Think your city is expensive?
Maybe you can use a little perspective. The Economic Policy Institute has updated its family budget calculator, which estimates what it would cost for someone to live what they describe as a “modest but comfortable” life in 618 metro and rural areas across the United States.
The tool tallies living costs, child care expenses, health care and rough estimates for groceries, transportation and other bills. For the first time this year the institute also looked at living costs for a single person without children — added thanks to popular demand — and for bigger families with up to four children.
The most expensive cities for singles and for families were fairly similar, though the exact order varied for different family sizes depending on how taxes, child care and health care costs varied from state to state.
For single people, a city’s affordability was mostly determined by rent, which is frequently the largest expense in the monthly budget. That explains why the top three most expensive cities for single people with no children — Honolulu, Stamford, Conn., and San Francisco — were also the cities with the largest rent bills.
Take Honolulu, which turned out to be the most expensive metro area for a single person. With a studio apartment going for $1,267 a month, rent there was the second highest of the cities studied. The person there pays about $778 a month in taxes, which was the largest for a single person.
Stamford, the second most expensive city for single people, had the highest rental costs — with a studio costing $1,269 a month. And San Francisco had both the third highest rental estimate of $1,191 and the third largest monthly budget.
New York, the fourth most expensive city for a single person, had the seventh largest rent bill but the third biggest tax bill — a measure that includes payroll taxes along with federal and state income taxes. A studio apartment there goes for about $1,163 a month and taxes take up $678 of the typical monthly paycheck.
As the graphic shows, the picture changes a little once you add children into the mix. Affordability then depends not only on housing, but also on child care costs, which can be as expensive as housing in some parts of the country. People with children also face bigger tax bills, higher housing costs and other miscellaneous bills, the study shows.
For instance, D.C., which was the fifth most expensive place to live for a single person, jumps to becoming the most expensive place to live for a family of four. That’s largely because the Washington area, which includes Virginia and Maryland, is by far the most expensive city when it comes to child care costs, according to the report.
In the District, day care for two children costs about $2,597 a month, about $600 more monthly than the next most expensive metro area when it comes to child care for two kids, Nassau County in New York. The monthly child care bill in D.C. is also roughly 70 percent more expensive than the $1,500 needed for a two bedroom apartment there, the institute estimates.
Of course, your actual budget may look different from the estimates used by the institute. The numbers don’t account for saving or paying down debt, two habits that are important to many families, especially as college costs increase. The calculator also assumes that all meals are cooked at home and not all people have that kind of discipline — despite the savings potential.
Housing estimates are based on fair market rents from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses mid-level rental prices that may be lower than what some families actually pay, depending on where they live. Indeed, a growing number of households spend more than half of their paycheck on rent. But, the estimates can be a useful gauge of how affordability changes broadly from one city to the next.
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