Philadelphia is a modern, glittering, cosmopolitan city on the east coast. Settled between massive New York and powerful Washington, D.C., Philly is a keystone of the Northeast Corridor as its state's nickname suggests.
So as a representative major northeastern city, you would expect it as an expensive place to live. Well, not so fast. While Philadelphia stands as the nation's sixth-biggest city by population, it's just the 41st most expensive city in the U.S. among the top 270 largest. The cost of living in Philadelphia is pretty affordable for all you get. In fact, the city's COL Index is a realistic 111.7, meaning it's just 11.7 percent more expensive than the national average.
The cost of living in Philadelphia involves a number of expense factors. These include budget items such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and more.
The individual indexes range from nearly 20 percent over the national average for groceries to just 0.4 percent for health care. But regardless of category, including average rent in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love is an affordable place to live.
- Housing costs in Philadelphia
- Food costs in Philadelphia
- Transportation costs in Philadelphia
- Healthcare costs in Philadelphia
- Goods and services costs in Philadelphia
- Taxes in Philadelphia
- How much do I need to earn to live in Philadelphia?
Housing costs in Philadelphia
With about 30 percent of a household budget going towards housing, paying for where you live will be your single highest expense no matter where that is. But how is the affordability of the literal cost of living in Philadelphia? The answer is simple — not bad.
Despite its size as the sixth most populous city in America, housing in Philadelphia is 16.8 percent more expensive than average.
In fact, the cost of living in Philadelphia for housing is only the 46th most expensive in the nation. That makes it cheaper to live than such cities as Baltimore, Stockton, Flagstaff, Denver and Portland, Maine. Compare that to New York City. Manhattan is just 70 miles from Center City, but its Housing Index is a whopping 442.3.
The average rent in Philadelphia for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,142 a month. That's just over $500 a month above the national average of about $1,600. The cost of that average Philly one-bedroom rose just 2.52 percent from the same period last year.
Philadelphia's least and most expensive neighborhoods
Considering there are over 300,000 rental units in Philadelphia, the average one-bedroom figure varies widely depending on where in the city you wish to live. The top four least expensive neighborhoods in Philly sit in Near Northeast Philadelphia.
Melrose Park Garden, Pennypack Woods, East Oak Lane and Burholme all rent one-bedrooms for under $1,175 on average, with Melrose Park Garden the only district in the city under a grand a month. East Falls, a popular residential neighborhood for young professionals just south of Manayunk, is the fifth least expensive at $1,226.
On the flip side, the majority of the most expensive neighborhoods surround the city's downtown. Washington Square West, Logan Square, Avenue of the Arts South and greater Center City itself all rent a lone bedroom for over $2,300 a month.
Washington Square West, home of the Gayborhood district, is the only region in town where rents top $3,000 monthly. Graduate Hospital, just across Broad Street, saw the highest year-to-year increase in the city at nearly 55 percent.
Home values in Philadelphia
If your life path has moved you from renting to homeownership, Philadelphia is an affordable place to buy as well. The average home — a new construction house with 2,400 square feet of living area for the purposes of this survey — is priced at $426,000.
While that is $115,500 above the nationwide average, Philly ranks an impressive 50th among cities with the most expensive new homes.
Mortgage rates, which by their nature fluctuate wildly, tend to hover around 3 percent.
Food costs in Philadelphia
Compared to other large cities, the price of food in Philadelphia is reasonable but not cheap. Philly's Food Index is just under 20 percent above the national average. The city falls 16th among all cities, cheaper than some smaller locales like Seattle, Wilmington and suburban DC.
If you know anything about Philadelphians, they are big fans of party foods, backyard barbecues and sandwiches (particularly local faves hoagies, roast pork and cheesesteaks). And as incredible as the restaurant scene is in Philly, locals love to eat at home both in the dining room and on the patio. That means residents buy a lot of family and snack food.
Unfortunately, several of these common grocery items are pricey. For example, the city is among the top five most expensive for popular party items including potato chips, pork sausage and Coca-Cola, and a loaf of whole wheat bread ranks eleventh.
Not only is Philadelphia high nationally, but it's unsurprisingly more expensive for food than other major cities in Pennsylvania.
For nearly every food item surveyed, Philadelphia is priciest compared to Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. For example, frozen meal prices are over 30 percent higher than the average of all of the state's population centers. A dozen eggs are nearly 30 percent higher as well and a head of lettuce is a 14.5 percent increase.
