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Cost of Living in Houston, TX 2020

By: Susan Finch
November 20, 2020

Houston's position as a thriving metropolis makes it a desirable place to live, work, and play. As the country's fourth largest city, Houston boasts a healthy job market and plenty of recreation and nightlife all weekend long.

Living in Houston is also relatively inexpensive compared to cities like Atlanta, New York, and San Francisco.

There's a neighborhood for every lifestyle in Houston, whether you love art and culture or want a quiet reprieve from urban living. It’s no wonder Houston ranks as one of the best places to live in Texas.

Read on and learn more about the cost of living in Houston to start planning your big move and budget accordingly.

Houston Housing Costs

The good news is the Cost of Living Index found that living in Houston is cheaper than the national average. Like anywhere you live, housing will prove your most considerable expense. Here's more information about how Houston measures up.

H-Town added about 71,000 jobs in 2019, as reported by the Greater Houston Partnership. Although the pandemic has hit most economies, overall, Houston's on track to have a strong economic forecast. Healthcare, construction, administration, and waste management are projected to add plenty of jobs to the market.

Rents are currently fluctuating around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. The good news for renters is that Houston's year-over-year rent growth declined by 3.4% compared to last year's average.

Currently, the median rent for a one-bedroom in Houston is $906 a month. A median two-bedroom will set you back $1,078 a month. These figures are also compatible with living in other Texan cities like Dallas.

A two-bedroom apartment in Houston is slightly less than the national average of $1,101. Unlike most major metropolitan cities, Houston's rents are typically more affordable but will likely rise as the pandemic eases.

If you're hoping to purchase a home eventually, Houston is experiencing a drop in real estate prices. You can expect to pay a median sales price of $249,000 for a single family home.

Of course, where you buy a home in Houston will also impact prices. Experts predict a rapid rise in 2021 and beyond.

Buying a condo or townhouse in areas like Downtown Houston will also impact your budget. The more luxury amenities you add on and proximity to public transportation, the more you'll pay.

Houston Transportation Costs

Houston is a car town. However, you can still get around with ride-shares, walking, or public transportation. The less you can rely on your car, the more you can keep your budget down.

Parking can also get competitive in Houston. However, it’ll be easier to snag a spot than in Chicago or New York areas.

You should expect to spend approximately $4,322 a year on transportation as a single adult. A family of three (two working adults and a child) increases transportation costs to $8,425 a year.

When car culture is the norm, you'll also need to plan accordingly for gas. Houston fuel prices are relatively affordable. They see fluctuations of around $1.43 a gallon.

If you live near work, you can also get rid of your car. Instead, hop on the METRO for bus or light rail service.

The METRO Fare Card offers a contactless fare payment option with a credit card, PayPal, or ApplePay. It immediately activates your ticket. You'll also receive five free rides for every 50 paid trips or pay $1.25 for a single one-way trip.

However, the public transportation system is zoned depending on where you live and how far you’re going. Park & Ride Zone 7 is the most expensive at $8 per ride.

Houston Food Costs

Houston is known as a food town, so plan accordingly. The MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates that a single full-time working adult who cooks their meals and snacks spends around $3,010 a year on food. Keep in mind this is for a relatively no-frills diet.

Your food staples will also fluctuate depending on what community you live in.

To get an idea of food prices, check on the basis. A loaf of bread will run $2.24 around the city. A gallon of milk will cost $2.92 and a dozen eggs $1.99.

Areas like Downtown Houston are known as a “food desert” where big grocers are not readily available. Plan to spend more on grocery delivery or to make a run to a nearby neighborhood.

You can't live in Houston without sampling some of its most iconic dishes. People love the sizzling fajitas, fried shrimp, crawfish and noodles, pork ribs, and more.

It’ll cost at least $15 for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. If you want to enjoy a meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant, it’ll cost around $50.

Houston is also filled with James Beard Award winners and finalists, restaurants on the 100 Places to Eat Now in Southern Living, and the best of the best in Travel & Leisure. You could spend all year eating your way through Houston and still not savor everything there is to experience in the city.

Houston Healthcare Costs

You should also budget for healthcare as an essential part of your overall living expenses. MIT's Living Wage Calculator uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to estimate typical health expenditure. Harris County residents can expect to pay $2,425 a year for a single full-time working adult and $7,673 a year for a family of three.

Houston Utilities

A basic utility bill anywhere you live should include electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage. If you live in a 915 sq. ft. apartment, you should expect to pay around $162.71 per month in Houston.

