GOBankingRates

How Much You Need To Live Comfortably in 50 Major US Cities

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There is no one answer to how much money you need to make to live comfortably, but one oft-used rule of thumb in budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule — which calls for half your income to go to necessities, 20% to savings and investments and 30% for splurges and fun.

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For most Americans, that’s a pretty sensible approach to defining a living wage, but plenty of residents living in America’s largest cities are probably reading that and thinking “Are you insane? Half my income doesn’t even cover my rent, and I live in a converted dumbwaiter.”

And it’s true: how much money you need to live comfortably is typically much higher in the big city, putting the 50/30/20 rule out of reach for most of its residents. That’s why a new GOBankingRates study lays out just how much you need to earn to live comfortably in each of America’s 50 largest metropolises based on the cost of living by city.

Using Zillow to calculate housing costs in each locale and Sperling’s Best Places to estimate the price of other necessities like transportation, groceries and healthcare, the end result is a clear sense of just how much you would need to be bringing in to stick to the 50/30/20 rule at average levels of spending in each category.

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With the average salary in each major U.S. city falling significantly short of what’s needed to live comfortably there, the study should make it clear that a lot of America’s urbanites probably have to make cuts elsewhere to afford living in the big city. So if you’re thinking about living in a major city, keep reading to see the ideal salary and cost of living in America’s biggest cities.

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Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • Median income: $53,936
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $69,778.62
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $64,954.62

Albuquerque isn’t going to top any salary comparison by city with the median earner pulling down just over $53,000, which is below the average salary in the U.S. But, with “just” $11,018.62 separating a median earner who rents from the cost to live comfortably in Albuquerque, it’s actually among the more affordable major cities in the country.

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Arlington, Texas

  • Median income: $63,351
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $83,533.47
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $73,717.47

Arlington residents are likely struggling a little to get by with a little over $20,000 separating a median earner from what they would need as a homeowner in the city. Homeowners are paying more in annual necessities than renters, as well, by almost $10,000.

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Atlanta, Georgia

  • Median income: $64,179
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $92,691.45
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $74,163.45

It’s actually cheaper to rent in Atlanta by a significant amount, almost $19,000 less. However, renters are falling short by almost $10,000 in terms of the median salary and income needed to pay for annual expenditures.

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Austin, Texas

  • Median income: $75,752
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $132,584.88
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $79,520.88

If you’re not earning six figures, you should reconsider living in the Texas capital based on just how costly it can be. However, if you’re dead set on enjoying the city’s renowned music scene on a nightly basis — part of why it’s often no stranger to lists of the best places to live in the U.S. — consider renting. Renters pay a whopping $53,064 less than homeowners here.

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Baltimore, Maryland

  • Median income: $52,164
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $65,839.60
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $71,911.60

To live in Baltimore, ironically you can more comfortably afford to buy a home than rent one, with income needed for home owning being almost $6,000 less than renting. Annual expenditures are also higher for renters, so maybe Baltimore is the place to make your home owning dreams come true.

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Boston, Massachusetts

  • Median income: $76,298
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $137,849.90
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $93,401.90

Living in Beantown might require an especially talented bean counter to be sure you can pay all your bills. In Boston you need to make well over $130,000 to live comfortably while owning, and over $93,000 to live comfortably while renting.

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Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Median income: $65,359
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $84,691.76
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $74,155.76

While needing $84,000 a year to get by is a bit pricey, the healthy $65,359 a year that the median earner in Charlotte is making means residents are likely struggling less than they would elsewhere. Homeowners are about $20,000 short of what they would need, putting them among the cities with the smallest gaps between what most people are earning and what it costs to live there.

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Chicago, Illinois

  • Median income: $62,097
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $84,487.25
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $74,311.25

The Windy City isn’t especially expensive when stacked up against other urban areas that are among the five largest, but its relatively modest median income means many residents are likely still struggling to make ends meet. The median earner in Chi-town is more than $22,000 short of what it costs to live comfortably if they own. As for renters, they’ll need a bit more than $12,000 more.

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Colorado Springs, Colorado

  • Median income: $67,719
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $92,352.67
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $72,480.67

Whether you’re renting or owning, you can expect to spend under $17,000 a year on housing in Colorado Springs. However, the income needed to live comfortably differs pretty significantly; homeowners need to earn almost $20,000 more per year.

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Columbus, Ohio

  • Median income: $54,902
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $69,710.87
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $62,534.87

Ohio’s capital is one of the more affordable big cities to live in, with the income needed to live comfortably falling under $70,000 for homeowners. Renters will need to make about $8,500 more than the city’s median income to live comfortably, however.

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Dallas, Texas

  • Median income: $54,747
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $84,165.14
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $70,821.14

The median income below $55,000 a year likely makes the costs of Dallas significantly more difficult to handle than in other cities. Average earners who rent could be particularly squeezed, with their income coming up over $25,000 short.

