Skip To Content

    Different Cities, Same Salary: Comparing The Lifestyle Of Two Twentysomethings

    Mia lives in Waco. Madeleine lives in Brooklyn. They each make around $32,000 a year. How far does their money go?

    Despite New York City's reputation for being the most expensive city in the nation, recent college graduates swarm the city each summer, looking for jobs, apartments, and the start of a new, glamorous life.

    Considering the average apartment in Brooklyn is now reported at $3,035, it's not always easy to establish yourself.

    Twenty-two-year-old Madeleine Harrington of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, makes slightly less than Brooklyn's average median income of $32,135, racking in $31,000 a year working two part-time jobs. Harrington also pays less in rent than Brooklyn's average: Her home costs only $2,000 a month. Still out of her price range, the two-bedroom apartment has been converted into a three-bedroom, although the additional room is "questionable." There are no walls, and you have to walk through it to reach the bathroom.

    While this might be standard for a NYC lifestyle, it is an anomaly in other parts of the country: In Waco, Texas, for example, the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is just $683. Mia Francis, 22, of Waco, makes well over her city's average of $26,264, pulling in $33,000 a year, and is able to live in a spacious three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, equipped with a backyard, patio, washing machine, and a driveway for her car. The monthly rent is $900, and she splits it evenly with her fiancé.

    Of course, there are incredible opportunities in New York City and other big cities that are unavailable elsewhere. Is the payoff worth it?

    Here is how Mia and Madeleine live off their average salaries of $32,000.

    Mia Francis, 22, Waco, Texas

    Waco, located in between Dallas and Austin, has a population of approximately 124,805.

    Mia lives in a three-bedroom house with her fiancé, who is an airplane mechanic, and their two dogs, Juliet and Storm. The total monthly rent is $900.

    There are two full bathrooms, a kitchen with a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, and a backyard with a patio. Including utilities, she pays $500 a month.

    Salary: $33,000/year

    Rent: $450/month

    Utilities: Approx. $50/month

    How much money do you save?

    Right now, I am saving for my wedding! After student loans, paying off wedding vendors, and medical bills, there isn't much left to save. I make sure to leave some money aside to buy a book or two per month, and I love taking trips to Dallas and Austin, which are both an hour and a half away in each direction.

    What's your biggest splurge?

    Hardcover new releases and furniture! Right now, I'm paying off this massive sofa sectional that I put on layaway right after I got my first paycheck. It was a little over $1,000. Next, I'm buying a washer and dryer (since laundromats are expensive and a pain — it's about $1.25 per load to wash). After that, I'm buying a dining room table.

    Do your parents help foot your bills?

    My parents don't provide any money toward my bills — I'm making enough to meet all of my needs, and most of my wants — but they are helping with the wedding expenses, and that is a huge help.

    How many different types of food can you get delivered to your house?

    There aren't many places that offer different types of food. There was a Vietnamese restaurant that served the best pho, but it closed down a few months ago. If you want something delivered, I've found that my choices are pretty limited. Waco has some very interesting, eclectic places that serve great Southern and Tex-Mex fusion.

    How often do you eat out?

    Only on the weekends. At my favorite restaurant, an order of steak fajitas (serving two) costs around $15. A taco is usually under a dollar. Food is cheap here, and during the week, I like to eat at home.

    Where do you buy your food?

    I shop at HEB, which is a Texas institution, but to others, it's just a grocery store. I prefer to shop at Whole Foods for my pets and myself, but the nearest one is about an hour away, so I often find myself at HEB. My grocery bill is around $200 a month.

    How far away is the closest bar?

    The closest bar is about a 10-minute drive from my home — at a bar, beer costs around $3–$4, and a cocktail is around $5–$6. It's typically higher in a restaurant.

    What about the city's culture? What's the closest museum?

    Waco is the home of Dr. Pepper! There are about five or six major museums in town, but the closest, the Dr. Pepper Museum, is about a 10-minute drive.

    Relationship status?


    What's your job?

    I am the project & royalty coordinator for WRS Group, a leading manufacturer of health education products. I am the liaison between our marketing and editorial departments, and I coordinate the production of our three catalogues.

    What's your commute like?

    I have a 20-minute commute to work via car (but there is almost never any traffic here).

    Madeleine Harrington, 22, Brooklyn, New York

    Brooklyn is New York City's most populated borough, with 2.5 million residents.

    Madeleine lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in a two-bedroom apartment that houses three people.

    Her room fits a full-sized bed and has a large closet. There is one window that faces a busy highway. Including utilities, she pays $900 a month.

    Salary: $31,000

    Rent: $750/month

    Utilities: $150

    Approximately how much money do you save a month?

    I budgeted this out once and I came to the rough calculations of having a $24 or $25 daily budget. On a good day, I spend about $8; on average, about $15; on Fridays and Saturdays, about $40. So I'm going to calculate that the answer is not much.

    What's your biggest splurge?

    Makeup...especially $56 blush and a brush from Sephora.

    Do your parents help foot your bills?

    No, but they would. I'm currently part of their health insurance plan, since I don't have a full-time job.

    How many different types of food can you get delivered to your apartment?

    All the foods. Our immediate neighborhood is very Polish, but we're also 10 minutes from the hub of Williamsburg, which means everything else. The hot Cubano, which is a vegan Cuban sandwich from Champs Vegan Bakery, costs $9. I think about it often.

    How often do you eat out?

    I only really eat out on weekends, but I will definitely get at least one premade meal throughout the week and unlimited pizza and bagels. I do pride myself on packing a lunch the night before literally every day of the workweek. No matter how drunk I come home, I will sauté that kale or boil that fucking egg.

    Where do you buy your food?

    If I'm feeling ambitious/responsible, I go to the Trader Joe's at the beginning of the week and get everything there. I have yet to see a better offer than a $1.99 jar of pesto. However, I tend to go to the overpriced grocery stores in my neighborhood.

    Where is the closest bar?

    The closest bar is about 30 feet away from our apartment. The closest bar I actually go to is a 10-minute walk. Beers and gin and tonics are $5. They have sandwiches and there's a backyard. I'm set.

    What's the closest museum to your apartment?

    If we're not counting the infinite surplus of independently run galleries in the Bushwick/Greenpoint area, then I'm pretty positive it's MoMA PS1, which is in Long Island City, several stops away on the train.

    Relationship status?

    OkCupid second date.

    Job: I work two part-time jobs. My first is at Primary Research Group, a textbook publishing company. My second job is at the ESA Foundation, a nonprofit.

    What's your commute like?

    I take the subway to both of my jobs. My first job takes 50 minutes to an hour [to get to], because the C train is terrible. My second job takes 40 minutes.

    Where would you rather live?