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Reality check: Cost of living

Moving to a new city can be both exciting and stressful, especially when it comes to the financial factors. Before you make a big move, consider the cost of living to help determine if it’s the right location and what you can expect financially.

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If you’re thinking of moving to a new city, you might be weighing the pros and cons of things like job opportunities, local attractions, social and cultural scenes.

But it’s also worth considering the city’s cost of living, which can have a big impact on how far your money goes.

Now, if you consider that the median income for working Americans under the age of 35 is about $35,000, that could leave about $2,600 a month after taxes.

These are just statistics, of course, but it’s important to remember that, whatever your take home pay is, it has to cover a lot…

There’s rent, utilities, and food of course, but there’s also health insurance, student loan payments, and car payments, if you have them. Plus saving for the future. Hopefully there’s some left over for spending money too.

Many of these costs vary from place to place, so let’s look at some basic expenses in several popular cities so you can get a sense of how far your money might stretch in each.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago offers plenty of job opportunities in finance, law and publishing and is home to several excellent graduate schools. The city is known for its bike-friendly downtown, its deep-dish pizza, and its comedy clubs.  

It’s also one of the more affordable large cities in the U.S. The rent is about $1,300 a month on average, plus an average utilities bill of about $200 a month.

[visual below “Average prices as of 2015”]

A pass on the “el” will get you around for $100 a month. Chicago’s sales tax, however is 10.25%.

New York

New York is famous for its diversity, fashion, nightlife and food.

There are jobs in finance, tech, entertainment and media. But all that opportunity comes at a cost: average Manhattan rent is estimated at close to $4,100 a month and utilities at about $270 a month.

[visual below “Average prices as of 2015”]

Cheaper rent and food can be found in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, which have their own unique arts, and culture scenes,

plus the city’s 24/7 subway and bus system can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go for around $120 per month. New York City’s sales tax is 8.88%.

San Francisco

San Francisco is pricey with average rents at about $3,300 a month and utilities at about $230 a month, however its high-paying tech jobs may balance out that cost.

[visual below “Average prices as of 2015”]

Public transportation passes are only about $80 a month

And thanks to a favorable climate, local fresh produce can be found nearly year round.

Or, you can have pizza…

San Francisco’s sales tax is 8.75%.

it’s also a great city for nature lovers, who can enjoy skiing and hiking in the mountains nearby.


Austin is known primarily for its music and arts scene – and its affordability is a close second. The average rent is about $1,100 a month; utilities, around: $190 per month.

[visual below “Average prices as of 2015”]

Public transportation passes are around $60 per month, though many Austinites choose to drive cars, which can be an added expense.

Jobs can be found in the growing tech and digital media and pharmaceutical industries here.

Another plus: the city’s mighty food truck movement, with gourmet bites offered by nearly 2,000 trucks at a fraction of the cost you’d find at restaurants.

Austin’s sales tax is 8.25%.

Washington D.C.

DC is home to plenty of federal, international and non-profit job opportunities; and there are plenty of jobs in growing tech and real estate finance industries as well. Average rents are about $2,100 a month and utilities are around $190 a month.

[visual below “Average prices as of 2015”]

Aside from pizza, DC’s international communities offer some great food options.

And, monthly passes to the city’s metro cost about $240.  

While the metro is pricey, walking around in many of the city’s great museums, is free…   

And DC’s sales tax is just 5.25%...

Keep in mind while the cost of living is high in many places, the opportunities you could find may make up for the added expense.

With a little creativity you can make your money stretch further. You can find roommates;

explore free events and activities;

exercise outside instead of at the gym;

and make low cost meals at home.

Moving to a new place is a personal decision and the numbers we looked at here only show a part of the picture.

To get a better sense of the cost of any place you might want to move, consider visiting the place and talking to some of the locals. You can also do research online. The Department of State has a list of resources that can help get you started.

You can also get city by city comparisons of costs from the Council for Community and Economic Research, though there is a small fee for some of these reports.

Moving to a new city is an exciting prospect with plenty of opportunities for work and fun, but it’s also an important financial decision. Weighing the cost of living against your individual income and expenses can help you make an informed choice.

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The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its partners assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one's reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional when making decisions regarding your financial or investment management.

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