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Keep in mind that Texas isn't known for its mild summers. You should expect to pay more to power your air conditioner from May to August when temperatures rise.

Additionally, the internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) will increase the total monthly cost of utilities by approximately $62.65. That’ll bring your total to $225.36 a month.

Fitness and Entertainment

Houston's mild climate in fall, winter, and spring offers more opportunities to bike, jog, and get fit outdoors. Summers are tougher to spend the day in the heat. If you're a gym-goer and need a place to cool down while working out, you'll pay around $36.97 on monthly membership fees.

Houston is a culture town and boasts its own Museum District. Factor in a larger budget if you plan to visit the city's 19 museums and 9-mile museum district. Movie-goers will pay around $10.99 per ticket. Remember to factor in more if you plan to hit the concession stand for snacks and drinks.

Hermann Park is also home to a golf course and the Houston Zoo. The park is a family-friendly place to spend the day learning more about the 6,000 animals and 900 species at the zoo.

Free Things to do Around Houston

Houston already enjoys a relatively low cost of living. However, you can reduce your budget even further with free attractions and activities around the metro area.

During summer months, the Miller Outdoor Theatre hosts free performances, flicks, and music in Houston's Museum District. Stop by The Menil Collection for free and see pieces from around the world, including works by Andy Warhol and Picasso. You can also go kayaking on the Armand Bayou Paddling Trail.

Houston offers plenty of free green space to relax outdoors or get fit. Go jogging, biking, or walk the dog in Buffalo Bayou Park, the Hike and Bike Trail, or Brays Bayou Park. Memorial Park is also a great place to golf within the park's 1,466 acres.

Other Expenses to Consider in Houston

There are some other expenses to consider when living in Houston. If you're interested in owning a home, Houston's property taxes will likely prove higher at around 2% to 3% on up.

However, Texas doesn’t have any state or local personal income taxes. That can save you a bundle come tax time.

Sales tax may surprise you but can be offset by the lack of income taxes. Currently, the minimum combined 2020 sales tax rate for Houston, Texas, is 8.25%.

Fortunately, you don't have to worry about frigid winters and icy wear and tear on your car when you live in Houston. However, heat can be a major issue during the summer months.

In addition to planning for a spike in utilities with air conditioning, most Texans need a pool to cool off. Swimming pools are common in apartment complexes throughout the metro area.

You're also just an hour's drive from Galveston and the beach. There, you can cool off, stroll the Pier, and get a break from living in an urban area.

Not sure how much you need to earn in Houston to live comfortably? The recommended household income for a one-bedroom in Houston is about $27,180 a year. That comes out to $13.59 an hour.

However, keep in mind that the "living wage" indicates how much money you need to live above the poverty threshold. In Houston, the basic living wage is $12.22 per hour for a full-time employed single individual.

The living wage also doesn’t include any extras like eating out at restaurants, going to the movies, or taking a day trip. It also doesn’t consider any savings for an emergency fund or retirement.

The estimated median household income in Houston at the end of 2018 was around $51,203 a year. If you're not sure how much you need to be comfortable living in Houston, consider your salary compared to the median rent prices.

An affordable place to live will make your lifestyle less stressful. For example, if your one-bedroom rent runs $1,000, your monthly wages should add up to at least $2,500 a month or $30,000 a year.

The $30,000 a year rule considers that you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your monthly income on rent. Houston is teeming with fantastic restaurants, museums, and nightlife, so plan accordingly. You'll need to find a higher paying job or create a side hustle to take advantage of what the city has to offer.

If you can't find the salary you want in Houston, there are also other options to consider. Having a roommate will dramatically lower your costs and offer more flexibility for indulgences and nightlife.

Not sure how much rent you can afford? Try using our rent calculator.

Biggest Employers Around Houston

Houston enjoys a promising job growth market. However, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down its trajectory. The job market attracts newcomers looking for new opportunities and job growth around the metro area.

Newcomers are welcome in Houston. There’s a less competitive job market than in other metropolitan cities. Walmart, Memorial Hermann Health System, H-E-B, McDonald's, Houston Methodist, and United Airlines are among the city's biggest employers.

Houston is also home to a growing aerospace market. That includes Boeing Space Exploration, Houston Spaceport, Johnson Space Center, Space Center Houston, and more.

Final Thoughts

Houston offers something for everyone. You’ll find a relatively mild climate, growing job market, and plenty of food and culture to choose from.

Ready to pack up and move to Space City? Find your next Houston apartment on Apartment List.

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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