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):
Below are the places that ranked highest — and lowest — for 2019.
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:
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|Rank||Metro||Final Score||Average Commute Time (Minutes)||Income Equality (Gini Coefficient)||Housing Cost Relative to Income (%)||Average Time to Earn $50,000 (Hours per Week)||People in Very Good or Excellent Health (%)||People Getting Fewer Than 7 Hours Sleep (%)||Goods & Services Prices Compared to the National Average (%)|
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:
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:
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:
The sum of all ranks was then divided by seven, for a maximum possible score of 100 and the lowest possible score of zero.