Study: The Best & Worst Cities for Wallet Wellness

Best Cities for Wallet WellnessWith money and work the leading causes of stress, according to the American Psychological Association, we’ve all undoubtedly felt a lot of pressure in recent years given the uncertainty and high unemployment rates that have characterized the Great Recession and ensuing economic recovery.  But the burden on both mind and wallet has been far from uniform for people across the country.  Some areas were hit harder than others, given differences both industrial and demographic, and the rate of recovery has varied drastically as well.

Considering that as well as the fact that studies have shown more than 40% of people are willing to relocate for work, it bears asking:  Which cities are most conducive to both financial and emotional prosperity?  In other words and in light of the connection between the two, which are the best and worst cities for wallet wellness?

We at CardHub sought to answer that question by analyzing a variety of factors – from rate of job growth and cost of living to transportation expenses and average commute time – that speak to relative differences in economic opportunity and daily frustration in each of the 30 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

The results of the study are listed below, along with tips for how people can improve their own wallet wellness and methodological information.

Rank City Average Annual Income/Cost of Living Index Average Annual Income/Median House Price Rate of Annual Job Growth Stress Index (1-10 scale) Transportation Cost/Average Annual Income Average Commute (in minutes)
1 Minneapolis, MN 439.9 314.52 1.72% 4.7 27.58% 12.14
2 Houston, TX 529.92 305.79 2.11% 4.8 27.88% 12.21
3 Dallas, TX 454.31 293.54 2.24% 4.8 30.70% 11.88
4 Pittsburgh, PA 474.38 494.92 2.13% 5.2 30.88% 11.56
5 St. Louis, MO 470.58 351.92 0.17% 4.7 32.43% 11.14
6 Cleveland, OH 417.71 403.09 0.25% 4.7 31.75% 10.54
7 Kansas City, MO 433.16 323.29 -0.29% 4.7 32.92% 10.47
8 Chicago, Ill. 400.76 260.49 1.26% 4.7 26.78% 13.49
8 Cincinnati, OH 438.45 334.57 -0.35% 4.7 34.58% 10.69
10 Atlanta, GA 408.24 402.77 2.28% 5 36.02% 12.94
10 Detroit, MI 426.91 743.66 0.72% 5.1 33.95% 10.52
12 Seattle, WA 434.88 178.75 0.16% 4.7 25.89% 12.68
13 Tampa, FL 427.67 307.21 1.82% 5.2 35.09% 10.17
14 Philadelphia, PA 389.83 231.9 1.96% 5.2 25.38% 12.37
15 Baltimore, MD 429.23 222.29 1.64% 5.2 25.49% 14.01
16 San Francisco, CA 377.41 127.01 1.93% 5.1 19.51% 12.75
17 Miami, FL 402.32 237.84 1.84% 5.2 29.77% 11.57
18 Phoenix, AZ 381.58 318.9 1.07% 5.1 36.87% 10.36
19 Denver, CO 466.49 211.67 0.46% 5.5 25.85% 12.49
20 Washington, DC 414.12 182.38 -0.53% 5 21.34% 17.14
21 Boston, MA 421.71 167.22 0.74% 5.2 21.41% 13.97
22 San Diego, CA 358.24 126.38 1.15% 5.1 28.80% 10.19
23 San Antonio, TX 395.03 241.19 -0.03% 4.8 36.71% 10.6
24 Sacramento, CA 350.48 245.3 0.13% 5.1 34.12% 10.09
25 New York, NY 306.7 149.91 1.47% 5.2 17.89% 15.22
26 Los Angeles, CA 334.39 144.37 0.36% 5 27.36% 11.99
27 Orlando, FL 365.31 284.51 1.42% 5.2 39.45% 11.71
28 Las Vegas, NV 356.3 286.13 -0.98% 5.1 36.47% 10.43
29 Portland, OR 363.56 188.16 -1.40% 5.1 32.38% 10.87
30 Riverside, CA 266.61 173.89 0.75% 5.1 48.13% 11.12

Obviously, not everyone has the freedom to just pack up and move in order to pursue wallet wellness, so here are some perhaps less drastic steps that you can take to improve your financial and mental well-being:

Tips for Wallet Wellness

  • Focus on Overall Health: There is a strong correlation between financial, physical, and emotional health. Leading a balanced lifestyle in which you make time for work, fun, and exercise will pay huge dividends.
  • Maximize Your Credit Standing: Your credit score impacts not only the credit card and loan terms for which you qualify, but also things like your insurance premiums, your ability to lease a car or rent an apartment, and your job prospects. In other words, the higher your credit score, the more you save. The first step in maximizing your credit standing is to get a free copy of each of your major credit reports and verify that the information contained therein is correct. Next, make sure to have a number of trade lines open with as much available credit as possible and submit on-time payments every month. This will ensure a steady flow of positive information into your credit reports, thereby diluting any negative information that may exist or simply adding to a previously thin file.
  • Build an Emergency Fund: With a robust financial safety net, you’ll be less at the mercy of the economy. You’ll be able to withstand a prolonged period of joblessness, should the need arise, and you’ll benefit from valuable peace of mind.
  • Set a Budget: You’ll feel far more in control of your finances if you keep track of how much you’re spending every month and on what. This will also enable you make informed decisions about which discretionary expenses to keep and which to cut and, ultimately, help you lead a more financially sustainable lifestyle.

  • Get Debt Free: Owing money is stressful, and seeing interest accrue on amounts owed just makes things worse. So, start by using a credit card calculator to develop a plan for reaching debt freedom. Then, devote the majority of your allotted monthly debt payment to the balance with the highest interest rate. Continue making minimum payments on any other balances until your most expensive debt is gone, then repeat.
  • Make Good Use of Dead Time: If you face a lengthy daily commute, replace boredom and pop radio with an educational book on tape and hone an added marketable skill when you’ve got nothing better to do.

Methodology

  • Average Income to Cost of Living Ratio:  This metric adjusts for regional price and wage differences, enabling direct comparison of how much spending power the average citizen has in each major metropolitan area. It is based on average income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis as well as each city’s score in the Council for Community & Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index.
  • Income to Median Home Price Ratio:  Housing is a major expense the cost of which varies widely among markets.  By examining the nexus of income and housing prices for each locality, we gain a better sense of the amount of one’s budget that must be devoted to this particular expense category and therefore how much is also left over for other necessities as well as discretionary spending.
  • Rate of Job Growth:  Year-by-year differences in the number of jobs that underlie each metropolitan area’s economy offer a direct sense of local fiscal trends as well as the opportunity job seekers have to gain and keep employment in each metropolitan area.
  • Stress Level:  Given the correlation between financial well-being and stress, this metric was used to complement monetarily-specific indicators of wallet wellness as well as speak to important quality of life differentials between cities.
  • Transportation Cost to Average Income Ratio:  This metric indicates the effective monetary burden, rather than the simple dollar amount, associated with travel in and around each metropolitan area for those living and working there.  Small differences in this type daily expense category can quickly add up to useful savings or overly burdensome costs.
  • Average Commute Time:  Time wasted traveling not only impacts one’s blood pressure and stress levels, but also represents dead time and lost productivity.

Using the most recent data available (see below for sources), we rank-ordered the 30 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the United States, as determined by Census Bureau data, for each of the above metrics. Each of the first five metrics mentioned above were weighted equally, with relatively less important “Average Commute Time” receiving a half weight, in order to determine the overall rankings.

Sources: Data used to create these rankings is courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American Psychological Association, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

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