Northern California Grocery Price Comparison

Alrighty friends…I mentioned earlier this week that I’m a little behind and am playing catch-up…and that I spent the day yesterday using just about every form of transportation possible. (Except a motorcycle. Because it’s not really okay to ride on a motorcycle with 3 small children on board. Unless you are in the Dominican Republic.)

(Rabbit Trail Confession: When we were living in the Dominican Republic, I took Ryan on a moped/passola. It was my “mom of the century” moment. It was out of pure desperation that I took him on this moped. He had been SCREAMING for hours. Our car was in the shop. My neighbor’s weren’t home. And I needed to get him to the clinic…and fast. And it’s a good thing I did.  Turns out he had a parasite and needed medication right away. And about the parasite…despite my many efforts to keep the non-potable tap water away from his mouth while bathing him, he still managed to get a parasite. Writing this makes me feel like I should win the “mom of the millennium” award. Let my kid get a parasite. Took him for a ride on the back of a moped. Hmm…)

So back to yesterday. We spent 2 hours in a rental car, 6 minutes on an airport tram, 3 minutes on a moving walkway, too many hours on 2 different airplanes, 9 minutes on an airport parking shuttle, and 1.5 hours in our own car…all to get from Inverness, CA to our home.

(I’m exhausted just thinking about it.)

We spent the weekend out in Northern California, celebrating the marriage of my brother in law and his lovely new bride!  (I’m sorry to keep this from you, but for security reasons…I don’t share on the site when our whole family is away. I know you understand.)

Anytime I travel, I always make a point to bop into a local grocery store. For research sake. And in this case, the local farmer’s market, too. More research.

I receive email after email about how grocery shopping is SO EXPENSIVE in higher cost of living markets like northern Cali and NYC. To which I reply, it probably is…and I’m super fortunate to live in the middle of the country…where prices seem to be less.

Well…let me tell you this…I don’t buy it anymore. I will no longer be responding as I typically have.  I will now respond with a link to this post. And a lovely note encouraging people to watch their prices and pay closer attention.

Before we proceed..It’s not entirely fair to make this judgment based on looking at 1 grocery store circular. And comparing for just 1 week. Proper research would requiring tracking prices for several weeks or months.

But here’s my evidence anyways…

Pictured above…the front page of the Safeway circular in Marin County, CA.

$1.88/lb Chicken Breast…same as here.  $4.99/lb steak…same as here.  6/$1 corn cobs…same as here.

There: $1.50 for cantaloupes.

Around here: Regularly on sale for $1.25-$1.75.

There: $.50 for organic kiwis.

Around here: $.50 for non-organic kiwis.

I bought a few of these for a fruit salad that I made for the Sunday brunch that we hosted for wedding guests, family and friends.

There: $1.50 for organic avocados.

Around here: $.65-$1 for regular avocados.

While yes, I realize this is just a few products…it’s just to show that if you pay attention, shop seasonally & locally, and stock up when you see great prices…you can actually eat on a budget if you live in a high cost of living area.

And for the record, the Safeway that I bopped into was just minutes from Robin Williams’ home in Marin County, just north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. How’s that for inexpensive food in a ritzy area.

Northern Californians…your thoughts please?!!!?!!!?


  1. says

    Very interesting post. We’ve lived in the Bay Area, southern Cal, Phoenix and now, Austin. We’ve always maintained that groceries were more expensive in CA. I wonder what your results would be if you compared things other than produce and meats..because a lot of produce is grown in CA and I’m thinking that may impact the comparison a little bit.

    My husband and I have conducted the “A1′ test in all the grocery stores we’ve shopped at. Basically, what is the price of a bottle of A1 Steak Sauce?

    it varies widely. or, it did back then.

    so I think you’re right…and so are your CA readers. I think it depends on what’s being compared. loved reading this!

  2. says

    my first thought is yeah but our coupons are for lesser values and we never get double coupons and definitely not ever triple coupons so you guys still get better deals. and we have no kroger chains here, so how would your grocery bill be if you had to do all your shopping at safeway?

