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Cost of Living in Durham, NC 2021

By: Emily Kho
July 14, 2021

Durham is known as North Carolina’s hippest city, best known as the home to Duke University and a bustling and creative culinary scene.

With entertainment options galore, including Durham Bulls games, Brightleaf Square, the American Tobacco Campus, and the Durham Performing Arts Center, there’s never a dull moment in this booming city. The city was even recently ranked as the 23rd best city to live in the United States.

Whether you’re looking to move to Durham to take advantage of the affordability, entertainment options, or a combination of both, you’ll want to get a better idea of your potential costs. Let’s take a closer look at the cost of living in Durham to understand better how much you need to live there.

Durham Housing Costs

Most cities across the country experienced significant drops in rent prices during the peak of the pandemic. Still, as things begin reopening once again, prices are returning to normal trends. There was a significant drop-off with Durham again starting in August of 2002, which began taking a turn in early 2021.

According to the latest Rent Report on Durham, the median rent index is $1,084 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,300 for a two-bedroom. Rent prices dropped significantly from August 2020 through the end of the year. At the start of the new year, though, rates began taking a turn. They’ve continued to trend upward for the last six months.

Overall, the city's year-over-year rent growth fell below the state average of 11.7%. At 10.2%, Durham’s rent growth rate is slightly above the national average of 8.4% by 1.8%. With such a high rent growth average across the state, not surprisingly, many of the largest cities within North Carolina have seen significant increases in rent prices.

The most expensive city in the state is Cary, which has seen a 14.7% growth in rent prices year over year, with the current median rent for a two-bedroom apartment at $1,514. Other major cities include Fayetteville, High Point, and Winston-Salem, which have seen 20.9%, 19.0%, and 13.7% increases, respectively.

The Durham housing market is also seeing steady growth, with median home prices currently at $304,500. These prices fall below competing areas like Cary and Fayetteville, with median home prices of $425,000 and $324,200, respectively.

Durham Transportation

Durham’s official public transportation operator is GoDurham and GoTriangle. Public transit began in 1991 and was previously run by Duke Power Company. Today, GoDurham operates 24 bus routes, and GoTriangle runs the Robertson Scholar Express (RSX).

Bus service runs seven days a week and begins around 5:30 am and goes until 12:30 am. With slightly limited hours on Sundays and holidays of 6:30 am and 9:30 pm.

If you're a single adult without children, you'll spend about $5,113 for transportation in Durham throughout the year. A family of four, including two working adults and two children, will pay $13,896 for transportation in one year. Thankfully, gasoline prices are around $2.42 per gallon, much lower than the national average of $3.04.

Durham Food Costs

The state of North Carolina is the birthplace of Pepsi, Cheerwine, Mt. Olive Pickles, and Krispy Kreme. Not surprisingly, the people of Durham are proud of their food and beverage options and offer countless dining options, where you can find the city’s famous biscuits and barbeque or black garlic ice cream.

Thankfully, dining out in Durham is relatively cheap and will cost an average of $12.50 for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. A three-course dinner for two people at a mid-range restaurant runs $61.25 without alcohol or dessert.

You can expect to spend at least $3,177 on food per year for single adults without children. However, if you're a family of four with two working adults and two children, you can expect to pay $9,305 per year for food.

You can anticipate costs similar to the national average for food items purchased from the local Durham Co-op Market, Bulldega Urban Market, or King’s Supermarket. For example, one gallon of regular milk will run you $3.65 in the grocery store, with the national average being $3.58.

Durham Healthcare Costs

Taking proper care of yourself comes at a cost that’s worth mentioning. Whether you visit the doctor minimally, on an as-needed basis, or have a medical condition that requires you to see them more regularly, having medical insurance helps keep your costs manageable. In addition to routine visits, it will be nice to know you’ll be able to afford the care you need with the help of medical insurance should you encounter any emergencies in your new hometown.

Healthcare should always be considered an essential item, which means you will want to account for proper medical care when planning your budget in Durham. A single adult without children will pay around $2,728 for medical care over the year. Two working adults with two children will pay $7,688.

Durham Utilities

The weather in Durham can be somewhat temperamental. The summer months bring humid heat and a muggy climate, while the winters are short but very cold, wet, and partly cloudy. The coldest month in Durham is in January, with an average overnight temperature of 41°. Conversely, July is the hottest month of summer, where the average daytime high is typically 80°.