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Denver, Colorado

  • Median income: $72,661
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $116,797.80
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $79,501.80

Denver another of the cities where you need to clear six figures to live comfortably if you plan to own a home, and almost $80,000 if you hope to rent. That leaves the median homeowner and renter $44,136 and $6,840 short of what they need each year, respectively.

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Detroit, Michigan

  • Median income: $32,498
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $51,281.71
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $65,753.71

Detroit is another of the cities on this list where you pay more to rent than to own. Even still, with such a low median income of less than $33,000 per year, that leaves the median homeowner and renter $18,783 and $33,255 short of what they need each year, respectively.

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El Paso, Texas

  • Median income: $48,866
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $61,014.72
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $62,814.72

While incomes in El Paso are relatively low, the income needed to live comfortably is also among the lowest of the nation’s 50 largest cities. With homeowners needing to make less than $61, 000 a year — and renters under $63,000 — the gap from a median income to a comfortable one is between $12,000 and $14,000 for both renters and buyers.

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Fort Worth, Texas

  • Median income: $64,567
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $82,288.97
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $72,712.97

Residents of Fort Worth have a median income that’s almost exactly $10,000 a year higher than that of neighboring Dallas. That’s especially good news for renters. And it’s even better news for homeowners as the cost to live comfortably is about $2,000 a year less in Fort Worth than it is in Dallas despite the higher incomes.

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Fresno, California

  • Median income: $53,368
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $83,086.16
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $71,902.16

Fresno is one of the cities where the income needed to live comfortably falls under $83,000 a year for owners and under $72,000 for renters. Still, with median incomes falling under $54,000 a year, owners and renters alike are about $30,000 and $19,000 short of what they need to live comfortably.

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Houston, Texas

  • Median income: $53,600
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $74,945.06
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $67,145.06

The country’s fourth-largest city is pricier for buyers than renters. You’ll need to make over $7,800 a year more to live comfortably while owning than renting. Either way, though, with median incomes at just over $53,000, the average Houston resident is coming up well short of that level.

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Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Median income: $50,813
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $61,434.55
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $61,458.55

The cost of living in the Upper Midwest trends on the lower side and Indianapolis isn’t outside that trend. While it’s still much higher than the median income of $50,813 a year, the income needed to live comfortably while owning a home is just over $61,000 a year.

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Jacksonville, Florida

  • Median income: $55,531
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $74,674.60
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $74,218.60

Another one of the cities where the salary needed to live comfortably is under $80,000 for both renters and buyers, Jacksonville could be a relatively affordable way to enjoy both city life and the sunny Florida climate. And with the income needed to live comfortably almost $20,000 over the median wage for homeowners, it’s also one where the costs are better aligned with people’s earnings.

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Kansas City, Missouri

  • Median income: $56,179
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $64,251.85
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $64,587.85

The gap between the income needed to live comfortably and the $56,179 a year that a median earner makes in Kansas City is among the lowest in this study for both renters and homeowners. The typical homeowner is just $8,079 short what they need to live comfortably while the typical renter is $8,408 below that level.

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Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Median income: $58,377
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $92,342.52
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $80,030.52

The income needed to live comfortably in Las Vegas is below the average level for the 50 cities included here. But, with a median income of $58,377, homeowners with average earnings are short of what they would need to maintain a 50/30/20 budget assuming average costs.

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Long Beach, California

  • Median income: $66,410
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $145,556.27
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $86,276.27

Located to the southeast of Los Angeles, Long Beach is another of the cities where the income needed to live comfortably exceeds $100,000 for homeowners. It’s not much better for renters, who need to earn over $86,000. It’s also a city where that level is much lower for renters — with those choosing not to buy needing about $59,280 a year less than their counterparts shouldering a mortgage.

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Los Angeles, California

  • Median income: $65,290
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $166,444.75
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $91,876.75

The country’s second-largest city is well-known for its sunny climate, palm trees and entertainment industry, but it’s possible that its high cost of living should be among its most notable traits. If you have a mortgage in Los Angeles, you’ll need over $166,000 in income to comfortably fit into the 50/30/20 budget.

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Louisville, Kentucky

  • Median income: $54,929
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $64,089.66
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $62,217.66

Louisville’s relatively modest cost of living helps contribute to incomes needed to live comfortably that are under $65,000 for both renters and buyers.

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Memphis, Tennessee

  • Median income: $41,864
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $53,910.13
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $65,790.13

Memphis is another city where residents aren’t making enough to really take advantage of the low cost of living the way one would hope. While you would need less than $66,000 a year to live comfortably there, the median earner in the city is making less than $42,000 a year.

