When you leave the nation’s heartland and head to the coasts, the cost of living jumps. In fact, four of the most expensive cities we found are in California. The rest are along the East Coast and in far-flung Hawaii and Alaska.
To come up with our list of the priciest places to live, we looked at living expenses in metropolitan areas across the U.S., as compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research. Its Cost of Living Index measures relative price levels for housing, utilities, transportation, grocery items, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services. We didn't include cities with populations below 50,000.
A Cost of Living Index score of 100 is the national average. The higher a score, the higher the cost of living in that city. Little Rock, Ark., and Cleveland have scores of 99.9 and 100.1, respectively, meaning they’re right in the middle in terms of living costs. We also gleaned average home prices from the Council for Community and Economic Research. Population and median household income data come from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Here are the 10 most expensive places to live in the U.S.
10. Anchorage, AK
Cost of Living Index: 134.9
City Population: 291,826
Median Household Income: $73,004 (U.S. median: $51,914)
Average Home Price: $486,859 (U.S. average: $283,529)
The vast separation from the lower 48 states makes just about everything expensive in The Last Frontier. Groceries costs about 30% more in Anchorage than in the average U.S. city. A dozen eggs goes for $2.69, 50% more than you'd typically pay. Health care, from a trip to the dentist to a bottle of ibuprofen, runs nearly 40% higher than average. Anchorage residents do benefit from the absence of state income and sales taxes, as well as from Alaska's annual dividend payment ($1,174 per eligible resident in 2011).
9. Oakland, CA
Cost of Living Index: 137.4
City Population: 386,909
Median Household Income: $49,721
Average Home Price: $592,292
Like San Francisco to its west and Silicon Valley to its south, Oakland is plagued by pricey real estate. Housing costs are double the national average, which puts a strain on working families that are earning less than the U.S. median household income. A typical Oakland apartment rents for $1,556, vs. the national average of $862. The high living costs haven’t escaped notice of the 99-percenters. Some of the most high-profile (and violent) protests related to the nationwide "Occupy" movement have taken place in Oakland.
8. Boston, MA
Cost of Living Index: 139.4
City Population: 602,609
Median Household Income: $50,684
Average Home Price: $437,000
While by no means cheap, the capital of Massachusetts is the most affordable East Coast city on our list. The distinction is thanks in large part to housing costs that are at least tolerable compared with real estate in Washington, D.C., and New York. Even so, you’ll pay 65% more than the national average for a home in Boston. In exchange for this premium, Bostonians enjoy proximity to renowned universities, art collections and historic sites.
7. Washington, D.C.
Cost of Living Index: 144.6
City Population: 584,400
Median Household Income: $58,526
Average Home Price: $729,319
The cost of living in the nation’s capital can be high, mostly due to inflated housing prices, but incomes tend to be high, too. What makes those hefty mortgages more affordable is the wealth of job opportunities throughout the metropolitan area, not only with the federal government but also with private government contractors. That's why D.C. also scores well on our list of cities with high-paying jobs.
6. Santa Ana (Orange County), CA
Cost of Living Index: 144.7 (Orange County)
City Population: 324,528
Median Household Income: $54,877
Average Home Price: $700,772 (Orange County)
Santa Ana sits at the heart of sprawling Orange County, home to some of the most exclusive and expensive neighborhoods in the nation. It serves as the county's business and government center. Nearby Orange County cities include ritzy Newport Beach, the setting for the popular television series "The O.C." With a coastline stretching from Seal Beach to San Clemente, it should come as no surprise that Orange County’s real estate is exorbitant. Housing costs are nearly 2.5 times the national average. Even looking the part of an O.C. native can strain the pocketbook. A trip to a beauty salon will set you back $60.20, compared to $33.43 nationwide.