Living rich in the United States is not nearly as easy as it was in the Golden Age of America’s middle class. Over the years, the cost of living has risen unceasingly across the nation while wages have stagnated. However, there are some places in the U.S. where you can live rich — and you don’t need to make six figures to do so.
In a recent analysis, GOBankingRates surveyed the average cost of living, the median value of top-tier homes and the income threshold of the 80th percentile of households representing the top 20 percent of earners. We defined “rich” as having an income that ranks among the top 20 percent of household earners in order to identify where you can earn less and still be “rich.”
- Median top-tier home price: $393,600
- Income to be rich: $99,470
In 2010, you had to earn $101,379 to be among the top 80 percent of household earners in Las Vegas. Now, it takes less, $99,470 — but that figure rose from $97,103 in only a year. Fortunately, for the time being, it remains one of the top cities where you can afford to live on $50,000 or less.
- Median top-tier home price: $396,400
- Income to be rich: $99,244
Dallas is one of several Texas cities to make this list — but it might not stay for long. In 2010, according to the Census Bureau, earning $90,628 puts you among the top 20 percent of households. By 2016, you had to pull in $99,244 a year to be considered a high-earner, a nearly $10,000 jump in six years.
- Median top-tier home price: $304,600
- Income to be rich: $98,128
Like Dallas, Albuquerque is still cheap — yet has seen a significant rise in the income needed to rank among the wealthy. From 2010 to 2016, the income threshold rose $6,225, more than $1,000 a year.
- Median top-tier home price: $430,100
- Income to be rich: $97,910
Based on a 20 percent down payment and an average 30-year fixed mortgage rate of around 4.42 percent in the state of Tennessee, your monthly mortgage payment would be $2,041. The city’s booming economy and population is transforming a once reliably cheap city. In fact, it is one of several major cities where you need $80,000 or more to live comfortably.
St. Petersburg, Fla.
- Median top-tier home value: $348,700
- Income to be rich: $96,609
Florida is well-represented in this study, with St. Petersburg being the first of four cities to make the final list. However, it might not stay on this list for long, given how quickly the income level has grown. From an annual income of $84,683 in 2010 to $96,609 in 2016, the income threshold to be considered rich rose by almost $12,000.
- Median top-tier home value: $277,700
- Income to be rich: $95,483
For the 2010 Census, the average income of the fourth quintile of households was $86,498. By 2016, you now had to earn nearly $9,000 more than that to be considered “rich” in Louisville. For the time being, however, the city’s cost of living remains low, making it one of few places where you can survive on $60,000 or less.
Kansas City, Mo.
- Median top-tier home price: $321,100
- Income to be rich: $95,477
Kansas City has seen its upper 20 percent of households raise the income threshold over the years. From $88,591 in 2010, the income needed now is $95,477, nearly a $6,900 jump in six years.
- Median top-tier home value: $467,300
- Income to be rich: $95,111
Baltimore is one of only four cities in the study whose median top-tier home price exceeds $400,000. Though the price to be rich is under $100,000, the threshold has crept up considerably. In 2010, you could rank among the top 80th percentile of households if you earned a little over $81,000.
- Median top-tier home value: $322,500
- Income to be rich: $94,978
Like Baltimore, San Antonio’s income level for the top 20 percent of households jumped a lot over the years. Back in 2010, a household only needed to earn $86,689 to be in the 80th percentile. Nowadays, you have to earn close to $95,000 to fall in the same bucket.
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- Median top-tier home value: $351,900
- Income to be rich: $94,400
Not only does it take less money to be rich in Jacksonville, but the city’s burgeoning economy and low cost of living helped make it one of the best places to start a business in a separate study.
- Median top-tier home value: $263,600
- Income to be rich: $93,091
You’ll find top-tier home values are under $300,000 in Pittsburgh, an indication of its affordability compared to most major cities. In fact, Pittsburgh is one of precious few cities where you can own a home for $1,000 a month or less.
- Median top-tier home value: $321,800
- Income to be rich: $92,179
Not long ago, top-tier home values in New Orleans averaged less than $300,000. In June 2016, the median top-tier home value was $292,300, before jumping up to $315,300 in 2017 and then $321,800 in June 2018.
- Median top-tier home value: $362,300
- Income to be rich: $91,506
You’ll need just over $91,000 to be considered rich in Richmond. Not to mention, Richmond is also one of the best cities to retire rich.
- Median top-tier home value: $332,700
- Income to be rich: $91,198
Columbus is one of three Ohio cities to make it to the top of the study. Ohio, in general, is comparatively cheaper than most places. In fact, it’s one of the states where you can afford a mansion for much less than in the rest of the country.
- Median top-tier home value: $453,100
- Income to be rich: $88,406
The capital of Rhode Island is one of four cities where the median top-tier home price exceeds $400,000. Though the income threshold to be among the wealthy is fairly low, Providence’s cost of living isn’t that cheap.
- Median top-tier home price: $271,500
- Income to be rich: $87,809
Like several Midwest states north of the Ohio River, Indiana benefits from an overall cost of living that’s cheaper than average. Indianapolis embodies this, boasting top-tier homes that average less than $300,000 in value.
