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Cost of Living in Chicago, IL 2021

By: Susan Finch
September 21, 2021

As the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago is constantly welcoming newcomers. It boasts a relatively stable job market, a diverse mix of neighborhoods including; lakefront living, and robust public transportation. Chicago isn't exactly known for being cheap compared to its fellow midwestern cities, but it's a bargain compared to cities like New York, Boston, or Los Angeles.

There's a Chicago neighborhood for everyone, whether you're looking for nightlife or a quiet green space and a reprieve from the city bustle. Read on to learn more about the cost of living in Chicago and how to plan your budget accordingly.

Chicago Housing Costs

Housing is typically your most significant living expense. So, let's take a look at how Chicago measures up.

The Windy City added about 90,000 jobs between June 2018 to June 2019. Chicago has a reputation for rapid growth.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the job market in most cities. Chicago rent prices have gone down quite a bit recently. The city's year-over-year rent growth increased by 4.4% in comparison to last year's average.

Currently, a median-priced one-bedroom in Chicago rents for $1,291 a month. A two-bedroom apartment in Chicago will cost you around $1,423 per month.

Currently, an apartment in Chicago isn't that much more than the national average of $1,137. The city is still affordable compared to many other US metro areas. However, as the coronavirus pandemic eases, Chicago rents will likely spike again. This makes it a great time to find an apartment in Chicago.

Aspiring homeowners can expect to pay a median sales price of $307,500, indicating a 11.4% increase year-over-year in housing prices. Of course, it all depends on where you want to buy. Buying in downtown Chicago will be much more expensive than in the city's suburbs.

Chicago Transportation

Getting around Chicago as efficiently and cheaply as possible is key to keeping your budget in check. The Windy City isn't known for its ample or inexpensive public parking, so plan accordingly.

Expect to spend approximately $5,149 per year on transportation as a single adult. If you have a family of three (two working adults and a child), your transportation cost will increase to $11,753 per year.

Gas will also add to your overall costs at $2.76 per gallon in Chicago. Or, you can ditch the car altogether and hop on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) public transit system.

Expect to pay $105 a month for a local monthly pass or $2.50 for a single one-way trip on the L. You can also grab the L train to O'Hare and get out of town, with a $5 full fare.

For those living in the suburbs, the Metra Rail connects northeast Illinois to Chicago and beyond. Depending on your daily route, expect to pay between $116 to $239 for an unlimited monthly pass.

Chicago Food Costs

The MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates that a single full-time working adult who cooks their meals and snacks spends around $3,246 per year on food.

Food prices are also higher in Chicago than in other midwestern cities, with a gallon of milk costing $3.03. A loaf of bread runs $2.60 and a dozen eggs $2.31.

If you want to enjoy the city's incredible food, Chicago-style pizza, Maxwell Street polish sausage, and its fine dining, plan at least $16 for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. A meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant will cost around $75.

Keep in mind that Chicago is known for its award-winning restaurants. It requires a bigger chunk of your budget if you're a foodie at heart.

Healthcare Costs

Healthcare is an essential part of your budget to stay healthy and get the medical care you need. MIT pulled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to estimate typical health expenditure for Chicago residents. The estimates for healthcare will cost $2,862 per year for a single full-time working adult and $7,460 per year for a family of three.

Utilities

You've got rent figured out, but how much do utilities cost? A basic utility bill that includes electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage for an apartment averages around $235.02 per month in Chicago. They call Chicago the Windy City for a reason. You'll likely spend more during the winter months and snowstorms.

Additionally, a standard Internet package will increase the total monthly cost of utilities by approximately $60.48, totaling $295.50 per month.

Fitness and Entertainment

Fitness enthusiasts need extra room in their budget when living in Chicago. If you’re a gym-goer, prepare to shell out another $56.72 on monthly membership fees.

During warmer months, you can jog or bike for free along the Lakefront Trail or The 606. During winter months it’s harder to get outdoors in Chicago. However, ice skating can raise your heart rate or you can take a dip in an indoor pool.

Theater, comedy, nightclubs, and live music keep Chicago's neighborhoods lively year-round. But if your preferred type of entertainment is going to the movies, that’ll cost you about $14 per ticket. That excludes money you spend at the concession stand for snacks and drinks.

Free Things to Do Around Chicago

Despite the relatively high cost of living in Chicago, there are still plenty of ways to reduce your budget by enjoying some of the free attractions and activities around the metro area. Culture lovers head to the historic Chicago Cultural Center for year-round free programs.

During temperate months, enjoy jogging or biking on the Lakefront Trail for sights of Lake Michigan. You can even take a picnic to the Chicago Riverwalk to soak in the world-famous architecture along the Chicago River.

Whether you're a kid or kid at heart, the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the few free zoos in the country. Take a stroll to see over 230 species of animals situated against the landscape of Lincoln Park.

Other Expenses to Consider in Chicago

Some other expenses might surprise you when living in Chicago. Currently, the minimum combined sales tax rate for Chicago is 10.25%. Unfortunately, locals pay the highest combined tax rate in the country since a sales tax hike in 2016.

Chicago also ranks in the top 10 for most expensive parking among cities in the United States. Expect to pay a median hourly park rate of $17. However, you might be able to find some metered parking for $2.50 to $6.50 an hour if you're lucky.

If you plan to keep a car in the Windy City, look for an apartment complex that offers garage parking. That’ll reduce expenses and the hassle of digging out your car during the winter.

Speaking of winter, you'll need to plan on buying a whole new wardrobe if you're moving from a warmer climate. Rain, snow, and wind are the norm around Chicago. The city requires heavy jackets, layers, boots, and umbrellas to reduce your exposure to harsh weather.

And if you do need to park your car on the street, you could deal with wear and tear from severe weather and chemicals used to melt snow along the roads.

Not sure how much you need to earn to live comfortably in Chicago? The recommended household income for a one-bedroom in Chicago is about $46,476 a year, or $22.34 an hour.

However, the "living wage" is defined as the minimum amount of money needed to live above the poverty threshold. For Chicago, the living wage is around $16.08 an hour for a full-time employed single individual. It excludes expenses for restaurants, entertainment, and vacations. It also doesn't allow for savings.

If you're not sure how much you need to be comfortable living in Chicago, consider your salary compared to the median rent prices to find a place to live that fits your budget. For example, if your one-bedroom Chicago apartment rents for $1,291, your monthly wages should add up to at least $3,873 a month or $46,476 a year.

The $46,476 a year follows the rule of thumb that you shouldn't spend more than 30% of your monthly income on rent. Chicago is full of culture and entertainment. So, if you want to enjoy those attractions, you'll need a salary bump or side hustle to increase your salary while lowering your rent.

Roommates are also popular in Chicago to reduce costs and create more financial cushion for an affordable lifestyle.

Chicago's Job Market

The job market attracts newcomers looking for new opportunities and industries. Major companies like McDonalds Boeing, United Continental, Mondelez International, and Conagra Brands all have headquarters in Chicago. The city is also home to manufacturing, transportation, information technology, and health services jobs.

Final Thoughts

Chicago offers something for everyone, from career climbers to college students. Ready to pack up and move to the Windy City or a city nearby Chicago? Find your next Chicago apartment on Apartment List. Just get started with our quiz!

If Chicago doesn't seem like the the city for you, check out the best places to live in Illinois!

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AUTHOR
Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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