  3. Karen Han says

    welcome to my world!!!! and I’m having me an my hubby. and i usually eat by myself during the weekday……i’ve got to make the habit of stocking up on proteins when they are cheap! there is a farmers market but I don’t know if I would be able to do such things…..its nearby though. (requires cash/check) and hubby doesn’t want to get up early to go to the market. *sigh*

  4. Julianne says

    Sure the sale prices at Safeway can be low (not to mention the minimum spend requirement, BOGO without displaying price, etc., don’t get me started….) BUT their everyday prices are terrible. They are never my first choice. I only shop the sales there and do most of my grocery shopping between Raley’s and WinCo.

    • karen says

      I prefer raleys to anything safeway has, they are really anal about the coupons. I only go there for the eggs. :) but since the target near me is turning into a grocery…bye bye safeway? :)

  5. Sarah says

    I live in the Bay Area and am able to feed my family of 4 on $200-$250 a month, and that usually includes some household items. It IS possible. I agree that sale prices can be great (and comparable to other parts of the country) and I definitely take advantage of stocking up. However, regular prices are ridiculous. So, if you plan right you can eat cheap.
    I also liked the point from the previous commenter that we don’t ever have doubled coupons…and that can make a big difference too.
    As for the farmers markets…they are SO hit or miss. Yes, the produce is grown right up the road so it SHOULD be cheap. But they label it organic and for the most part it tends to be more expensive than the non-organic at Safeway. Just my experience…

      • Sarah says

        My kids are 2 and 4, so they definitely eat less than a family of 4 with 2 teenagers…don’t know how old your kids are, but I imagine my budget will go up once they get older. Other than that, I just shop sales and stock up. If something’s not on sale (or not at my buy price) we just don’t eat it. We also only eat meat 3 or 4 times a week.
        I use to find the sale/coupon matchups. Having a newspaper subscription for coupons is totally worth it! Also, I LOVE Safeway because you can load e-coupons onto your Safeway card. Easiest thing ever and you can use them in conjunction with paper coupons. I buy and cook in bulk, freeze a lot of stuff to use later, and we eat leftovers a couple times a week.

        • Sarah says


          Sorry! I just assumed you had the same size household and were comparing budgets that way.

          If we’re counting husbands, I have 3 kids…but my husband gets free breakfast and lunch at work (and during overtime right now…dinner also). And when he is home he eats just as little as the kids. So, I guess that helps too. :)

  6. says

    I grew up all over CA, but live in KS now. Groceries are definitely CHEAPER on the west coast than they are in Kansas. And don’t get me started on how crappy a lot of our produce is in middle America. Of course, there are a few things that cost more out west, but overall, I think (from my experience) I spent a lot less of grceries on the west coast than I do now.

    People think that it’s so much cheaper, overall, to live in the midwest than CA, but our expenses have gone up so much (while our pay has drastically gone down) since we left CA. Insurance, taxes, utilities, groceries are all way more out here…the only things that cost less are homes and gasoline. It was a big surprise to us!!

    • says

      @sally, This is fascinating! I grew up in Kansas but have since lived all over with my husband who’s military. Every time I go “home” and go grocery shopping with my mom, I can’t believe how expensive it is! I always thought it was b/c they live in a small town with no grocery store competition…

      • says

        @Jolyn@Budgets are the New Black,

        I am in Kansas, and you’re right – groceries here (even more so in small towns with no competition) are high. You can scroll a few posts down to see where I compared an ad from where I shop (and that’s traveling to another town!) and they’re more – twice as much for the corn – go figure!

    • says

      Sally I agree. We have live in TN now for almost 4 yrs. I saved SOOO much money on groceries in CA. SOuthern CAl to be exact. TN produce sucks and it is so expensive. When I live in CA I shopped Vons and Raplh’s and both doubled up to $1.00. Now here in TN Kroger doubles up to .50 cents. Big difference.

      I agree too. We thought moving here we would save more $$. Not the case our car ins went up as well as utlities. The only thing that lowered was gas and homes liek you said. Big diff. Pay is 1/2 of what it was in CA. I’d move back in a heartbeat if hubby could find a job out there. Now we are somewhat in a pickle stuck.

