Where Can You Live on 53,000 a Year?

The median household income in the United States is about $53,657. Whether you consider this a lot or a little to live on often depends on where you live — the price of everything from housing to gas fluctuates based on location. And when you consider some rules of financial planning, like not spending more than 28 percent of your monthly income on the cost of your home (including taxes and maintenance), these regional differences can majorly affect your quality of life.

How far does your money go where you live? Here’s what $53,000-ish gets you in 10 American cities.

Coast to Coast

Coast to Coast

The median household income in the United States is about $53,657. Whether you consider this a lot or a little to live on often depends on where you live — the price of everything from housing to gas fluctuates based on location. And when you consider some rules of financial planning, like not spending more than 28 percent of your monthly income on the cost of your home (including taxes and maintenance), these regional differences can majorly affect your quality of life.

How far does your money go where you live? Here’s what $53,000-ish gets you in 10 American cities.

San Diego, CA

San Diego, CA

San Diego has the largest concentration of military personnel in the world, leads as a high-tech hub, and is home to six universities and more than 80 research institutes. You also have lots of options when it comes to using your free time, thanks to San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline and culture of active living. More than 1,200 business and 32,407 jobs depend on sports- and recreation-related activities in San Diego. And the city’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent and sinking.

But before you pick up and move West, keep in mind that you’ll need a high salary (and indeed, incomes here tend to be higher than the national average). The median price of a home is close to $500,000, and the cost of gas is sky-high. In 2015, for example, gas in San Diego cost $3.43 per gallon, while the national average was almost a dollar less, at $2.46. A monthly pass on San Diego’s public transit system will run you between $72 and $100, depending on the length of your commute.

Median household income: $67,799
Median home value: $489,000
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $13

Miami, FL

Miami, FL

Miami, one of Florida’s most popular vacation spots, has been ranked as one of the worst cities to buy in as a first-time homebuyer. That’s not too surprising, considering the median household income is just under $32,000, but the median price for a house is nearly a quarter of a million dollars — which might be a stretch even if you make around $53,000.

Since the average household can’t afford a single-family home or condo without becoming cost-burdened, Miami is a city of renters and will continue to be, according to city housing data. And about 65 percent of people with a mortgage in Miami pay 30 percent or more of their household income toward their houses, which goes against traditional finance advice.

Who’s living well? Landlords. Rental prices have risen 62 percent in last 10 years.

As for getting around, Miami does have a mass transit system (a monthly pass is $112.50), but almost half the residents have cars.

Median household income: $31,917
Median home price: $245,000
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $15

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA

Recently Philadelphia has become a hub for the biomedical field, pharmaceutical firms, research institutions, and people in finance, telecommunications, insurance, and education — but it helps to move here if you already have a position lined up. According to city data, the poverty rate in Philadelphia is 26.3 percent, and the city has an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent (while it’s improving, it’s still above the national average of 5.6 percent).

Consequently, Philly has a relatively low median household income of $39,043. But if you’re bringing home close to the national median, you’re in a great position to buy or rent, considering the median home price is $148,700 and the median monthly rent is $913.

Also, the urban comforts that give Philadelphia its appeal — from its rep as a shopping mecca and a gastronomic powerhouse — won’t break the bank. The average price for a casual meal here is only $12.

Drivers and cyclists can expect to share the road thanks to a recent bike initiative, or you can use Philadelphia’s SEPTA system, an extensive public transit system. A monthly pass will run you $91.

Median household income: $39,043
Median home price: $148,700
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $12

Denver, CO

Denver, CO

Living in the Mile High City means 300 days of sunshine and an active outdoor life. If you make $53,000 a year, you’re right on par with the city’s median income. And Denver’s a great place to secure a job: The U.S. Department of Labor ranks it as having the third-lowest unemployment rate (3.2 percent) compared to other large metropolitan areas.

It’s also a place with pretty reasonably priced homes (if you’re making the Denver median income or more), with a median home price of $283,100. Plus, you can expect that your real estate investment won’t go bust. Say you bought a place in Denver in April 2011; it would be worth 26 percent more today. And if you moved here before the 2008 recession and bought in April 2007, your home would still be worth 14 percent more today.

Your dollars will also go far when it comes to commuting costs — if you like to bike. Denver residents are known for their athletic lifestyles, and biking to work is just one way to get in another workout for about 10,000 commuters.

Median household income: $54,941
Median home price: $283,100
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $12

Seattle, WA

Seattle, WA

For what it’s worth, Seattle rates as one of the best places in the U.S. to be rich and single, thanks to a population that’s 43.5 percent single and cashing in on a higher-than-average median income of $70,975.

If you’re looking to buy a home in Seattle, we’re talking a median home price of $473,300. So if you’re making closer to $53,000, a house in one of the city’s lively and distinct neighborhoods is likely out of reach.

So why do singles gravitate to Seattle? It could be for the strong job markets in information and communications technology, manufacturing, health care, and life sciences, which are some of Seattle’s key industries.  

As for the commuting options in Seattle, know that the city works on ways to make the headache less painful, such as biking and ride-share initiatives. If you do plan to drive, the cost of gas in Seattle is on the higher side of the national average.

