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How does the cost of living in your area compare?

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The cost of living in [location] is - higher/lower
You need to earn $--,--- in [location] to have the same standard of living that $--,--- provides in [location].
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Housing
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Tax Cost Difference in [location] is - higher/lower
Housing Cost Difference in [location] is - higher/lower
Food Cost Difference in [location] is - higher/lower
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This calculator allows you to compare the cost of living in different locations. To do this we first calculate average living expenses based on your current location and desired location. These expenses are adjusted based on your annual income and household size. Next, the tax category uses tax data at the federal, state and local level to determine estimated tax burden. We then calculate the percentage difference between your current and desired locations in the categories of taxes, housing and food. Finally, we use these percentages to calculate the annual income that would give you a comparable standard of living in your desired location.

• Adults: 1 = Single, Adults: 2 = Married filing jointly.

• Number of children equals the number of dependents.

• Otherwise assume all deductions and retirement account contributions are zero.

• Number of personal exemptions is equal to the number of individuals in the household. Meaning, a single person is 1, a married couple is 2 and any additional children are counted as an additional individual.

Cost of Living Calculator

Photo credit: © iStock/BraunS

If you're considering moving to another town or city you may be wondering what salary you'd need to maintain your standard of living in the new location. Are the other cities on your list more or less affordable than your current home? That's where a cost of living calculator (like the one above!) can help. The biggest expenses we all face can vary significantly from one place to another.

Living Expenses

Let's talk about the factors that go into estimating your cost of living. People differ in how much they're willing to pay on extras like entertainment and gifts but we all have to pay for the necessities. That means housing, whether you rent or buy. Then there's food, childcare (if you have kids), medical costs and transportation. The cost of many of these necessities has been rising across the US. While there are many budgeting tips and tricks that can help you cut down on extra expenses, it's harder to trim the costs of the basics.

Housing

First up is housing. Your budget will be more sustainable if you can spend less than 30% of your income on housing. If you pay more than that you're considered "burdened" by your housing costs. Depending on where you live and how much you make, paying less than 30% of your income to keep a roof over your head may or may not be possible. So, moving to an area with lower housing costs can make a serious difference to your overall cost of living.

Related: Compare the Best Mortgage Rates

Food

Photo credit: © iStock/DragonImages

Another big expense category is food. While you can make changes to your lifestyle to cut back on the cost of food - changes like wasting less and eating less meat - you're still affected by food costs in your area. That's why our cost of living calculator takes local food prices into account. Even basics like a pound of pasta or a bag of apples can vary in cost from place to place. Most cities exempt grocery items from sales taxes but a few do not. That's the kind of thing that can make a big difference to your bottom line. If you never cook you won't be as affected by a change in food prices if you move. But if you're on a tight budget you're probably cooking most - if not all - of your meals at home. That means you want to keep a close eye on grocery costs.

Taxes

What about taxes? State and local taxes can combine with your federal income taxes to take a serious bite out of your income. When you consider that some cities have zero sales tax while others have sales taxes in excess of 9%, it's easy to see why taxes need to be included in any cost of living comparison. While every state has property taxes, these vary considerably from place to place. There's even greater variation in income taxes. Some states don't have any state-level income tax. Others (I'm looking at you, California) have high income taxes.

Education and Childcare

Depending on your circumstances there are several other large expenses that may shape your cost of living. There's the cost of education and whether you'll need to take out student loans to get (or complete) a college education. There's the cost of childcare if you need it. This could mean the cost of a caregiver who comes to your house, of pre-kindergarten or of after-school daycare. If you or your partner is a stay-at-home parent or if you have extended family helping you out you won't need to shell out for these expenses. Anyone else will need to budget accordingly.

Transportation

Transportation costs are a major expense for many Americans. Only about one in 20 American workers commute by public transit. The rest take a car. That means paying for repairs, gas and possibly tolls and parking permits. Carpooling can help you cut these costs by sharing them with others. Still, most American commuters ride alone. Transportation is a big factor in the cost of living because it's so closely related to job security. Unreliable transportation can mean a lost job.

Healthcare

Photo credit: © iStock/Steve Debenport

Next up is healthcare. Healthcare premiums go from the affordable to the astronomical. Then, there's the cost of the care itself. The same medical procedure can be several times more expensive in some locations than in others. If you have employer-sponsored healthcare you might not have to pay anything for medical insurance. But if you're self-insuring by purchasing a health plan on the health insurance marketplace you could be looking at monthly costs in excess of $400 depending on where you live. Despite a decrease in the number of uninsured Americans, medical costs still account for a significant portion of the bankruptcies in this country. That's why it's important to look for insurance you can afford and have an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses.

The Extras

Many Americans have nothing left in their budget after paying for the necessities mentioned above. But there are other necessities that aren't captured by food, childcare, medical costs, taxes, transportation and housing. These "extras" include clothing, personal care items and household cleaning products. You could go without some of them for a little while, but they're still necessities.

We're talking about things like toothpaste, the clothes you wear to work and the sponge and dish soap you use to clean your dishes. The good news is that these tangibles have gotten less expensive even as the costs of childcare, housing and medical care have gone up. Items including clothing, cell phones and computers have become relatively more affordable. That may not entirely take the sting out of your rising rent or your high healthcare premiums, but it can help.

Cost of Living Comparison

Economists consider mobility to be a good thing. If people are willing and able to move they can relocate to take the jobs that are best suited to their skill sets. Understanding the cost of living in a given place helps you make an informed decision about the salary you'll need to maintain the same standard of living. For example, if you're offered a job in a more expensive city you'll know that you need to hold out for more money if you don't want to experience a dip in your purchasing power. A cost of living calculator can make the research much easier.

Places with the Most Favorable Cost of Living

SmartAsset’s interactive map highlights the places in the country with the most favorable cost of living. Hover over counties to see data points or use the map’s tabs to toggle between cost of living and median income. Zoom between states and the national map to see where people have the most purchasing power.

Least
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Rank County, State Cost of Living Median Income

Methodology Our study aims to find the places where average living expenses are most affordable to the people who live there. To find these counties we looked at the cost of living relative to income to determine the purchasing power.

First, we calculated two different cost of living numbers for a household with one adult and no dependents. One reflected the baseline cost of living in each area and the other was based on expenditures typical to someone making the county’s median income.

We combined the two cost of living numbers using a weighted average based on how close each county’s median income was to the minimal livable income in that area. We then subtracted income taxes paid in that area.

Finally, we calculated purchasing power by determining the weighted cost of living as a percentage of median income.

Sources: US Census Bureau 2015 5-Year American Community Survey, MIT Living Wage Study, Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 Consumer Expenditure Survey