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Salary Secrets
What a $50,000 Salary Gets You in the 6 Happiest U.S. Cities
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Elizabeth Ballou
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Depending on where you live, a salary of $50,000 can get you far…or it can get you almost nowhere. The job market and population density play major roles in rent prices.

No matter where you live, though, you want a healthy, pleasant community. So what will it run you to live in some of those ideal locations?

Here’s a quick rundown of what $50,000 will get you, rent-wise, in the top six happiest cities in the United States. To calculate these, I used the standard rule of rent calculation: spend up to 30% of your monthly income on rent. That’s $1,250 per month.

According to current Zillow listings, $1,250 can get you a nicely-furnished home or a super-cramped apartment. Let’s take a look.

1. Boulder, Colorado 

Boulder, the happiest city in the United States, is famous for its outdoorsy vibe. If you’re a hiker, biker, or foodie, Boulder’s Rocky Mountain charm might just sway you to move there.

Rent prices are high, but they’re not astronomical.

This one-bed, one-bath apartment near University of Colorado Boulder features 390 square feet ($3.06/sqft) of hardwood floors. The apartment complex has a pool, hot tub, and sand volleyball court. Plus, it allows small dogs.

Food’s not cheap in Boulder, though. Lunch at a restaurant in the business district will cost you about $15, and a dozen eggs costs $4.09.

2. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California

Looking for a redwood paradise and California-style living? Santa Cruz may be the right fit for you. The local boardwalk provides ocean access and an amusement park, and the University of California, Santa Cruz is widely recognized for the quality of its research.

But as you might expect for a seaside community, living in Santa Cruz is not budget-friendly.

There were no listings for apartments going for $1,250, but this studio in nearby Watsonville costs $1,350 per month. It’s pretty roomy for a studio at 477 square feet ($2.83/sqft). Plus, the place is close to lots of shops, restaurants, and parks.

Like in Boulder, Santa Cruz food is not the most affordable. A basic lunch in the business district goes for $14, and a dozen eggs costs $3.96.

3. Charlottesville, Virginia

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, sweet Charlottesville is famously home to the University of Virginia and its Jeffersonian architecture. The mountains, combined with the nearby Rapidan River, create a great environment for outdoor adventurers.

As a Charlottesville resident of 4 years (I went to UVA for undergrad), I can attest to both the city’s charm and its affordability.

This one-bedroom, one-bath apartment, which is half of a duplex, is fully furnished. It’s 1,016 square feet and $975 per month, which makes it a deal at $.96/sqft. Plus, utilities are included. The house has a yard and patio, which are shared with the other half of the duplex. The Rugby Circle location is close to UVA, but not too close to Rugby Road’s hard-partying crew. 

Food in Charlottesville is relatively inexpensive. Though it’s surprisingly loaded with restaurants, a lunch downtown costs about $11, and a dozen eggs will run you $2.93.

4. Fort Collins, Colorado

You may recognize Fort Collins as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street. The picturesque military outpost established in the 1800s has turned into one of Colorado’s most popular cities. Like most of the cities on this list, Fort Collins has a large, well-respected university: Colorado State University.

It’s also pretty reasonably-priced.

This one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment will run you $1,221 per month for 706 square feet, or $1.73/sqft. The complex has a pool, hot tub, fitness center, and a gated dog run for your canine companion. It’s also close to plenty of parks.

Dining leans toward the expensive side: a lunch in the business district goes for $15. However, a dozen eggs go for $3.02.

5. San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo, or SLO for short, is a coastal retreat away from the bustle of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Its quirky architecture (SLO’s got Hearst Castle and the Madonna Inn) and beaches support a lively tourist trade, and it’s also got great vineyards. California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) is located here.

But San Luis Obispo is not cheap.

There’s nothing currently on the market for $1,250 or under – the closest option is this $1,595 property with one bedroom and one bath. It’s 513 square feet, or $3.11/sqft, and the apartment complex includes a community garden, bocce ball court, and fire pit, among other outdoor amenities.

Restaurant dining is fairly expensive at $15 for a lunch in the business district, but groceries aren’t too bad – a dozen eggs cost $3.33.

6. San Jose, California

It’s probably not a coincidence that half of the first six cities on this list are in California. San Jose, in sixth place, joins SLO and Santa Cruz as a trio of beautiful, culturally diverse communities on the West Coast. San Jose is a Silicon Valley powerhouse, and it’s got the funkiness – and high cost of living – to prove that.

In fact, San Jose’s housing market is the most expensive in the country.

This 342-square-foot studio, which goes for $1,400, is representative of the San Jose housing situation. At $4.09/sqft, it’s the most expensive per square foot of all the properties on this list. The property does feature hardwood floors and plenty of green space, and it’s just blocks away from Sane Jose State University.

A basic lunch from the business district is on the pricier side, at $14, but groceries are straight-up expensive: a dozen eggs cost $5.60.

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Elizabeth Ballou is a content marketer at Clutch, a research, ratings, and reviews company in Washington, D.C. She writes about HR and benefits. When she's not working, she's listening to too many podcasts and reviewing theater and video games for various media outlets.

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