There are a whole host of factors in play when making career decisions, but cost of living expenses often go unnoticed before signing on the dotted line.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average new college graduate will make $50,556 in their first job. While sure, some majors will earn more and some will earn less, here’s the real kicker: a $50,000 starting salary means something very different in Minneapolis than it does in New York City.
From variability in terms of your taxes, to how much you can reasonably expect to pay in rent, here’s a look at how the cost of living in different places will impact your new-grad-in-the-big-city experience.
Your biggest expense?
If you’re offered that $50K starting salary, or any starting salary, it’s helpful to understand just how much money that really means you have every month. One of your biggest expenses will be your taxes – surprise!
It’ll vary based on which state you’re in, but if we take the example of a $50,000 salary, you’ll take home anywhere from $3,374 a month in states with no state income tax, like Florida, to $3,222 a month in California, which rings in with the highest state income tax rates.
That’s the real amount of money you’ll have to work with every month, and it’ll get you further in some places than others.
The “other” big expense: housing
Beyond your taxes, the biggest cost you’ll likely face will be your housing costs. Unless you’re swimming in down-payment money, that probably means rent, which will eat up a big portion of your entry-level salary. That’s why rent is the biggest factor we looked at to compare the cost of living in different cities.
If you can keep your rent under 30% of your monthly paycheck, you’ll have a lot more money for things like Ubers and paying down your student loans. On that average $50,000 salary, that 30% guideline gives you no more than $1,012.00 to spend on monthly rent.
Here’s a look at your real-life salary and rent scenarios in different cities across the country – some pulled from a ranked list of the best cities for millennials from Niche.com, and others pulled from “where all my friends moved as soon as they graduated.”
In the wise words of Jay-Z (and probably some other people I guess), if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. That said, it’ll cost you. Since New York is the stereotypical Big City You Move To After Graduation, it’ll be our control factor – especially since to compare the cost of living somewhere, you need to compare it to somewhere.
In New York, according to this cost of living calculator, you can expect to spend over $3,900 on a solo apartment in New York City. Since that’s literally more than your take-home income every month, you can safely assume you’ll be splitting the rent with a roommate or three, at least to get started.
Cambridge, Massachusetts (located adjacent to Boston proper) took the coveted top spot in the ranking of best cities for millennials, based on factors from walkability, to bar and restaurant proximity, to affordability and jobs. So how much more affordable is it?
Well, using the same calculator, you’d be able to take a 39.9% pay cut and maintain the same standard of living you had in New York City. If you’re still rocking that $50,000 salary in Cambridge, you’ll be able to afford a lot more, from a nicer apartment to extra student loan payments. You know, the fun stuff.
If you’ve got the startup bug, San Francisco is where you want to be when you graduate. However, it might be the only place on this list that can give New York City a run for its money on the omg-rent-costs-how-much?! scale.
The average rent in San Francisco comes in at $3,229.81, which is literally $7 more than your monthly paycheck would be on a $50,000 salary. To have more money for Ubers and Seamless, you’d need roommates for sure.
With major corporate headquarters in town, Minneapolis is not to be overlooked as a place to grow your career, and bonus: it’s an affordable place to live.
That $50,000 salary will go a lot further if you make (one of) the Twin Cities home, with the average rent ringing in at $1,089.17. If you’re still up for roommates, think about how much further your money will go towards things like your Crossfit membership or your travel goals.
Home of Amazon, Starbucks and Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital (I’m half-joking, but only half) it’s also close to great outdoorsy activities and a short drive to the ocean.
It’s still not a cheap place to live, but it runs a bit more affordable than New York City and San Francisco, with the average rent sitting at $1,980.00. That would still eat up over 50% of your income – which is a big no-no – but apartment hunting could net you something great that comes in below that price.
A big city with easy access to the great outdoors? Denver is where you want to be, especially if mountains are your thing. It also placed very well in the ranking of the best cities for millennials, so it should be on your list.
While it’s not the cheapest place on this list, it’s not the most expensive by a long shot. An apartment that would cost you $3,900 in New York City would ring in at just over $1,300 in Denver. If you’re trying to keep rent under 30% of your income, that’s a bit steep, but at least it’s not literally more than you take home every month, amirite?
If you have big dreams of making it in politics, there’s no better place to get started than Washington D.C. However, as The Place for a career in politics, it’s not exactly a small city, and your rent won’t be small either.
The average apartment will run you just over $2,000 a month, so roommates are in your future. However, with the amount of new grads flocking to Washington D.C. for careers in politics, non-profits and lobbying, you should be able to find at least a few people you’d want to room with – and just imagine the political chats you’ll have before any of you have had coffee in the morning.
Booming tech scene and stellar barbecue? Well OK, twist my arm. Thanks in part to hosting SXSW Interactive every year, Austin is a hub for tech companies and startups, and has the jobs to go with it, minus the crazy San Francisco rent prices.
You can score the average apartment for just over $1,000, which leaves you plenty of room in your budget for exploring your new city.
And if you want to move somewhere else…
There are so many great cities offering great jobs all across the country. If you’re trying to scope out a job in a city that isn’t on this admittedly short list, never fear. Here’s how to check what your cost of living will really be when you get there.
- Figure out your state income taxes by using a basic tax calculator like this one. That will give you the right monthly income number to work with when you build your budget.
- Scope out rental listings on Craigslist to get an accurate idea of what you’ll be paying in rent. Sure, the average rent is good and all, but since you’re a new grad, you probably aren’t expecting granite countertops just yet (right?).
- Keep travel costs in mind if you’re far away from your family or your friends. If you’re headed to a new part of the country, you’ll probably want to go home at least once or twice during the year.
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