To stay warm through the relatively cold winter nights and cool through the hot, muggy summer, you'll need to account for higher utilities. Durham’s basic utilities include electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage, running $135.13 for a 915-sq. ft. apartment. Adding on the similar internet with 60 Mbps or more with unlimited data, cable/ADSL will cost you an extra $61.67 for a total of $196.80 each month.

Before you move, it’s always a good idea to better understand how much utilities will cost in an apartment. This knowledge will allow you to budget accordingly for this sometimes overlooked expense.

Durham Fitness and Entertainment

The city of Durham has fitness and entertainment opportunities for everyone. However, if you like to spend your time in a local gym for workouts, you’ll want to consider club membership costs at Fitness World, Courage Fitness Durham, Velocity Fitness, or any others in the area. Thankfully, these costs are relatively low, with a fitness club membership fee for one adult costing $32.27 monthly.

If you’re looking for some entertainment, you can purchase a seat at the local cinema for $12 without snacks or drinks. Otherwise, check out some of the museums in town, like the Museum of Life and Science, the Museum of Durham History, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Durham has countless parks for those who prefer to stay outdoors, including Durham Central Park, West Point on the Eno City Park, and Forest Hills Park.

Other Expenses to Consider in Durham

North Carolina has a flat state income tax of 5.25%. Anyone looking to purchase a home in North Carolina can also anticipate property taxes that fall below the national average. The sales tax rate in North Carolina is 4.75%, with the county sales tax rate in Durham at 2.25%.

Don’t forget that you’ll need to account for additional expenses if you are moving out of state, including cross-country movers, storage, hotels, and transportation. Big moves like this may also require even more fees, such as apartment application fees, security deposits, pet deposits, and other add-ons, so be sure to plan as best as you can for these additional expenses.

You’ll have to furnish your new apartment once you move, which can add up quickly if you’re not careful. Thankfully, you can learn tips on how to decorate your apartment on a budget and stick to it, so you are sure not to go overboard.

If you know what type of lifestyle you plan to lead in Durham, you can begin figuring out your recommended salary. The living wage in Durham is $16.02 per hour, which is the basic wage required to pay for essentials such as housing, food, and necessities. The living wage will force you to live pretty frugally, though, as it does not account for any extra costs like entertainment or dining out.

Alternatively, another figure you could look at is the average salary index in Durham, which is $69,000 per year, roughly $18.10 per hour. Keep in mind that the living wage, average salary, and recommended salary are three very different figures. The 30% rule for rent can help you to determine your recommended salary in Durham.

You should not be spending more than one-third, or 30%, of your gross income on rent to live comfortably, according to the 30% rule. For example, according to this rule, if your rent is close to the median for a one-bedroom apartment in Durham and costs $1,084, your monthly wages should be at least $3,252 per month or $39,024.

While this figure might seem easily attainable, this recommended salary is for a very basic lifestyle. You’ll need to pursue a higher salary, a less expensive apartment, or both if you anticipate having additional living costs, such as dining, entertainment, etc.

Thankfully, the typical annual salaries for common professions in Durham are highly competitive. The three highest typical annual salaries belong to Management, Computer, and Mathematical, and Architecture and Engineering positions, respectively.

Job Market in Durham

Durham has a similar job market to metro areas of similar sizes. The biggest industries are education, health care, research, and information technology. The city’s largest employers include IBM Corporation, SAS Institute Inc., WakeMed Health & Hospitals, Cisco Systems Inc., BASF Corporation, and Biogen Idec Inc.

Duke University, located in Durham, also acts as a significant employer to the city. Additionally, graduates of the university prove themselves in the industries in the surrounding areas.

The unemployment rate in Durham is 3.4%, falling 0.3% below the current national average.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are looking to move somewhere with a booming culinary scene or a low cost of living, Durham might be the place for you. Register with Apartment List today and start checking out the hundreds of available apartments to rent in Durham!

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EMILY KHO
Emily is a professionally trained SEO writer who covers a wide range of topics but specializes in business and hospitality content. With over a decade of professional writing experience in the hospitality industry, Emily comes from a strong background in the field backed with a BS from the world-renowned William F. Read More
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