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Can You Afford Atlanta? A Complete Cost of Living Analysis

Hannah Sears
by Hannah Sears on January 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Atlanta is the 9th largest metropolitan area in the United States, with a unique history that began before the Civil War. Now home to over 460,000 residents, Georgia’s capital is a hub of culture and commerce.

Atlanta skyline in the fog - Navut


Atlanta was ranked the #1 moving destination for young professionals for the 6th year in a row. With its vibrant music and food scene and cultural diversity, the southern city is a popular destination for people looking to relocate or just visit. If you’re considering moving to Atlanta, it’s important to find out whether you’ll be paying comparatively more or less for the same goods and services. Knowing the cost of living in a new city is extremely helpful as it can have a significant effect on your finances.


What is a Cost of Living Index?

The cost of living in a particular city can be determined by reviewing the Cost of Living Index. The index measures the relative cost of living (measured over time or regions) by measuring the differences in the price of goods and services. The cost of living index is determined by the price of the following: goods/services (33%), housing (30%), groceries (13%), utilities (10%), transportation (9%), and healthcare healthcare (5%).

Indexes vary depending on what entity measures and reports them, but most cities in the US operate with an average of 100. This means that a city with a score of 120 is 20% more expensive than the US average and a city that scores 80 is 20% cheaper than the US average.

The Cost of Living Index can be broken down into different subsets, since the Cost of Living Index doesn’t typically include housing.

  • Cost of Living Index (Excluding Rent) indicates the relative price of consumer goods such as groceries, restaurants, transportation and utilities.
  • Rent Index is an estimate of the prices for renting apartments compared to the average.
  • Groceries Index is an estimation of the prices of groceries compared to the base city.
  • Restaurant Index compares the prices of meals and drinks in restaurants to those in the average.
  • Cost of Living + Rent Index estimates all consumer goods prices including rent compared to the average.
  • Local Purchasing Power shows how many goods and services someone with an average salary can afford. If the index is 40, this means that inhabitants of that city making the average salary can afford 60% less typical goods and services than the US average.

Housing

Housing typically makes up the largest portion of your monthly expenses and knowing the average costs is crucial for planning your budget. The price for a buying a home or renting an apartment ultimately relies on your choices and needs. Some neighborhoods are more expensive than others and living with roommates can drastically cut your costs.


Renting An Apartment

The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Atlanta is about $1,500, which puts it on the lower end of the scale when compared to cities like Los Angeles, New York, or Boston.

Before you start looking at apartments, you should consider what your priorities are regarding your living space. Do you want to be downtown where you can be close to the nightlife - knowing that you’ll be paying more? Or would you prefer to live outside the city where things are a little quieter - and often cheaper? Living outside the downtown area is usually cheaper and in Atlanta it can save you up to several hundred dollars per month.

Apartments in the Five Points and Midtown neighborhoods are going to cost top dollar at $2,000 and above, whereas the Grove Park and Cascade Hill area tend to be the cheapest with apartments renting for as low as $700. In the past six months, rent in Atlanta has actually decreased by about $11 per month - which can lead to decent savings after a year.

Two female friends laughing in the sun - Navut


If you don’t mind living with roommates, sharing an apartment is a great way to save money. If you and your roommates want to live closer to downtown Atlanta, it can be much more affordable. Over 20% of Atlanta’s population is between the ages of 25 and 34, so if you don’t have roommates already, there’s a good chance you can find other young professionals in the city who are looking to save some rent money.

If the average rental rate in Atlanta for a one-bedroom is around $1,200 and a two-bedroom is $1,600, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with one roommate saves each roommate about $400 per month.


Buying a Home

If you’re planning to buy instead of rent, living in the greater Atlanta metro area will definitely be an investment. The average down payment in Atlanta is currently at 10% or about $27,000. Atlanta home prices have been rising, so if you want to buy a home, timing is very important. The average price for all properties (one-bedroom to four-bedroom) is $265,000 - almost double the average in 2010.

More and more companies are moving to the Atlanta area and bringing an influx of new residents. However, there are not many properties available on the market, which is one of the reasons why the price of buying a home has risen in Atlanta. The down payment may seem like a stretch, but when compared to Boston, LA, or Miami, the housing market is much more affordable. If you were to save up for your down payment over the course of 5 years, you would only need to save about $15 per day - the equivalent of your morning coffee purchase. 

