Ann Stewart made sure to pick up some cucumbers and bell peppers Friday.
"They're cheaper today," she said, motioning back to a "two for $1" sign as she pushed her grocery cart past piled yellow onions at a Bi-Lo in Martinez.
Mrs. Stewart, an Evans resident, admitted that these days she normally doesn't purchase such produce because of the cost.
"I'm just shocked on some of the stuff that has gone up," she said.
A study recently conducted on the cost of living for the Augusta area, including Aiken and Columbia counties, showed that when it comes to groceries, the average cost locally is above the national average by about 8.8 percent. But overall, the Augusta area's cost of living was below the national average by 9.6 percent for the first quarter of this year.
Development officials say the lower overall figure is music to their ears.
"Absolutely. It's fantastic," said Zack Daffin, the executive director of the Columbia County Development Authority.
He said the cost index for an area "gives you a quick snap shot of what it costs to live in a particular community. And certainly that's a consideration for businesses that are bringing people into an area."
The cost of living index for an area is compiled based on average costs for grocery items, housing, utilities, transportation, health care , and miscellaneous goods and services.
Mr. Daffin, who had one of his department employees compile the Augusta area's figures, said the average cost of living index is figured in percentages compared to the national average, which is considered to be 100 percent.
So, with the Augusta area's housing cost category at 71.2 percent, that means the area is 28.8 percent below the national average in that category. The area's utilities costs in the most recent study registered at 90.8 percent, or 9.2 percent below the country's average cost.
And when it comes to comparisons to other cities and communities, Mr. Daffin said the Augusta area fared well. He said that a great overall cost index would be in the lower 80 percentage range but that the low 90s aren't bad , either.
The city with the highest cost index that participated in a national study by the Association for Economic Development Researchers and Analysts was New York City at 215 percent. In second place was San Francisco at 181.5 percent.
The city with the lowest cost index , at 83.2 percent , was Joplin, Mo., a city of 45,504, according to the 2000 census.
The most recent cost figure for the Augusta area, Mr. Daffin said, was a slight increase from previous studies. He said projections show the area could reach the 91 percent mark in the future based on a possible escalation of housing values, "but it (the increase) won't be to any great extent."
Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top five most expensive cities to live in and their cost indexes:
1. New York City: 215
2. San Francisco: 181.5
3. San Jose, Calif.: 172.4
4. Honolulu : 168.1
5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.: 157.4
Top five least expensive cities and their cost indexes:
1. Joplin, Mo.: 83.2
2. McAllen, Texas: 84.1
3. Victoria, Texas: 84.6
4. Fort Smith, Ark.: 85
5. Jonesboro, Ark.: 85.3
Source: Association for Economic Development Researchers and Analysts