Apartment Tips

10 Cities With the Highest Cost of Living in the U.S.

March 11, 2019

When you think about life milestones such as accepting a new job or relocating, one of the first things you should ask yourself is whether you make enough money to live there comfortably.

We wanted to find out what it actually takes to live comfortably in major metropolitan areas like New York or Seattle. While none of these cities are the most affordable, they’re also some of the most populated and exciting places to live in the country. What kind of income do you need to thrive, and how do the numbers stack up for each city’s current residents?

Here are 10 cities that are among those with the highest cost of living in the United States, ranked by Numbeo‘s Cost of Living Index 2019. You’ll also see the income recommended to live there without struggling, thanks to data from GOBankingRates. The 2017 median income is from the U.S. Census Data, focusing on households.

Our ranking:

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. Oakland
  5. Honolulu
  6. Boston
  7. San Jose
  8. Seattle
  9. Los Angeles
  10. Miami

1. New York, NY

Income needed: $99,667

Household median income: $57,782

People often see New York as a hotbed of museums, shops, restaurants, theater and varied cultures. However, if you want to enjoy all those diversions while living there, you’ll need to make $99,667 per year to live comfortably. Plus, New York is an extraordinarily pricey place to find housing.

The median household income in 2017 was $57,782, highlighting the major affordability gap between much of New York’s residents and financial comfort.

Don’t expect to get a one-bedroom apartment for less than $1,200 a month in the metro area. The rent prices are also much more than that in many places, meaning you may pay a couple or even several thousand dollars monthly to have a roof over your head. Unless you’re really making it big in the big city, expect to live with roommates for an indefinite period of time.

That’s not to say you should avoid living there by any means. Job opportunities, cultural enrichment and history all contribute to making this city a wonderful place to live. Just have realistic expectations before you decide to move.


2. San Francisco, California

Income needed: $123,268

Household median income: $96,265

If you’re planning to move to San Francisco, the cost of living is about 8 percent less than New York’s, but the rent prices are more than 6 percent higher. All told, the income needed to live comfortably there is $123,268.

Even with a strikingly high 2017 median income of $96,265, many San Francisco residents still struggle to meet this lofty level of earnings. The city is experiencing a massive affordability crunch, effectively driving out residents without high-income tech jobs. Even those with these high incomes still can’t afford to buy property, creating a stressful situation for residents.

One of the positive things about the city that could cut down on your costs is that there are extensive public transit options to use, as well as many biking paths to help you get where you need to go. Unfortunately, forgoing car ownership can only take residents so far when it comes to this high-cost-of-living city.


3. Washington, D.C.

Income needed: $90,811

Household median income: $77,649

The cost of living in Washington, D.C., is about 8 percent lower than the New York-based expenses. A substantial chunk of your monthly income while living there will probably go to groceries due to above-average food costs. But, if you make $90,811 per year, that’s enough for comfortable living.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many D.C. residents. In 2017, households earned a median income of $77,649, several thousand dollars beneath the calculated level of comfort. Furthermore, it’s difficult for even well-off residents to put down roots in the District, with home values rising at a much faster rate compared to the region and nation as a whole.


4. Oakland, California

Income needed: $95,611

2017 median income: $63,251

Are you thinking about moving to Oakland? It’s one of the highest cost-of-living cities, but relocating there should mean the overall expenses are approximately 16 percent less than what they’d be in New York City. If you have a job that earns you at least $95,611 per year, that salary will let you have enough money for the necessities, plus some occasional splurges. Due to these statistics, it’s probably not surprising that many people who can’t afford to live in San Francisco choose this Californian city instead.

Of course, this  doesn’t mean Oakland is an affordable metro for most. Current residents make a median $63,251, according to 2017 Census data. This is much less than needed to live a middle class life, emphasizing the income inequality prevalent in the city.


5. Honolulu, Hawaii

Income needed: $85,367

Household median income: $80,078

Unless they grow up there, many people initially think of Hawaii as a place to visit on vacation. It costs a little more than 4 percent less to live in Hawaii’s capital city than in the Big Apple. You’ll need $85,367 to live here comfortably, but the good news is that many people make decent household incomes and there isn’t a vast difference between how much they earn and the amount specified above.

