Top 15 Most Expensive Cities to Live in the US

Rose Morrison

Jul 20, 2021


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Sometimes, it’s time for a change, and you can’t explain why. Maybe your heart no longer lies with your hometown but with some other city you’ve only seen in articles and photos. If you feel like it’s time for a move, you should carefully consider what your budget will allow. Not everyone can afford the most expensive cities to live in the US.

Analyze what draws you to your favorite city. Do the research behind how easily you can stay in that area. It might surprise you just how much you can afford. Or maybe you’ll discover a cheaper town nearby you can reside in. That way, you can save money and commute to the larger city you love.

The Baseline for Living in the United States

Not every city follows the national standard of living. Cities and states are ranked against a baseline of 100. Any number over that is higher than the national average, and you’ll likely have to tighten your budget to live there. Ideally, you should look for towns close to or below 100.

The median household income is $63,179 a year. From this, on average, Americans pay monthly fees of a little over $1,700 for housing, just over $800 for transportation, and around $660 for groceries. With hidden costs thrown in the mix, it’s no wonder that 70% of all working Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

With those costs serving as a baseline, you’re better prepared for what to expect when moving to one of the most expensive cities to live in the US.

15 of the Most Expensive US Cities

Typically, the most expensive cities to live in the U.S. are the ones you know and love. But a high population isn’t a prerequisite for a high cost of living. More components go into the cost of living than you might think, and being a bustling city is just one trait an expensive city might have.

1. Manhattan, New York

Most commonly what people think of when they refer to New York City or the “Big Apple,” Manhattan is a large borough of New York, New York, that has all but become its own city. It’s often portrayed in media as a desirable place to live. It’s also known as the City That Never Sleeps, making it perfect for all opportunities. Just because it’s a possibility doesn’t mean that it’s right for you, though.

The minimum wage is $15 and the median income of a family of three in New York City is just shy of $110,000. While this amount may seem suitable for your household, you must remember that the cost of living is higher, too. A family that falls into that same category should expect to pay at least $2,500 a month for housing.

The great news is that you can save money on gas and potentially sell your car by living in Manhattan. Most places are within walking distance, and those that aren’t can be easily navigated using public transportation. If you have a hankering for the Big Apple, you can absolutely do it with a little bit of guts so long as you stick to your budget and don’t let costs run away from you.

2. Los Angeles, California

Home to Hollywood stars and numerous tourist attractions, this city promotes healthy and casual lifestyles. Over 10 million people live in Los Angeles, and there’s no true majority, so it could be called the melting pot of America, where all people and cultures are celebrated.

The median value of a home in Los Angeles is nearly $600,000. This number might seem tough to swallow when the yearly income per person falls around $34,000. Unless you have a job in a well-paying field, it might not be in the cards to buy a home in LA right off the bat. Still, you may find that Los Angeles is the place you belong once you visit and consume the cultural and inviting atmosphere.

3. Boston, Massachusetts

This city is renowned for its hospitals, which are the top hospitals in the nation. Additionally, you may come across numerous events if you spend time in Boston. It’s a beautiful city that makes for a must-see travel destination if you choose not to live there.

Single-family homes in Boston may go for over $700,000 because the demand for them is so high. The shortage of homes in the city only drives the price of the available listings up further, so you may have trouble finding a suitable place to live. If you want to live close to Boston for the city life and exciting atmosphere, consider moving to a nearby city with a lower cost of living and commuting to Boston instead. 

4. San Francisco, California

San Francisco’s booming industries and thriving culture have made it quite the hub, so you may need to put a little extra change in the bank before making your move. The driving force behind people moving to San Francisco is job opportunities. This area is where the tech industries thrive, and San Francisco’s growing job market will only attract more people to live there.

In San Francisco, the mean hourly wage is about $38. The higher-than-average wage makes sense when you learn that the cost of living is nearly 270 when compared to the 100 baseline national average. It also boasts one of the highest costs of living in California, so unless you can earn a well-paying tech job, you may want to reconsider moving to San Francisco and instead just visit now and then.

5. Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn is another borough of New York, New York, that has grown to the size of a city. With over 2.5 million residents, it’s larger than many of the other most expensive cities to live in the US and would be the third-largest in the nation overall. It’s a historical neighborhood with plenty to offer a resident, from modern to timeless.

Not counting rent, a single resident of Brooklyn can expect to pay around $1,200 in expenses per month. Surprisingly, rent is cheaper in Brooklyn than other locations in New York by about 14%, making it potentially affordable for anyone who dreams of moving there.

6. Washington, D.C.

Though it’s an expensive place to live, plenty of the activities within the nation’s capital, such as natural parks or museums, are free. Numerous events keep the city active, and while you’re in the city, whether for business or pleasure, you should dress to impress.

While D.C.’s cost of living is 26% higher than the national average, it’s still more affordable to live there than in many of the other most expensive cities to live in the US, thanks to the high salary rates and minimum wage. You can cut one more expense off your list by learning the public transportation system and relying on it instead of your car.

7. San Diego, California

By 2050, San Diego’s population is slated to be around 2 million. This booming metropolis also boasts more farms than any other place in the country. With neighborhoods that represent different cultures and the cool breeze from the beach sweeping past you, this city makes for an incredible place to live.

