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Cities vs. Suburbs: Where Can American Parents Save the Most Money?

A 2017 study from and Zillow found that city families spend more on cost of living expenses than their suburban counterparts.

Cities vs. Suburbs: Where Can American Parents Save the Most Money?

Figuring out where our families will live and grow is arguably one of the most exciting parts of “adulting.” (Let’s be real: who doesn’t enjoy scrolling through Zillow to dream about what could be? Or filling Pinterest boards with interior decor ideas that you could totally DIY?)

And yet, while finding a new home can be fun, the process can become daunting once you start factoring in the not-so-fun part of adulting: your family’s living costs.

Typically, these “costs of living” include the usual real estate expenses that you need to consider — namely, mortgage and property taxes. But if you’re a parent, you also need to start thinking about child care costs, too. 

Will you have babysitters or a nanny to help you out? Or will you need to look into what child care centers are in the area? All of these are good questions to ask yourself that, inevitably, will lead you to ask an even bigger one: Would we be better off living in an urban area, or in a suburb?

To answer this question, analysts from and Zillow combined efforts to publish the 2017 Cost of Living report. In it, we looked at the data around the cost of living in cities versus ‘burbs to find out where families can get the most bang for their buck. 

Take a look at the infographic below to see the 10 areas where it pays to live in the suburbs, and the 10 areas where you’re better off living in the city itself. (If you’d like to see the full data set, just scroll all the way down the page.)

Let’s Hear It for the ‘Burbs

According to this first-of-its-kind study, and Zillow found that city-dwelling families nationwide spend around $9,073 more per year to cover basic housing and child care costs than ‘burb-dwelling families. In some metros like New York or Chicago, families can expect to pay as much as $71,237 more per year for these expenses in the city than they would in the suburbs. That equates to nearly $6,000 extra per month.

On average, child care centers are less expensive in suburban areas than in urban areas. Families living in the ‘burbs of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco see the biggest savings in child care costs — families with two kids could save $6,123 or $5,917, respectively, on a child care center, compared to their counterparts in the city. In Minneapolis, the annual cost of housing in an urban neighborhood ($14,710) is almost the same as that in a suburban area ($14,899). However, suburban families with two kids can save $4,119 on a child care center — or $1,759 on a nanny — which ends up making the total cost of suburban living lower.

It’s also worth noting that suburban homes are typically larger than urban homes, which could be a deciding factor for many families that are looking to expand. So the study looked at home size, too. For example, families in Austin see the biggest bang for their buck when moving to the suburbs, since homes there tend to be 572 square feet larger than those found in the city.

They Don’t Call Them “Urban Oases” for Nothin’

Keep in mind that although there it can be cost-effective to live in the suburbs, that doesn’t mean it’s always the cheaper option.

Specifically, it turns out that families in Philadelphia and Las Vegas could end up saving about $14,000 a year if they lived in the city, rather than in their respective suburbs. and Zillow found that for the cities of Providence, Las Vegas and Philadelphia, child care centers are actually more expensive in the suburbs than they are in the urban core.  On average, a child care center in urban Providence costs $17,504 a year for two kids, while a child care center in the suburbs costs $20,473 a year. In this scenario, parents in Providence could actually save almost $3,000 on child care by living in the city!

So, although there are some draws to living in the suburb, it’s clear that families need to do their research before they put all their eggs in the suburbia basket.

For the full data set, take a look at the table below. You can sort the cities according to specific living costs.