  7. silver says

    Another thing to consider is that different grocery chains within the same city can be drastically different. My husband and I used to shop at Super Target. We then moved and started shopping at a local grocery chain, since we would have to drive 20 minutes to get to Super Target and only 4 minutes for the local chain. We didn’t change our eating habits, but our grocery bill went up about $20 a week.

  8. says

    I am not a Safeway shopper anymore. I’m in Northern CA and I usually only shop at Winco. No one triples coupons and I rarely find a store that will double, besides Kmart!

  9. Elizabeth says

    I’m a California girl, born and raised! I’ve lived in Santa Barbara, Sacramento and I currently live in Los Angeles. I’ve never had an issue with the cost of groceries here. In fact, depending on the time of year, local produce like avocados, can be found even cheaper than the prices you listed.

    I think part of the reason many complain is because of the general cost of living seems to be higher here than in most parts of the country. I live in a small (make that really small) 1 bedroom apartment in an ok (safe, but not fancy) part of LA. My rent is $900 a month. My car insurance is through the roof for a 5 year old Camry and I’ve never had an accident or a ticket in my 14 years of driving (I also drive my car less than 5,000 a year!) Gas is also pretty expensive, despite the fact they drill right off the coastline. I know my relatives in Michigan, Washington, Texas and Virginia seem to spend a lot less for housing and transportation.

    All of the above is to say that it’s really easy to lump groceries in with the high cost of living, when, in fact, the opposite may be true. Of all my expenses, groceries are the least of my worries :)

  10. Rachel G says

    I used to shop exclusively at winco before I was a coupon shopper. Now I shop mostly at safeway (because the loadable and printable coupons matchups with the sales) I go to Winco when I need things that haven’t matched up in sales. winco definately has the lowest overall prices.
    Anyways I think we do have less expensive produce and I think our meat is priced fairly well too, but like it’s been said before that we do not have any grocery stores that double or triple coupons and I think we miss out on a lot of free items because of that very reason. Kmart doesn’t really count because their double coupon week gets worse and worse every time.

    • Lynda B. says

      I have to agree with you. Since Safeway started their loadable coupons, I have saved more then I ever have in any part of the state. (My Ex was military and we lived all over.) If I really pay attention to what I have on the printable list from the Safeway website, I do really well. We have Super Walmart in my town but I don’t buy their meat or produce…it goes bad way to quickly. In my area safeway is still cheaper the Raleys, unless it’s something on super special.

  11. says

    I have lived in NYC (Manhattan), Boston (Brighton), and now live outside LA (Azusa). I grew up in CT, GA, & PA, so I’ve seen a lot of grocery shopping. From my experience, the only place that it was IMPOSSIBLE to find normally priced groceries was Manhattan. Boston: manageable. LA: manageable (but I’ve only lived her for a few months during summer, so ask me again when it’s winter and fruit isn’t falling off the trees). But, Manhattan: not possible to find high quality stuff at “normal” prices. The frustrating thing is that people then say you should just shop outside Manhattan. Well, dear non-New Yorkers: New Yorkers don’t have cars, so that’s not doable. You try carrying your normal grocery load home and then you’ll discover how far you’re willing to go for your groceries.

    But, all my experiences aside, this post is not quite enough to say that people who complain about cost of living are full of it. Produce in summer in California is, of course, going to be cheap. And organic tends to be less pricey here simply because there’s a bigger market for it, so it’s not so “abnormal” anymore for stores to carry. But for some people, $5 meals are not doable unless they spend $750 month for car/insurance/parking spot/tolls/gas, which is counter productive.

  12. Mary says

    Hi, Erin–Just popping in to say that you can’t necessarily assume groceries in a “ritzy” area will be more expensive. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. People who live in nicer areas have more money (and cars) and therefore can afford to drive where the bargains are, so stores are forced to have lower prices in general. In more depressed areas, people may be without cars and have to depend on public transportation or walking, so they are kind of a “captive audience” and are forced to pay whatever the local stores charge. Another place this is obvious is in prices at the gas pump. Of course, this is just a general rule: you can find exceptions. Anyway, glad you guys had fun–wish we could’ve been there!

