Boston stands out among other large American cities thanks to the distinctive local accent and the smell of American patriotism wafting through the air.
However, Boston also stands out because of the high cost of residing in or visiting the city.
In fact, it was recently ranked the second most expensive city in America for homeowners after San Francisco.
What could make this seemingly blue-collar and casual city so costly?
We cover the top 10 reasons Boston is so expensive so that you can decide if Beantown is worth it for you and your family.
Why Is Boston So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Lack Of Housing
Boston has more people who need housing than housing solutions, meaning there’s a large demand for housing with only so many available homes.
Between 2010 and 2020, Boston’s population increased by 58,000 people.
The city didn’t plan for such a dramatic increase and struggled with where to shelter everyone.
It may seem like the obvious solution involves building more apartment buildings and houses.
However, Boston only has a certain amount of land to build on.
Houses, in particular, take up an excessive amount of the already limited space available.
At least with apartment buildings, the builders can build upward.
While several variables can alter the final cost, you can expect to get a 2,092 sq. ft. house for $1,000,000 in Boston.
For a comparison, you can get a 4,500 sq. ft. house in Memphis, Tennessee for $975,000.
For Boston residents who rent, they can expect to pay an average of $2,700 per month, far greater than the national average of $784.
Most Cost-Effective Suburbs
To avoid paying outrageous prices within the city limits, many homeowners choose to purchase a home slightly outside of the city in the suburbs.
See the most affordable Boston suburbs for people who don’t want to pay Boston prices for housing and cost of living:
- Worcester, MA: median home price of $236,000 and average rent of $1,700.
- Salem, MA: median home price of $365,000 and average rent of $2,025.
- Portsmouth, NH: median home price of $420,000 and average rent of $2,300.
The only problem with living in the suburbs is that most professional opportunities exist within Boston.
Living in the suburbs likely means a long daily commute.
2. High Cost Of Living
In June of 2021, Investopedia labeled Boston, Massachusetts, the fourth most expensive city in the country in terms of cost of living after New York, San Francisco, and Honolulu.
Investopedia estimates that a family of four needs an annual income of $76,034 to survive comfortably.
Food And Groceries
People come to Boston from all over the country for their lobster rolls and clam chowder.
Of course, the meal can’t be complete without a Boston cream pie for dessert.
Boston is overflowing with delicious food that compares in quality and deliciousness to other cities known for their food, such as Chicago.
However, in Boston, you’ll probably end up paying more.
Even if the food costs about the same, how can you not get seconds?
All of the eating out adds up rather quickly.
To save money, some people buy groceries and cook their own food at home.
While that can help your budget, Massachusetts fell on the high end of the spectrum when it comes to average grocery cost per month.
The typical Boston resident spends $406.21 a month on groceries.
Keep in mind that this only covers enough food for one person.
A household with three adults will pay more than $1,200.00 a month on groceries alone.
In comparison, people who reside in the state with the lowest average grocery costs, New Hampshire, only pay an average of $183 per month per person.
All Americans should have healthcare to protect them financially in the case of medical expenses covered under the insurance policy.
Most people obtain health insurance through their employers, but some residents get health insurance through government assistance programs.
Despite having a large number of medical facilities in the area, Boston residents pay a whopping 27% more than the national average for healthcare.
The costs of healthcare in Massachusetts increase marginally just about every year.
3. Traffic And Construction
Traffic is a fact of life for most people, especially those people who commute to the city from the suburbs.
As a nation, Americans lost an estimated $88 billion in 2019 thanks to the time stuck in traffic, and Boston, Massachusetts, earned the place of the most congested city in the entire country with an average of 149 hours lost in traffic per person.
That’s time that we won’t get back.
While experts try to quantify the value of that time stuck on the highway, finally getting home from work at a reasonable hour with some extra time to relax in your favorite recliner is priceless.
The Boston roads continue to get more and more congested thanks to the influx of new residents and tourists.
However, beginning construction seems halted.
The road construction that does start moves at a snail’s pace, and it seems to create more trouble than it’s worth while it’s being completed.
4. Education And Medical Hub
The congested roads come from the swarms of people entering the city to attend the different universities and hospitals.
Boston houses not only a long list of different colleges but also some of the most respected universities in the world.
