The True Cost of Living Here
July 13, 2013 4:49 PM   Subscribe

This Atlantic article about the EPI Family Budget Calculator tries to calculate the required income to live a comfortable yet modest lifestyle in various parts of the US.
posted by COD (45 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
But according to the Koch's if you make 34k a year you're in the top ONE PERCENT globally, so relax.
posted by Max Power at 4:56 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't see a line for student loan repayments.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


I moved from Seattle to Minneapolis in large part because I could actually afford a house in Minneapolis. But that calculator actually says Seattle is cheaper, due to cheaper child care. They do not seem to know that housing is literally twice the cost there.
posted by miyabo at 5:02 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


$87K for a family of four in the DC area, which seems a little bit low. The monthly health care expenses exceed the housing expenses.
posted by COD at 5:04 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess you're not a family if you don't have kids.
posted by goethean at 5:09 PM on July 13, 2013 [61 favorites]


The monthly housing in DC is wildly understated as well. $1412 will buy you a 1 bedroom for your 2 parents and 2 children, maybe. Good luck deciding who sleeps on the floor.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:17 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I counted our two-adults family as a one-adult two kids, for an estimate. And yeah, it would be much more realistic to include the average credit card or students loan debt in this.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:17 PM on July 13, 2013


I guess you're not a family if you don't have kids.

Oh FFS.

I don't see a line for student loan repayments.

The student loan issue is huge and made more complicated by the geographical factor. If I'd have gotten a job in the midwest, I'd be doing really well for myself now. But given that I'm in the suburban Northeast, my on-paper livable salary is just devastated by the high cost of living and my insane student loan payments.

Alas, I don't hold out much hope that cost-of-living will be factored into the student loan payment schedule any time soon. I guess I should just be glad if Congressional Republicans are thwarted from bringing back the debtor's prison.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


"They do not seem to know that housing is literally twice the cost there."

EPI's housing number seems off. I moved to Kansas City from Albuquerque a year ago and housing is much less expensive here. The EPI calculator shows it as being almost exactly the same. So I double-checked by looking at one of the real estate sites and, sure enough, the ABQ median is nearly twice KC for all homes and the average is almost as much higher. That's a big discrepancy.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:19 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of curious about how they decided what 'comfortable yet modest' meant. Or what it says about my perception of 'comfortable yet modest' is. For example, they've assumed monthly transportation costs of $480 in Minneapolis (for one adult, one child), which made me do a double-take (a bus pass is $85/month for rush hour fares). Then I remembered they probably assumed people have cars (they did). But what does my assumption that a 'comfortable yet modest' lifestyle here doesn't include a car mean? Certainly some of it means my commute takes me to the university--I know one person whose employment all but depends on having a car, so it's not like my situation is univeral. And some of my social life is certainly aided by people giving me rides in the middle of winter. But I also feel like I'm suddenly quite poor, which isn't exactly accurate.

I also really wish I knew why they decided to have cities appear incrementally. Though clicking on them in that animation doesn't seem to give you the actual budget.
posted by hoyland at 5:21 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh.

Monthly Housing $1421

hahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahaahno

Monthly Food $546

oh, uh, apparently I need to spend more money on food

Monthly Transportation $450

hahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahaahno
posted by davejay at 5:25 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "EPI's housing number seems off. I moved to Kansas City from Albuquerque a year ago and housing is much less expensive here. "

Yea, the number I saw for KC was like 780 a month. That's nearly what I pay a month out here in Oregon for a 2 bedroom apt where houses are twice the price for less space.
posted by pwnguin at 5:25 PM on July 13, 2013


Forget the poor estimate of cost of living in cities.. Uh, I guess budgeting for retirement was too much to consider as well? We all should just live paycheck to paycheck, save nothing, and depend on the fraction of our income-earning salaries that Social Security may or may not provide in our retirement years. Or just work until we die. This is embarasingly sloppy from the "Economic Policy Institute."
posted by drpynchon at 5:26 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Once you realize that The Atlantic is the American-left* version of Reader's Digest, you'll gain a new perspective on their articles.

*so basically centre-right for the rest of the world
posted by dubold at 5:27 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


If someone could please point me to the housing in Orange County that supposedly costs $1621 per month for a family of 3 I'd greatly appreciate it, as it has alluded me thus far.
posted by The Gooch at 5:29 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


When they say DC, or Minneapolis, or whatever, they are encompassing the entire metro area, not just the city. In DC, that probably goes as far south as Fredericksburg and as far west as Purceville. The housing cost in DC does seem low as an average, however you can have a decent home for a family of 4 in Stafford for $1412 a month. Of course, your transportation costs will skyrocket...
posted by COD at 5:31 PM on July 13, 2013


Um, all you special snowflakes *do* realize that for a comparison to work, you need a stable baseline to work from, don't you?

And that the actual numbers matter less than the relative values?

