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SmartAsset Study: Salary Needed to Live Comfortably in the 25 Largest Metro Areas - 2023 Edition

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.

Key Findings

  • St. Louis is the most affordable, again. The St. Louis metro area is the most affordable place for the second consecutive year, requiring $57,446 after taxes to live comfortably. The San Francisco Bay Area, on the other hand, once again requires the highest take-home pay – over $84,000 – to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.
  • Income demands in this Southern California metro area rose nearly 30%. None of the 25 places in our study had a more acute one-year increase in the after-tax income needed to live comfortably than Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario. A year ago, $52,686 was required for a comfortable lifestyle. That number has since shot up 27.28% to $67,060 in 2023.
  • On average, you need $68,499 after taxes to live comfortably. The average after-tax income needed for a comfortable lifestyle across the 25 metro areas in our study increased roughly 20% from a year ago when it was just $57,013.

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 

  • Be realistic with your budget. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to build a spending plan, but don’t be afraid to make tweaks as needed. “Sticking to a spending plan is important, but give yourself some flexibility and grace. A plan that is overly restrictive may be quickly abandoned,” Snider says. “So, if buying yourself a daily latte is the one thing that gives you joy each morning, make room for it in your budget and consider where else you can cut back.”
  • Talk to an expert. A financial advisor can help you build a budget, create a financial plan and invest your assets to weather periods of elevated inflation. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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Patrick Villanova, CEPF® Patrick Villanova is a writer for SmartAsset, covering a variety of personal finance topics, including retirement and investing. Before joining SmartAsset, Patrick worked as an editor at The Jersey Journal. His work has also appeared on and in The Star-Ledger. Patrick is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where he studied English and developed his love of writing. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, trying out new recipes in the kitchen and watching his beloved New York sports teams. A New Jersey native, he currently lives in Jersey City.
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