Cost of Living Calculator
How far will your salary go in another city? Compare cost of living between U.S. cities and the national average with our comprehensive calculator. Determine how much more or less you need to maintain a similar standard of living. Compare housing, food, utilities, transportation, and other cost of living numbers across cities.
Compare the Cost of Living Across the Country
The MoneyGeek cost of living calculator provides quick insights into how much you’ll pay in housing, utilities, groceries and other expenses in a given city. That information is particularly helpful if you’re offered a job that requires you to relocate, or you’re daydreaming about moving somewhere new for a change in weather or atmosphere.
MoneyGeek’s cost of living calculator lets you compare your current expenses against what you’ll pay in another city, and it provides comparisons to U.S. median costs as well. That way, you can determine if your potential new home is affordable compared to your current lifestyle.
Use the calculator to run a cost of living comparison by city to determine how much more or less income you’ll need to maintain your current standard of living.
Why Do a Cost of Living Comparison?
When you’re considering moving to a new city, it’s helpful to compare the cost of living with the standard of living there.
Cost of living refers to how much you’ll pay for essentials such as rent and groceries, along with extras such as dining out and entertainment. Standard of living refers to how many hours you need to work to cover those expenses and your overall quality of life.
You might work the same 40-hour week in San Francisco, California, and Scottsdale, Arizona, but your costs and standard of living will be quite different in those places. In San Francisco, you might find yourself living paycheck to paycheck, barely covering the essentials with little left over for savings and splurges.
On the other hand, you might find that in Scottsdale, you can rent a large apartment, comfortably afford to shop at gourmet grocery stores and save for big-ticket items each month. The cost of living in Scottsdale is 33% lower than in San Francisco, freeing up some of your income and potentially giving you a bit more breathing room.
The standard of living in a city refers to other factors as well. Some questions to ask before choosing a new place to live include:
- Is healthcare affordable?
- Is there a range of affordable housing options?
- Is there a substantial gap between rich and poor residents?
- Is the local environment safe and free of dangerous toxins?
- What is the climate like year-round?
Of course, personal preference enters into your decision, too. Your current city may have a high cost of living compared to other options, but if you love the lifestyle and live close to friends and family, the expense may be worth it.
But it helps to know what your money can buy in different places, especially if you’re transitioning to a new phase of your life or want to focus on saving money and reducing your expenses.
Necessary and Discretionary Expenses
Everything you buy or pay for falls into one of two categories: necessary or discretionary expenses. Necessary expenses include anything essential for your well-being and day-to-day survival, while discretionary expenses are additional items, services, activities, savings or investments that you spend on.
However, the cost of both necessary and discretionary expenses can vary significantly from city to city. All of the following items are non-negotiable, but what you’ll pay for them looks very different depending on where you live:
- Rent or mortgage
- Income and property taxes
- Gas or public transportation passes
- Cell phone service
- Car payment
- Child care
- Health insurance premiums
You also have discretionary expenses, no matter where you are. These include things that you enjoy or that are important to you, but which could be cut from your budget if you needed to save money.
Some examples of discretionary expenses include restaurant meals, streaming services, gym memberships and personal grooming costs, such as getting your hair done at a high-end salon.
Where you live determines how much money you have available for discretionary expenses. The higher your necessary expenses, the less there is available for quality of life purchases.
Why You Need a Budget When You Move
A budget helps you keep track of your expenses and ensure that you’re living within your means, which is why it’s a good idea to keep one at all times. A budget is especially important when you’re moving because as your costs change, so does your spending ability.
Your cost of living can change significantly if you relocate to another part of the country. But it can also change if you’re moving to another city in the same state.
Someone who lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, can expect their costs to increase by 8% if they move to trendy Asheville and by 6% if they pursue Wilmington’s coastal life. California residents can see much steeper changes. If you were to move from Sacramento to San Diego, your cost of living would rise by 23%. Head to Oakland, and expenses go up by 26%.
Keeping a budget helps you account for those changes in cost, so you’re prepared for them as soon as you arrive. It also helps to factor in moving-specific expenses, such as hiring a crew to move your furniture or the cost of a moving truck if you’re doing it yourself.
Moving costs can add up quickly, especially if you’re not clear on how much you need and how much you have to spend. A budget can help you keep those costs in check and avoid going into debt before you’ve even made it to your new home.
How to Use a Cost of Living Calculator
To get started with MoneyGeek’s cost of living calculator, select your current city and the city to which you’re considering moving. Then, input your annual salary.
The calculator will update based on the information you provide. You’ll see a summary screen showing the difference in the cost of living between the two cities and how they compare to the national median.
You can click on the housing tab to see how home prices and rental costs compare in the two cities as well. The third tab (Other) provides a breakdown of all the different expenses you should consider before moving.
