.
But here in Central Texas beef country, everyone is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Waco, of all places, is the second-most affordable city in the nation for the tropical fruit at the supermarket. The general price of a grocery shopping trip in Waco is inexpensive all-around, with the prices for steak, milk, margarine, potatoes and orange juice all among the top 15 in America.
Situated halfway between Dallas and Austin along Interstate 35, Waco is a modern, bustling college town filled with arts, culture and urban parks that's shed its infamous history. Residents can spend a day sifting through the exhibits at museums as diverse as the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University, with important collections from poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, to the Dr Pepper Museum, located in the first building built specifically to bottle the popular pop.
For more sunny recreation, the 7-mile Waco Riverwalk stretches along both banks of the Brazos River from Baylor to Cameron Park Zoo. And of course, Saturdays in autumn are reserved for Baylor Bears football at 45,000-seat McLane Stadium and sports bars and tailgates across town.
For both students and permanent residents, apartments in this underrated Texas city typically average $878 a month for a one-bedroom rental.
Take everything that's great about the cost of living in Waco, make it a little cheaper and smaller, move it a half-hour down the interstate, and you'll have Temple. From breakfast to dinner, this central Texas town, about half the size of Waco, is the most affordable city in America for family grocery shopping. The prices are extremely low across the board, as the most affordable city for bananas and in the top 15 for steak, milk, orange juice, potatoes, cereal and margarine.
But if you're not familiar with this surprising town of 76,000, it's not just small-town cost of living you'll find here. Temple has an unexpectedly vibrant arts and culture scene, a large medical technology workforce and a bevy of retail and cultural options for a city of its size.
Two substantial healthcare centers sit in the middle of town, Baylor Scott & White Medical Center and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care facility. Large parks dot the city, including James Wilson Park, Miller Park and the park surrounding Lake Polk. And Temple's historic business district offers trendy retail shopping, music, theater, dining and nightlife options
Luminaries like Mean Joe Greene, Rip Torn, Ricky Sanders, Blind Willie Johnson and Slingin' Sammy Baugh all called Temple their hometown. And even if you're a Super Bowl winner, the average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Temple runs you $834 a month.
Whether you're shopping at a Wegmans, H-E-B, IGA or Save Mart, affordable grocery towns can be found all over the U.S. Here's the remainder of the Top 50 rankings of most affordable family grocery cities in America (and also more Texas).
|Rank||City State||Steak||Milk||Eggs||Margarine||Cheese||Potatoes||Bananas||Bread||OJ||Cereal||Total Shopping Score|
|10||Round Rock TX||8||24||163||3||26||147||52||3||79||7||51.2|
|11||San Marcos TX||43||32||209||4||55||94||17||56||2||1||51.3|
|14||Wichita Falls TX||14||27||193||54||60||95||27||79||14||19||58.2|
|15||Corpus Christi TX||23||31||221||132||64||9||43||42||12||10||58.7|
|16||Benton Harbor MI||63||36||13||87||76||33||121||111||25||23||58.8|
|24||Waterloo-Cedar Falls IA||142||186||55||35||105||36||7||27||104||6||70.3|
|26||San Antonio TX||99||19||205||111||82||43||25||54||74||2||71.4|
|29||Fort Worth TX||6||78||60||73||52||45||62||149||106||93||72.4|
|32||Twin Falls ID||56||132||90||1||133||1||118||57||91||54||73.3|
|35||Rio Rancho NM||44||65||57||175||121||2||24||113||8||147||75.6|
|39||Martinsville-Henry County VA||60||70||29||64||80||122||91||102||85||83||78.6|
|42||Fort Wayne-Allen County IN||229||67||10||26||84||90||66||26||84||129||81.1|
|44||Lexington-Buena Vista-Rockbridge VA||64||105||37||91||124||27||94||85||88||101||81.6|
|47||Staunton-Augusta County VA||82||98||46||93||81||66||65||182||52||68||83.3|
|49||Danville City VA||15||35||73||170||87||143||5||70||214||32||84.4|
|50||Colorado Springs CO||109||22||76||96||102||59||123||151||35||77||85|
On the flip side, there are a number of cities where grocery shopping takes up a much larger chunk of the paycheck. The most expensive cities for family groceries have a higher general cost of living, which explains the presence of three New York City boroughs and two Bay Area cities, and transportation costs, which are why prices are so high in Alaska and Hawaii.
Here are the top 10 places where sending the butler to the supermarket will cost you the most.
|Rank||City State||Steak||Milk||Eggs||Margarine||Cheese||Potatoes||Bananas||Bread||OJ||Cereal||Final Score|
|5||New York (Manhattan) NY||247||252||241||254||247||180||250||219||253||255||239.8|
|6||San Francisco CA||253||251||254||221||254||163||249||254||252||244||239.5|
|7||New Haven CT||250||210||238||235||229||250||194||247||208||224||228.5|
|9||New York (Queens) NY||228||239||227||256||243||88||241||223||235||238||221.8|
|10||New York (Brooklyn) NY||160||226||235||255||162||233||252||181||250||254||220.8|
Average prices for family grocery shopping come from the Council for Community and Economic Research's Q1 2019 Cost of Living report. We used the following specifications from the C2ER for our calculations:
We ranked each city in the C2ER report in terms of affordability for each of these food items, with the cheapest being 1 and the most expensive as 256. We added up the raw score number for each of the categories and divided by 10 to get a total family shopping affordability score. The cities with the lowest overall scores were determined to be the most affordable.
The rent information included in this article is based on July 2019 multifamily rental property inventory on ApartmentGuide.com and Rent.com and is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.