15 Common Foods We Can Barely Afford Anymore

Even though inflation has calmed down, it’s still impacting your grocery bill

woman looking at vegetables in grocery store
Updated July 18, 2024
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Feeling the pinch at the grocery store? It’s not just you — it’s much more expensive now to stock your fridge and pantry than before, even if you’re buying the same items as always.

Even though inflation has returned to manageable levels, we’re still dealing with cumulative price elevations. Common foods are much more expensive than they were just a few years ago, making it almost impossible to save on groceries.

While this list is far from comprehensive, here are some common manifestations of the painful residual effects of pandemic and post-pandemic inflation on common grocery items.

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Baby food and formula

_KUBE_/Adobe mother choosing baby food with baby

Every parent knows that baby food and formula aren’t cheap, but the consistent price increases on these items over the last few years have become burdensome. Baby food and formula prices have increased 29.34% since the beginning of 2020 — that means $20 worth of formula in 2020 would cost $25.87 today.

Breakfast cereal

ColleenMichaels/Adobe cheerios for sale

One of the first places you’ll notice inflation is at the breakfast table. Cereal took a 12.52% price hike in 2022 alone. While 2024 has seen a tiny 0.08% decrease in breakfast cereal costs, a $4 box of cereal from 2020 would be $4.93 today, representing a 23.24% total increase.

Crackers

Brent Hofacker/Adobe cheddar cheese crackers

Price increases have taken much of the joy out of snacking. Those Cheez-Its and Goldfish crackers are way more expensive than they were in 2020 — 38.04% — so a $3 box of crackers in 2020 would be $4.14 today.

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Soda

MSM/Adobe various carbonated soft drinks

You may have noticed that your favorite fizzy drinks have gotten pricier. The price of carbonated drinks has increased every year since 2015, spiking a whopping 10.61% in 2022 alone. These price jumps have made soft drinks 31.5% more costly than in 2020. A $1 can of soda then now costs $1.32.

Ground beef

Joshua Resnick/Adobe iron cast skillet with fry ground beef

Once a staple protein for cheap meals, ground beef is now a luxury. Beef prices have surged 27.86% over the last four years, making it around $5.15 per pound in 2024. The same pound of beef would have cost $4.03 in 2020.

Ice cream

Adriana/Adobe ice cream containers for sale

It’s not your imagination — the prices for ice cream have gone up lately. Ice cream is at nearly an all-time high price right now at almost $6.37 per half-gallon, which is a 22.02% increase from 2020. A half-gallon of ice cream back then would be just $5.22.

Canned soup

ColleenMichaels/Adobe selection of canned soups

Once a cheap option for lunch, canned soup is a lot less so than it used to be. Soup prices surged a staggering 14.64% in 2022, and the total increase since 2020 is 26.5%. So, what used to be a $1 can of soup is now $1.27.

Milk

sheilaf2002/Adobe dairy isle in grocery store

It’s not just your breakfast cereal that’s increased in price — the milk you pour on it is more expensive, too.

Thankfully, the price of milk has been decreasing since its peak of $4.22 per gallon in 2022 — it now hovers around $3.86. However, the cost of a gallon is still up 23.3% since 2020 and a far cry from the $2.84 per gallon price of 2018.

Candy

Ilia Nesolenyi/Adobe snacks and candies on shelves

While most of us could stand to eat less candy, increased costs may not give us much of a choice. The prices of candy and chewing gum have escalated each year since 2020 for a total increase of 27.44%.

This may be related to the steadily climbing price of sugar during the same time period. A price hike from a $1 candy bar in 2020 to a $1.27 one in 2024 may not seem like much, but sneaky inflationary prices add up quickly.

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Cheese

Kiss/Adobe variety of artisan cheeses

Like milk, the price of cheese is down from its 2022 high, then priced at about $6.08 per pound, and currently sitting at around $5.55 per pound.

This is easy to spot when you’re buying a one-pound block but less evident when buying shreds, slices, or dishes that have reduced cheese content to cut costs. Overall, cheese prices have increased 14.59% since 2020.

Butter

Nelea Reazanteva/Adobe french toasts with butter

This is another dairy staple that has seen price surges lately. Butter prices increased by a jaw-dropping 19.42% in 2022 alone, bringing the total rise in price to 25.38% between 2020 and 2024.

For perspective, the average $4.59 you’d pay for today’s pound of butter would have cost around $3.66 in 2020. Because it’s a key ingredient in many dishes, the increased price of butter may contribute to the inflation of other

Lettuce

Noel/Adobe rows of organic lettuce

It’s surprising that something that’s over 90% water could rise so much in the past few years, but it has. Lettuce prices have risen every year since 2020 for a total increase of 33.7%, making it even harder than ever to eat healthy. What once was a $2 head of lettuce in 2020 would be $2.67 today.

Bread

279photo/Adobe fresh crisp loaves bread

Here’s another staple that has fallen victim to rising prices. Bread prices have jumped about $0.60 per one-pound loaf since 2020; the average price is currently near $1.97. That might not sound like much money, but that’s a 26.97% increase in four years.

Chicken

nextrecord/Adobe fast food rotisserie grilled chicken

Boneless skinless chicken breasts are down from their 2022 high price of $4.75 per pound, but chicken is still 27.27% more expensive than it was in 2020.

Not surprisingly, the high prices of meat are one reason about 21% of vegetarians decided to eat the way they do. A pound of chicken is currently around $4.12, which would have been $3.24 in 2020.

Cookies

Steve Cukrov/Adobe tray of fresh baked cookies

Even cookies haven’t been spared from inflation’s effects — they’re over 25% more than they were in 2020. A pound of cookies costs about $3.82 in 2020 but will run you $5.12 in $2024.

One Redditor also showed evidence of companies skimping on ingredients, posting a picture of his small chocolate chip cookie containing a single chocolate chip.

Bottom line

PR Image Factory/Adobe female grocery shopping

Staying away from restaurants isn’t enough to cut down your food budget anymore. With prices that have jumped 25% to 30% in just a few years, it’s clear that it takes significantly more money to maintain the same standard of living we enjoyed just a few years ago.

Nowadays, it takes a little more strategic planning to save on groceries. Opting for less meat, cooking more meals from scratch, and cutting out extras like candy and soda are not fun choices to make, but they will help you eat for less (and be a bit healthier too).

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson

Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.