Metro Area Type Suburban vs. Urban Living Cost Difference  Annual Child Care Costs (Child Care Center for 2 Kids)  Total Annual Housing and Child Care Expenses  Annual Property Taxes and Mortgage Payment Median Sq. Ft. 
United States Suburban ($9,073) $19,573 $34,579 $15,006 1,654
United States Urban   $21,381 $43,652 $22,271 1,375
Atlanta, GA Suburban ($12,557) $17,236 $30,805 $13,569 1,988
Atlanta, GA Urban   $20,927 $43,362 $22,435 1,611
Austin, TX Suburban ($11,522) $18,989 $36,268 $17,279 1,988
Austin, TX Urban   $22,129 $47,790 $25,661 1,416
Baltimore, MD Suburban $10,790 $19,493 $35,061 $15,568 1,525
Baltimore, MD Urban   $18,367 $24,271 $5,904 1,292
Birmingham, AL Suburban ($696) $20,820 $34,158 $13,338 1,523
Birmingham, AL Urban   $18,356 $34,854 $16,498 1,360
Boston, MA Suburban ($8,076) $27,078 $51,561 $24,483 1,666
Boston, MA Urban   $27,507 $59,637 $32,130 1,262
Chicago, IL Suburban ($18,472) $20,386 $48,794 $28,408 1,532
Chicago, IL Urban   $21,931 $67,266 $45,335 1,241
Cincinnati, OH Suburban $5,514 $16,613 $31,880 $15,267 1,604
Cincinnati, OH Urban   $13,759 $26,366 $12,607 1,420
Cleveland, OH Suburban $9,034 $17,513 $32,647 $15,134 1,572
Cleveland, OH Urban   $15,988 $23,613 $7,625 1,356
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX Suburban ($14,128) $16,373 $30,715 $14,342 1,893
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX Urban   $20,426 $44,843 $24,417 1,639
Denver, CO Suburban $3,635 $21,184 $66,059 $44,875 1,642
Denver, CO Urban   $21,860 $62,424 $40,564 1,215
Houston, TX Suburban ($5,368) $15,268 $27,852 $12,584 1,964
Houston, TX Urban   $16,682 $33,220 $16,538 1,700
Las Vegas, NV Suburban $7,318 $17,711 $33,645 $15,934 1,800
Las Vegas, NV Urban   $15,846 $26,327 $10,481 1,478
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Suburban $407 $21,280 $56,223 $34,943 1,608
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Urban   $21,774 $55,816 $34,042 1,386
Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL Suburban ($1,943) $16,860 $33,158 $16,298 1,483
Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL Urban   $18,664 $35,101 $16,437 1,222
Milwaukee, WI Suburban $8,227 $21,246 $35,346 $14,100 1,419
Milwaukee, WI Urban   $19,688 $27,119 $7,431 1,271
Minneapolis-St Paul, MN Suburban ($3,930) $19,970 $34,869 $14,899 1,351
Minneapolis-St Paul, MN Urban   $24,089 $38,799 $14,710 1,250
New Orleans, LA Suburban $836 $14,165 $39,345 $25,180 1,792
New Orleans, LA Urban   $14,834 $38,509 $23,675 1,661
New York, NY Suburban ($71,237) $23,253 $51,921 $28,668 1,704
New York, NY Urban   $21,568 $123,158 $101,590 1,428
Philadelphia, PA Suburban $13,859 $19,575 $39,014 $19,439 1,760
Philadelphia, PA Urban   $17,753 $25,155 $7,402 1,254
Phoenix, AZ Suburban $6,567 $17,110 $49,207 $32,097 1,792
Phoenix, AZ Urban   $15,747 $42,640 $26,893 1,560
Pittsburgh, PA Suburban $4,258 $17,185 $28,173 $10,988 1,452
Pittsburgh, PA Urban   $16,999 $23,915 $6,916 1,420
Portland, OR Suburban ($7,998) $19,938 $41,847 $21,909 1,625
Portland, OR Urban   $23,270 $49,845 $26,575 1,452
Providence, RI Suburban $6,974 $20,473 $36,867 $16,394 1,483
Providence, RI Urban   $17,504 $29,893 $12,389 1,296
Sacramento, CA Suburban ($10,822) $18,873 $38,428 $19,555 1,683
Sacramento, CA Urban   $23,403 $49,250 $25,847 1,428
San Antonio, TX Suburban $2,474 $16,135 $27,513 $11,378 1,770
San Antonio, TX Urban   $16,913 $25,039 $8,126 1,418
San Diego, CA Suburban $4,555 $21,398 $52,394 $30,996 1,633
San Diego, CA Urban   $20,036 $47,839 $27,803 1,336
San Francisco, CA Suburban ($12,560) $26,177 $72,264 $46,087 1,596
San Francisco, CA Urban   $32,094 $84,824 $52,730 1,315
San Jose, CA Suburban $1,628 $27,991 $87,530 $59,539 1,565
San Jose, CA Urban   $30,514 $85,902 $55,388 1,525
Seattle, WA Suburban ($11,376) $22,003 $43,292 $21,289 1,816
Seattle, WA Urban   $26,319 $54,668 $28,349 1,592
Washington, DC Suburban ($12,832) $21,660 $43,085 $21,425 1,724
Washington, DC Urban   $27,783 $55,917 $28,134 1,292

Methodology — used its child care center profiles in 2016 for two children in the same center to determine annual child care costs. Weekly rates were multiplied by 52 weeks, and monthly rates were multiplied by 12 months to find annual rates. To find the cost of a nanny, used data from full-time child care jobs posted on its site in 2016 for two children. A nanny’s hourly rate was multiplied by 40 hours and 52 weeks to find the annual rate.

Methodology — Zillow

Zillow surveyed Americans to determine if their communities are primarily urban or suburban then used that data to create a statistical model that predicts the urban or suburban status of a zip code. Using those classifications, real estate experts at Zillow determined the median home value of homes in urban and suburban metro areas. Zillow compared property taxes paid and tax assessments from public records and took the ratio when they determined property tax data. Then they applied those rates to the median home value.

If you would like to read Zillow’s Cost of Living report, you can check it out here.


Want to check out more of our studies? Feel free to peruse this list:

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