The cost of living is an important consideration if you’re considering a move, especially if you’re considering moving for a job. The cost of living in Chicago varies greatly depending on where you live, and downtown Chicago tends to be the most expensive, although it may not be as much as it seems at first.
Moving to Chicago?
If you’re considering moving to Chicago from another part of the country, CNN offers a great cost of living calculator that gives you a good idea about how your new cost of living will compare to your current cost. Play around with this a little while and you’ll see that for the size of the city, Chicago is actually one of the most affordable places to live, cheaper than New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and others.
Rents in Downtown vs. Elsewhere
As in most parts of the country, rent is going to be your single greatest expense in Chicago. It typically accounts for about 40% or more of your total cost of living, and this is where living downtown is going to pinch the tightest. It’s also the place where you’re likely to see the biggest increase (or decrease) in costs based on moving from another city.
There are several good places to look for estimates about the cost of living in Chicago that help us understand how the cost of living downtown compares to living elsewhere in the city. Numbeo has a good database of costs, including a rough estimate of rents in the city and the suburbs. Commenters (all claiming Chicago citizenship for many years) are divided about the accuracy. It estimates the monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in downtown at about $1500, compared to about $1000 for the suburbs.
This is comparable to the costs Apartment Therapy estimates, which puts the median rent in Gold Coast at $2142, Lincoln Park at $1550, Ravenswood at $1163, and Pilsen at $900.
So, it initially seems that the cost of living downtown Chicago is probably about 30-40% higher than living elsewhere because other costs do not rise as much as rent downtown.
Of course, the cost of living downtown may actually be less, if you work downtown. Factoring in the cost of commuting from a suburb dramatically changes the equation. Even living about ten miles out of downtown may lead to a driving time of an hour or an hour and a half each way in traffic.
How much does a commute cost you? This calculator is a decent start, calculating the cost at about $100 a month, but it doesn’t give you the full costs. It doesn’t figure, for example, that heavy traffic congestion can increase fuel consumption by up to 30%, so we’re looking at about $130 a month just for fuel. Then you have to add in $200 a month for parking, most likely. At this point, you’ve almost eaten up the rent difference between downtown and suburban life.
But you still need to factor in your time. Technically, this is priceless (there are only so many hours in the day, and if they’re wasted, there’s no getting them back), but let’s just bill it at the average hourly wage for the city, about $24.00. Two hours a day for 22 days is $1056. So, if it’s a choice between living near work and living far from work, it’s actually cheaper to live downtown. And your cost can go down even more if you give up your car entirely.
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