The thought of living in a big city often conjures thoughts of high expenses. And while this can often be the case, there are plenty of large U.S. cities where overall costs actually run below the national average. Even in high-cost cities, some expenses may still be below national norms — but others may run multiples of the national average.
To determine the average costs in America’s biggest cities by population, GOBankingRates sourced data from Sperling’s Best and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey. Expenses across five categories were considered — specifically, groceries, healthcare, utilities, transportation and housing — to develop an average overall cost of living in each city. To ascertain the income required for comfortable living in each city, a 20% savings buffer was added to the overall expenditures.
With the exception of New York, three of the top four most expensive big cities on the list are in California. Meanwhile, Texas has a number of large cities that are generally affordable.
10. San Antonio
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $75,127
If you’re looking to live in a large, vibrant city but still manage to keep a few bucks in your pocket, San Antonio might be a good fit. The overall cost of living there is an impressive 10.2% below the national average, highlighted by housing costs nearly 25% below national norms. Healthcare and utilities are about 5% below average, while groceries cost more than 8% less than average.
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- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $79,895
Transportation costs in Houston are hot, running 19% above the national average. However, utilities, healthcare and groceries all cost less than average. Housing is the primary reason why overall costs run low in Houston, however, tipping the scales nearly 25% below the national average.
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $84,497
The city they call Big D has overall costs right about at the national average, with a cost-of-living index of 101. The one cost to watch out for is transportation, which runs more than 17% above the national average. Housing costs, on the other hand, are more than 10% below national norms.
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $87,843
The overall cost-of-living index in Philadelphia is 105, but perhaps surprisingly it still has some of the lowest housing costs of any major city in the United States. The housing index in the City of Brotherly Love is just 75.9, meaning you’ll pay about 24% less than the U.S. average. Transportation costs, however, are quite high, running about 42% above national norms.
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $89,851
Overall, costs in the Windy City run just 7.4% above the national average. Housing, healthcare, utilities and groceries actually all run below the national average. However, transportation is a bugaboo for city residents, as costs run about 39% above the national average.
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $90,938
Perhaps surprisingly, it is not utilities in the Valley of the Sun that cost residents a significant amount. Rather, transportation and housing are the twin culprits that push Phoenix’s average cost of living 8% above the national average. Those two expenses run about 19% and 18% above the U.S. average, respectively.
4. San Diego
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $134,191
San Diego has some of the most expensive housing in the nation, costing $36,910 per year vs. the national average of $13,258. But with the exception of healthcare, which runs 11% below the national average, costs are high across the board, running a combined 60% above national norms.
3. New York
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $141,051
New York has always had a reputation as an expensive city, and according to the data, it’s well-earned. Topping the list is housing costs, at about 2.25 times the national average, along with transportation, at over 81% more than the national average. Utilities cost $6,356 per year vs. the national average of $4,223.
2. Los Angeles
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $147,409
You’ll need more than $64,000 more than the U.S. average to live comfortably in Los Angeles, where housing costs are more than triple the national average. Transportation costs are also very high, at over 65% above the national average, but healthcare and utilities actually fall 10% and 6% below national norms.
1. San Jose
- Yearly salary needed to live comfortably: $179,869
San Jose has by far the most expensive cost of living of the 10 largest cities in the United States. The overall cost of living is a steep 215, making life in San Jose more than twice as expensive as the U.S. average. Costs are high across the board, with the exception of utilities, which run about 3% less than the national average. Housing is by far the most egregious expense in this Silicon Valley city, which runs a whopping 4.28 times the national average.
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Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed the following expenditures of Americans living in the 10 biggest cities in terms of population, based on data sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey release for the full year of 2021: (1) annual spending on groceries, defined as “food at home;” (2) annual spending on housing, defined as “shelter;” (3) annual spending on transportation, defined as”gasoline, other fuels, and motor oil” AND “other vehicle expenses;” (4) annual spending on healthcare; (5) annual spending on utilities, defined as “utilities, fuels, and public services;” and (6) overall average annual expenditures. Spending estimates were adjusted to city level by multiplying each cost category by its corresponding cost of living index score in each city, sourced from Sperling’s Best Places. After calculating total consumption expenditures, an additional (7) savings buffer was calculated by assuming that total expenditures consume 80% of one’s budget (50% for necessities and 30% for discretionary spending), with 20% left over for savings. All data was collected on and up to date as of November 10, 2022.