The educational opportunities make Boston one of the best cities in the entire world for education, thus attracting a lot of students.
Some, but not all, of the universities in Boston include the following:
- Boston University (14,747)
- Emerson College (4,930)
- Northeastern University (22,207)
- Suffolk University (7,169)
- Cambridge University (2,356)
Nearby, the esteemed Ivy League Harvard University (31,655) and the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (11,520) are located only about 15 minutes away in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
These students come to the area and increase demand for general goods, driving prices up on everyday items and filling the roads during peak hours.
There are even more community colleges and specialized colleges in the area, adding to the number of students in town and numerous general hospitals and teaching hospitals.
5. Convenient Location
While there’s plenty to see and do in Boston, it’s convenient that it’s positioned in a location that grants residents easy access to numerous nearby cities to visit for a day trip or a weekend vacation.
See the following distances between Boston and major cities in nearby states and how long it takes to get there at 50 miles per hour:
- Providence, RI: 51 miles (~1 hour)
- Manchester, NH: 132 miles (~2.25 hours)
- Bridgeport, CT: 153 miles (~2.5 hours)
- New York City, NY: 215 miles (~3.5 hours)
As we mentioned, traffic can get rather tight in Boston. Give yourself extra time if you plan to drive during rush hour.
These time estimations do not account for traffic.
Of course, there are other ways to get to many of these destinations, such as the train.
There are a plentiful 14 train rides from Boston to New York City every day, allowing you to get to the city at the time that’s most convenient for you instead of being limited to only a couple of departure times throughout the day.
The train ride takes about four hours and the ticket costs between $80 and $100 for a standard ticket with higher prices for luxury accommodations.
6. High Average Household Income
The average salary in Boston, Massachusetts exceeds the national average of $66,665 by more than $10,000, with an average of $77,217.
Since people in the area have more money than most of the country, prices go up a little bit higher.
Boston, Massachusetts also has a low unemployment rate of roughly 5% as of August of 2021, which is just slightly below the national average, meaning most of the people in Boston have a regular job, go to school, or live on retirement instead of requesting unemployment assistance.
While 5% may sound substantial, this comes on the heels of a pandemic that put thousands of people out of work.
While somewhat affected, Boston did not suffer as slow of a comeback as some other cities.
Both Los Angeles and Las Vegas have a 9% unemployment rate.
7. Low Crime
Despite what you may have seen in the movie Departed, Boston has a relatively low crime rate, especially compared to other cities in the country.
When talking about crime, we will separate statistics based on property crime and violent crime.
Property crime includes any crime that involves the theft or destruction of someone else’s property, such as burglary, vandalism, auto theft, and arson, without causing harm to a person.
Violent crime refers to one of the following crimes: murder, manslaughter, rape, and assault.
On a scale of 0 to 100, Boston has an overall crime index of 35.8 for property crime and 37.3 for violent crime.
Ultimately, Boston offers a high level of safety in both areas of crime.
However, how do they compare to other large metropolitan locations?
See the crime index for the following large cities for comparison:
- Boston, MA: property crime (35.8) and violent crime (37.3)
- Chicago, IL: property crime (46.3) and violent crime (49.9)
- Denver, CO: property crime (50.8) and violent crime (30.7)
- Miami, FL: property crime (62.7) and violent crime (48.8)
- Providence, RI: property crime (53.1) and violent crime (30.4)
- Trenton, NJ: property crime (37.9) and violent crime (61.6)
- Baltimore, MD: property crime (67.6) and violent crime (77.8)
- Montpelier, VT: property crime (37.4) and violent crime (13.1)
Except for a couple of exceptions, Boston, MA consistently comes out on top.
However, it’s still best to know which neighborhoods to avoid.
The worst neighborhoods in Boston are Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury.
Since Boston is known for its walkability, you may find yourself strolling through the city at night on your way home from dinner or a drink.
Avoid walking home late at night by choosing a ride share service or taxi instead, especially if you are alone.
If you insist on walking at night, do not listen to headphones and remain aware of your surroundings at all times.
Stay in well-lit places and avoid unnecessary interaction with the dubious characters you may encounter.
8. City-Funded Amenities
Most cities collect various taxes from residents in order to fund essential expenses, such as infrastructure and police.
