Cost of living calculator
Where does the data come from?
Core cost of living data is from The Cost of Living Index - COLI from the Council for Community and Economic Research, or C2ER. Researchers conducted price collection in each city at a specified time and followed specific standards.
Education data was provided courtesy of Greatschools, a nationwide ratings system that evaluates schools based on performance on state achievement tests, graduation rates and other factors.
NerdWallet’s calculator doesn’t include tax data, which can vary by and within metropolitan areas.
How is this tool different from other resources out there?
If you want more information about one of the cities you’ve compared, you can use NerdWallet’s City Life tool for data on local schools and businesses, walkability and demographics — more than basic cost comparisons. You can see Manhattan’s page here. Input the city name and state abbreviation for other locations to see their information.
What is ‘cost of living’?
One of most important determinations you need to make before moving to a new city or town is how much it will cost to live there. “Cost of living” is the amount of money you need to sustain a certain lifestyle in a given place.
Because the price of goods and services varies from one city to the next, calculating the cost of living will determine how affordable it is to live in a certain area. The expenses that factor into cost of living can include housing affordability, transportation expenses, food prices and entertainment costs. Cost of living is also tied to income, as salary levels in a geographic area are measured against these expenses.
What is the breakdown of the cost of living?
Housing costs: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest bill consumers pay each month is for housing. Whether that’s a mortgage or rent, a large percentage of your salary will go toward your housing expenses. Home prices, property taxes and monthly rents vary from state to state, city to city, town to town and even neighborhood to neighborhood. For homeowners, there are more expenses to consider than just the monthly mortgage payment. There are also maintenance costs, upgrades, taxes and fees to take into account when deciding where to live.
Transportation: Unless you’re lucky enough to work from home, you will need to factor in transportation costs when deciding where to live. According to the BLS, transportation is the second-largest expense consumers have. For some, these costs include taking public transportation. For others, it involves driving your car, and that means factoring in car repairs, gas, tolls and parking. Proximity to employment is an important consideration because it can drastically impact your cost of living.
Food: Weekly trips to the grocery store can add up, especially if food costs are high where you live. According to the latest BLS data, consumers average over $8,000 per year on food expenses. There are ways to trim that down. You could eat out less, cut back on takeout and cook more often. But even then, the price of groceries is going to significantly influence your cost of living.
Entertainment: A movie ticket, a pint of beer, box seats at a baseball game — they can all come with a different price tag depending upon where you live. And it adds up. Americans spend an average of more than $3,500 per year on entertainment. But just like with food costs, you can curb how much you spend on entertainment by altering your behavior.
Healthcare costs: On average, Americans spend almost $5,500 per year on healthcare costs. For most people, the bulk of these costs are made up by insurance premiums, but if you’re uninsured — or are considering an area with few in-network providers — healthcare costs may play a role in where you decide to live.
Education: Some of the metro areas covered by this calculator also include a GreatSchools score, which gives public schools a 1-10 rating. If you’re moving to an area with excellent public schools, your education costs may remain low — most Americans pay about $1,200 per year — but if you decide you’d prefer private schools for your child, this may also factor into your cost of living.
What is a cost of living index?
A cost of living index allows you to directly compare what it costs to live in one area against another, helping you understand how far your money can go in each place. For example, the cost of living in San Francisco is twice that of Twin Falls, Idaho. Whether you use a cost of living index or a cost of living calculator, each will help you feel more confident in deciding where to live.
About the calculator
NerdWallet’s cost of living calculator is powered by data from C2ER. According to the council, its cost of living index “is the only local level cost of living index available for the U.S.” It adds that, “Items on which the Index is based have been carefully chosen to reflect the different categories of consumer expenditures."
C2ER was founded in 1961, and it continues to exist today as a nonprofit organization. It has published its quarterly Cost of Living Index since 1968. It is comprised of data about “over 60 goods and services collected at the local level from over 300 independent researchers.”