Read: How to Save Money For a House Down Payment

Front lawn of a house at night - Navut


Buying an affordable home in Atlanta depends on your priorities, the number of bedrooms, and location. The current housing market may be expensive for buyers, but if you’re planning to sell your home in a few years, the rising prices will pay off when roles are reversed.


Utilities

Basic utilities for a 915 square foot apartment in Atlanta cost around $169.60. That includes electricity, heating, water and garbage. If you want to include internet, add on the average price of $45.82. If you’re sharing your place with roommates, the cost of utilities will be less because you can split the cost.

Atlanta can be very warm in the summer, which means your AC bill can be high if you’re not careful. If you’re concerned about the price of your bills, consider implementing some of these ways to save in the summer. Installing a programmable thermostat and only using ceiling fans when you’re in the same room are a few ways to cut down your energy spending.


TV + Internet

While many people are choosing to cut the cord and abandon traditional cable packages in favor of the streaming services available, some people still want a traditional cable package. Comparing different packages available in your area is a great way to make sure you’re getting the best deal. The average cost of basic cable and internet in Atlanta is around $50/month.

Cable and internet providers vary between states and neighborhoods, so make sure you know which options are available for your residence. The top providers in the greater Atlanta area are Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and DIRECTV. Cable and internet packages can be purchased bundled from these providers. First-time customers often receive a discount on sign up, depending on the provider and the time of year.

  • Comcast offers several different packages including a “starter” package that includes 140+ channels and 75mbps internet for $99/month and the Preferred Triple Play with 230+ channels and 75mbps internet for $119/month.
  • Time Warner offers an internet only plan starting at $34.99/month and you can also bundle cable and internet for $89/month with 70+ channels and high speed internet. Other residential plans depend on the neighborhood and availability.
  • DIRECTV offers a range of plans for as low at $50/month for 145+ channels or as high as $125/month for 315+ channels. Their satellite TV packages include monthly equipment fees for up to 4 rooms, the montly HD DVR service fee, and the ability to stream online from your devices.

Transportation 

A man waiting for the train - Navut


Public Transit

Atlanta has the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority or MARTA which includes rapid transit trains and bus lines. The cost of a monthly pass for MARTA is $95, but the price might be worth it to avoid long commutes and heavy traffic.  

Trains begin at 4:45AM on weekdays and 6AM on weekends and run until 1AM every night. During morning and evening rush hour, the average wait for a train is 10 minutes, whereas nights and weekends can mean 20 minute waits. Buses begin running at 5AM every day and go until 1AM on weeknights and 12:30AM on weekends.


Taxis + Ride Sharing

If you’re out later than MARTA runs or don’t feel like driving, there are other options. Traditional taxis along with Uber and Lyft currently operate in Atlanta, providing other ways to get you from place to place. If you prefer ridesharing over taxis, it’s a good idea to keep multiple apps on your phone so that you can pick whichever option has the cheapest fare at peak hours.

  • Taxis - Ridesharing apps are preferred by many, but plenty of taxis serve the greater Atlanta area. in Boston. The Atlanta Police Department lists approved taxi companies within the city. The taxi tariff per mile is an average of about $2.00 which is cheaper than many other big cities. As an added bonus, you don’t have to contend with surge pricing. Check out estimated fares here.
  • Uber - If you aren’t riding at peak times, Uber can often be cheaper than a traditional taxi. UberX is often one of the cheapest options, but if you don’t mind sharing your ride, consider trying UberPool to save money. UberPool pairs you with one or more other passengers that are going to the same general area. If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, you can check on fare estimates on Uber’s site.
  • Lyft - If there are no taxis in sight and the surge pricing with Uber is through the roof, Lyft can be another affordable options. Each service often has different surge pricing, so it’s useful to have multiple apps to compare. The most affordable of the services offered by Lyft original Lyft, Line which pairs you with other riders similar to UberPool.


Owning a Car

Despite the traffic, a large portion of Atlanta residents choose to drive. If you already own a car, you can save money on gas as prices are currently low - under $2.00. If you’re planning to purchase a new vehicle, the average price (quoted for a 2017 Toyota Corolla) is between $21,000 and $23,000 according to Kelley Blue Book.