Looking for grocery bargains? They do exist. Shampoo is 5.6 percent cheaper than the state average. And both a bag of potatoes and can of peaches are 3 percent under, with the latter the cheapest in the state. While a bottle of table wine is steep at $12.11, ranked 14th and over $3 above the national average, beer is cheap.
In the town known for the “Citywide Special," a six-pack runs 58 cents below the national average — the 64th cheapest city for beer in the U.S.
Dining out in Philadelphia
But not all food fun in Philly comes from the kitchen. Philadelphia is known as one of America's top restaurant cities. No wonder, considering it's home to the nation's best pizza, best coffee shop, best chef and America's best restaurant.
Philly folks love dining out. City households spend on average 45.7 percent of their yearly food budget on restaurants, delivery or take out. That's 5.6 percent of the entire household budget and translates to slightly over $4,000 a year. Comparatively, that number is just under $2,500 on average statewide and $2,700 nationwide.
Is eating out affordable in Philadelphia? On average, a meal at a cheap restaurant runs about $15. That's the same as the national price. A three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will leave you with a $55 check, five bucks below the national average. Even a combo meal at Mcdonald's is the same as the rest of the country at about $8.
Transportation costs in Philadelphia
It's no secret that commuting in Philadelphia is tough if you're driving your own car. The city is known as the second-worst for traffic congestion, behind only New York City in the number of hours spent in the car to and from work.
But at least the cost of commuting in Philly isn't horrifically pricey. The city has a Transportation Index of 13.5 percent, good enough for just the 29th most expensive in America.
Like in many major east coast cities, it's expensive to own a car. Thankfully, the price of a gallon of gas (unleaded regular including all taxes) in Philly averages $2.43, just 28 cents above average. That last part is key, as Pennsylvania has one of the highest gasoline taxes — currently 58 cents per gallon.
One of the biggest auto expenses in the city is parking. In Philadelphia, monthly parking averages $275 a month. The cheapest lots, in outlying areas, run about $140 a month while lots and garages near or in Center City can run as much as $500.
And while there are no toll roads within the Philly city limits, the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs east/west just north of town. On average, the PA Turnpike charges 13 cents a mile if you pay with EZPass (and about double that without).
However, the city features four toll bridges that run to and from New Jersey: the Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin and Tacony Palmyra Bridges. All are free from Philly into Jersey but carry a toll of five dollars to return (except the Tacony Palmyra which is three).
Public transit in Philadelphia
Thankfully, Philadelphia has a robust public transportation system. The city's transit authority SEPTA offers four subway and elevated train lines, 13 regional rail lines and dozens of bus and trolley routes. Nearly a quarter of Philadelphia workers commute via public transit. The city's transit score is 68.
All city rapid transit, which includes trolleys, buses and trolley buses, costs $2.50 for a single trip regardless of distance or time of day. That goes down to two dollars when using the city's new smart card program, SEPTA Key. Those are the same prices for Philly's rapid rail lines as well, which includes the Broad Street, Market Frankford, Ridge Spur and Norristown High Speed lines subways and elevated trains. A transfer is a dollar, with the first one free.
As with most systems, prices are cheaper when purchased in bulk in advance. A weekly transit pass in Philly runs $25.50 and $96 for a monthly ride pass. Overall, this is one of the lowest prices of any city in its category (when calculated as a percent of income).
SEPTA's commuter rail network is known as Regional Rail and operates within the city and to the suburbs as well as New Jersey and Delaware. Trains depart any of the 150 stations across the region about once an hour on average. All of its 13 lines pass through the city's three Center City stations: Suburban, Jefferson and 30th Street (also home of the city's Amtrak hub).
Prices for regional rail vary depending on distance and day traveling. For travel entirely within the city, a one-way ticket runs $5.25 during the week and $4.25 on the weekend and holidays.
For travel to and from the suburbs, tickets cost up to $6.75 on weekdays and $5.25 on the weekend depending on to and from which “zone" you are traveling. Pricing is higher if purchased on board with cash rather than in advance or with a smart card. Seniors and children riding with adults ride free on any mode while riders with disabilities travel at half price.
Walking and biking in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is also an eminently commutable city without requiring power transport. The gorgeous city streets are highly walkable, with an excellent walk score of 84.
