SEE ALSO: York City shoppers paying more for groceries

For the last two years, Melissa Day has frequently passed items she would normally add to her shopping cart.

"If I got everything I wanted, I'd probably spend $150 a week on groceries," she said.

The Windsor resident likes to keep the weekly grocery bill to less than $100 for her family of three, so she's made small changes since the recession.

"I buy a different brand of laundry detergent. I buy the store brand cereal. I skip juices and snacks I used to buy and just stick to basics," she said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index, food prices in the northeast region inched up nearly 2 percent during the last year.

The index also shows food and energy costs have slowly and steadily climbed a few percentage points since 2010.

But a cost comparison of items at four local grocery shows York County is bucking that trend.

Earlier this month it cost an average of $72.46 to buy 17 popular grocery items at Weis Markets in Dover Township, Giant Food Stores in Dover Township, Walmart in Springettsbury Township and Shurfine in York Township.

Six months prior, in April, it cost an average of $74.95 to buy the same items at the same locations.

And a year ago, it cost an average of $75.11 to buy the same items at those four stores.

Much of the decrease can be attributed to lower prices on coffee, meat, eggs, sugar and flour.

Not impressed: Even after being presented a side-by-side comparison of costs, Audrey Spina said, "You could've fooled me."

The York Township resident said a $2 decline in her grocery bill is "no big whoop."

"It's still costing me about $5 to get a pound of butter. How's that a good thing?" she said.

In addition to her family of five, Spina said she's also caring for her father. Shopping for six people adds up fast, she said, and all the basic staples are higher than she remembers.

"Butter is almost $5, milk is almost $5. But what can you do? You have to buy them," she said.

Dover shopper and resident Charlie Ballentyne said he wouldn't get excited about a $2 swing either way.

"I know $2 is $2, but the cost of everything is going up, gas and bills, everything. It's just the cost of living. I go to the store, get what I need and get out," he said.

He always uses his Giant Bonuscard to get extra savings and sometimes shops with coupons, he said.

Value of coupons: Barb Steitzer also relies on coupons and frequently shops at Walmart "to get the lowest prices," she said.

"The biggest difference I ever notice (in my grocery bill) is when I shop with or without coupons," said Steitzer, a West York resident and self-proclaimed "bargain shopper."

For example, she won't dare shop for razor cartridges for her husband unless she has a coupon.

"Have you seen those prices? Without a coupon it costs me $15 to get five little cartridges," she said.

Steitzer has been couponing since her husband lost his job a few years ago. Though he has been back to work for two years, Steitzer said she still pinches every penny she can.

"It's not so much about how things are now. I'm just trying to be smart. Things hit us hard when he was out of work, so I really watch my money now. You just never know what's ahead," she said.

Prices expected to rise: According to an analyst with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, a slight price increase is ahead.

Grocery store prices are expected to increase 3 to 4 percent next year, said Richard Volpe, a research economist for the USDA.

"It's mostly because of the impact of the drought, and that will hit consumers in 2013," he said.

About 80 percent of the country's agricultural land is experiencing drought -- the most extensive since the 1950s, according to the USDA.

As a result, consumers can expect to see higher prices on beef, pork, poultry, dairy, cereal, corn flour and other processed foods, Volpe said.

The 3 percent to 4 percent increase on those items would add about $2 to $3 to the average York grocery bill of $72.46.

"In a normal, economic growth year, food prices increase between 2.5 percent and 3 percent. In 2013, we're forecasting numbers slightly above the typical food inflation," Volpe said.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.