Cost of Living Comparison by City

Living in an expensive city can have quite a negative impact on your ability to build wealth over time. Due to the nature of compound interest, every dollar that you spend today takes more than one future dollar out of your pocket. The holy grail, if you can find it, is to live in an area with a low cost-of-living and plenty of economic opportunities. To help you get a better idea of how housing, food, and other expenses vary across America, we put together a cost-of-living comparison of some major metropolitan areas.

The Cost of Living in Seattle

According to the Seattle Times, compared to other U.S. cities, Seattle’s home prices have shot up 55% in the last five years, which can certainly make it tough to put money aside. There are, however, some neighborhoods that are much more in line with national norms.

According to the SeattleMet, in Seattle’s Chinatown—International District, for example, homebuyers paid a median price of only $322,000 in the first quarter of 2021. By contrast, residents of Pike-Market and Belltown, two of Seattle’s trendiest neighborhoods, paid an average of $898,000 and $595,000 respectively for condos and townhomes, according to Redfin and Realtor.com

Getting around Seattle can also be more expensive than other cities with standard transportation costs being 33% higher than the national average. Depending on where and what you like to eat, food costs in Seattle are more than 8% higher than the average city in the United States. Despite high housing and transportation costs, healthcare costs in Seattle are 18% below the national average, according to Salary.com.

Nearby Tacoma, which is about 45 minutes from Seattle, is significantly more affordable. In comparison to Seattle, Tacoma has 50% cheaper rent on average, according to Numbeo, a cost of living database. Furthermore, according to Numbeo the average price of a restaurant meal in Tacoma is about 37% less than you’ll find in Seattle.

The Cost of Living in Denver

Denver’s cost of living comes in just over 12% above the national average according to Numbeo. Even though the city has seen an influx of new residents in recent years, rent for a downtown one-bedroom apartment averages about $1,800 per month, which still remains about 9% cheaper than Seattle and more than 30% cheaper than Boston, according to Numbeo.

With that said, housing prices in Denver are expected to continue to rise, according to Fox News.  From September 2020 to September 2021, for example, the median sales price of a Denver home was $530,000, an increase of about 14%, according to Redfin.

Fortunately, data shows that the average salary in Denver is roughly $72,000 per year, according to Payscale. Although this figure isn’t as high as New York or San Francisco, it should be enough to afford monthly living expenses of around $4,000 in Denver, which is the estimate given by Numbeo.

How does the cost of living in your city compare with the cities on this list?

The Cost of Living in Austin

The fourth-largest city in Texas and the 11th-largest city in America, Austin has recently become home to thousands of tech “refugees” from California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The city’s vibrant culture and pro-business policies make Austin an especially attractive destination for tech startups and software developers seeking shelter from the comparatively exorbitant cost of living in the Silicon Valley. For example, the median price for a one-bedroom apartment in Austin is $1,309 per month, compared to $2,529 monthly in San Jose, according to Numbeo. And the National Association of Realtors notes that Austin’s median home price remains under $375,000, very affordable compared to Silicon Valley, where the median listing price is $1.4 million, according to Housing Wire.

Not surprising, then, Austin consistently ranks well compared to America’s most expensive cities, according to Numbeo. How long that will last is anybody’s guess, and the real estate market in Austin could become similar to Silicon Valley’s over the next few years. But since the state of Texas does not levy personal income taxes, Austin residents also keep more of what they make. All in all, Austin probably offers a good combination of low living expenses and great job prospects of any city included in our cost-of-living comparison.

The Cost of Living in Boston

Year after year, Boston ranks as one of America’s most expensive cities, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. This is thanks in large part to the city’s abundance of talent of tech workers, many of whom graduated from MIT, Harvard, Boston College and other top universities. Boston’s wages are about 31% higher than the average national, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Numbeo data base indicates Boston’s housing costs are the 11th highest in the nation.

However, these averages actually understate how expensive Boston can be. According to Realtor.com, three of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston are Harvard Square, Beacon Hill, and the Seaport District. In Harvard Square, a two-bedroom condo could cost you about $1.6 million. But if you want to live in Beacon Hill, then you can expect to pay closer to $2.6 million for a home. In the Seaport District, a trendy neighborhood that winds around Boston’s waterfront, even a 495-square-foot studio lists for nearly $780,000.

But according to research conducted by PayScale, the local government’s efficient use of public funding has resulted in Boston’s public transportation costs only being 11% above the national average. Although, the average utility bill comes at 41% higher than other American cities, and healthcare costs are 35% higher than you’ll find elsewhere.

The Importance of Considering Living Expenses

Living in an expensive area can make it hard to build savings to invest later, so important to be mindful and do your research about where you choose to settle. No matter where you live, housing will likely be your largest non-discretionary expense. If building up a nest egg is your primary focus right now, then where you live can be the difference between getting rich and barely scraping by.