If you’re leasing a car, the ultimate price depends on the make, model, and year of the vehicle, as well as the best price negotiated with a dealership. are If you prefer to lease, monthly lease payment for a $23,000 car is about $232/month. You can use this formula to calculate the monthly cost of leasing.

A girl driving a car with sun shining on hair - Navut

If you want the freedom and convenience of driving but don’t own a car or can’t afford one, a membership with Zipcar or Flexdrive is a great resource.

With Zipcar, once you apply and are approved, you can rent cars for a few hours or up to seven days. Insurance and gas are included and there are a variety of vehicles from sedans to vans to hybrids. Monthly memberships start at $7/month, or you can choose to pay per year. Zipcar is useful if you need to run a quick errand - like stocking up on groceries or if you want to take a weekend trip out of town. You can reserve a car at a convenient location near you, swipe your membership card to unlock, and get driving.

Flexdrive includes insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance, and repairs. Their shortest rental is currently on a weekly basis, with a compact car starting at $199/week. Flexdrive is more suited to longer term rentals - if you want to travel or if you want to rent a car for a few weeks at a time.

Working as a driver for ride sharing companies like Lyft, Uber, or Fasten can also be a great way to help offset the costs of owning your own car if you have a flexible schedule and don’t mind the drive.

Read: 7 Unexpected Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage in the Sharing Economy


Other Costs 

Groceries

The ultimate cost of groceries usually depends on where you shop, what you eat, and how often you cook. The average price for a gallon of milk in Atlanta is $3.04 and a pound of red meat will cost about $6.40/lb.

Grocery stores in Atlanta vary by location and you can spend more or less if you choose certain products. The largest chains in Atlanta are Whole Foods, Kroger, and Publix.

Dining out at one of the many culinary options in the city will cost between $13 for an inexpensive meal and around $50 for fine dining for two.


Education

Atlanta has the largest concentration of universities and colleges in all of the southern United States - including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, and Morehouse College. There are 68 public and 120 colleges in Georgia.

  • The cost of tuition for the Georgia Institute of Technology is $12,204 for in-state students.
  • Attending Georgia State University costs $8,974 for in-state tuition.
  • In-state tuition for Morehouse College costs $26,742

A sea of university graduates at graduation ceremony - Navut


Healthcare

The cost of healthcare depends on your health, the particular plan you choose, and whether your employer offers a benefit package that includes health care. Most premiums rose in 2016, so comparing different plans is the best way to see which option is right for you. If you have specific health needs, make sure your doctor is covered by your plan.

Georgia residents can expect to pay between $200 and $300 per month or $3,000 annually for health insurance. The largest providers in the state are Ambetter from Peach State Health Plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and Kaiser Permanente GA. Estimate the cost of your insurance and find the insurers available to you here.


Can You Afford to Live in Atlanta?

If you’d like to see how the cost of living in Atlanta compares to your current city, use this calculator to see the cost of everything from rent to a bottle of ibuprofen.

Here's an example:

Rachel is thinking about moving from St. Louis, MO to Atlanta, GA. Her current salary in St. Louis, is $50,000.

In Atlanta, Rachel needs to earn $54,000 in order to maintain the equivalent standard of living she enjoyed in St. Louis (an 8% increase).

Rachel can expect the following costs of living in Atlanta compared to St Louis:

 

Expense

St. Louis

Atlanta

Home Price

$207,522.33

$289,012.33

Apartment Rent

$832.49

$1,050.19

Mortgage Payment + Interest

$729.67

$1,023.23

Total Energy

$166.11

$88.79

Dentist Visit

$91.43

$102.54

Veterinary Services

$47.62

$55.10

Beauty Salon

$35.77

$45.03

Coffee

$4.56

$4.58

Dry Cleaning

$13.37

$9.38

Half Gallon of Milk

$2.46

$2.30

Hamburger

$3.77

$3.64

Canola Oil

$3.12

$2.32



Do you know what salary you need to achieve your life goals? 

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Hannah Sears
Written by Hannah Sears
Hannah is a freelance writer and recent graduate of Emerson College, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing after moving to Boston from Texas three years ago.
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