Cost of Living Calculator 2021CASAPLORERTrusted & Transparent
One of the most important factors when choosing what city to live in is the cost of living in that city. The cost of living is how much it will cost to cover your basic monthly expenses such as housing, food, transportation, and childcare. Being able to cover all your basic living expenses and still maintain your current lifestyle is important when deciding where to move to, with cities across the USA having different costs associated with living there. By comparing how much more or less your cost of living will be, you are able to see how your income will need to change accordingly. This will help you make a more informed decision on where to live and to better understand how your standard of living will be affected.
Cost of Living Breakdown
The four major expenses that are included in the cost of living calculator that help you to determine how much income you will need to maintain your standard of living are:
- Cost of Housing
Housing for most Americans is the largest monthly expense and varies the most depending on what city and where in that city you live. For example, someone living in San Francisco California will have much higher monthly rent expenses and utility costs than someone living in Dayton Ohio. This is because San Francisco has higher-paying jobs and a lack of housing there makes the rent much more expensive than Dayton:
Type of Home San Francisco Dayton Price Difference Bachelor $2350 $563 ↑417% 1 Bedroom $2923 $647 ↑452% 2 Bedroom $3553 $836 ↑425% 3 Bedroom $4567 $1122 ↑407% 4 Bedroom $4970 $1214 ↑409%
The cost of housing in each city is provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Market Rents survey for the year 2021, which includes the average cost for rent and utilities. Housing costs will also be different depending on the number of people you are living with, considering you will need more or less space. For example, a family of 3 with 1 child may need a 2 bedroom apartment, while 1 person living alone will likely only need a bachelor apartment. To determine whether housing costs are affordable, a good benchmark approach would be to see if your total housing expenses are below 30% of your total income. The reason this is recommended is so that you can maintain enough flexibility in your budget to cover other expenses and to save for an emergency.
- Cost of Food
Although your specific diet and eating habits are a big factor in your overall food costs, so is where you are located. Cities with a higher overall cost of living will have higher food prices versus lower-cost cities. The food cost estimate for each city given in the cost of living calculator shows how much it will cost to purchase the USDA’s low-cost food plan for adults and children. Restaurant and takeout food costs will also vary significantly depending on where you live because of the cost of commercial rent, the minimum wage, and transportation costs. This is shown with the pre-pandemic average menu price in bigger and more expensive cities like New York, Boston, and Washington being much higher when compared to cheaper cities Albuquerque, Rochester, and Tucson:
Average Menu Prices in US Cities
However, the cost of eating out is not included in the food estimate given in the calculator. This means that if you like to eat out you will need to budget for this additional food expense, especially in a higher-cost city like Boston.
- Cost of Childcare
- Cost of Transportation
Depending on where in the city you are located, how you commute will be different. For those on the outskirts of the city and in the suburbs, a car is usually necessary with the distance being too far for public transit. The cost of owning a car will vary depending on the price of gas, cost of maintenance and repairs, monthly insurance premiums, and the price of parking in the city. Depending on the distance you commute and the number of cars you may own, driving could be your second biggest living expense. For those living in the city core, commuting by bus, train, or subway can be just as efficient as a car without the hassle of finding parking. Public transit is also much cheaper than a car no matter what city you live in, with the highest monthly transit cost of all major cities being in Washington DC, at just $144 per month:
Monthly Transit Pass Cost (per month) in US Cities
The cost of living calculator above includes the market cost of childcare based on the rates that local daycare offerings charge in each city. How much you pay for childcare in certain cities generally depends on the cost of rent, the minimum wage, and the overall cost of living in that city. Costs can differ depending on where in the city a childcare provider is located, the size of the childcare provider, or if you choose to have someone come and care for your child individually at your home. For example, in the city of Los Angeles, the cost of childcare in the west end of the city is ~$1185 per month, while in the east end of the city it is ~$1040 per month.
If you are a dual-parent household with only one parent working, you may also save on childcare, however you will miss out on a potential extra source of income.
Other Costs to Consider
Although housing, food, childcare, and transportation are four of the biggest expenses, there are other costs that you may need to consider, and which will vary the most depending on your circumstances.
With different state income tax rates throughout the US, the city and state you move to will impact what your after-tax income will be. This could mean that even if the cost of living in a certain city is higher than the place you're moving from, the potential income tax savings that come with living in that city may mean you will have a higher standard of living. This makes states without any state income tax such as Washington, Texas, Nevada, Florida, and Tennessee very attractive for high-income earners.
The other tax to consider is sales tax. Sales tax will make your everyday purchases more expensive, which will leave you with higher prices on many goods and services. Below shows the sales tax rate among 10 of America’s biggest cities:
Sales Tax Rate in 10 US Cities
With the per capita cost of healthcare being over $10,000 per year, healthcare is something you will need to budget for if your employer does not cover it. Even with an employer or government-covered option, you may need to pay copayments and deductibles to use your insurance and still pay out-of-pocket for other health related expenses such as for drugs, physiotherapy, and other non-covered healthcare expenses. This means that when you are looking for a job in a city, it will be crucial to find one with good health coverage. If you do not have employer sponsored coverage, shopping around for the best value and most affordable coverage through websites like Healthcare.gov can help you get covered. Since healthcare costs may vary depending on where you live, being aware of the average cost to go to a doctor, for common prescriptions, and for a hospital stay will be important especially if you have a high deductible or have no coverage.
The Issue of Inflation
As the economy and daily life are now back to normal from the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain shortages around the world, large government spending, and high levels of demand for products and services mean that overall prices may rise. Inflation will raise your overall cost of living no matter what city you live in, however certain cities may be hit harder by the effects of inflation. In higher-cost cities especially, where you will likely already be spending more of your after-tax income on basic living costs, your budget will get squeezed even more. Some of the expenses likely to rise the most with inflation are childcare costs, the price of gas, and the cost of dining and eating out. Having some savings as a buffer can be helpful if prices are to creep up, by buying yourself some extra breathing room from any temporary budget shortfalls. This can also be important as prices rise and you are waiting for your wage to increase as well.
As many Americans have a goal of purchasing a home, your housing affordability in a city is a factor that will influence if this goal will be attainable or not. Many large and high-cost cities along the east & west coast have some of the highest home prices in the whole country, which means that a large mortgage amount and large mortgage down payment may be necessary. This will mean that you will likely need to have a high-income to have a chance at buying in cities such as San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Honolulu, and San Jose with the following prices:
|City||Average Home Price (May 2021)|
|New York City||$657,000|
This compares to lower-cost cities such as Phoenix, Orlando, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Charlotte, which have much lower average home prices:
|City||Average Home Price (May 2021)|
High-cost cities also make it harder to save for a downpayment on a home, considering that more of your income is going towards basic everyday living expenses versus lower cost cities.