    • Sarah says

      I have to disagree with this as the Safeway ad is the same for all of California. Exact same sales no matter where you live. Same goes for Lucky, Nob Hill, etc. Might be true for the small, local stores but those are just pricier anyway.

      • Mary says

        Well, as I say, this is just a general “rule” that you learn in economics class, but it may be that nowadays with everything being so transparent and global (and how you can walk into any Target anywhere in the country–or the world, probably–and think you are at your local Target) things have changed. I just wanted to point out that you can’t assume prices will be higher in more affluent areas.

      • Sarah Cassill says

        But that only works if there’s a Safeway IN your neighborhood. I know in my part of town (the POOR part of Des Moines, IA) there are no grocery stores in walking distance, so a lot of my neighbors have to either shop at convenience stores or take a bus or Taxi. As a single mom, it’s enough of a pain to get in the car and go to the store, I can’t imagine doing it WITHOUT a car!


        • Rebecca Foxworth says

          @Sarah: Nope. My mom lives 13 minutes from me by car. I was astonished at her ad. Asparagus for me? 79 cents a pound. For her? 99cents a pound. Cucumbers for me? 3/$1.00. For her? 2/$1.00. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts for me? 99cents a pound. For her? $1.29 a pound.
          Check Safeway’s website by putting in our zip codes: 95376 and 95337. The ads are not always the same, and where they are different, hers are higher.
          Incidentally, we have two Target stores…one 2.9 miles from me, one 3 miles in the opposite direction. Other than advertized sales, the 2.9 mile one’s stock “unpriced” merchandise (“priced” merchandise would include stuff with stickers or hang tags, such as CD’s and clothing) is always higher. Even the manager confirmed this. He said he shops at the “other” Target, which saves him about $10 a week!

  13. Anne says

    When I left San Francisco and moved to Connecticut 6 years ago, our grocery bill skyrocketed! Produce is rarely as fresh or enticing here after sitting on a truck for days to reach New England. Organic is not as readily available, often expensive and frankly looks like it has seen better days. My local farmer’s market is discouraging–I’ve actually seen produce from several vendors there that have grocery store stickers on it! You would never see that at the SF market.

  14. says

    I live in Northern CA but, in the Central Valley. Our groceries are priced well. But as others before me had said…we don’t get double or triple coupon days. Yes, we get our produce fresh from farmers markets at reasonable prices and sometimes low prices. I usually shop Winco. Lowest prices bar none and they have the largest bulk section I’ve ever seen. The only thing I dislike is having to bag my own groceries. But, with lower prices….there is some give and take.

    Hope this helps!

  15. Phyllisia says

    I am a native of NorCal. Just south of the city of Redding. I am going to school in LA at the moment however.
    In CA we’re pretty lucky with our produce prices. We can getter higher quality for a lot less simply because it doesn’t have to be driven as far to get to us. That’s assuming you’re eating produce from within CA.
    And I don’t usually shop at Safeway (Vons in SoCal). It’s to expensive on an everyday basis when I could go to the farmer’s market or whole foods or trader joes. Oh and I looooooooooove Winco.

  16. says

    When we lived in Boston, I started out thinking that the grocery stores there were ridiculously expensive but soon realized that when the produce was in season, it was pretty reasonable prices. Meat was also similarly priced (once I started paying attention to sales, I frequently got bs chicken breast for 1.69/lb). It’s the convenience foods that cost more…when not on sale.

    Good research! :)

    • Merrilee says

      @Sarah (Frontier Kitchen),
      We live in the Sacramento Valley (north of Sacramento, south of Redding).
      We recently moved here from Washington state. What I have found is that the produce is generally lower than WA – except apples :) – and many of the convenience foods are higher. Meats can be hit or miss. I just stocked up from Safeway on the ground beef and chicken breasts (under $2/lb each). Like the person who mentioned A1, I have looked at both canned green beans and Bush’s Baked Beans specifically. They are almost double what I paid in WA state.
      There are only two grocery stores in our small town. Safeway and a local. The local generally beats Safeway any day of the week, except for Safeways deals – like the meats.

  17. says

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but wow! I would LOVE to be able to pay those prices!!! That is GREAT! Our prices are between 50-100% more!

