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How Expensive Is New York City to Live In?

Life really does cost more in New York. To be precise, the cost of living in Manhattan was 138.6% of the U.S. average in 2018, making it the most expensive city in the country, according to a Kiplinger survey. Brooklyn, treated separately in the study, came in fourth most expensive at 82% above the average cost.

As any New Yorker can tell you, the worst of it is the cost of renting or buying a home.

Renting an Apartment

You can pay $20,000 a month for a family-size apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Or, you can rent a tiny apartment in Queens for about $2,000, assuming it’s not in one of the borough’s new luxury buildings.

Obviously, there are many options in between, but finding a place to live in New York City is grueling for all but the super-rich. The vacancy rate was under 4% in 2018.

The average rent in Manhattan actually declined a bit in 2018, to $3,667. That won’t get you a palace. The average size of an apartment in the borough is 703 feet.

Some rent-stabilized apartments exist, but they are rapidly disappearing from the streetscape.

Buying a Home

The cost of real estate in Manhattan averaged $1,773 a square foot in 2018, according to data analytics firm NeighborhoodX. That’s almost double the $902 cost in notoriously pricey San Francisco. By comparison, a square foot in Boston cost $586 and was $504 in Miami Beach.

The outer boroughs are no longer safe havens from Manhattan prices. The average home in Brooklyn cost $782,300 as of the end of 2018, according to Zillow. In Queens, the average was $645,100 and in The Bronx, it was $435,800. The average price in Staten Island was $541,200.

Grocery Prices

Most grocery items cost at least 10% more in New York City than in Chicago.

There are exceptions, of course. Skinless and boneless chicken breasts are only 3.60% more and tomatoes in season are about the same price. Beer and bottled water may cost a bit less.

It should be noted that such comparative statistics are subject to huge variations. You can find specials on anything in New York, and grocery shopping options range from farmer’s markets to supermarket chains and convenience stores.

Dining Out

The average cost of dining out in New York City is a meaningless number. At the lower end, the choices and price points are nearly endless, from street food and cheap eateries to modest family-owned restaurants of every ethnicity and description. At the high end, the prices can be jaw-dropping.

The statistics say that a three-course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant will set you back $75 in NYC and only $55 in Chicago, a 36.36% higher cost in New York.

Sadly, even McDonald’s costs more in New York than in Chicago, by about 23% for a McMeal.


A single ticket fare for a New York subway or bus ride is $2.75, though regulars buy a monthly pass for $116.50. Both are around 12% above Chicago’s fares. 

Taxis start at $3.24 in Chicago versus only $2.50 in New York. Nevertheless, taxis tend to be an expensive option, at least during the weekdays when traffic is nearly always heavy.

One plus for New York City over many cities: You don’t need to own a car. In fact, you probably don’t want one. A garage spot costs an average $430 per month. Street parking is scarce. Public transportation or your own two feet are, in any case, better ways to get from one place to another within New York.


Basic utilities for an 85-square-meter apartment (including electricity, heating, water, and garbage) in Chicago cost an average $126.54 a month. In New York, it’s $142.52, a difference of more than 12%.

Adding access to the Internet will set you back another $42.71 in Chicago and $52.19 in New York.


Among American cities, only San Francisco comes close to New York in cost. Yet overall, the purchasing power of a New Yorker is nearly 16% lower than that of a resident of San Francisco.

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