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Slide Show | May 2014

Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live In

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Affordability aside, America's costliest cities often have a lot to offer residents: vibrant economies, diverse populations, interesting attractions and active social scenes. But are those amenities worth such high living costs? "That's a highly subjective question," says Dean Frutiger, of the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). Costs alone cannot dictate the attractiveness of a place. But knowing the numbers could help you make an informed decision about relocating to a pricey new city, he says. For example, a potential job may include a 20% raise if you move to a more expensive city, but given the higher living costs, that increase might actually be a pay cut in terms of purchasing power.

We identified ten pricey cities—five spots in California, four along the East Coast and one in Hawaii—using data on 308 urban areas collected by the C2ER. The organization's Cost of Living Index measures prices for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services. We screened out cities with fewer than 50,000 people. And because we wanted to pinpoint specific cities, we omitted expensive counties with multiple large population centers, such as Orange County, Cal., and Nassau County, N.Y.

Take a look at our 2014 list of the 10 most expensive places to live in the U.S.

The Cost of Living Index is based on annual data from 2013. Data on population, household incomes and home values is provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. Unemployment figures come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live In

10. San Diego

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Cost of Living: 30.0% above U.S. average

City Population: 1.3 million

Median Household Income: $63,990 (U.S.: $53,046)

Median Home Value: $477,800 (U.S.: $181,400)

The sun, surf and sand might be free in San Diego, but you pay a stiff price to live there. Housing costs are more than double the national average in this Southern California city. And while typically high household incomes help offset inflated living costs, you may have to hustle to find work in the area. The local unemployment rate of 6.9% remains a bit worse than the national average of 6.8%, as of March 2014, though the labor situation has improved since 2013.

Military and government workers may fare best, with about one-fourth of all local jobs related to defense, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Besides the federal government, Northrop Grumman, SAIC and Lockheed Martin are major area employers.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the San Diego area.

10. San Diego

9. Los Angeles

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Cost of Living: 30.4% above U.S. average

City Population: 3.9 million

Median Household Income: $49,745

Median Home Value: $470,000

Despite its glamorous image, the City of Angels is cursed with a combination of high costs and low incomes. Proving the television show right, the 90210 zip code boasts a high median household income of $130,071, but it only accounts for 8,486 households. On the other hand, the city as a whole has a typical household income that's 6.6% below the national level, and the percentage of the population living in poverty is 21.2%, compared with 14.9% for the U.S. Another negative: The unemployment rate remains markedly high at 8.0% (as of March 2014, compared with 6.8% for the U.S.).

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Los Angeles area.

9. Los Angeles

8. Oakland, Calif.

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Cost of Living: 36.1% above U.S. average

City Population: 400,740

Median Household Income: $51,683

Median Home Value: $449,800

California home values prove precious with a state median of $383,900, more than double the national median, and Oakland is no exception. Though the local median home value is the lowest of all the Californian cities on this list, housing expenses are 116.3% above the national average. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Oakland rents for $1,678 a month, compared with the national average of $893. That burden is particularly heavy considering that the typical household income falls below the U.S. median. On the bright side, utilities cost 4.5% below the national average.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Oakland area.

8. Oakland, Calif.

7. Boston

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Cost of Living: 39.7% above U.S. average

City Population: 636,479

Median Household Income: $53,136

Median Home Value: $374,700

Along with big-city benefits, including renowned universities, art collections and historic sites, a healthy local job market may well make Boston worth its high costs. The recent unemployment rate was just 5.7% and is projected to get even better. Over the past year, job market research firm Burning Glass Technologies has found more than 6,500 online job postings per 10,000 people in the area. Overall for the U.S., there have been just 470 job postings per 10,000 people.

While by no means cheap, the capital of Massachusetts offers the most affordable housing expenses and home values among these ten most expensive cities. Unfortunately, the relative savings stop there. Groceries run 25.8% above the national average; health care costs come in 26.3% higher; and utilities, 44.4% higher. Also, despite the area's above-average costs, the median household income is just on par with the national level, and the poverty rate is a high 21.2%.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Boston area.

7. Boston

6. Washington, D.C.

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Cost of Living: 40.1% above U.S. average

City Population: 633,427

Median Household Income: $64,267

Median Home Value: $443,000

New grads and established millionaires alike find a worthwhile home in the nation's capital. At 2.5 times the U.S. average, local housing expenses can be onerous, but near-normal prices for other goods and services, including health care, transportation and utilities, lessen the sting. Free diversions, including the national monuments, numerous Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, are an added perk.

A favorable job market and plump paychecks also help. The recent unemployment rate was just 5.0%, and a whopping 7,147 job opportunities per 10,000 people have been posted online over the past year. The median household income is well above the national level. And starting salaries are just as generous, at $47,600 a year for college graduates, according to compensation research firm PayScale.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the D.C. area.