    • says

      @Amy F,

      Just checked my local ad for this week’s specials – corn is 3/$1 (your ad says 6/$1), bs chicken breasts (this is on sale mind you) are $2.49/lb, however the NY Strip (we call it KC Strip here) was the same, cantaloupe $1.99 ea (your ad says 2/$3. So the steak was comparable (we never buy that anyway) but everything else was CHEAPER than here in NW Kansas! Go figure!

  18. J says

    I live in Southern California, and those are the exact prices we have had. I only shop at Vons (Safeway store) and Ralph’s (Kroger) for the sale stuff. Coupons double up to $1 at Ralph’s. It’s Trader Joe’s, a local store, farmer’s market, and Costco for everything else.

    My experience is that the more expensive the store, the better the sale. Something on sale at Ralph’s is a much better deal than something on sale at Food4Less (also Kroger, I think), for example. You just have to pay attention.

    I do remember thinking NYC prices were absolutely ridiculous when I lived there, and produce quality/prices were appalling.

  19. says

    I live in Wisconsin and non of the stores in my area double or triple coupons either. Actually, many of the items Erin posted are more expensive here even on sale. I can’t believe how expensive this part of the Midwest is! (I compared a few prices of items here with those at a small grocery store in Alaska- Save U More and I found that their prices were as good or sometimes even better! Yikes!)

  20. Jaime says

    Hahaha, this post is so funny and great!! I have lived in the Bay Area (San Jose) and I now live in San Diego. In the bay I shopped at Albertsons and Safeway and now I shop at Vons. I totally agree that in either area our sales are comparable against those that are posted from the Midwest. Yes, the normal everyday prices are not great, but I think the whole point of this site is to plan ahead and shop the sales prices. So if we are comparing apples to apples, the sales are about the same. We can’t include our cost of living (don’t even talk about Gas prices over here) because this is 5 dollar dinners, not 5 dollar rent.

    Yes, thats just one ad shown, but that’s not the only time that prices have been that low. But when we do see chicken for $1.88 a pound, we need to stock up, and we can’t say that our prices are higher. At Vons we do have double coupons, and Von’s is very exspensive for normal items, but I don’t buy normal items there, and I don’t always use coupons. I save so much alone with the fabulous sales prices they have!

    Great post.

  21. Rebecca says

    I’m in the Bay Area and haven’t noticed the grocery prices being overall more here. I do find that some things are generally more expensive at some store, while other things are more at others (example- everyday price on yogurt is more at Lucky than at Safeway). You just need to get to know what a good price is, so you know when/where to buy what! I coupon some, but mainly I just rarely buy something that is not on sale! I think Safeway is the nicest chain out of those mentioned and the sales are great.
    BUT it costs me more to live here because my 1100 sf house has a mortgage over $3000/month. Even if salaries are cut in half moving out of state, housing prices are cut way less than that! But hey- it’s 75 degrees all year! :)

  22. Shannon says

    I live in Tx, and grew up in Ca will all my family still living in Ca. I can say all of Ca expenses are higher,car gas, home gas, electric, phone, rent/mortgage, insurance. Clothing costs are the same, but less resale stores, coupons are less and stink(but that is what mail order coupons are good for) overall groceries well I think they just take more effort to get the costs down. Doable but not for the short on time, space or patience.

  23. says

    Hi! I’m a newbie to frugality, couponing and eating out less! (that’s the part I’m not terribly crazy about, but eating less does not co-exist well with frugality, therefore…here I am.:)
    So happy to have found your site! It’s wonderful and the “new” look it great! Great job!

    So, I live in Northern California…born and raise here. While I will say that it is generally a bit more expensive here as I’ve traveled quite a lot to many other parts of the county (including N.Y., the Midwest, and the South), I completely agree that price comparing, watching weekly ads, etc. makes ALL the difference. That said however, I will point out that California is the land of “No Doubling” meaning NO ONE… and I do mean NO ONE will double coupons here in CA. That is a BIG bummer for us as some of the greatest discouts I see on so many blogs are the result of a store that has doubled (or tripled!) coupons for it’s patrons. Just so you know.
    Thanks so much again for all that you do…you are a blessing to all of us not-so-saavy newbies (and oldies!)
    Happy Day~

  24. MARLENE says

    I just wanted to leave a note commending all of you.

