Updated Nov 10, 2023 - Economy

See the cities with the highest — and lowest — cost of living

Cost of living index, Q3 2023
Data: Council for Community and Economic Research; Note: Map only shows urban areas with more than 100,000 people; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Behold the "coastal tax": Goods and services tend to be more expensive in U.S. cities along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as compared to inland areas, per a new analysis.

The big picture: There are some exceptions, however — mostly in the mid- and south Atlantic.

Driving the news: Each quarter, the Council for Community and Economic Research assembles a cost-of-living index designed to measure "regional differences in the cost of consumer goods and services."

  • The group's proverbial bucket includes housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services, and is based on spending by "professional and managerial households in the top income quintile."
  • The result: A snapshot in time useful for comparing relative costs across cities.

How it works: An index value of 100 represents the national average cost of living across 269 cities.

  • If a city has a value over 100, its cost of living is higher than average. Under 100, lower than average.

By the numbers: Among cities with more than 100,000 residents, Honolulu (179.2), San Jose (171.3) and San Francisco (169.5) had the country's highest relative cost of living as of the third quarter of 2023.

  • Residents of McAllen, Texas (80.2); Augusta, Georgia (82.8); and Amarillo, Texas (84.4) were enjoying the lowest cost of living.

Yes, but: If Manhattan were its own city, it would hold the top spot, at 227.8.

Zoom in: Looking just at relative grocery prices, San Francisco (122.4), Fairbanks (121.6) and Juneau (121.4) came in highest.

  • The latter two make sense, given the higher cost of shipping goods to Alaska.
  • Pierre, South Dakota (90.6); Houma, Louisiana (91.4); and Thibodaux, Louisiana (91.5) had the lowest relative grocery prices.

Of note: Because the list of participating cities changes each quarter, the cost-of-living index can't be used to measure inflation — but other indicators suggest that higher prices are certainly sticking around.

The bottom line: Looking to cut costs? Consider a move — especially if you're still working remotely and can carry a New York salary to, say, Amarillo.

Go deeper