NerdWallet’s cost of living calculator
NerdWallet helps you compare the cost of living in two cities
While other resources provide basic cost comparisons, and accompanying city life tool go one step further by offering information on schools, quality of life and demographics, giving users a one-stop shop to explore new cities.
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 each month. 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’s also maintenance, 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 $7,000 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 nearly the same amount each year on entertainment as they do on health insurance, according to the BLS. Just like with food costs, you can curb how much you spend on entertainment by altering your behavior.
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 Boise, 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 The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). According to the council, “C2ER produces the Cost of Living Index to provide a useful and reasonably accurate measure of living cost differences among urban areas. 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 continues to exist today as a nonprofit organization, “comprising research staff of chambers of commerce, economic development organizations and agencies, and related organizations throughout the United States.” C2ER has published its quarterly Cost of Living Index since 1968. It is comprised of “nearly 100,000 data points gathered primarily by C2ER members located in 400 cities.”