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Mesa, Arizona

  • Median income: $61,640
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $89,054.87
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $79,454.87

The income needed for a comfortable lifestyle in Mesa is only a $10,000 difference for renters and buyers. However, that’s $27,000 more than the median earner can afford for homeowners, and more than $17,000 for renters.

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Miami, Florida

  • Median income: $44,268
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $111,043.77
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $90,019.77

Miami has the unfortunate distinction of being both one of the 13 cities where the income necessary to live comfortably exceeds $100,000 for buyers and over $90,000 for renters, and yet the median income is under $45,000 a year. That leaves a huge $50,000 to $70,000-plus gap between what people are making and what they need to earn to live comfortably whether you own your home or rent it.

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin

  • Median income: $43,125
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $62,539.12
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $62,755.12

While the cost of living is relatively modest in Milwaukee, so is the median income. With half of the city making $43,125 or less, even that $62,539.12 a year needed to live comfortably while paying a mortgage is almost $20,000 more than residents who own are making.

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

  • Median income: $66,068
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $81,012,18
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $67,236.18

Minneapolis is a relatively affluent city, particularly when compared to other major urban areas in the Upper Midwest. However, despite a stronger median income, the cost of living is also relatively high. That leaves a median earner in Minneapolis $14,944 short of what they need to live comfortably if they own but only $1,168 short if they rent.

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Nashville, Tennessee

  • Median income: $62,087
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $89,932.33
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $74,164.33

Music City’s high cost of living means the 50/30/20 budget rule is likely not possible for many to most of its residents. Owners are over $27,000 short of what they need to live comfortably based on the median income of $62,087 and renters are over $12,000 short.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Median income: $43,258
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $69,695.75
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $67,175.75

The Big Easy is anything but for its residents who are earning less — and there are likely plenty with a median income under $40,000 a year. It’s much worse if you’re renting, though, as median earners who don’t own are around $49,000 a year short of the income necessary to live comfortably.

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New York City, New York

  • Median income: $67,046
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $151,390.19
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $105,742.19

While New York has long been synonymous with sky-high cost of living, it’s actually short of the priciest city in this study. That fact, though, won’t offer much solace to residents struggling to make ends meet. If you want to live comfortably in the Big Apple, you’ll need to earn at least $151,000 a year if you’re looking to own where you live and over $100,000 just to rent.

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Oakland, California

  • Median income: $80,143
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $172,632.75
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $85,464.75

The first of three cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland is an extremely costly place to live. Despite a relatively strong median income of $80,143 a year, residents hoping to own their own home need to increase their income by more than $100,000 a year if they want to hit the 50/30/20 rule while paying average costs.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  • Median income: $56,456
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $62,306.36
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $66,842.36

Oklahoma City has relatively modest costs compared to most major cities. Pair that with a median income over $56,000 a year and the gap to a comfortable income if you own your home is just over $5,800 a year, one of the lowest levels in the study. However it’s a bigger gap if you want to rent, at $10,386 more than the median income.

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Omaha, Nebraska

  • Median income: $62,213
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $75,376.51
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $65,920.51

Another city where homeowners are likely coming very close to earning what they would need, Omaha’s $62,213 median income is over $13,000 a year short of what you would need to live comfortably while covering a mortgage. But, once again, this is a city where there’s a clear financial argument for buying over renting.

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Median income: $49,127
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $73,480.45
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $72,640.45

Brotherly love might not cost a thing, but living in Philadelphia sure does. Despite a median income at almost $50,000 a year, the salary necessary to live comfortably while satisfying the 50/30/20 rule is over double what the typical homeowner is actually earning and leaves renters more than $23,000 shy of what they need.

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Phoenix, Arizona

  • Median income: $60,914
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $88,687.17
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $76,447.17

The nation’s fifth-most populous city has a median income over $60,000 a year. That’s a decent wage compared to many of the cities in this study, but it’s also almost $28,000 short of what you need to live comfortably for buyers and almost $16,000 short of what renters need.

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Portland, Oregon

  • Median income: $73,159
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $115,175.60
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $71,783.60

While a median income of around $73,000 a year is relatively rare among the country’s biggest cities — Portland’s high cost of living might mean it won’t go nearly as far. If you are dead set on moving to Portland, though, it could pay to rent instead of buying as the income needed to live comfortably is more than $42,000 a year higher for homeowners.

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Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Median income: $69,720
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $89,899.50
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $74,059.50

Raleigh achieves the goal of having its income needed to live comfortably falling within $21,000 of its median income for both renters and buyers. Not only is the median resident making more than $69,000 per year, but its cost of living is below the average for these 50 cities.

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Sacramento, California

  • Median income: $65,847
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $100,940.07
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $84,068.07

California’s capital city is northeast of San Francisco, Oakland and the rest of the high-cost Bay Area. However, it does seem as though some of the costs have migrated there, as you’ll need to make over $100,000 a year to live comfortably.

