It’s no secret that city living tends to be more expensive than rural life, but there’s also quite a bit of fluctuation between the cities themselves. With that in mind, GoBankingRates.com sought to find out how much annual income it took to live “comfortably” in each of the 50 most populous cities in America. It’s hard to develop an exact methodology in cases like these, but they came up with an interesting system using the 50-30-20 rule: 50 percent of money goes to necessities like food and rent, 30 percent goes to discretionary items, and 20 percent is savings. From the study:
“GOBankingRates conducted a cost-of-living comparison of the 75 most populous U.S. cities, surveying dollar amounts of living expenses including rent, groceries, utilities, transportation and healthcare. This total, which accounts for necessities, was then doubled to find how much money a single person needs to earn in that city to follow a 50-30-20 budget. This study also compares the total amount of income needed to the actual median household income in each city to see if differences in cost of living are matched by differences in pay.”
Based on this research, some of their results are predictable—San Francisco, for instance, is the most expensive, while New York City is third—while others are surprising (Tucson is cheapest?). Here are the “income needed to live comfortably” results for a few noteworthy cities:
San Francisco: $119,570
San Jose: $89,734
New York: $87,446
Washington, D.C.: $83,104
Los Angeles: $74,371
New Orleans: $60,782
Now, cheaper doesn’t always correlate exactly to quality of life—there’s a reason places like New York and Boston cost more than Wichita and Tucson, and the reason is that New York and Boston are more attractive to more people, for various reasons, than Wichita and Tucson. Sometimes—but not always—lower “live comfortably” numbers equate to more crime within a city.
Also, these are broad figures—it goes without saying that this system isn’t perfect. As someone who lived semi-comfortably in Brooklyn for five years making nowhere near $87,446, I can attest to that just from personal experience. That being said, as far as broad measurements go, the cities appear roughly where you’d expect them to on the list, and that may attest to the overall accuracy.
The study goes on to reveal a truly interesting number—the gap between this “ideal” income for living comfortably and the actual median income of that city’s residents. Here, citizens who live in the more expensive cities tend on average to make $40,000 less than the ideal figure. This is true for Miami and San Francisco, while in New York, Boston, LA, and Chicago, the deficit is $20,000 or worse. On the flip side, residents in Virginia Beach, VA, Bakersfield, CA, and Arlington, TX make thousands more than the ideal number.
One important lesson to learn from the study: Austin, TX is a place where you don’t need much to live comfortably ($53,225), and has a citizen surplus of $2,000. We already knew Austin was great, but now we really, really know it.
For the full results and a city-by-city breakdown, go here.