It’s hard to feel financially stable when the cost of living continues to take a bigger bite out of your budget. While salaries increased 5.1% between December 2021 and December 2022, wage growth couldn’t keep up with inflation, which averaged 8% in 2022.
Ultimately, inflation has affected everything from the cost of housing to the price of eggs, making it increasingly difficult to live comfortably in America’s largest cities. With this in mind, SmartAsset set out to uncover the after-tax income now needed to live comfortably in the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas.
To determine how much money is needed to live comfortably in the largest metro areas, we used the 50/30/20 rule to define a comfortable lifestyle. This rule is a budgeting strategy that allocates 50% of after-tax income to basic living expenses (needs), 30% to discretionary spending (wants) and 20% for savings or debt payments.
“A budget is the bedrock of many people’s financial plans. And it’s especially essential to understand and track your spending when the cost of everyday items is rising,” says Susannah Snider, a certified financial planner and SmartAsset’s managing editor of financial education.
“Being able to stick to a 50/30/20 budget means you have enough to fund short- and long-term goals while paying for essential living expenses.”
Data and Methodology
SmartAsset used the most recent MIT Living Wage Calculator data to gather the basic cost of living for an individual with no children in each metro area. The data covers the cost of living in each city as of 2022. The online tool calculates the cost of living by adding the average cost of housing, food, transportation, medical care and other expenses within each metro area.
We assumed the MIT cost of living figure for each metro area would cover needs (i.e. 50% of one’s budget) and then calculated the total take-home pay that enables individuals to spend an additional 30% on wants and 20% on savings or debt payments.
This is SmartAsset’s second study on how much money is needed to live comfortably in the 25 largest metro areas. You can read the 2022 edition here.
Five Places That Require the Highest Salaries
1. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA
A single person with no children needs $84,026 after taxes to support a comfortable lifestyle in San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley. Using the MIT Cost of Living Calculator, SmartAsset found that an individual spends an average of $42,013 on annual living expenses in the San Francisco area. A person following the 50/30/20 budget would set aside $25,208 for discretionary spending and $16,805 for savings or debt payments. Despite remaining the most expensive place in our study, San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley had the smallest one-year increase in the after-tax income needed from a year ago (13.12%).
2. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA
San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad jumped up four spots in this year’s rankings after the cost of annual living expenses increased by a whopping 21.32%, according to MIT. As a result, a single person must now earn $79,324 after taxes to live comfortably in that part of California. After their basic living expenses ($39,662) are covered, an individual could spend $23,797 on wants and set $15,865 aside for savings or debt payments.
3. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA
The metropolitan area that surrounds Boston and extends into southern New Hampshire requires the third-highest take-home pay for a comfortable lifestyle. A single person needs to earn $78,752 after taxes in order to cover basic living expenses ($39,376) and still devote half of their earnings to wants and saving/debt. Following the 50/30/20 budget, a person living comfortably would allocate $23,626 for discretionary spending and $15,750 to savings or debt payments.
4. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
The New York metropolitan area may be the most populous in the country, but it’s not where you need the most after-tax dollars to live comfortably. The New York-Newark-Jersey City area does, however, demand a take-home pay of $78,524, considering typical living expenses are $39,262 per year. That means a person following the 50/30/20 budget would set aside $23,557 of their income for discretionary spending and either save the remaining $15,705 or use it to pay down debt.
5. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
It takes $77,634 in after-tax dollars to live comfortably in the Emerald City and its surrounding areas. Living expenses for an individual in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue add up to $38,817. As a result, a single person would allocate 30% of their take-home pay ($23,290) for discretionary spending and the remaining $15,527 to savings or debt payments.
Five Places That Require the Lowest Salaries
1. St. Louis, MO-IL
Living comfortably in the greater St. Louis area means your after-tax income should be $57,446 – the least amount of money in all 25 metro areas. That can cover basic living expenses ($28,723) with enough left over to devote 30% to your wants ($17,234) and another 20% to savings or debt payments ($11,489).
2. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
A single person needs to earn $58,358 after taxes to live comfortably in the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn metro area. With basic living expenses adding up to $29,179 per year, a person following the 50/30/20 budget would have $17,507 left over for discretionary spending and $11,672 for savings or debt payments. While living comfortably in the Detroit area requires the second-lowest take-home pay in our study, that figure is 24.39% higher than it was a year ago.
3. San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX
To live comfortably in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area in Texas, a single person must earn $59,270 after taxes. Typical living expenses in this part of the Lone Star State add up to $29,635 per year, meaning an individual living comfortably would have $17,781 for discretionary spending and another $11,854 to put toward their savings or debt.
4. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
Typical living expenses in the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metro area are $30,839 per year. That means a single person would need to take home at least $61,678 each year to live comfortably in the greater Philadelphia area, which spans four states. Doing so would allow them to spend 30% of their after-tax income on wants ($18,503) and have 20% left over for savings or debt payments ($12,336).
5. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC
A single person can live comfortably in the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metro area in the Carolinas for $62,110. Average living expenses in the Charlotte area add up to $31,055 per year, meaning that a person adhering to the 50/30/20 budget would allocate $18,633 to their discretionary spending and either save the remaining $12,422 or use it to pay off debt.
Tips for Budgeting During Inflation
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