- Median top-tier home price: $351,900
- Income to be rich: $87,199
Orlando has many things going for it, including a low income threshold to be considered rich — though results might be skewed due to the high number of retirees who call Florida home. Thanks to a variety of factors, Orlando is one notable example of places in the U.S. that are getting richer.
- Median top-tier home price: $239,600
- Income to be rich: $87,062
North Carolina’s cost of living is cheaper than the U.S. overall. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into a lower income threshold to reach the top 80th percentile. In both Charlotte and Raleigh, households in this percentile earn more than $115,000, versus just $87,062 in Winston-Salem.
- Median top-tier home price: $398,500
- Income to be rich: $86,567
Philadelphia has experienced some uneven growth and development in recent decades. Compared to its heyday back in the mid-to-late 20th century, Philadelphia is one of several U.S. cities that are getting poorer.
El Paso, Texas
- Median top-tier home price: $190,800
- Income to be rich: $86,307
Once a medium-sized border town, El Paso has grown immensely over the years — yet it has managed to maintain its low cost of living. Housing is very affordable, with top-tier home values averaging less than $200,000.
- Median top-tier home price: $298,500
- Income to be rich: $81,034
St. Louis has Kansas City beat in terms of its lower cost of living and more affordable top-tier homes. Based on a 20 percent down payment and average mortgage rates in Missouri, the mortgage payment for a top-tier St. Louis house is $1,480 a month,about $100 less than one in Kansas City.
- Median top-tier home price: $285,300
- Income to be rich: $80,947
Cincinnati has St. Louis beat when it comes to mortgage payments, costing about $1,375 a month for a top-tier home in Cincinnati versus $1,480 in St. Louis. That works out to annual mortgage cost of $16,500, leaving plenty left over to live a wealthy life.
- Median top-tier home price: $263,200
- Income to be rich: $78,860
Memphis residents benefit greatly from one of the cheapest costs of living in the country. In fact, the city’s cost of living is over 25 percent less than the U.S. overall.
- Median top-tier home price: $479,800
- Income to be rich: $76,933
It might take only an annual income of $76,933 to rank among the top 20 percent of households, but that doesn’t mean Miami is cheap, nor is it equal. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the top 1 percent earns an average income of $2.34 million versus the bottom 99 percent’s average income of $42,319 in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area, making it one of the worst places in the U.S. for income inequality.
- Median top-tier home value: $354,900
- Income to be rich: $76,339
Milwaukee presents an odd mix of favorable and unfavorable conditions for living “rich.” For example, its overall cost of living is noticeably cheaper than the U.S. average.
- Median top-tier home value: $340,300
- Income to be rich: $76,297
One of the best features of Tucson is consistency. Over the course of five years, the “rich” income threshold barely moved. In 2011, it took an income of $75,383. By 2016, it increased a mere $914, to $76,297 a year.
- Median top-tier home value: $263,900
- Income to be rich: $74,421
Buffalo has an average cost of living that’s about 16 percent cheaper than the U.S. overall. As a result, it’s definitely one of the top places where your paycheck goes the furthest.
- Median top-tier home value: $345,800
- Income to be rich: $69,254
Connecticut is a very wealthy state, but it has been suffering from an exodus of businesses and people. Hartford, the capital, is one of the places most affected. You only have to earn $70,000 a year to rank among the top 20 percent of households. At the same time, however, wealth inequality is rampant — Hartford is part of the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metro area, which is one of the places where income inequality is worst.
- Median top-tier home value: $285,600
- Income to be rich: $68,837
With an income threshold of only $68,837, it’s one of the places where you can be considered rich on less.
- Median top-tier home value: $259,600
- Income to be rich: $60,143
It’s a bit easier to live rich in Cleveland thanks to a cost of living that’s 20 percent cheaper than the U.S. overall. Cleveland, however, is also one of a handful of U.S. cities that have gone bankrupt.
- Median top-tier home value: $312,000
- Income to be rich: $58,926
You don’t need to take home a six-figure salary at all to rank among the top earners in Detroit. In fact, over the years, the income threshold for the 80th percentile households has declined: From $60,578 in 2010 to $58,926 as of 2016.
'Rich' Is Relative
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to being rich. The context of where you live plays a big role in how your wealth is perceived.
It’s no surprise that the threshold for being considered rich is lower in areas with low cost of living. And with big industries like entertainment and tech dominating major metro areas like Los Angeles and New York, there’s also an expected lack of cities where the cost of living is high and the salary you need to be wealthy is even higher.
Click through to see the best and worst states for families to live richer.
More on Wealth
- Nearly 50% of Americans Say Being ‘Rich’ Isn’t About the Money
- This Is How Much Americans Think They Need to Be Rich
- How to Realistically Make Your First $1 Million
- Watch: Treating Finances Like a Game Will Help Get You Rich
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Methodology: The general definition of being “rich” or “wealthy” refers to one with more money or assets relative to others in a society, thus GOBankingRates used the 80th percentile of household income percentiles, which means you’re earning more than 80 percent of the state, as the threshold for being “rich.” Additional factors included the ability to pay for a top-tier home in Zillow’s Home Value Index. In addition to housing, the annual cost of groceries, utilities, transportation and healthcare were calculated, using data sourced from Sperling’s Best Places. The cities included in this study all had an 80th percentile income of $100,000 or less.
All information in this article is accurate at the time the study was conducted in September 2018.