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San Antonio, Texas

  • Median income: $53,420
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $76,097.60
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $65,921.60

San Antonio is a relatively affordable place to live, with the income needed to live comfortably while paying a mortgage at just over $76,000 a year. Unfortunately, that’s still quite a bit more than most residents are making with a median income just over $50,000.

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San Diego, California

  • Median income: $83,454
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $168,520.41
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $97,432.41

San Diego might be a great place to take in the Southern California sun, but you’re likely to pay dearly for the privilege. You’ll need to earn six figures to live comfortably in the city. But, keep in mind that it’s much cheaper to rent — with a comfortable income coming in at a whopping $71,000 lower for renters than homeowners.

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San Francisco, California

  • Median income: $119,136
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $249,793.30
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $101,905.30

San Francisco is the most affluent city in this study, with a median income of over six figures. Despite that, median earners there who own their own home are further from the income necessary to live comfortably than residents of any other city on this list. Even a six-figure income is less than half what you need to own your home and still spend just half your income on necessities in The City.

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San Jose, California

  • Median income: $117,324
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $230,695.55
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $102,223.55

Of course, right next door in San Jose, incomes are almost as high. Yet, the median income remains over $100,000 short of what you need to live comfortably while owning your own home, but it’s about $19,000 closer than it is in nearby San Francisco.

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Seattle, Washington

  • Median income: $97,185
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $163,752.17
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $83,304.17

Median earners in Seattle are pulling down almost $100,000 a year, but that doesn’t go nearly as far as they might like. Once again, anyone planning to move there should seriously consider renting instead of buying: The income needed to live comfortably is a staggering $80,000 lower if you don’t have a mortgage.

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Tampa, FL

  • Median income: $55,634
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $88,852.52
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $82,636.52

Median earners in Florida are earning only a little more than $55,000 per year, but that doesn’t go very far for buyers or renters. Buyers will find themselves over $33,000 short of the income needed to live comfortably, and renters, $27,000 short.

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Tucson, Arizona

  • Median income: $45,227
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $72,983.18
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $67,799.18

The income needed to live comfortably in Tucson is between high $60,000s and low $70,000s for renters and owners alike, which is on the lower end for the cities in this study. Unfortunately, given that Tucson is among those cities where the median income only cracks $45,000 a year, both those levels fall short of what is needed to live comfortably by $20,000 or more.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma

  • Median income: $49,474
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $59,451.61
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $62,859.61

Tulsa’s one of the more affordable cities in this study, with the income needed to live comfortably coming in under $63,000 for both homeowners and renters. And while the median income of $49,474 is relatively low, it’s still within about $21,100 of what you need to cover a mortgage and other basic necessities with half your salary.

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Virginia Beach, Virgina

  • Median income: $78,136
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $84,658.08
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $81,322.08

No city in this study is closer to having its median income meet the salary necessary to live comfortably than Virginia Beach, though that has more to do with the over $78,000 a year earned by the median resident. Renters are just under $3,200 shy of what they need while homeowners are within $6,500.

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Washington, D.C.

  • Median Income: $90,842
  • Income needed if you’re a homeowner: $138,229.78
  • Income needed if you’re a renter: $87,325.78

The nation’s capital has one of the higher median incomes of a major American city, but it also has some of the highest costs. The income needed to live comfortably there while owning your home is just over $47,000 more than what the average resident earns.

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Jordan Rosenfeld contributed to the reporting for this article.

Methodology: GOBankingRates found the cost of living in America’s 50 biggest cities by analyzing the following factors: (1) Cost of living Index for groceries, utilities, transportation and healthcare sourced from Sperling’s Best Places. Each index was multiplied by the annual expenditure amount in each category from Bureau Labor of Statistics’ 2020 Consumer Expenditure Survey, which measures household annual mean expenditures to determine the annual mean spending for each category; (2) Rent costs were sourced from ApartmentList’s rental data for March 2022, and were multiplied by 12 to obtain an annualized yearly spending on rent; (3) Mortgage payments were based on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, using an average mortgage rate 5.11%, which was the current average national rate at the time the study was conducted, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; the city’s median home value for a single-family residence, according to Zillow’s March 2022 home value index, and 20% down payment; (4) Median household income was sourced from Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey (this is income prior to being taxed). Once all the data was found, the annual expenditure amount was calculated by adding together the annual spending for each category. GOBankingRates found the annual expenditures for both people paying a mortgage payment and for people who are paying rent separately and the median income is subtracted by annual expenditures for those paying a mortgage and those renting to see how much money is needed or left over for each city. GOBankingRates then used the 50-20-30 rule which assumes that 50% of income should go towards necessities, 30% should go towards discretionary spending and 20% should go towards savings. All data was collected and is up to date as of April 25, 2022.