And that you can fairly easily use those values to calculate the real values for your own special snowflake situation?
posted by R. Schlock at 5:31 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Lumping together whole sprawling metro areas sometimes makes sense, and sometimes is total gibberish. Philadelphia only like 15% less expensive than NYC? Pure silliness.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:31 PM on July 13, 2013


But seriously, why don't they have an option for no kids? That seems weird, and like a conscious decision for exclusion.

I did what nakedmolerats suggested and chose one adult, one child for my unchilded marriage and, creepily, the housing cost that comes up is $6 different from what I pay for mortgage + HOA fees in Raleigh, NC. However, I have always had the idea we paid far less than most people around here.
posted by something something at 5:33 PM on July 13, 2013


"And that the actual numbers matter less than the relative values?"

Yes, and the relative values are wrong.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:36 PM on July 13, 2013


If someone could please point me to the housing in Orange County that supposedly costs $1621 per month for a family of 3 I'd greatly appreciate it, as it has alluded me thus far.

Santa Ana, easy. Actually, a quick scan of realtor.com finds plenty of two-bedroom apartments even in, say, Irvine at that price. On the EPI site they say they derive the numbers from HUD's fair market pricing figures, which are based on the 40th percentile of the local rental market. Remember that that is likely not to be the place you want to live, it's going to be the place you settle for.
posted by yoink at 5:36 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


the relative values are wrong.

That's a separate issue.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:37 PM on July 13, 2013


The line items look about right for Colorado Springs, but what strikes me is that the numbers hardly make a family comfortable. Again, no line item for student loans or credit card debt or car repairs, much less savings or money for college.
posted by mochapickle at 5:40 PM on July 13, 2013


I'm not even sure what a 'comfortable yet modest' lifestyle means for a family of three who are able to live in the NYC Metro Area... Perhaps it requires that you are prohibited from living in huge chunks of the City (most of Manhattan; parts of Brooklyn and Queens)
posted by Stu-Pendous at 5:44 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Count me in with the "$1412 for housing in DC metro? lulz" folks.

But also frustrated that there isn't a separate Fairfax County - or especially Loudon County, shit is *crazy* out here - sections for VA.
posted by ish__ at 5:55 PM on July 13, 2013


The monthly housing in DC is wildly understated as well. $1412 will buy you a 1 bedroom for your 2 parents and 2 children, maybe. Good luck deciding who sleeps on the floor.

It says metro area, so the housing and/or the job might not actually be in DC. It could include housing options that put you within a 60 minute commute by car from jobs.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:59 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The housing cost in DC does seem low as an average, however you can have a decent home for a family of 4 in Stafford for $1412 a month. Of course, your transportation costs will skyrocket...

And a 58mile one way daily commute to the DC line from Fredricksburg is in no way "comfortable"
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:22 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was curious about the student loans* and thought perhaps one reason to exclude them would be if most people they're talking to don't have any. This article seems to be aimed at people with kids, as noted above, and I don't know where to find 'how many people with student loans have kids' but let's practice my estimation skills with the numbers I can find.

The first few internet results I found (wikipedia, mother jones) agreed that just under 40 million americans have any student loans. I do see that ~40% of the loan-bearers are under 30, so I feel ok doing a really rough substitition saying 40% of people with loans don't have kids. So there are about 25 million (rounding it up) people who both have children and are paying off student loans. ~50% of American households contain a child, and to figure out how many people that covers....hm, couples are presumably more likely to be in a household with a child than single adults, so lets say 80% of those households contain 2 adults, and 50% of households without a child do. So 40% of households = 2 adults + child[ren], 10% = 1 adult + child[ren], 25% = 2 adults, 25% = 1 adult. Fudging wildly once again, that looks like people with kids make up 9/13 adults in america, without bothering to look it up lets say 200 million american adults, so that means 130 million of them have kids in the household. So adults who have both kids and student loans is 1/5 of the total target audience of adults who have kids.

I guess with that result I could go either way on whether they should include it as a generic line item, but I certainly don't think it's an obviously bad omission. (Of course I could be 1000% off in some of these numbers, if anyone spots a glaring error please point it out.)

*leaving aside the fact that your student loans are completely orthogonal to where you choose to live, which seems like good enough reason to exclude it here
posted by jacalata at 6:28 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Daughter: single parent with three kids, child support next to non-existent.

If she could make 1/2 of what this calculator comes up with, she'd be in hog heaven.

And she doesn't qualify for assistance because she makes $35 over the limit.