As well, Philly is a haven for bikers with designated bike lanes and bike paths throughout the city and a bike score of 76.
The city also provides a convenient bicycle ride share program called Indego. The program offers over 1,000 bikes at 125 stations throughout the city. Pricing varies from four dollars for an individual half-hour to $17 a month for unlimited hour-long rides.
Healthcare costs in Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Hospital, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin, is the oldest hospital in the U.S. Today there are over a dozen major hospitals in Philadelphia, along with a slew of smaller ones, a number of children's hospitals and several cancer specialty centers. Philly is a hotbed for quality healthcare.
The Philly healthcare scene's excellence balances by the breadth of available service. This has kept healthcare prices in the city stunningly low. The cost of living in Philadelphia for healthcare is 0.4 percent above the national average and the 111th most expensive in America.
A visit to a doctor (specifically a general practitioner) is $133 on average. This is good enough to rank 51st nationwide. Need your teeth checked? An appointment with a dentist for a cleaning is just the 141st priciest in the country, nearly 70 cents below average.
The best value in health care in Philly? Prescriptions within the survey are $88 below the national average, the 14th cheapest of all cities.
However, if your furry roommate needs attention, you might be paying a bit more. A veterinary visit (for an annual exam) is the 17th most costly in the nation.
While these numbers are promising, it is difficult to determine an average cost of healthcare overall as needs vary depending on your individual health.
Goods and services costs in Philadelphia
Most everything else that isn't included above falls as goods and services. Goods covers everything you buy that's not consumable or isn't a tangible item. This could be anything from paper clips to potting soil to concert tickets. Services include most visits with professionals that don't involve health care or your car. This is any personal business trade from dog grooming to plumbing repair, yoga instruction to landscaping.
As far as a goods and service economy, Philadelphia is incredibly affordable for its size. In fact, the cost of living in Philadelphia for goods and services is 5.6 percent above the national average. Despite its ranking as the sixth-largest city in the nation, its goods and services rank is 61st.
There are a number of items that are inexpensive in Philly. For example, a newspaper subscription averages just $14, just the 60th priciest in the nation. An average movie ticket for a first-run film ranks 61st at just $12.
Think it is expensive to get your hair done in a cosmopolitan east coast city? It's not cheap, but a visit to a salon will run you $61, that's just the 20th most expensive in the nation. In fact, it's comparable to a visit to a stylist in Manhattan or Queens, about $23.50 above the national average.
Taxes in Philadelphia
The full sales tax rate in Philadelphia is 8 percent. This represents 6 percent from the state and the remaining 2 percent from Philadelphia County. The county is conterminous with the city, which has no sales tax of its own.
In general, non-sales-taxed items in the state include food (both grocery and dining), medicine and drug store items and most clothing. If you purchase $1,000 of taxable items in Philadelphia, you'll be paying $80 in sales tax.
The city also charges a sugary drink tax. The 1.5 cents per ounce tax applies to sodas and any non-alcoholic beverage that lists sugar or any sweetener as an ingredient. The proceeds primarily benefit city education and recreation programs.
Philadelphia's current property tax rate hovers around 1.4 percent. City income wage tax sits just under 3.9 percent. The wage tax applies to all Philadelphia residents regardless of where they work and all Philadelphia-based employees regardless of where they live.
How much do I need to earn to live in Philadelphia
The monthly rent in Philadelphia is $2,152 on average for a one-bedroom apartment. That represents a 2.56 percent increase in similar units year to year.
Experts suggest spending no more than 30 percent of your annual income on housing. Multiplying the rent on average for a one-bedroom by 12, you determine the average yearly rent is $25,824. This means you should have an annual household income of at least $86,080.
However, according to Payscale.com, the average salary in Philadelphia is $69,000. That means that a resident earning the average salaried wage would be budgeted to spend $21,000 a year or $1,750 a month on rent. That's over $400 less than the average one-bedroom apartment.
Check out our rent calculator to see how much you can afford each month.
Living in Philadelphia
There are a number of factors to consider when moving to, within or around Philadelphia. But regardless of the category, the cost of living in Philadelphia is moderate compared to many cities its size. It's a budget-friendly city especially when it comes to health care, housing and other channels.
No matter your budget, there's a perfect Philly neighborhood and comfortable home waiting for you. Check out the great places to lay your head at night in the Philadelphia apartment rental listings or for homes to buy.