What It Costs To Live Comfortably In Your City, Based On Savings & Necessities

If you’ve never found yourself thinking, “Gosh, I’ve always wanted to live in Bakersfield,” just wait — by the end of this post, you may be packing your bags and getting ready to move there. Personal finance and consumer banking website GOBankingRates.com calculated what it costs to live comfortably in the 50 most populous cities in the United States. The study found that, when it comes to living within your means, not all cities are created equal. Some have such low living costs that residents are able to make a surplus of income over what they need to get by, while other city dwellers find that their incomes fall short by 40 grand and more of what they would need to live comfortably.

A city’s financial “comfortability,” as GOBankingRates.com calls it, isn’t only a matter of how expensive a city is — it’s a matter of whether or not residents’ incomes actually allow them to live there. Some cities are more expensive than others, but they may have high median incomes to match, while less expensive cities may have correspondingly low incomes. When the amount of money it costs to live comfortably in your city outstrips how much money you make, you’re in a financially precarious position, which is uncomfortable, to say the least.

But what does “comfort” even mean, you ask? Different people have very different notions of comfort, and we all have our own standards of living. (One person, for example, may be totally happy to live without TV, while another feels like 400 channels are the bare minimum they need to survive). For its analysis, GOBankingRates.com defined financial “comfort” as having enough money to use the classic 50/30/20 budgeting rule, in which half of income goes to necessities (including housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and food), 30 percent goes to discretionary expenses (aka things we can technically live without, but that make us happy), and 20 percent goes to savings.

The study found that, of the country’s 50 biggest cities, 15 have median incomes that are above what you need to live comfortably, meaning that 35 have median incomes that are less than the standard for comfortable living — sometimes a lot less. The infographic above compares median income (teal) with the costs of living comfortably (orange). Cities that have a teal ring surrounding the orange are those happy locations where people earn more than they need to live comfortably, including Virginia Beach and Bakersfield. The cities with the bright orange donuts surrounding them are ones with the biggest gaps between “comfort” and “reality,” the worst culprits being Miami and San Francisco.

The map starkly illustrates how many people struggle to live in the United State’s biggest cities. “Too many Americans are barely keeping up with expenses and don’t have enough money left over each month to save for retirement, keep an emergency fund, pay off debt or work toward other vital financial goals,” explained Elyssa Kirkham, the study’s lead reporter. “It’s true that cities with higher costs of living often have higher incomes as well, but those earnings can be stretched thin quickly in America’s most expensive areas.”

These are the 10 least comfortable cities to live in, at least when it comes to finances:

1. Miami

Income needed: $77,057

Necessities (50 percent): $38,529

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $23,117

Savings (20 percent): $15,411

Median Household Income: $30,858

Although Miami isn’t the most expensive city to live in (that honor goes to San Francisco), it’s the least financially comfortable because it has the largest gap between what people need to live comfortably and what they actually earn — a staggering $46,199.

2. San Francisco

Income needed: $119,570

Necessities (50 percent): $59,785

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $35,871

Savings (20 percent): $23,914

Median Household Income: $78,378

Folks in SF earn a significantly higher median income than people in many other cities, but they’re still dealing with a $41,192 deficit between the average income and the sky-high cost of living. Yikes.

3. New York

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Income needed: $87,446

Necessities (50 percent): $43,723

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $26,234

Savings (20 percent): $17,489

Median Household Income: $52,737

The average income in New York City is $34,709 less than you need to live there comfortably.

4. Boston

Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Income needed: $84,422

Necessities (50 percent): $42,211

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $25,327

Savings (20 percent): $16,884

Median Household Income: $54,485

Bostonians earn a median income of $29,937 less than the cost of living comfortably.

5. Los Angeles

Income needed: $74,371

Necessities (50 percent): $37,185

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $22,311

Savings (20 percent): $14,874

Median Household Income: $49,682

L.A. residents’ median household income falls $24,689 short of the income needed to live comfortably.

If these numbers have you reeling, check out the top five most financially comfortable cities in the study. In these locales, the average income actually exceeds the amount needed to live comfortably:

1. Virginia Beach, VA

Income needed: $50,929

Necessities (50 percent): $25,465

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $15,279

Savings (20 percent): $10,186

Median Household Income: $67,001

In this city of 450,000 on Virginia’s coastline, residents earn $16,072 more than they need to live comfortably.

2. Bakersfield, CA

Income needed: $43,426

Necessities (50 percent): $21,713

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $13,028

Savings (20 percent): $8,685

Median Household Income: $56,842

In this city just over 100 miles north of L.A., the median income allows for a $13,416 surplus over the cost of living comfortably.

3. Colorado Springs, CO

Income needed: $44,512

Necessities (50 percent): $22,256

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $13,354

Savings (20 percent): $8,902

Median Household Income: $54,228

Colorado Springs residents earn $9,716 more than the income needed to live comfortably.

4. Arlington, TX

Income needed: $46,904

Necessities (50 percent): $23,452

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $14,071

Savings (20 percent): $9,381

Median Household Income: $53,055

In this city near Dallas, people make $6,151 more than what they need to live comfortably.

5. Mesa, AZ

Income needed: $42,654

Necessities (50 percent): $21,327

Discretionary spending (30 percent): $12,796

Savings (20 percent): $8,531

Median Household Income: $48,259

Mesa residents live just east of Phoenix and make $5,605 more required to live comfortably.

You can check out the numbers for all 50 cities here.

Images: Juan Salamanca/Pexels; Infographic courtesy of GOBankingRates.com; tammon, Unsplash (1, 2), rlischer, tpsdave, skeeze/Pixabay; Fotolia (1, 2)