The cost of living in San Diego is about 45% higher than the national average. This city has multiple locations in one, though, and you can appreciate all of the town for the price. When’s the last time you could travel to the beach in a short time?

8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is the second-largest city on the East Coast. The first capital of the United States is home to history, culture and creativity. It has a workforce of over 3 million people, making it an excellent place to find a job in the growing tech environment it harbors.

You should expect to find one-bedroom apartments in town for around $1,700, which is right around the national average. Rent has been increasing slightly, though, so consider living outside the city if you worry about rent inflation. 

Not everyone who works in the City of Brotherly Love lives there, so if you love the city but are afraid of creeping rent prices, you can choose to commute and save up money so that you can enjoy all the historic city has to offer in the future.

9. Seattle, Washington

Just a two-hour car ride to any of Washington’s national parks, Seattle is a city that is close to nature. There’s no state income tax, either, so it’s no wonder that people choose to work and retire in Washington. 

Unfortunately, their sales tax is higher as a result. Sales tax in Washington is 6.5%, and Seattle adds its own sales tax of 3.75% to that total. If owning a home in Seattle is your dream, though, you’re in luck: The average price of a home is around $490,000, which is much more affordable and a more attainable goal than places in the northeast.

10. Oakland, California

With incredible architecture and historic sites, Oakland is a popular town for any enjoyer of anthropology. Many also consider it the place with the highest population of artists, which bathes the city in a creative atmosphere. Additionally, it features many green locations, which, while not unique to a populous town, offer a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Unfortunately, nearly half of all Oakland households are financially insecure and would drop below the poverty line in just three months. The reason for this might be because a third of their income goes directly to housing costs, leaving little room to pay for other necessities.

11. Portland, Oregon

Portland has a unique history. The name of the city was decided through the flip of a coin. They lean into their strangeness, such as the fact they’re home to the nation’s smallest park, so much that their slogan is “Keep Portland Weird.” If you’re searching for a unique home and have the finances to stay in town, you’d fit right in with the friendly and unique atmosphere of Portland.

Luckily, Portland is a relatively affordable place to live as long as you can find corners to cut. For example, you could purchase a public transportation pass for a monthly fee instead of driving everywhere. 

Housing in Portland is about 84% higher than the national average, but the average salary is also upwards of $60,000. While not exactly cheap living, you could still eke out a good life here and enjoy all that Portland has to offer.

12. Honolulu, Hawaii

While beautiful, life in Honolulu can be expensive. Hawaii is currently the most expensive state in the union to live, making its main city expensive almost by default. Due to its seclusion, goods and services of all kinds tend to be more expensive on average, driving up the cost of living. The high cost of living here is often referred to as the “paradise tax” — that is, the price you must pay for the beauty that surrounds you on the Hawai’ian Islands. If you visit Honolulu, you’ll likely get used to seeing the same faces. Meeting the same people every day quickly builds the sense of community that Honolulu prides itself on.

The best thing you can do to mitigate Honolulu expenses is to choose the right neighborhood to live in. Compared to Honolulu’s overall cost of living of 185, the most expensive community, Waialae-Kahala, is a striking 249, while the least expensive in the top ten list is North Shore at 192. You can also expect groceries to come at a higher cost than the rest of the US due to some items being imported from the mainland.

13. Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks is one of the oldest cities in Alaska, and there are still two active gold mines near it. It’s also the largest city in Interior Alaska. Fairbanks boasts several unique traits, such as temperatures that reached an all-time high of 99F back in 1919 and is the only place in Alaska where a tornado has touched down.

Though living there might be about 30% more expensive than the national average, it’s 78% cheaper than living in New York City, making it one of the most affordable of the most expensive cities to live in the US on our list. Housing is closer to the standard national average, but you may find prices creeping up in other locations, like grocery prices. If you think of creative solutions to heat your home, too, you can save more money on your gas and electric bills.

14. Fremont, California

Fremont is a newer city in California, established in 1956. It’s twice the size of a town like San Francisco, which makes sense when you realize that Fremont came into being from four other, smaller cities. This city is the place where silent films used to be made.

You can expect your energy bill to be higher than average in Fremont. Fremont is about 55% higher in price than the national average, but it’s still more affordable than some other cities on our “most expensive cities to live in the US” list. The average rent is around $2,700, so if you’re looking to rent instead of buying a home, you might find it doable on a budget.

15. Miami, Florida

Living in Miami can be affordable depending on the area you choose to reside in. The cost of living is higher in some places, and that’s where you’ll find the wealthier residents. Because of this, wages might be lower than what you’re used to. Aside from that, the nightlife is booming — with stores and attractions open late in this tourist town, you’ll be sure to have some fun to look forward to on the weekends.

To live comfortably in Miami, your salary should equal about $3,500 monthly. Plenty of Miami neighborhoods are exclusively for those with wealth. Some communities on the beach cost upwards of tens of millions of dollars.

Make Your Budget Work for You

If there’s a place you’d like to live, you can stretch your budget to make it work for you. Do as much research on the city you plan on moving to before actually moving there, including checking out residents’ perspectives, and you’ll feel better prepared to choose the home of your dreams.

Don’t forget that you can always choose to live near a city rather than in it, particularly if the cost of living completely blows away your budget. Staying farther away and saving up your income to afford something in the city of your dreams down the line is an excellent idea that can only benefit you. Plus, it gives you something to aspire toward.

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