How Far Does $5K Go in Your Hometown?


We all hear about stretching your dollar — especially since we are in a recession. But where you are depends largely on how far you can make your dollar go. I live in the relatively small Utah city of Logan (population is around 48,000).

My dollar goes further here than it would in, say, New York City. In Austin, Texas, though, my dollar may do better.

How far does $5,000 a month go in Logan, Utah?

On average, my husband and I make more than $60,000 a year. But, since I am self-employed, working from home, we try to live on $5,000 a month. (We are lucky; the median income in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is $50,233 per year: $4,186 per month.) We have a two-income household, with my husband earning money as a student researcher while he works toward his Ph.D. We have one son.

Our housing related expenses are fairly basic. We have a home with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Our mortgage payment, including taxes and insurance, is $1,350 per month. We pay, on average, $120 a month for heat, electricity, garbage collection and water.

Compare that to the $2,801 the Center for an Urban Future reports as the effective citywide rent in New York City. Con Edison figures that electricity costs in New York City ranges from $0.15 to $0.29 per Kilowatt-Hour. I pay about $0.10 per Kilowatt-Hour.

In Austin, Texas, the difference isn’t quite so startling. It is possible to lease something with similar square footage in Austin, Texas for $1,895 per month. However, buying a home in Austin actually costs less. I could get a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Austin, with the same square footage, for $169,900 instead of the $186,900 I am paying for my current home. In Texas, though, electricity costs less. The Energy Information Administration estimates that, in Texas, the average cost is $0.916 per Kilowatt-Hour.

My family’s other monthly expenses include the following:

• $45 on high-speed Internet and phone.
• $55 for satellite television.
• $150 eating out (usually lunch, with one nice dinner per month).
• $600 on groceries, personal care and household items.
• $150 on entertainment.
• $339 car payment (2007 Prius).
• $155 auto (two cars) and life insurance
• $400 health insurance
• $ 60 gas for two cars.

We also try to set aside $1,000 a month for retirement accounts and the emergency fund. This brings the total to $4,424. Of course, recently, we’ve been saving most of the leftover $576 to pay for putting in a sprinkler system ($3,600, including parts and labor) and hydroseeding the lawn ($400).

Here in Logan, we can live a pretty nice life—with no credit card debt—for $5,000 a month. The Cost of Living Calculator tells me that in order to maintain our current lifestyle in New York City, we would need $115,861 per year. In Austin, we would only need a little more: $64,293 per year.

Of course, what you spend to live depends on your lifestyle. Personal finance blogger Free From Broke lives in Queens, N.Y., and works in the financial services industry in Manhattan. He maintains that, with a frugal lifestyle, he, his wife and soon-to-be three children can live on $5,000 a month. “We pay about $1,100 a month for housing and utilities,” he said. “We own our co-op outright so we aren’t paying a mortgage on it.” Free From Broke’s other major monthly expenses include $600 on groceries, $200 for transportation and $250 for entertainment. They save $250 each month. That brings their total major expenses to $2,400 per month, leaving plenty of wiggle room for the other expenses that they undoubtedly have.

So, how far does $5,000 go in your hometown?

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What It Costs To Be Middle Class

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