Cost of living comparison: the most and least expensive cities

Family uses a cost of living comparison to find a home in a new city.
March 23, 2021 | Katie Levene

We’ve all visited a city before and enjoyed our trip so much that we started to wonder: Could I move here? How much would it cost to live here?

The cost of living can vary so much that a significant salary boost might be needed just to get by in a new town. We took a look at some data and came up with a cost of living comparison. Whether you’re just curious, or serious about a move, it’s good and fun to compare the cost of living in your dream city.

How does the cost of living comparison work?

The Council for Community and Economic Research does a cost of living comparison by city. It calculates their quarterly cost of living index by looking at six components: housing, utilities, grocery items, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services. The prices of these categories tend to accurately reflect our monthly and daily spending.

When groceries are singled out specifically, we find that Honolulu and New York (Manhattan) are where your dollar won’t go as far as you’d like. If you want to really save on groceries, Texas is your state! Three of their cities are among the least expensive places to shop for those everyday items.

Where is the cost of living the highest?

The list of the most expensive cities is no surprise. At the top of the list is Manhattan, where the median home will put you back $1.1 million, according to If you’re renting in Manhattan instead, your median rent is $3,400 a month with cozy square footage. No. 2 on the list is Honolulu, where the median home price is $658,000, or $1,70000 on average in monthly rent.

Despite the high prices, there is a huge upside for living in Manhattan or Honolulu: location! Plus, a few of the listed most expensive cities have some of the lowest property taxes including San Francisco and Boston.

Here are the top 10 most expensive cities to live:

  1. New York (Manhattan), NY
  2. Honolulu, HI
  3. San Francisco, CA
  4. New York (Brooklyn), NY
  5. Washington D.C.
  6. Seattle, WA
  7. Oakland, CA
  8. Arlington, VA
  9. Orange County, CA
  10. Boston, MA

Where is the cost of living the lowest?

If you’re not on the east or west coast, you’re more likely to find yourself living in a less expensive city or town. So, if you do decide to call one of these places home, where exactly would you be?

Texas is home to the top two cheapest places to live in the U.S. McAllen, TX and Harlingen, TX are located near the Gulf Coast very close to the border of Mexico. The median home price in McAllen is $228,000, according to Affordable homes and no income taxes in the State of Texas make a move even more appealing compared to the most expensive cities listed above!

Here are the top 10 least expensive cities:

  1. McAllen, TX
  2. Harlingen, TX
  3. Kalamazoo, MI
  4. Muskogee, OK
  5. Richmond, IN
  6. Joplin, MO
  7. Pittsburg, KS
  8. Tupelo, MS
  9. Amarillo, TX
  10. Statesboro-Bulloch County, GA

Overall consumer prices are up

Year over year, the cost of living is up across the United States according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Housing costs, healthcare costs, education costs and recreational services are all up by at least 2%. However, transportation costs, including public transportation, are down significantly year over year because many people have shifted to working from home.

If this post has inspired you to pack up your bags and move, you’ll want to check out our blog posts: Mortgage 101: Preapproved vs. prequalified or Will a new credit card affect a mortgage application? Happy moving!

Katie Levene is a marketer fascinated with finance. Whether the topic is about the psychology of money, investment strategies or simply how to spend better, Katie enjoys diving in and sharing all the details with family, friends and Money Mentor readers. Money management needs to be simplified and Katie hopes she accomplishes that for our readers. The saying goes, "Knowledge is Power", and she hopes you feel empowered after reading Money Mentor.

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