The median income in 2017 for nonfamily households was $47,057. Family households, however, do significantly better with a median income of $80,078.

What is it like to live your day-to-day in Hawaii? Food is pricey on the island, but some dining options — like the Hawaiian Plate Lunch — are more filling than others. Plus, you should find the rent rates are not as expensive as in places such as California.


6. Boston, Massachusetts

Income needed: $88,967

Household median income: $62,061

Although this is one of the highest cost of living cities, those statistics are approximately 17 percent lower than in New York City, so that’s a good start. Making $88,967 per year puts you in a position to live comfortably. You’ll find much of your income goes toward rent and food, but things like transportation are cheaper than average.

While the 2017 median income for nonfamily households, including all of those students, is $51,659, other households fare better with a median income of $62,021. Still, the gap between current income and the level needed to live comfortably is staggering to consider.

Of course, there are things you can do to save money while living in Boston, just like anywhere else. So, if you have your heart set on moving to Beantown, or received a job offer there, this information gives you a baseline.


7. San Jose, California

Income needed: $99,431

Household median income: $96,662

Based on your perusal of this list alone, it’s probably becoming clear that California can be an expensive place to live, since several of the cities with the highest cost-of-living rates are in that state. In San Jose, the cost of living is about 24 percent less than in the Big Apple, but you should plan on earning at least $99,431 for a comfortable lifestyle.

Current residents of San Jose have found this more possible than living in San Francisco, earning a median income of $96,662 in 2017. Like in San Francisco and Oakland, however, the high cost of living is driving out lower-income citizens.

Also, if you’re trying to decide between renting or buying either in San Jose or San Francisco, it’s better to consider renting to keep costs down. The rent costs in those cities have remained relatively constant, but home prices have jumped astronomically.


8. Seattle, Washington

Income needed: $89,248

Household median income: $79,965

Settling down in Seattle makes you experience cost-of-living rates that are approximately 16 percent lower than in New York City. You’ll need to earn no less than $89,248 to maintain what would be considered a middle class lifestyle. Fortunately, there are numerous free things to explore in the city, like parks and museums. That could mean you don’t need as much as you thought to put toward entertainment during your downtime.

In 2017, Seattle residents earned a median income of $79,565.


9. Los Angeles, California

Income needed: $87,260

Household median income: $54,501

The cost of living in the City of Angels is about 8 percent less than the cost of living in New York City. Many actors move to Los Angeles in hopes of furthering their careers, but no matter what kind of job you have there, one thing to look forward to is the excellent year-round weather.

Nonfamily households tend to struggle here, with a median income of only $41,968 in 2017. Traditional households fare a bit better, with a median income of $54,501. The income inequality in LA remains striking, however, given what you need to earn to enjoy middle class life.

You should plan on needing $87,260 to live comfortably. One of the challenges about this entry on the highest cost-of-living cities list is that the average household income for people living here is $51,538. That’s a substantial difference and a reality that likely means you’ll need to get creative to figure out how to earn enough money here without feeling stressed.


10. Miami, Florida

Income needed: $85,101

Household median income: $33,999

The cost of living in Miami is about 80 percent lower than living in New York City. But, like Los Angeles, Miami is a place where the gap between how much households typically make and the amount people need to live comfortably is significant. Specifically, you need $85,101 annually for a comfortable way of life, but the average household only makes $35,642. Non-family households make a median $25,233.

Rent prices here are especially high, as are the costs for groceries. And, a study from PropertyShark shows Miami is one of the hardest places to live while saving money. That’s because you don’t have much to work with after paying all your expenses. On average, Miami homeowners end up with a debt of more than $1,200 each month after taking care of their necessities.

Lifestyle Adjustments Could Help You Enjoy Living in These Cities More

This list of the highest cost-of-living cities inevitably gave you some things to think about, especially if you’re thinking about moving somewhere else. If you feel intimidated about relocating based on the data here, keep in mind that you could become diligent about doing purposeful things to save money, all while trying to spend less than most other households.

Taking that approach could pay off in various ways — even if you live in one of these cities with the highest cost of living in the U.S.

Still Curious About Cost of Living?


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