Comfortable yet modest?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:08 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would apparently need to double my salary to decently afford a kid by myself in Philadelphia, though the numbers themselves actually look pretty solid. The housing suggestion would get you a decent one bedroom and even a really nice two bedroom in a relatively close suburb with decent schools. I assume $381 (Monthly Other Necessities) wouldn't do a lot to buy school supplies or clothing or other kid-based items. What's astounding is how badly this maps onto many actual families in the Philadelphia area, for whom 56k would be an unthinkable amount.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:12 PM on July 13, 2013


Just to clarify: many parts of DC are cheaper than $1412.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:28 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


//And a 58mile one way daily commute to the DC line from Fredricksburg is in no way "comfortable"//

I do F'burg to Tysons 3 or 4 times a week. It ain't fun, but if you aren't driving it isn't that bad. I'm in an vanpool so I can sleep, watch a movie, whatever.
posted by COD at 7:35 PM on July 13, 2013


Just this morning I decided I wanted to move to Utah or something (one of those states nobody ever thinks about, like Nebraska) because California is way too expensive. Even though I do not have a family, the calculator seems to kind of cement my decision.

Apartments in Riverside County are around $1,200 a month (the calculator lists $1,100 a month for housing in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area). It might be cheaper in San Berdoo or Ontario (I don't know -- I'd rather chew my foot off than ever set it in San Bernardino again), but regardless, $1,200 a month is ridiculous for a 1-bedroom apartment. And people also charge out the ass for a small, shitty room in their stupid house. It's ridiculous.

Of course, I'm on the outside looking in when it comes to those states I mentioned. Utah or Nebraska could be terrible, and I would not know it, but they could also be pretty rad.
posted by Redfield at 7:58 PM on July 13, 2013


Just to clarify: many parts of DC are cheaper than $1412.

...yes, those are all 1 bedrooms completely inappropriate for a 4 person family.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:25 PM on July 13, 2013


I know online rentals listings don't mean much, but Zillow has 56 3-bedroom rentals under $1450 in Prince Georges County, MD.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:40 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


...yes, those are all 1 bedrooms completely inappropriate for a 4 person family.

Huh? No they're not. Use the filter. Many of them are more than large enough for a family of 4.

What's more, you can get a house for less than that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:42 PM on July 13, 2013


Huh? No they're not. Use the filter. Many of them are more than large enough for a family of 4.

What's more, you can get a house for less than that.


There are 6 results for that search that are actually houses (as opposed to e.g. parking spaces) and have 2 bedrooms, in a metropolitan area of like 5 million people. The comparable search for baltimore (to pick a place where this rent is actually affordable) returns around 500 results.
posted by advil at 9:14 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The technical document for the EPI calculator cites HUD's Fair Market Rents (FMR) as its source for rents. According to HUD, the area used to calculate rents for DC includes: the District of Columbia; Calvert County, Maryland; Charles County, Maryland; Frederick County, Maryland; Montgomery County, Maryland; Prince George's County, Maryland; Arlington County, Virginia; Clarke County, Virginia; Fairfax County, Virginia; Fauquier County, Virginia; Loudoun County, Virginia; Prince William County, Virginia; Spotsylvania County, Virginia; Stafford County, Virginia; Alexandria city, Virginia; Fairfax city, Virginia; Falls Church city, Virginia; Fredericksburg city, Virginia; Manassas city, Virginia; and Manassas Park city, Virginia.
posted by chrisulonic at 9:17 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


NYC apparently lists as monthly housing costs of $1474 for two kids and two adults. I also want to know what they're smoking. But monthly healthcare of $1600? Where are they coming up with this?
posted by corb at 10:05 PM on July 13, 2013


Mefites don't believe in reading footnotes, it would seem.
posted by yoink at 10:42 PM on July 13, 2013


Come on out and visit me in Lincoln, Redfield. When I moved here from Northern VA, my salary was very slightly less, but my housing costs dropped to about a third of what I had been paying in rent.
posted by PussKillian at 12:23 AM on July 14, 2013


The comparable search for baltimore (to pick a place where this rent is actually affordable) returns around 500 results.

Before you trumpet Baltimore's affordability you should compare the Zillow map with this map -- there is a reason for that "affordability". The true cost of living there or whether the family lifestyle is comfortable (from my first-hand knowledge it most certainly is modest) is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 7:59 AM on July 14, 2013


Before you trumpet Baltimore's affordability you should compare the Zillow map with this map -- there is a reason for that "affordability". The true cost of living there or whether the family lifestyle is comfortable (from my first-hand knowledge it most certainly is modest) is left as an exercise for the reader.

The point wasn't really about Baltimore specifically (I suppose a discussion about the relationship between cost of living and crime in baltimore may conceivably be germane to the fpp, though I don't think the causal relationship is particularly direct) but what a zillow search result would look like in a city where it is actually true that you can rent a 2+ bedroom single family house for under $1412.
posted by advil at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2013


The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has determined that 40% of the population is renting for less than $1412. I was just showing you that that is true.

That said, I am also happy to agree that Baltimore is cheaper than DC.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:38 PM on July 14, 2013


Well, that's dumb.

For my state, I can't select a location that's remotely close to mine.
posted by zizzle at 9:10 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


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