Calculate Your Cost of Living Comparison
After you enter your information, you’ll see a breakdown of how your monthly expenses compare between cities. The expense categories are autofilled based on averages of what people typically spend, but feel free to type in your actual expenses to get a more accurate comparison.
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Your Cost of Living Crash Course
For starters, what exactly is Cost of Living?
Cost of living is what it costs to afford necessities like food, utilities, shelter, and transportation. We call those the Four Walls. Before you get dead set on moving somewhere and send out save-the-dates for your Bon Voyage party, make sure you can take care of the Four Walls and maintain your standard of living in the city you’re considering. A good first step is to use a cost of living calculator to see how your current cost of living compares to where you want to move. So give yourself a fist-bump because you can already check that off the list.
Now, let’s dig into the nitty gritty of the expenses that go into your cost of living calculation.
This is the big one. Whether you’re renting or buying a house, it’ll be hard to balance other financial goals if your monthly housing costs (rent or mortgage) are more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay. This includes property taxes and insurances. Even if you’re renting, don’t get stuck with a monthly rent payment that’s close to half of your take-home pay—the 25% rule still applies. If rent is sky-high in your new city, you might need to find a roommate to keep this category in check.
Let’s taco ‘bout your favorite cost of living category: food. We recommend spending 10-15% of your take-home pay on groceries and dining out. Depending on where you are and what you eat, you might actually see a difference in the cost of food from city to city. For example, if you’re moving to another state, food might be taxed differently, and that can cause a noticeable change in your spending. The difference might only seem like a pinch here and there, but could eventually add up to some serious dough, so you’ll need to adjust your grocery budget accordingly.
Transportation costs —car repairs, gas, tolls, parking permits —can sneak up and wreck your budget if you don’t plan ahead. We want your transportation costs to fall within 10-15% of your monthly income. If transportation is pricier in the city you want to relocate to, see if you can find housing that gives you a short commute. On the bright side, if your new city has good public transportation, you might be surprised by how much money you could save.
Most people account for healthcare to cost 5-10% of their monthly take-home pay. But similar to how your healthcare needs and expenses might vary from month to month, healthcare costs also vary from state to state. Trips to the doctor or dentist —not to mention health insurance premiums —can be pretty darn different depending on location. For example, recent monthly premiums for a family in the Northeast averaged more than $1,700 compared to less than $1,600 in the South1. But do keep in mind, your age and lifestyle habits have a bigger influence on your health insurance premium than where you live.
Make sure you check out the cost of things you’d like to do for fun in the areas you’re considering. You might find that seeing chick flicks, throwing tailgate parties, headbanging at heavy metal concerts, tanning at water parks, or getting fit at the gym come with different price tags in your new location.
If you have kiddos, do some research on your new location to see if there is a potential shift in cost for a caregiver or daycare center that might affect your budget. This shouldn’t be a problem if you or your spouse is a stay-at-home parent or you’re moving closer to family members who can give you a hand.
Okay, this is another big one if you’re moving out of state. Some states charge significantly higher taxes than others. This might be nice if you’re moving somewhere that has a lower state income tax than your current one. But it probably won’t seem quite so peachy the other way around. If that’s the case, no worries. You just need to prepare for it in your budget.
What to Do If You Can't Afford the Cost of Living
Now, if the area you want to move to has a higher cost of living than you can currently afford, not all hope is lost. It just means you’ll need to be willing to adjust your standard of living, try to bump up your salary when you find a new job, or move to a zip code with a lower cost of living that isn’t far off from where you really want to live.
Where Did We Get Our Data?
The data that drives this calculator comes from the Cost of Living Index published by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). C2ER’s Cost of Living Index is recognized by some important institutions like the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The C2ER’s data is also published quarterly and within 2-3 months of collection, meaning these numbers are fresher than most of the condiments in your fridge. If you want to learn more about C2ER, get the scoop here.
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