As Americans, we’re often focused on status markers, such as the amount of money we make. But research indicates that the time we spend with people we care about, good health and income equality are some of biggest factors that lead to happiness. Feeling fulfilled is about so much more than how much we earn. It comes down to what we have to do to earn it, what we get in exchange for it and whether we have the time and health to enjoy our friends and family.
In other words, a balanced life.
To figure out where people are most likely to find that kind of balance, we compared seven measures in the 50 biggest metropolitan areas of the U.S.
We looked at the following (full methodology below):
- Average commute times
- How much of their income residents spend on housing
- How many hours people work compared with how much they earn
- Local income inequality
- How many people are in very good or excellent health
- Whether they get enough sleep at night
- How local prices for typical consumer goods and services (excluding housing) compare with the national average
Below are the places that ranked highest — and lowest — for 2019.
- Minneapolis takes the top spot for places with the most balanced lifestyles with a final score of 77.4, mainly due to good health and high incomes combined with a moderate cost of living.
- Kansas City, Mo., and Salt Lake City came in closely behind, with final scores of 76.0 and 75.7, respectively
- Miami ranked as the metro with the worst lifestyle balance, with a final score of 24.0. High economic inequality, expensive housing and lower incomes are the primary hindrances to the balance.
- New York and Riverside, Calif., filled out the bottom three, with final scores of 25.4 and 26.0, respectively. Last year, Riverside was included in the Los Angeles combined statistical area.
- Midwesterners might find it easier to lead balanced lives. Five of the top 11 cities in this study are in this region: Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio.
- The high costs of living in coastal cities can make it trickier to find the right balance between quality of life and financial demands. Of the 10 cities with the least balanced lifestyles, nine are on or near the coastline.
Metros that offer a balanced lifestyle
The map above includes the 11 major cities (with the last two tied) that provide the most balance to residents — where it’s less of a grind to just make a living:
2. Kansas City, Mo.
3. Salt Lake City
5. Raleigh, N.C.
6. St. Louis
7. Portland, Ore.
9. Hartford, Conn.
10. Virginia Beach, Va. (tied)
10. Columbus, Ohio (tied)
If you’re in search of a more balanced lifestyle, you might want to consider a move to the Midwest. Five of the top cities are located here.
Overall, these cities score best in some categories but not others. They score well by having low income equality, low housing costs relative to income, better health outcomes and shorter commutes. Here’s a look at which cities stand out for different factors:
- Minneapolis was No. 1 overall, and the second-highest city for percentage of residents in very good or excellent health at 57.1%, second only to Washington, D.C. Denver was the other top city that ranked well for residents’ health outcomes, with 56.6% in optimal health.
- Cincinnati offers the lowest relative housing costs of the top-ranked cities, with a typical resident spending 19.3% of income on housing costs. Kansas City and St. Louis also score well here, with housing costs at 19.5% of income.
- Cincinnati’s low costs don’t stop at housing. It has the lowest prices on goods and services of any major city, with costs 7.3% below the national average. St. Louis had the next lowest costs, with prices 7.2% below national levels.
- Hartford. (No. 9) is the city ranked in the top 11 with the highest hourly wages — on average, workers here can earn $50,000 a year with just 24.9 hours per week. Minneapolis (No. 1) also scores above-average here, with a typical worker working 26.8 hours in a week to earn a $50,000 annual income.
- Denver is where residents are the most well-rested, as only 26.9% of residents say they get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night. Cincinnati and Raleigh locals are also among the U.S. city dwellers more likely to be getting sufficient sleep.
- Salt Lake City (No. 3) and Kansas City (No. 2) have the shortest commute times of the top group, at 22.4 minutes and 23 minutes, respectively.
10 worst metros for a balanced lifestyle
There are also the cities where high costs can make it hard to get ahead, block locals’ efforts to build up savings and add up to more stress and a bigger mental labor load. The table above shows the 10 cities that scored the worst for lifestyle balance.
One commonality stands out: Many of these are coastal cities. From Miami and Tampa in Florida to San Francisco and Los Angeles in California, down to Houston and New Orleans in the Gulf Coast, these cities prove that it takes more than proximity to a beach.
The 10 worst cities scored poorly across several ranking factors: housing costs relative to income, prices on goods and services, income inequality and commute times. Some of these cities do manage to pull ahead with higher wages — meaning a typical worker can earn $50,000 per year in fewer hours.
Here are some key points on the worst cities:
- Miami, Los Angeles and Riverside earned their spots thanks to high housing costs. Miami has the highest housing prices relative to local incomes, with these living costs eating up 28.8% of earnings. But Los Angeles is right behind it at 28.7%, followed by Riverside with 27.0%.
