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Cost of Living in North Carolina, 2021

By: Davina Ward
April 16, 2021

What's not to love about North Carolina? It's a Southern state with the charm to match. With beaches and mountains for outdoor adventure, room to explore for city dwellers, and some of the best savory BBQ delights in the country, this state is one-of-a-kind.

Are you considering a move to North Carolina?

If you're looking to put down roots in the Tar Heel State, it's essential to make sure you're prepared by adjusting your budget. You want to make sure you can afford to live comfortably in your prospective new home state.

In this guide, we will break down the cost of living in North Carolina to help you build an accurate budget. Let's dive in!

North Carolina Cost of Living

The rental landscape in North Carolina depends on your location within the state. As a result, rent prices and rental opportunities can vary greatly depending on the locale you’ve set your sights on.

You're much less likely to find rental opportunities in some of the more rural locales of the state than you would in one of its major cities.

To help you get an idea of housing costs, here are the average rent prices for apartments in North Carolina's major cities, including Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro.

CityAverage 1-Bedroom RentAverage 2-Bedroom Rent
Charlotte, NC$1,381$1,801
Raleigh, NC$1,323$1,663
Durham, NC$1,286$1,700
Greensboro, NC$977$1,257

The good news is that the cost of living in North Carolina is relatively average, making it an affordable place to live. It's nowhere near the cost of some of the more notoriously expensive cities (looking at you, San Francisco), but it's also not the least costly place to live.

That said, the COVID pandemic had a significant impact on rental prices in North Carolina, though the state is largely rebounding. Currently, median rent prices are on the rise across the state, Greensboro leading the pack with a 9.5% increase reflected in a year-over-year cost comparison.

As prices continue to rise, those looking to save on rent should make their move now. Consider straying away from the newer luxury high-rises to avoid higher rent prices. You might also consider renting with a roommate to cut your expenses in half.

North Carolina Transportation

Is there public transportation in North Carolina, or should I plan on using my vehicle?

It's crucial to decide whether you will use a personal vehicle or rely on public transportation to get around. Your choice can significantly impact your budget. According to MIT's Living Wage Calculator, the average North Carolina resident spends $5,113 on transportation costs annually. That number increases to $11,672 for a family of four. Transportation expenses can even go as far as rivaling housing costs, as they can be pretty substantial, which is why many people gravitate toward city living as a means to offset the high cost of personal vehicle ownership.

Even in Charlotte, the city with the highest public transportation costs in North Carolina, a resident relying solely on public transportation options would spend just $1,056 annually on unlimited transport passes. That represents a savings of $4,057 annually!

Make your choice wisely. The cost of convenience is high, but you can't buy back time!

Grocery Prices in North Carolina

The average North Carolina resident can expect to spend $3,177 yearly or about $265 monthly on food. For a family of four, annual food expenses increase to $9,305 or about $775 monthly.

However, these costs reflect a situation in which all meals and snacks are prepared at home.

As avoiding the allure of North Carolina’s delectable seafood and BBQ options might prove difficult, we expect that you will dine out on occasion.

Here's a breakdown of the costs you can expect to pay for a three-course meal at a mid-tier restaurant in North Carolina. We've even added the standard gratuity (15%) for you!

  • Raleigh: $63.25
  • Greensboro: $69.00
  • Durham: $74.75
  • Charlotte: $73.60

Luckily, saving on your grocery bill is as simple as knowing where to shop. Head over to Costco for savings on bulk purchases.

There are also several ALDI locations across the state. This discount grocery chain is the gold standard, so don't be afraid to take a drive to reach one.

Finally, a membership and coupon clipping can get any Raleigh Wegmans shopper some real savings at the best grocery store in America.

Average Cost of Health Insurance in North Carolina

Seeking out healthcare can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. Not only can high costs present a significant barrier to care, but for those who have just moved from another state, securing new health insurance can be a headache.

That said, healthcare is a necessary expense — an expense that amounts to $2,728 annually for the average North Carolina resident and $7,548 for families of four.

If you are in the market for healthcare coverage (most policies don't transfer across state lines), head over to Healthcare.gov to find an affordable plan on the federal marketplace. You can compare policies to determine which is the best option for you.

Finally, if you require low-to-no-cost healthcare, the North Carolina Division of Public Health has many resources to help you find the best care.

North Carolina Average Utility Costs

Utility costs are among the most challenging budget line items to adjust when planning your move to a new state, as they vary dramatically based on location, weather, provider, and personal usage.

