Is it Worth Moving to Chicago Instead of Another Midwestern City?

A lot of people are curious as to whether or not the cost of living in Chicago is worth the move. They worry that the cost of living is going to be a lot higher in the Midwest’s largest city than in other places and that they aren’t going to be able to find affordable options that make sense.

It may come as a surprise, but the cost of living is not much more than some of the smaller cities in the Midwest.

Let’s take a look at some of the things you’d need to pay for and how much you could expect to pay so that you can determine whether or not it’s worthwhile to move to Chicago.

It's Been Named the Best!

First, it’s important to note that Conde Nast Traveler has named Chicago the “Best Big City” when compared to any other large city in the United States. And that’s not just for visitors – it’s for people who have made Chicago, Illinois their home.

Yes, even with Chicago winters, it’s considered a great place to call home. Chicago neighborhoods are friendly, there is a lot of diversity, and the schools are solid.

But, the main reason Chicago is rated so high is because the cost of living is around 20% less than what you’d pay in a place like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York City. The Windy City scores an 82.23 in Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index, which is the level of affordability that you would typically find in smaller cities like Minneapolis and Miami, or cities in the Southern United States.

Average Salary

It’s hard to understand the cost of living if you don’t know where different jobs and careers may fall in regards to salary. If the average salary doesn’t match up with the average cost of living, then it could end up being difficult to get by.

The average salary in Chicago falls at around $57,000 per year. This is lower than some other parts of the country, but it is comparable to other cities with a similar cost of living index. Keep that number in mind as we explore the different pieces of the cost-of-living puzzle.

Housing Costs

When it comes to homes and rentals, individuals find that both homeownership and renting are relatively affordable, especially when it is compared to prices in other metro areas around the country. It makes it a lot easier to consider relocating here if you know you can afford a home.

The median price for purchasing a home is $235,000, which puts it on par with smaller cities throughout the country. Of course, that’s not lakefront property, but there are always real estate options available, and many people see it as a future investment, as it could be used as a rental property in the future.

For renters, you’re looking at a median rental price of approximately $1600, which is also affordable. Even if you decide to go luxury and rent at the best apartment buildings in Chicago, you’re only looking at a median of around $3200, which is still reasonable in regards to the luxury apartment economy.

Transportation Costs

The public transportation entity, called the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), boasts over 140 bus routes and 8 trains and is relatively affordable. A pass costs around $3, and it’s less than 50 cents to transfer between busses or trains. Plus, it pretty much always runs on time.

In the past decade or so, 8 billion dollars was set aside from the Chicago budget to modernize the public transit system, including the 2.1 billion dollar red line and purple line modernization project, which is still in progress. This will make the system even better for those who decide to utilize it as their main form of Chicago transportation.

Because of this, many families decide that they only need one vehicle. That way, they are only paying parking fees and such for one car instead of two, which ends up saving them money. Uber and Lyft are also very prevalent, which makes it easy for people to get a ride if they need to go further.

Vehicle insurance rates end up being lower because people are driving less often, and people also opt for walking and biking from place to place using the sidewalks and bike lanes (including the famous “Hipster Drive”).

Utility Costs

When looking at cost of living indices, utilities are classified as trash pickup, gas, electric, and water. Utilities for Chicago apartments and homes are only around $150 on average, which is 5%-ish percent less than other cities throughout the United States.

If you include internet, you are likely going to pay another $70 for high speed internet, which is available city-wide. Fiber optic internet is also available from both AT&T and Google, and runs closer to $100 per month. This is expected to go down in price as time goes on, and be more readily available throughout the entire city.

People who decide on apartment and townhouse options will also find that there are a lot of them that offer amenities that offset the costs of utilities. For example, they may have Wi-Fi in common areas, or include certain utilities in the rent due to the setup of the high-rise apartment.

Food Costs

Groceries are easy to get in the city, and they aren’t very expensive, either. The taxes on groceries are around 2.5%, and grocery stores are plentiful and simple to get to. There are corner stores everywhere and you can typically ride the CTA in order to make sure that you can get to a store, as well.

On the other hand, eating out has higher taxes associated on it – the restaurant tax, along with other taxes knock that up to 10.75%. At the airports and in downtown Chicago, those costs get an extra 1% tacked onto them. So, you’ll have to pay a little more for that hot dog or deep-dish pizza, but it’s worthwhile.

With all of that, the average cost for food per person is around $300 a month (which is approximately what you’d pay if you lived in Minneapolis or Miami). This puts it a little higher than smaller cities, but not so unreasonable that it’s hard to make a living.

Entertainment Costs

If you enjoy entertainment, then Chicago is a great city for you. It’s a popular stop for off-Broadway theatre, and there are dozens of art institutes and other museums that you can visit. People love their culture, and the diversity in this major city allows for all sorts of entertainment opportunities.

Also, Chi-Town is the home to several sports teams, who are universally loved by current and past Chicagoans alike. The Bulls, White Sox, Blackhawks, Cubs, and Bears all have their arenas and fields within a decent distance from city center, and getting tickets to a game at Wrigley Field or Soldier’s Field isn’t going to put you back too much money.

On top of that, places like Logan Square, Millennium Park, and Lincoln Park are always putting on all sorts of live music festivals (including the famous Lollapalooza), family activities, and more. Many of them are community or city sponsored, so the cost is low or completely free (depending on the event). Nightlife is also reasonably priced.

You can go to the lakeview beach at Lake Michigan, ride the bike trails, and enjoy the parks throughout the city as well. Plus, a short drive to Northwestern Indiana or Southern Wisconsin and you’ve got all sorts of ways to enjoy the great outdoors – and it’s all affordable or free.

What About the Suburbs?

There are a lot of questions that people have when it comes to living in the suburbs but, the fact is, it is actually cheaper to live in downtown Chicago in the long run. You have lower transportation costs, you have lower property taxes, and it takes a lot less time to get from place to place.

If you’re not really excited about living among skyscrapers, then there are a handful of suburbs just off The Loop that are going to be similarly priced, but be aware of property taxes and other things that may end up costing you a little bit more in the long run.

So, Is it Worth It to Move to Chicago?

All in all, the cost of living in Chi-Town is reasonable. And, if you’re someone who wants to “step it up” and live the good life, you’ll still have plenty to spare and invest in whatever you wish to invest in. Either way, Chicago is well worth a look if you’re looking to relocate to somewhere that matches your lifestyle and love of the big city.