    I’m from the East Coast originally, and have occassion to visit there, I do love to visit the markets and mentally compare. I now live in Silicon Valley (28 years). I started comparison shopping and clipped cupons when I was very young. I’ve always enjoyed every aspect of it. I do very well shopping for groceries here…you do have to pay attention. I also enjoy looking, while I drive, at gas prices. Silly to some, but fascinating to others. I found a gas station not too long ago, offering a price of 20 cents less. It was just a different exit about 3 miles from my normal route home.

    Stumbling upon this blog was wonderful. It is great to see that people do pay attention and offer ‘feedback’ enlightening all of us.

    Thank you very much Erin.

  25. Michael says

    One way to get the cost down on things is to shop at Hispanic or Asian food markets. In some cases the selection of meat at a Hispanic market can be much better than what you would find at Safeway. The Asian markets tend to carry just about every vegetable under the sun and lots of fresh seafood for a lot cheaper than the higher end stores do. Basically you can eat cheap and not break the bank. For smaller things try shopping at Walgreens or CVS catching the weekly coupon deals. At least as far as California goes, this is the way to go. I would say if you are trying to stay on a budget then shopping at Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s or Raley’s of BelAire will probably put a hole in your wallet. When I was in college near Sacramento, I found that I could get all of my fruit and vegetables for under $20.00 (most if not all organic and grown nearby), mind you fresh and year around and just supplemented other types of foods at a Super Walmart or Sam’s Club or Costco with my total weekly budget not going over ~$120. Buying in bulk helps as does pre-planning meals and eating leftovers and taking lunch instead of eating out.

  26. lillian caamal says

    I think people that live in Northern California do alot of shopping at gourmet or specialty stores. These stores are alot more expensive than a regular safeway or luck’s. I think people also buy alot more organic products which are also over priced. Some things are cheaper here like seafood, and the produce that is native to our area.

  27. Robert says

    It absolutely is more expensive to shop in a city like San Francisco and the Bay Area in general than it is outside the Bay Area (same in Los Angeles).

    I live in San Francisco but also have a weekend getaway house in farmland where I grew up an hour from Sacramento in the middle of nowhere, and I routinely stock up on groceries when I’m there.

    What you don’t seem to understand too is that a lot of people in San Francisco don’t have cars and get around on public transportation and are forced to shop at neighborhood small stores with sometimes very limited selection and with high prices.

    It isn’t like when I’m at the house where I can just jump in the car and pull up to wherever I’m going and come back with 5-6 bags of groceries.

    In the city we stock up on pantry items (even that’s not easy since we have so little space [and most don’t have dishwashers]) and tend to buy produce, dairy, and meat in the neighborhood. Many have no meat. Many don’t even have a grocery store.

    The farmers’ markets are wonderful but they are only on certain days and require more bussing around with produce, or getting on your lunch hour at work and taking home after work, and prices are much higher than they were before as they become more mainstream.

    Many items I buy each month can cost as much as $2 more for the same thing if I get it across the street at the little store (which we’re lucky to have) and the produce selection is very limited.

    There’s no comparison. You can’t understand what it’s like here by popping into a few major chain grocery stores. Those are only serving a small percentage of the populace with cars or that live near them.

    We shop here in the city much more like the French where you buy a little each day and your bread comes from a bakery (if you’re lucky enough to have one), your produce from the farmers’ market once or twice a week, and so on.

    It’s not easy and it’s not quick.

    And I routinely have to shop at three different stores AND a farmers’ market during the week just to get what I need (my frozen fruits and kale for smoothies from Trader Joe’s, my healthfood stuff from Rainbow Grocery, and my produce, canned goods, pantry items, and supplies like paper towels at a chain big grocery store — all because I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to have a car in the city where a quarter buys you 8 minutes on a meter and where you can easily pay $25-30 to a meter to park for the day, or $300 or more for a garage nowhere near where you live.

    It’s nothing like the suburbs where you drive to where you’re going and pull up in front and return home.

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