Boston goes above and beyond what’s necessary when it comes to what it provides for its citizens.
However, the city government and state government charge for it.
The state of Massachusetts collects most of the taxes.
Massachusetts has a flat income tax rate of 5% for everybody, despite salary.
Massachusetts also has a sales tax of 6.5% throughout the state on everything you buy at a retailer within state limits.
Boston, Massachusetts knows how important it is for youths to have a safe place to go to gain access to recreational equipment and develop healthy friendships and mentorships.
They also know how important it is for seniors to socialize and get on the bus to different shopping expeditions and day trips.
Boston offers more than 30 community centers throughout the city, each with its own unique amenities, such as a pool, computer lab, gym, teen center, and senior center.
Boston supports the expenses of each location with the help of some private donations.
Boston celebrates education, innovations, and, of course, technology.
Boston’s slowly growing into an East Coast version of Silicon Valley thanks to an influx of technology businesses into the area.
Of course, Boston uses technology in their daily operations as well in an attempt to make processes as simple as possible for everyone involved.
Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology uses a technology stack to create a highly effective communications system.
They also use advanced technology to aid in budgeting, employee management, and other daily operations.
Boston also aims to connect as many residents as possible with their Wicked Free WiFi that covers a large portion of the city.
The municipal government also implements safe cybersecurity practices to ensure that the users’ information never becomes compromised.
While forward-thinking and undoubtedly convenient, these technology programs cost a lot of money.
In 2016, Boston budgeted $27 million for technology and $28 million in 2017.
9. Historical Significance
The streets of Boston ooze with history from before Europeans arrived when the proud and prosperous Wampanoag tribe occupied the land.
As we now know, when European Puritans arrived to escape their own religious persecution, they essentially ran the natives out and stole their land, sometimes even using force and violence.
Now, Boston still has a significant Native American population of almost 50,000 in 2016.
After Massachusetts became the second official colony in the New World, Boston quickly became the political hub of the 13 colonies.
When the colonies started to speak out against unfair practices imposed on them by King George III, passionate colonists filled the streets in collective frustration until they grew in numbers and became louder and louder.
Soon, Boston residents came together in protest of the Stamp Act of 1775 and showed their growing displeasure with the Boston Tea Party.
Britain sent soldiers, and the colonists got organized.
The Revolutionary War began near Boston at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
While in Boston, you can immerse yourself in Revolutionary history by visiting one of the many historical landmarks from this era:
- Site of the Boston Massacre
- Paul Revere house
- Boston Tea Party ships and museum
- Old State House Museum
- USS Constitution
- Historical burial grounds
Boston’s history continued well past the Revolution.
The population increased dramatically with the onset of the industrial boom in the area.
Thanks to the rich history and historical landmarks, Boston sees a substantial number of tourists every year.
In 2019, Boston saw almost 20 million domestic visitors and almost three million foreign visitors.
While in town, many visitors take advantage of the culture that Boston has to share.
Boston has numerous museums that touch on science, art, and other things outside of the American Revolution.
The most commonly visited Boston museums are as follows based on 2018 visitation:
- Museum of Science: 1,458,552
- New England Aquarium: 1,359,870
- Museum of Fine Arts: 1,249,155
- New England Zoo: 687,004
Boston isn’t all about education and history.
Many citizens enjoy a sports game just as they do in multiple other cities around the country.
Most Bostonians root for the local New England Patriots based in Foxborough, Massachusetts, during football season.
Of course, many of the population is still trying to get over Tom Brady’s recent defection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Boston Red Sox play at the infamous Fenway Park and represent Boston in Major League Baseball (MLB) with a long and storied history.
The team won the World Series in 2004, 2007, 2013, and most recently in 2018, after an unsuccessful 86-year championship drought.
They made it pretty far in 2021, too, but they were knocked out in the playoffs.
Boston costs more than most other major American cities.
However, the city provides access to important historical information and a more progressive and involved government along with various community programs.
It also serves as an educational hub thanks to the numerous universities, bringing more people than the roads and housing market can support.
When in Boston, it may cost more than you expected for housing.
However, you should make sure to pad your budget to enjoy some fine local cuisine and visit the museums and landmarks in and around this city.