6. Washington, D.C.

5. Stamford, Conn.

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Lee Cannon via Creative Commons

Cost of Living: 44.1% above U.S. average

City Population: 125,109

Median Household Income: $76,797

Median Home Value: $537,300

The smallest city on this list really packs in the wealth. Stamford flaunts the second-highest median household income on this list, as well as one of the highest concentrations of millionaire households in the country. A big slice of those fat paychecks will have to cover housing costs that are more than double the national average. Other living expenses run anywhere from 8% to 27% above average. Still, the area is a more affordable suburban alternative to Manhattan, where some Stamford residents commute daily.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Stamford area.

5. Stamford, Conn.

4. San Jose, Calif.

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Kyle Flood via Creative Commons

Cost of Living: 49.3% above U.S. average

City Population: 982,765

Median Household Income: $81,349

Median Home Value: $575,100

With above-average costs for just about everything, it's a good thing residents in the heart of the Silicon Valley are likely to be gainfully employed (and many are millionaires). The recent jobless rate was a below-average 6.3%, and the median household income is the highest on this list. Those generous paychecks can help offset housing costs that are more than 2.5 times the national average and utilities that are 23.3% above par.

Despite the second-highest median home value on this list, the homeownership rate in this area stands at 58.7%, lower than the national rate of 65.5% but higher than any other of our most expensive cities. All those homeowners can expect to fork over $7,036 a month in living costs, compared with $4,941 a month nationally, on average.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the San Jose area.

4. San Jose, Calif.

3. San Francisco

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Cost of Living: 61.6% above U.S. average

City Population: 825,863

Median Household Income: $73,802

Median Home Value: $750,900

Living expenses in San Francisco can be as steep as the city's famed hills. Housing costs, at nearly three times the national average, are the main culprit. The median value of a home in San Francisco is by far the highest on our list of expensive cities, beating out runner-up San Jose by a whopping $175,800. A typical two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment rents for $2,925 a month, more than triple the national average.

Household incomes about 40% above the national median help balance local budgets. The job market is favorable, too, with an unemployment rate of 6.0% and 5,335 job postings available per 10,000 people over the past year. Entrepreneurial opportunities also abound: San Francisco has drawn in $3.2 billion in investment money, about 34% of all U.S. venture capital, in just the first quarter of 2014.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the San Francisco area.

3. San Francisco

2. Honolulu

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Cost of Living: 69.1% above U.S. average

City Population: 345,610

Median Household Income: $58,397

Median Home Value: $547,600

Paradise isn't lost; it's just really expensive. Sitting in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii offers miles of beautiful beaches and a yearlong summer to its masses of tourists and well-heeled residents. But the state's remoteness also means paying a premium for just about everything. Housing expenses in the state capital are about 2.6 times what's typical for the rest of the U.S. And utilities, groceries and transportation cost 71.5%, 55.2% and 26.9% above average, respectively—each ranking as the highest on this list. More specifically, gasoline costs 21.7% more than average, and a dozen eggs cost 87.3% more. One winning low number for Honolulu: The unemployment rate is just 4.0%, the nadir of all our expensive cities.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Honolulu area.

2. Honolulu

1. New York

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Cost of Living: 120.4% above U.S. average (Manhattan only)

City Population: 8.3 million

Median Household Income: $51,865

Median Home Value: $501,500

If your budget can make it here, it can make it anywhere. Manhattan, New York City's most expensive borough, is the only area in the country where living costs more than double the U.S. average. Brooklyn and Queens may be relatively more affordable, but they still require residents to pay a 71.5% and 52.0% premium, respectively. Venturing out to the surrounding suburbs, high costs even plague New York's Nassau County and much of northern New Jersey at more than 30% above average.

The biggest budget buster of the Big Apple is its famously exorbitant real estate market. Housing costs in Manhattan are more than 4.5 times the national average. But the financial pain doesn't stop there: Groceries, utilities and transportation cost 35.5%, 33.8% and 26.7% more than average, respectively. Plus, the typical household income actually comes in under the nation's $53,046 median, and recent unemployment, at 7.4%, is above the U.S. rate of 6.8%. Still, none of these numbers seems to deter the crowds; the concrete jungle is the most populous city in the nation.

RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the New York area.

1. New York

2013 Most Expensive Cities Rankings

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1. New York
2. Honolulu
3. San Francisco
4. San Jose, Calif.
5. Stamford, Conn.
6. Washington, D.C.
7. Boston
8. Oakland, Calif.
9. San Diego
10. Los Angeles

Kiplinger updates many of its "best places" rankings annually. Above is last year's list of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on what data was available at the time of publishing, changes to how the data was gathered, switches to new data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow the pool of candidates.

2013 Most Expensive Cities Rankings

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