- New York City is ranked second worst for a reason. Of all the 50 major metropolitan areas we studied, the Big Apple has the highest costs on goods and services at 12.9% higher than the national average. It also has the worst commutes and least favorable score for income inequality.
- The worst cities had some of the worst health outcomes, too. Houston, in particular, has the fewest proportion of residents reporting very good or excellent health — just 39.2%.
- Some of the worst cities have high costs but also offer higher incomes. That put a few of them among the cities where it takes fewer weekly hours to earn $50,000 per year: San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. In San Francisco, earning that amount can be done in just 20.5 work hours.
- Philadelphia and Memphis, Tenn., are among the cities where people are less likely to get enough sleep. In both cities, around 41% of locals get less than seven hours of sleep each night.
How the 50 biggest U.S. cities stack up for balanced living
Our rankings show how local labor markets, pay, costs and other living conditions can add up to have big effects on residents’ lifestyles.
In more balanced cities, locals can more easily cover bills without overworking and economic opportunity is more accessible, which helps create positive health outcomes. But in cities that rank poorly for balance, residents have to make significant personal sacrifices: working more, accepting longer commutes or spending more of their income on housing.
Here are the full rankings:
4 tips to balanced finances and living — in any city
Leading a balanced life is easier when you’re managing your money well and your finances are functioning as they should be. No matter where you live, you can find ways to build a better financial foundation to lead a balanced life. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Keep recurring living costs affordable. While you can’t decide what your local housing market and rent costs are doing, you do have some control over how they affect your budget. When choosing a home, for example, prioritize affordability over other factors.
Look for other major costs to cut out, too. Can you get a cheaper phone plan that still meets your needs? Would it be cheaper to use public transit than continue to keep and make payments on a car? Lowering these kinds of costs will help you save now, and in the months going forward.
Check your discretionary spending. On top of inspecting monthly costs, track your spending day to day, too. Pay attention to where you tend to spend a lot on “wants.” These could include categories like dining out, purchases on alcohol or tobacco, entertainment and apparel and accessories.
These optional expenses could be opportunities to rein in costs a little to build more of a buffer into your budget. You can cancel subscription services you rarely use, whether it’s video streaming or a neglected gym membership. Cutting back on eating out just once a week could be a fairly painless way to free up $50 or more per month, for example. Instead of heading to a bar or club and paying upward of $10 per drink, you might host a bring-your-own-booze get-together instead.
Limit and pay down debt. Paying down debt can be a burden on your budget and your stress levels. It’s wise to avoid debt whenever possible and prevent taking out new loans or racking up balances on credit cards.
Already have debt? Focus on paying it down. The most effective way to pay debt off quickly is by making extra payments above the monthly minimum. You can also look for ways to lower your debt costs, such as refinancing or consolidating debt. If you consolidate credit card balances, for instance, you can combine them into a single loan that could have a lower interest rate. You’ll also have the chance to choose a different loan term that could lower monthly payments to keep them more affordable.
If you’re truly struggling with debt and don’t see a way you can reasonably afford to pay it back, it can be hard to find a way out. Consider working with debt relief programs that can help you manage debt more effectively and lift some of the burden.
Focus on more than financial health. Working toward raises and making progress on money goals can be worthwhile investments in your financial future. But these objectives don’t have to come at the expense of your health and well-being.
Building strong relationships and a sense of community can help you establish a life of connection and meaning, for example. And investing in physical health through sufficient sleep, nutritious eating and an active lifestyle will help you feel better now and is a worthy investment in your long-term wellness.
Living a balanced life, after all, is about giving appropriate attention and resources to important areas of our lives. Balance efforts at work and in your finances with care for your physical, mental, emotional and social health.
The top 50 metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) are ranked on a 100-point scale on the following seven measures:
- Average commute time, as reported in the 2017 American Community Survey (“ACS”) from the U.S. Census.
- Percentage of income spent on housing, calculated as (the median monthly housing cost) / (median household income / 12 months), as reported in the 2017 ACS.
- The average number of hours per week a person would have to work to earn $50,000 a year, calculated as (average earnings for full-time workers) / (average hours worked per week), as reported in the 2017 ACS.
- Gini coefficient to represent income inequality, as reported in the 2017 ACS.
- Goods and service costs, relative to the national average, calculated as a simple average of Price Index for Goods and Price Index for Other, as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the “Real Personal Income for States and Metropolitan Areas, 2016” release.
- Share of the population in very good health, calculated as (percentage of the population in very good health) + (percentage of the population in excellent health), as reported in the 500 Cities Project (2017) from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). Data was missing for the following MSAs, and so the state averages were used: Raleigh, N.C.; Las Vegas; Dallas; Detroit; Seattle; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; Boston; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and New York.
- Share of the population that gets fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, as reported by the CDC.
The sum of all ranks was then divided by seven, for a maximum possible score of 100 and the lowest possible score of zero.
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