When you are deciding where to live, one important factor to think about is the city’s cost of living. “Cost of living” is defined as the level of prices relating to a range of everyday items. More simply, it means that the same things or types of things can vary dramatically in cost depending on where you buy them. While a car sold by Ford probably won’t be that differently priced in Los Angeles vs. Cleveland, things like housing, groceries, public transportation and dining and entertainment can all be very different depending on where you are. Because cost of living can have a huge impact on your quality of life and your ability to save for the future, it’s worth paying attention to as you decide where you want to live. In general, large urban areas on both coasts tend to have high costs of living while more rural areas in the Midwest and South tend to be most affordable.
Housing is especially susceptible to a cost of living difference and is something you should take into account when evaluating a job offer or deciding where you may want to settle down. The same houses can be found at very different prices in different parts of the country. If you are comparing two similar job offers and one has a slightly higher salary but is in a location where housing is considerably more expensive, make sure you do an analysis to understand whether it really is a benefit or if you’d just be spending the extra money on living expenses anyway.
Another thing to note is that local, state and city taxes can also have an impact on cost of living. The same salary in two different cities could lead to two different amounts of take-home pay once you deduct taxes. For example, someone living in Seattle, WA with a $30,000 salary would take home almost $2,000 more each year than a person living in New York City because Washington State doesn’t have income tax whereas New York State and New York City have fairly high income tax rates.
It’s not impossible to overcome a high cost of living city. There are cheap apartments everywhere if you look hard enough and if you’re willing to live with roommates or be on the outskirts of town, you can get more for your money even in expensive cities. Plus, if you have a career that you’re passionate about and that requires you to be in a big city, it can certainly be worth paying extra to live there as it will hopefully pay off for you in the long run. But if you are deciding between two cities and you think your opportunities are similar in both places, it’s definitely worth running the numbers through an online calculator to get a feel for how different your life might be depending on which city you choose!