What is the real cost of living in Boston, MA?

The city of Boston, Massachusetts, is well known for its role in the American Revolution, but this charming historic port town is not stuck in the past. Once dubbed the “cradle of history,” the city’s newer nickname “the hub of the universe” is more apt, as Boston claims the fastest-growing jobs market in the country. Many of these jobs are in the city’s main economic sectors of government, finance, technology, and medicine. 

Boston is also high on lists of the country’s most educated cities: 22% of residents hold advanced degrees. And that’s no wonder, as Boston is home to 35 colleges and universities, including Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and Northeastern University.

boston skyline

Table of contents

Housing: Rental PricesHousing: Home Purchase PricesFood CostTransitAverage Salary
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Living in the Hub is not cheap—Boston is among the most expensive cities in the US. According to Numbeo’s cost of living index, which factors the cost of consumer goods prices, including groceries, restaurants, transportation, and utilities, Boston’s steep price point earns it a score of 88.27 out of 100 in July 2020. (New York City is the index’s benchmark for most expensive city, with a score of 100.) When you add rent to the calculation, Boston’s score actually goes down to 81.87, meaning that the total cost of living, including housing, is nearly 20% less than it is in New York City.

Payscale.com pegs Boston’s cost of living as 48% higher than the national average. Luckily, jobs in Boston pay well, with an average salary that is comparable to those in New York City.

Housing: Rental Prices

For renters, Boston prices are the third highest in the country, after San Francisco and New York City. In January 2020, Boston’s average rent was $3,462, more than double the $1,463 nationwide average. If this sounds high, consider that it is nearly $500 less per month than Manhattan’s average rent of $3,985. Consider also: Monthly rents have remained steady or even declined slightly over the past two years. 

South Boston tends to have the highest average rents. Nearby neighborhoods Back Bay-Beacon Hill and South End are also among the most expensive. For bargain Boston housing, check out the neighborhoods of Mattapan, South Dorchester, or Hyde Park.

Whether you’re renting or own a home, remember to factor utility bills into your monthly housing cost. If you live in Boston, utilities will cost about $170 per month for one person in an average-size apartment. 

Even if these numbers sound high, living in Boston doesn’t have to be out of reach. Coliving with roommates allows you to spend significantly less than the average cost of solo housing. For example, Bungalow's average price for a private room in a shared home in Boston are up to 45% less than the rent of an average studio apartment in the same neighborhood.

Housing: Home Purchase Prices

The housing market in the Boston area is just as competitive for real estate as it is for rentals. In the city of Boston proper, single family home prices have reached a median purchase price of $644,000 in January 2020. The city’s suburbs are highly desirable as well: in the Greater Boston area, the median single family home price is nearly as high as in the city limits. 

In Boston, $650,000 will buy you about 1200 square feet. Property taxes in Boston are a reasonable 1.06% of assessed value. 

Boston’s home prices are similar to other major cities, including Washington, D.C. and San Diego, both of which have median prices around $650,000. (The nationwide median price is $234,000). The only city that makes Boston homes look affordable is San Francisco, where the median home price is $1.35 million.

Food Cost

Food costs 24% more in Eastern Massachusetts (which includes the Boston Metropolitan Area) than in the rest of the nation. This makes it one of the most expensive places in the country to eat. The average person in Boston should budget around $349 every month for food.

If you’re dining out, expect to pay between $15 and $40 per person, depending on the type of restaurant. These prices are on par with the most expensive culinary destinations in the country, like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Sales taxes in Boston do not apply to groceries, but do apply to restaurant meals, adding 6.25% to the total bill.


The streets of Boston were paved when horse-drawn carriage was the main mode of transportation. That means it’s a great city for walking, but many streets are not wide enough to accommodate the traffic and parking needs of a modern city. 

Metered parking spots cost from $2 to $3.75 per hour, but can be difficult to find. On-street residential parking permits are free, but likewise limited in availability. Monthly garage parking costs from $135 to $530 depending on the neighborhood. While expensive, this is comparable to other major cities, and slightly more affordable than parking in New York City. 

In the last year, gas prices in Boston have hewed relatively closely to the national average over the same period. But when it comes to car insurance, Boston drivers pay less: as low as $859 per year, versus $1,427 for the rest of the country. 

Bostonians can save money by taking the “T”, the city’s popular (and the nation’s first!) subway. The “T” is part of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which also runs busses, trolleys, commuter rail, and ferries. Bus fares are as low as $1.70 with a transit card, and a one-way subway ticket is $2.40. Commuter rail tickets start at $2.40 and go up to $13.25 depending on the destination. For $90, riders can get a monthly pass that is good on all forms of public transit, including central commuter rail trips. 

Boston’s public transit system is among the best in the country, especially when it comes to accessibility and convenience. Compared with similarly busy transit systems, Boston’s all-inclusive pass (good on all forms of public transit) is more affordable at $90 per month than San Francisco’s ($98) and Washington, D.C.’s ($121+).

Average Salary

From the lowest to the highest earners, Boston is a good place to work. Minimum wage in the city is $12.75, significantly higher than the nationwide minimum of $7.25. For all workers in the Boston metropolitan area, the average hourly wage is $32.39, which is 30% higher than the nationwide average wage of $24.98. 

The average salary in Boston is $77,000 per year. This is very close to the New York City average salary of $76,000. Considering Boston’s slightly lower cost of living, this means that the same salary in Boston will have just a little bit more purchasing power. San Francisco is the only US city that pays more, with an average salary of $97,000.

With a booming job market and highly-educated population, Boston’s allure is increasing year over year—its price tag increasing to match. If you’re considering a move to Boston, MA, make sure to reconcile the city’s cost of living with your personal budget

Bungalow offers private rooms in shared homes that are more affordable than solo housing options in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in so that coliving is seamless. Unlike other shared housing options, Bungalow vets all residents and helps you match with roommates who share your living preferences and interests. Find your next home on Bungalow

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