Special Report

The Real Cost of Living in America's Most Expensive Cities

The average annual expenditure for different consumer units  in the U.S. added up to $61,334, or $5,111.20 a month in 2020, according to the most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure represents a 2.7% drop from 2019. Consumer units include families, single persons living alone or with others who are financially independent, or two more persons living together who share expenses. 

Housing costs rose 3.5%, while food expenditures decreased by 10.4% in 2020. The BLS attributes the decline in food expenses to more people eating at home during the pandemic. 

While that is a monthly average across the U.S. and across different household units, expenses are often higher in major metropolitan areas. A lot more, in fact, according to the nonprofit think tank Economic Policy Institute. EPI’s Family Budget Calculator estimates monthly living expenses — including housing, food, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes — for 10 family types (one or two adults with zero to four children).

To determine what it actually costs to live in America’s 30 most expensive cities, 24/7 Wall St. ranked metropolitan areas by regional price parity, or cost of living, in 2020 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. We added estimated monthly expenses for one adult with no children from the Family Budget Calculator, estimated for 2020. Because we chose one adult living alone, expenses are the lowest in a given area and do not include child care. 

To cover monthly living expenses, adults living alone in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin region, which straddles Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, would need $3,430, the lowest among the most expensive metro areas. (A family of four in the Chicago area would need $7,741 to cover monthly expenses.) Compared to the national cost of living average, it costs 4.8% more to live in the Chicago metro area. (Here are metros where families pay the least for food.)

In the most expensive area, San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California, total monthly expenses for one adult living alone add up to $6,347, as the cost of living is 17.4% more than the national average. (As opposed to one adult living alone, here is the income a family needs to cover normal living expenses in every state.)

Yet for those who live in those cities and surrounding metro areas, the ability to find jobs and access to cultural activities may be well worth the price.

Click here to see what it actually costs to live in America’s most expensive cities
Click here to read our detailed methodology

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