In some cases, you may find that although housing prices are reasonable, the other costs are more expensive than you expected. Taking a holistic view of a potential destination is key to making an informed decision.
Expenses to consider include:
- Standard of living: This indicates the overall affordability for a good quality of life.
- Necessities: These are your non-negotiable monthly expenses, including rent and utilities.
- Housing costs: This expense varies based on whether you’re renting or buying a home. In addition to your monthly payments, you’ll need to factor in homeowners or renters insurance premiums.
- Grocery costs: Variations in the price of staples, such as eggs and milk, can add up.
- Utility costs: These costs include power, gas, water, internet and other utility services.
- Transportation costs: This includes the cost of gas or monthly passes for public transportation. You may also need to pay for parking passes if you live in a downtown area, and auto insurance varies substantially by city.
- Health care costs: Health care expenses can vary considerably, including the cost of doctor’s visits and over-the-counter drugs.
- Taxes: Income and property taxes can significantly impact the overall cost of living.
- Entertainment costs: This includes the cost of dining out, as well as tickets for local museums, concerts, movie theaters and cultural events.
About the MoneyGeek Cost of Living Calculator
The MoneyGeek calculator allows you to run cost of living comparisons of expenses in nearly 500 U.S. cities. To build it, MoneyGeek combined data from the Council for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index, employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Because there is only one U.S. Census conducted per decade, the demographic data was adjusted according to the annual American Community Survey to reflect population changes.
The summary tab is the first section you’ll see when selecting your cities to compare and input your annual income.
Let’s say you currently live in Colorado Springs and are considering a move to Denver, and you make $50,000 a year. You would select Colorado Springs under the “Currently Live In” dropdown and Denver under the “Considering Moving To” dropdown. Then, you can type in your income.
The calculator will show you a summary section, including a graph that tells you how your cost of living will change and how much more or less you’d need to earn to maintain your standard of life.
In our Colorado Springs to Denver example, the summary section will tell you that the cost of living in Denver is 13% higher and that you’d need to earn $56,046 to enjoy the same standard of living. The summary also indicates how much more or less you’ll spend on necessities in your new city — in this case, your essentials would increase by 11%.
The housing tab provides information on how much it costs to buy or rent in different cities. The initial screen shows the median home price in your current and prospective locations, along with the national median for comparison. However, there is also an option to see rental information if you want to rent before you buy. In some cities, a mortgage is more cost-effective than renting, although there are benefits to renting, especially if you are new to a city.
To continue with the Colorado comparison, Denver’s median home price is nearly $100,000 more than in Colorado Springs, and both cities are significantly higher than the national median of $269,025. Meanwhile, the median rent in Denver is $242 more than in Colorado Springs.
The “Other” tab breaks down additional expenses, including utilities, groceries, healthcare costs and entertainment. Although the page auto-populates budget items for your current city, you can change these to reflect what you actually pay each month. Then, the estimates for your prospective city will change as well, so you can get a more accurate idea of how much different goods and services will cost you there.
Cost of Living FAQ
The cost of living is the number-one factor to consider because it determines how comfortably you can live in a given place. You may also want to account for big-picture financial goals, such as paying down student loans or saving for a house. Even if you can afford your day-to-day necessities and discretionary expenses, will you have enough left over for other priorities?
It’s also worth considering whether this is a place you want to live for the next several years. Does it offer amenities that are important to you? How easy or difficult is it to visit friends and family? Cost of living and quality of life should be the leading factors in your decision.
Moving costs vary based on where you’re moving and how far it is from where you currently live. If you’re moving a long distance, you may need to pay for gas, plane tickets and hotel stays or AirBnB rentals until you get into your new place. You’ll also need to account for groceries and food along the way, as well as the cost of movers or a moving truck to haul your belongings.
Using a cost of living calculator can help you figure out whether a move is financially feasible. MoneyGeek’s calculator is designed to show comprehensive cost of living expenses based on your salary so you can get a true sense of how much money you need to live comfortably in a new place.
If you plan to stay in an area for at least 3–5 years, buying a home may be a good decision if you have at least 3% saved for a down payment and can afford the monthly loan payments.
MoneyGeek’s mortgage calculator can help you figure out what your payments might look like — remember, these include the loan principal and interest, plus taxes, homeowners insurance and other fees — to see if buying a home fits into your budget.
If you’re not sure how long you plan to stay in the city or don’t have money for a down payment and closing costs, you may be better off renting until you’ve had a chance to save and make a long-term plan.
Your necessities budget will depend on where you live since some expenses are non-negotiable and influenced by your location. But you can also use the “50/30/20” principle as a good rule of thumb. Using this method, you allot 50% of your income to necessities, 30% to discretionary costs and 20% to savings and extra debt payments (beyond your monthly minimums).