These Are the Most (and Least) Expensive Cities to Live In

by Christy Bieber | Published on Sept. 23, 2021

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A person wearing business clothes and riding a bike on a city street.

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Is your city on the list?

Living in a city can mean enjoying a wonderful lifestyle, as urban environments often provide the ability to walk to restaurants, stores, and schools. But the cost of living in cities across the U.S. can vary dramatically.

The Council for Economic and Community Research recently released its Cost of Living Index for the second quarter of 2021. This index assesses the after-tax cost for a professional/managerial standard of living in 258 different urban areas. It shows substantial regional variation, with some cities coming in at more than double the national average while others were priced more than 20% below it.

Based on the second quarter Cost of Living Index, here are the most -- and least -- expensive urban areas to call home in the U.S.

The most expensive urban areas in the U.S.

Most people won't be surprised by some of the cities on this list of most expensive places. They tend to have a reputation for very high housing costs, substantial income taxes, and expensive goods and services.

However, you may be shocked to see just how far above the national average it can cost to maintain a professional or managerial standard of living in some of the country's most expensive locales.

Here are the 10 most expensive urban areas in the second quarter, according to the Cost of Living Index:

  1. New York, New York (Manhattan): Residing in Manhattan will cost you more than twice the national average. The cost of living index here is 251.0, compared with a national average of 100.
  2. San Francisco, California: Here, the index is 187.1 -- well below New York, but still considerably higher than average.
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii: The cost of living index in Hawaii comes in at 185.9, just a bit below San Francisco. Living in Hawaii is expensive in part because importing items from the mainland can increase costs.
  4. New York, New York (Brooklyn): The cost of living in Brooklyn has risen dramatically in recent years, and the index here is now 171.2.
  5. Washington D.C.: The nation's capital has a cost of living index of 153.3.
  6. Seattle, Washington: Seattle takes the sixth spot on the list with a cost of 150.4.
  7. Boston, Massachusetts: Coming in seventh place is Boston, with a cost of living index of 150.3.
  8. Oakland, California: Oakland has a cost of living index of 149.5, which is almost 1.5 times the national average.
  9. Orange County, California: This is the third of four California cities on the list, and the cost of living index of 149.2 is just barely below Oakland.
  10. Los Angeles–Long Beach, California: The final California city to make the list of the 10 most expensive, the Los Angeles–Long Beach area has a cost of living index of 148.9.

The least expensive urban areas in the U.S.

While the country's costliest cities have a cost of living index well above the national average, the 10 least expensive urban areas all fall below it. In fact, the cheapest city -- Kalamazoo, Michigan -- is more than 20% below average.

Here are the country's lowest-priced cities, starting with the cheapest and working up.

  1. Kalamazoo, Michigan: This is the cheapest of 258 urban areas, with a cost of living index of just 77.1.
  2. Harlingen, Texas: Here, the index is 77.3, which is only slightly more expensive than Kalamazoo.
  3. McAllen, Texas: Texas cities take a prominent place on the list of cheapest locals, and McAllen's cost of living index is just 77.7.
  4. Muskogee, Oklahoma: This Oklahoma city is only slightly more expensive, with a cost of living index of 78.9.
  5. Jackson, Mississippi: The index of 79.1 earns Jackson the fifth spot on the list of cities with the lowest cost of living.
  6. Amarillo, Texas: The third of three Texas cities on the list, Amarillo has a cost of living index of 81.7.
  7. Tupelo, Mississippi: The second Mississippi city to make the list, Tupelo's cost of living index is 82.0.
  8. Pittsburg, Kansas: Not to be confused with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this city in Kansas has a cost of living index of 82.1.
  9. Anniston-Calhoun County, Alabama: Here, the cost of living index is 82.3 -- much higher than Kalamazoo's, but still well below the national average of 100.
  10. Richmond, Indiana: Finally, this city is the 10th least expensive, with a cost of living index of 82.3.

Interpreting the data

The Cost of Living Index compares 90,000 prices of more than 60 different items. It relies upon quarterly data collected by universities, chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations.

Although the Council for Economic and Community Research cautioned that small differences in the index shouldn't be determined to show a measurable variation in cost of living, the data still makes very clear where it will cost you the most -- and the least -- to live.

Consumers thinking of moving should compare the cost of living in different areas, as it can make a big impact on how far the money in their bank accounts will go.

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