Median household income: $70,975
Median home price: $473,300
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $13

Honolulu, HI

Honolulu, HI

The appeal of living in Hawaii’s capital goes beyond the superficial. Sure, you may feel like you’re on a permanent vacation with all the palm trees, perfect weather and the famed Waikiki Beach. But underneath the surface, the economics of living in Honolulu are also promising. The median household income in Honolulu is above the national average, at $73,581. Plus, the U.S. Department of Labor rates urban Honolulu as having one of the lowest metropolitan unemployment rates in the U.S., at 2.7 percent.

But when it comes to buying a home, you may not find a bargain in paradise. The median home price for Honolulu County is $590,600. Unless you’re making closer to Honolulu’s median salary, renting is clearly a better option.

While the average casual meal is a hefty $15, there are plenty of more budget-friendly options. You can even get James Beard Award–winning fare at Helena’s, where the regional classic of poi goes for a mere $3.75.

If you want to save on gas and stay active, Honolulu has a lot of transportation options, like specially designed streets for walking and biking to work. If you do plan to drive, know that Honolulu’s gas prices hover above the national average.

Median household income: $74,634
Median home price: $590,600
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $15

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis’ median household income of $50,791 is lower than the national average, but your dollar goes a long way here, considering the median price of a home is $204,600 (nearly on par with the national average).

The city’s main draw may be its thriving business opportunities: Seven of the largest U.S. banks are located in Minneapolis, and 16 of the biggest corporations on the Fortune 500 list are also here. Minneapolis’ unemployment rate is also low, at 3.1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The city is also not a concrete jungle. It’s situated on the banks of the Mississippi River and has a unique Chain of Lakes that provide a setting for lots of downtime activities, from kayaking and hockey to waterside biking and running.

Minneapolis has been ranked as one of the best cities in the nation for outdoor activities and the No. 1 bike-friendly city in America, with 34 miles of bike lanes. You can even cut commuting costs and ride your bike to work: It’s only $65 a year to join Minneapolis’ extensive Nice Ride bike share program.

Median household income: $50,791
Median home price: $204,600
Average price of a casual restaurant meal: $12

Boston, MA

Boston, MA

Boston can be appealing at first glance — especially if you’re single. Like Seattle, Boston is considered to be one of the best cities to live in if you’re looking to date — 56.4 percent of its population is single.

But the city is not cheap. If you’re living on Boston’s median household income of $54,485 (just above the national average), home ownership will be a stretch. The median home price is about $379,500, and more than half of the one-bedroom apartments in the city cost $2,000 or more a month.

On the other hand, Boston shines as CityLab’s 18th most economically powerful city in the world, outranking Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Moscow, and Geneva. And you have many colleges to choose from if you’re thinking of getting another degree or finding an extension class to up your skills.

You can also cut costs on commuting, because the city takes its public transit seriously. Boston has also been rated the third most walkable city in America and the third most transit-friendly city, after New York and San Francisco. A monthly subway and bus pass will run you $75 per month.

Median household income: $54,485
Median home price: $379,500
Average price ofa casual restaurant meal: $15

Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, NC

Charlotte makes the most of your hard-earned dollar: The median household income is $52,375, and the median home price is a reasonable $170,500. It’s no wonder that Time named it the “Best Big City Bargain.” If you’re living on the national median income, home ownership should be a slam dunk for you.

Americans are taking note. These days, Charlotte’s population is about 809,958, and the city saw around 10 percent growth between 2010 and 2014. And if you’re looking for work, Charlotte is the home of many heavy hitters in industry, from Wells Fargo and Bank of America to American Airlines and Lowe’s.

There’s good news for drivers, too: A study by Quadrant Information Services found that Charlotte residents had the lowest auto insurance rates in the country, with premiums coming in at 43 percent below the national average. If you’re not a fan of driving, LYNX, Charlotte’s light rail system, and CATS, its transit system, offer monthly passes for just $88.

Median household income: $52,375
Median home price: $170,500
Average price ofa casual restaurant meal: $11

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas

Put aside for a moment Austin’s notorious live music scene and restaurant buzz — it’s also appealing for its sound economy and livability, too. Making $50,000 a year puts you close to Austin’s median household income ($55,216). And given the median home price of $227,800, you’ll likely be able to find something in your price range.

Gainful employment is well within reach: The U.S. Department of Labor ranks Austin as having the second-lowest unemployment rate (tied with Denver and Minneapolis at 3.1 percent) for a large American metropolitan area. And jobs are growing, partially due to a tech boom — so you might try for a career at Dell, IBM, Apple, or Facebook.

If you commute to work, the Capital Metro (bus, light rail, and carpool) charges $41.25 to $96.25 for a 31-day pass, depending on how far you’re traveling. And with gas prices hovering around $1.40 per gallon, it’s also affordable to drive to the office.

Median household income: $55,216
Median home price: $227,800
Average price of a asual restaurant meal: $12

Additional reporting by Kaitlyn Russell. All median household income and home price numbers come from the United States Census Bureau; the average prices of casual restaurant meals come from Numbeo.

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