Fortunately, most North Carolina residents' basic utility costs are less than the $240 national average. Here's what you can expect to pay for basic utilities in different North Carolina cities.

  • Raleigh:$230.60
  • Greensboro: $217.89
  • Charlotte: $231.25

As basic utilities only include the cost of gas, electricity, and water, remember to include the cost of "common utilities" like cell phone and internet service.

The average American pays $94 a month for cell phone service and anywhere between $30-$60 for internet service. However, you can get more accurate estimates by choosing a service provider and getting a quote online.

If you are a new customer, you might also catch some pretty incredible deals. Some cell phone and internet providers include free subscriptions to video and music streaming services for new customers.

Fitness and Entertainment in North Carolina

With all the fitness and entertainment opportunities in North Carolina, there’s no way that you won’t find something to enjoy. That said, fitness and entertainment costs can have a significant impact on your wallet, so it’s crucial to consider them in your budget. Here’s an in-depth look at the cost of fitness and entertainment in North Carolina.

North Carolina Gym Memberships

Staying fit is only as expensive as you make it. If you prefer the least expensive option, try bodyweight fitness techniques, or simply lace up your sneakers and head out for a run. If you prefer an indoor fitness environment, are looking for a community of friends, and want a variety of exercise options, a gym membership will be your best bet. Here are the average monthly gym membership costs throughout different North Carolina cities:

  • Raleigh: $35.94
  • Greensboro: $31.88
  • Charlotte: $42.29
  • Durham: $32.18

Outdoor Adventures in North Carolina

North Carolina is rich in outdoor entertainment and recreation opportunities. The landscape includes the Appalachian mountains, beaches, and massive state parks — all of which are free to visit.

This North Carolina State Park Directory can help you choose a state park to visit during your downtime. If you’re having a hard time deciding, the William B. Umstead State Park is an excellent option. The park features 13 miles of horseback riding trails, picnic areas, campsites, canoeing, fishing, and hiking trails. There’s something for everyone!

If you prefer the sound of crashing waves and the smell of saltwater, head to one of North Carolina’s beaches. The Outer Banks are among the most famous of North Carolina’s beaches; however, if you want to beat the crowd, head to Carolina Beach for a relaxing day of sand and sun.

North Carolina Sports

North Carolina has several professional sports teams across the state, including a professional hockey team in Raleigh and professional hockey and basketball teams in Charlotte. If you’re a sports fanatic, it’s important to consider the costs of attending games. Here are the average ticket costs for North Carolina’s major sports teams:

  • Carolina Panthers: $107
  • Carolina Hurricanes: $85
  • Charlotte Hornets: $74

Though there aren’t any professional baseball teams in North Carolina, there are many semi-professional teams to follow.

If you’re looking for inexpensive sports entertainment year-round, check out The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Their Division 1 athletics department churns out professional athletes year after year. You might just catch a star player in their formative years, as many residents watched a young Michael Jordan blossom into stardom at UNC.

Additional North Carolina Expenses

To create the most accurate budget possible, it's vital to keep other miscellaneous expenses in mind. These are the expenses that typically go unchecked when planning a move. Luckily, we've got you covered. Here are the hidden costs to consider when moving to North Carolina.

  • State Income and Sales Tax: North Carolina residents are responsible for paying a flat 5.25% income tax. Additionally, the state sales tax rate sits at 4.75%.
  • Local-level Taxes: Local city and county level taxes will apply wherever you are moving. Be sure to research the local tax rates before making your move.
  • Childcare: The cost of childcare is high across the country, and North Carolina is not exempt. For full-time, single child daycare, expect to pay around $11,302 annually.

Average Salary in North Carolina

How much do you need to earn to live comfortably in North Carolina?

It depends!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average North Carolina resident's annual salary at $51,010. However, that number doesn't tell the whole story.

To live comfortably means earning enough to pay for your immediate living expenses, having some money for fun, and keeping a savings fund that you can contribute to regularly.

The most crucial factor to consider when setting a comfortable living wage is your housing expenses, as they generally have the highest budget expense.

You want to earn at least three times the price of your rent to live comfortably.

Using Raleigh, North Carolina, as an example, the average resident would need to earn at least $3,969 monthly before taxes to live comfortably. This translates to an annual pre-tax wage of $47,628.

Final Thoughts - Is North Carolina a Good State to Move to?

Moving to a new state is never easy. However, there’s so much that North Carolina has to offer that you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your planning efforts.

If you’ve got an updated budget for your move to North Carolina, it’s time to start apartment hunting! Check out our quiz above to get started on finding your dream apartment in North Carolina.

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Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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