What is the real cost of living in Chicago, IL?
Chicago, Illinois, the “Jewel of the Midwest,” is one of America’s only non-coastal major cities. Its central location has made it a hub of transportation and commerce for over a century. Chicago in 2020 is a city with a diverse economy, world-class universities and sports teams, and miles of beaches and waterfront along beautiful Lake Michigan.
For the last three years, Chicago has won Condé Nast Traveler’s title of “Best Big City in the U.S.” According to Numbeo’s cost of living index, which factors the cost of consumer goods prices, including groceries, restaurants, transportation, and utilities, Chicago scores 82.23 out of 100 in July 2020, meaning that the cost of living in Chicago is about 20% less than in New York City (the index’s benchmark). When you add rent to the calculation, the city’s score declines to 69.00. While Chi-Town is 23% more expensive than the rest of the country, considering the city’s perks, living in Chicago can give you a lot for your money.
Table of contentsHousing: Rental PricesHousing: Home Purchase PricesUtilities and ServicesFoodTransit CostAverage Salary
Housing: Rental Prices
As of June 2019, Chicago ranks 11th in terms of average rental prices in large American cities. This means Chicagoans pay relatively low rents for a major city (especially compared to San Francisco, where the average rent is a staggering $3,700). As of January 2020, Chicago’s average rent was $1,948, compared with $1,463 nationwide.
The highest rents are found in River North, Streeterville, and River West; while the least expensive neighborhoods are West Pullman, The Island, and Austin.
Coliving with roommates makes Chicago even more affordable, as it costs significantly less than the average cost of solo housing. For example, Bungalow's average price for a private room in a shared home in Chicago are up to 24% less than the rent of an average studio apartment in the same neighborhood.
Housing: Home Purchase Prices
Rents are high in most big cities, but even higher home prices make rents more affordable than mortgages. In Chicago, however, an overabundance of supply has pushed home prices down—even below the national average.
In January 2020, Chicago's median home purchase price was $281,000, only slightly higher than the nationwide median price of $245,000. This means that in many circumstances, buying a home in Chicago may actually save homeowners money versus renting. But keep in mind that Chicago has property taxes that are double the national average, at 2.3%, increasing annual costs for homeowners.
Chicago’s median home price is significantly lower than in other major cities. Boston and Washington, D.C. both have median prices around $650,000, almost three times as high as Chicago. Another way of appreciating this difference is by looking at price per square foot: In Chicago, $200,000 will buy you a 1,102 square foot house. In Manhattan, $200,000 will only get you 126 square feet of living space!
Chicago real estate has not risen in value as quickly as in other parts of the country over the last few years, which is good for buyers, but not as good for those who are trying to flip a property for a quick profit. Chicago homeowners should consider staying in their homes for longer or making significant improvements if they want to realize a bigger return when selling.
Utilities and Services
Chicagoans pay about $132 on average for utilities including gas, electric, water, and garbage pickup. Utilities in Chicago are about 7% less expensive than in the rest of the country.
Home internet service adds about $68 to your monthly budget in Chicago. This is slightly higher than the national average of $60, due in part to the city’s 9% tax on streaming services like Netflix and Spotify. Chicago’s high tax rates apply to cell phone bills as well: cellular plans in the city are taxed at 43%, the highest rate in the country—so plan to budget a little extra for services.
Chicago has delicious dining options at every level, from hot dogs to Michelin-star meals. While prices are reasonable, the city imposes a restaurant tax of 0.5% in addition to the highest sales taxes in the country, for a total of 10.75% on top of your bill. Meals in the downtown area and at airports incur another 1% surcharge. This can add up when a full-service restaurant meal costs around $33 (30% lower than in New York City, but on par with the national average). A basic lunch will run about $16.
Public transportation is a great option in Chicago, and is used regularly by 30% of Chicago commuters. The city’s public transit system covers a lot of ground: the area that can be reached in a 30-minute transit trip is the largest in the country. 98.5% of jobs are located within half a mile of public transit, making it even more convenient.
The famous “L” elevated railway costs $2.50 per ride, and a bus ticket is only $2.25. A Chicago Transit Authority monthly pass, which works on busses and trains, is $105. This is less expensive than comparable monthly passes in New York City and San Francisco, but more expensive than Boston.
Owning a car in Chicago has its own set of expenses. Over the last year, the average gas price in the city was around fifty cents more per gallon than the national average. Chicago’s least expensive auto insurance costs between $672 and $1,212 per year, depending on the provider. That’s $150-230 more annually than you’d pay in the rest of Illinois, but still less than the national average, which is $1,427.
One expense unique to Chicago is the city’s Wheel Tax. Car owners pay it each year by purchasing a Chicago City Vehicle Sticker, which costs $90.88 to $144.33, depending on the size of your vehicle. Chicago is in the top three most expensive cities for metered and off-street parking, but is relatively less expensive for monthly parking.
The lower cost of living in the Chicago metro area relative to other major cities means that many companies pay lower salaries in Chicago as well. The area’s average annual income is just over $57,000, which is 7% higher than the national average, but a lot less than workers earn in Boston or San Francisco.
Jobs in the legal field are among Chicago’s highest paying, at $128,000 per year. Lawyers in Chicago make 17% more annually than lawyers elsewhere in the country. Construction and extraction jobs are especially well-compensated in Chicago, with salaries over $72,000, or 38% more than the national average.
If you’re considering a move to Chicago, IL, a cost of living calculator can help set expectations when it comes to budgeting your expenses. With below-average costs for housing, groceries, and public transit, you may be pleasantly surprised by the values found in the Windy City. Just be prepared to tack on taxes for restaurant meals and car ownership.
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 help you match with roommates who share your living preferences and interests. Find your next home on Bungalow.
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