"Make More Than Ever, Still Broke" — Man's Grocery Haul Sparks Discussion on Cost of Living in 2023

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Dec. 14 2023, Updated 2:41 p.m. ET

I'm not sure there was ever a time in my life where I didn't have to check my bank account before buying groceries. There are definitely people out there who can make purchases all willy nilly, but I'm not one of them. While shopping, I am usually mentally adding up each item to make sure I can afford it. I always round up to make it easier, and I of course stick to the cheapest version of any and all products.

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This neat "trick" of watching where every penny goes has been especially helpful in 2023 when the cost of most items is often double their usual price. People everywhere are feeling these price hikes, and it's showing up in all kinds of places. Every Christmas I pluck names off a tree at my gym and this year, the elderly couple I chose only asked for toilet paper and paper towels. This is why I'm not surprised by one TikToker's Target receipt after he bought five items from the retail giant.

People exit a Target store in the Harlem neighborhood in Manhattan on Sept. 28, 2023, in New York City.
Source: Getty Images
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Spending $51 on five items is a lot but this man could have spent less.

"OK, just got back from the grocery store," says Brian (@_worldofbrian) in a TikTok. "I had to buy a couple of things." The camera pans down and does indeed show a handful of necessities.

Brian was in desperate need of a family-sized box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a gallon of milk, a double pack of Dove deodorant, laundry detergent, and a pack of four Colgate toothbrushes. No need to ask, Brian doesn't live in a bustling metropolis where everything is too expensive.

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Brian popped over to his local Target where he lives in the suburbs of a mid-sized city. "It's not like I bought this stuff in Times Square," he assures us. Obviously, Brian didn't go to Times Square. If he did, he would have returned with a comically large amount of M&M's. How does that store stay in business?

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We are asked to guess how much he spent and people in the comments were more than willing to play along. "I literally guessed $50," replied one person. "This is just sad. That’s over double what they used to cost." This person was basically right. Brian spent $51 on five items from Target.

To put it in perspective, Brian gave some background about where he lives. "Minimum wage in the state that I live in is $13.65. Gross daily wage is about 109 bucks." After taxes Brian estimates a person would take home $75 after a day's work which means in order to buy five items from that Target, they would have to work nearly a day.

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Brian points out that someone making $120,000 a year probably isn't "feeling this." Heck I would go lower than that and say at $80,000 a year you're probably doing just fine. However it's people that are living below the poverty line or are on social security that can barely afford to live. "This is beyond struggling," he says.

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People who are really suffering have been forced to choose between necessities. One woman in the comments said she eats one meal per day so she can feed her children. Another person has decided to just throw everything on a credit card because they'll never be able to afford a house anyway, so who cares about good or bad credit.

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Several people also said that Target is usually more expensive than other stores. I'll go one step further here, Brian also chose to purchase items that were on the pricier side. Ideally, we all get to buy whatever we want, but if someone is going on TikTok to complain about prices when there are more affordable options out there, that gives me pause.

Based on what Brian said his state's minimum wage is, I'm guessing he lives in Colorado. I went to Target's website and set my location to Denver. When I searched for laundry detergent, I found options that were half what he paid and just as good. I'm also curious about purchasing a family-size box of cereal when a regular size is probably cheaper. Plus, did Brian need a double pack of deodorant or could he squeak by with one?

As far as those toothbrushes go, it's recommended that we change them every three months. I bet Brian could get away with a two-pack versus the four-pack. I get that it's not fun having to pinch pennies and buy an off-brand product. And again, times are very tough and prices are otherworldly. Brian could have saved a significant amount of money if he made more economical choices.

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