How Much You’d Need to Survive in America’s 9 Most Expensive Cities

most expensive cities in the U.S.

Whenever I watch sitcoms about 20-something professionals living it up in New York City, I always have one question: How could they possibly afford that apartment?

Despite what TV shows and movies would have us believe, you have to make serious bank to afford rent in certain cities.

New York City, San Francisco, and Boston have some of the expensive rent in the U.S., and many new grads would be hard-pressed to afford the cost of living there on their starting salaries.

If you’re living in any of the places on this list, you might have trouble finding an affordable apartment. These nine cities have some of the highest rent in the country.

1. San Francisco

The folks at Apartment List crunched the numbers and the results are in: San Francisco has the most expensive rent in the country. The median price for a one-bedroom apartment is a whopping $2,450 per month. Adding another bedroom will set you back $3,080 every month.

A common rule of thumb is to spend about one-third of your income on rent. According to federal regulations, a family that spends more than 30 percent on rent is considered “cost burdened.” Following this rule, you’d need to earn roughly $7,300 per month to comfortably rent a one-bedroom in San Francisco.

Of course, some people choose to spend 50 percent or more on rent to live in expensive cities. But if you increase your rent budget, you’ll have less left over to put into your emergency fund or pay off student debt.

Kevin Miller is a former San Francisco resident who felt the financial squeeze. “In San Francisco, a $100,000 annual salary felt like $75,000 in LA or $50,000 in Florida, where I grew up,” said Miller. “Everything is more expensive but mainly transportation, food, and drink are outrageous.”

You might be attracted to San Francisco’s exciting tech scene — but you also might need close to a six-figure salary to enjoy all the city has to offer.

2. New York City

It will come as no surprise that the Big Apple also makes the list of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The city that never sleeps is full of world-class restaurants and cultural activities — but you’ll have to pay sky-high prices to live near them.

According to Apartment List, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,090 per month. To comfortably afford these prices, you’d need to make $6,270 per month, or $75,240 per year.

“The cost of living in New York is extremely high,” said Jennifer McDermott, communications manager at “Everything from groceries to transport and rent [is] priced at a premium.

“I live in a modest-sized two-bedroom apartment which costs $5,000 per month in rent,” she added. “When I tell people from out of town how much I pay, their eyes pop, but when I tell fellow New Yorkers, they actually think I have a pretty good deal.”

As a center of finance, media, and publishing, New York might have the job opportunities you’re looking for. But you might need to deal with a shoebox apartment for a few years as you build your career.

3. San Jose

Traveling an hour south of San Francisco won’t lower your cost of rent by much. To live in San Jose, prepare to spend $2,050 for a one-bedroom apartment or $2,570 for a two-bedroom.

Like San Francisco, San Jose’s prices have gone up along with the rise of Silicon Valley. In fact, San Jose is known as the capital of Silicon Valley.

Assuming you pay one-third of your gross income on rent, you’d need to make over $6,000 per month to live comfortably in this city.

4. Washington, D.C.

If you’re interested in a career in government or politics, you might be drawn to the nation’s capital — but you could be stuck with a few roommates.

According to a 2017 survey by Zumper, a one-bedroom apartment will eat up $2,210 per month. You probably won’t be able to build a savings account unless you’re taking in $6,600 per month or more.

5. Los Angeles

With a population of 3.98 million, LA is the second-biggest city in the U.S. But to live near the bright lights of Hollywood, be prepared to spend big on rent.

Zumper puts a rented one-bedroom at $2,100. If you’re going to afford rent and have enough leftover to enjoy the city, you’ll need to make $6,300 per month or more.

6. Boston

As home to 35 colleges, Boston’s rent prices mirror the costs of a higher education — they just keep going up.

The median rent of a one-bedroom in Boston has risen to $1,680, according to Apartment List. Unless you’re making more than the median household income of $59,039, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, you could be living paycheck to paycheck in the capital of Massachusetts.

7. Anaheim, California

If you’re looking for trends among this list of the most expensive cities to live in the U.S., here’s one: California isn’t cheap. Like San Francisco and LA, Anaheim has hefty rent prices.

Apartment List reveals a one-bedroom costs $1,610 and a two-bedroom is about $2,070 per month. Given the high cost of living in Anaheim, you’ll need a high income — about $4,800 per month — to enjoy the city’s 280 days of sunshine per year.

8. Jersey City, New Jersey

Jersey City has long been an affordable alternative to NYC for people who work in the city. But as the population grows, the cost of living has risen with it. These days, Jersey City is one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S., at least in terms of apartment rentals.

Apartment List puts the median one-bedroom at $1,580 and two-bedroom at $1,880. Although you’ll pay a lot less than in Manhattan, you’ll still be paying $421 per month more than the national median reported by Zumper.

Of course, it could be worth the cost for easy access to New York City. Buses, shuttles, trains, and ferries run all day, or you could drive into the city in 30 minutes or less.

9. San Diego

Another city in California rounds out this list. San Diego might seem like a surfer’s paradise, but when those surfers hang up their boards they’re probably heading off to work in some of the highest-paying jobs.

Without a high salary, they’d be hard-pressed to pay the rent, which costs about $1,560 for a one-bedroom apartment. To hang 10 in this beach city, aim to make $4,680 per month or more.

Are the most expensive cities in the U.S. worth the cost?

It’s no secret that many of the cities on this list are exciting places to live. They offer tons of cultural events, museums, restaurants, and nightlife, along with the chance to live beside diverse people from all over the world.

But before choosing one of these cities as your home base, consider the impact it will have on your finances. Rent a $2,450 one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, for instance, and you’d shell out more than $29,000 per year on rent alone.

That’s $22,320 more than you’d pay per year in, say, Toledo, Ohio, where the monthly rent for a one-bedroom is just $590. That difference is especially huge if you’re trying to pay off student loans or build a retirement savings account.

At the same time, you might find more job opportunities — and the chance for a higher income — in one of these pricey cities. Plus, there are creative ways to increase your income with a side gig or reduce your cost of living by living with roommates or cooking at home.

Ultimately, a number of factors come into play when choosing where to live. It’s up to you to figure out what makes sense for your finances. And if your current zip code is breaking the bank, you could always relocate to one of the most affordable cities in the U.S.

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  1. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Finance Lender Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (
  2. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 5.49% APR to 14.24% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 5.29% APR to 11.44% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of December 1, 2017 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 5.29% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 1.34% plus 4.20% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

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  1. Personal Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2017, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.23%. Variable interest rates range from 6.02% – 15.97% (6.02% – 15.97% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of your loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Fixed interest rates range from 5.99% – 16.24% (5.99% – 16.24% APR) based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Lowest rates shown are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
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