With living costs going up by the day, heading to the grocery checkout has become increasingly stressful as we gaze between the meagre amount in our basket and the hefty bill.
But a comparison of the cost of essential food items bought on July 2023 and March 2022 has revealed the eye-watering extent of the price rises - an increase of more than 25 per cent.
For the fifth time, the Mercury has grabbed a shopping basket to tally grocery prices at Aldi, Coles, Woolworths and Fairy Meadow's Leisure Coast.
Our shopping list includes staples like milk, bread, eggs and cheese, as well as chicken breast, apples, bananas, strawberries, broccoli, pasta and rice.
Back in March 2022, two litres of milk only cost around $2.60, with our shopping list of essentials adding up to around $34.
But in July 2023, the price of the same items are veering closer to $45.
The bag of essentials at the Leisure Coast market cost us 38 per cent more than the March 2022 prices, while a bag of essentials at Coles increased by 30 per cent, 25 per cent at Aldi and 24 per cent at Woolworths.
The cheapest shop for essentials in our July shop was at Aldi, while Leisure Coast market was ranked the most expensive.
Woolworths narrowly ranked second cheapest, beating Coles by a little over two dollars.
It's worth noting the Fairy Meadow fruit and deli store had cheaper fruit and vegetable deals, however, the pantry staples tended to be at a higher price than the chain supermarkets.
Several of the stores had cheaper prices for bulk purchases. For example, a 500g punnet of strawberries at Leisure Coast cost $2.99, while their 250g was $3.99 on Friday, July 21.
Other supermarkets had cheaper deals if customers opted for deli meat rather than pre-packaged.
Checking for specials and unit prices was a key takeaway for savvy shoppers.
How have your shopping habits changed?
After comparing prices at the supermarket, the Mercury hit the streets to see how Illawarra residents have changed their shopping habits as a result of rising living expenses.
Anne Jones of Tarrawanna said she saves money by sharing her groceries with friends.
"I'm probably not buying less, just more economically looking at the price of things," she said.
"I only buy meat when it's on special. I don't buy full-price things."
For Mangerton resident Jim Smith, sticking to the shopping list is his go-to money-saver.
"I haven't changed how I shop or where I shop, [it's] just being more thoughtful about how I do my shopping list so I'm buying just what I need rather than little bits of extras," he said.
John Corker from Thirroul has been shopping at markets more and eating less.
"I've probably changed my diet a bit as well. I think less meat ... more salad and fruit," he said.
"I do notice the fact that money doesn't go as far it used to and so you buy less of things and you buy them less often."
Lynne Murray freezes meals as one method of saving money.
"I just try and look for specials when I go in, but I go to the same shop all the time," the East Corrimal resident said.
Jessica Bourke from Port Kembla said she's felt the pinch of grocery prices, especially with the increase in mortgage payments.
"The meals that we do provide are very basic compared to what we would have bought previously," she said.
"In terms of you know pasta and things that are cheaper, not a lot of meat."
Anna Wisniewski of West Wollongong is often surprised at the checkout prices.
"You go shopping somewhere, and it's like $50 and nothing is bought for dinner [yet] it's just two, three things," she said.
The West Wollongong resident opts for buying in bulk to save money.