I discovered a nifty site, BestPlaces.net, that allows you do comparisons of the cost of living in different cities and towns. They have data by zip code, and the average index value for the United States is set to 100, so that you can compare whether your locale is cheaper or more expensive. They also provide separate indices for housing, utilities, food, transportation, healthcare, and "miscellaneous."
I currently live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. There's some variation in the cities and towns here; the index value for my town is 94.4. We're relatively low (74) in terms of housing costs (not for long...the area is being invaded by people moving in from New York and New Jersey, so we have the hottest housing market in the state, one of the hottest in the nation, and above-average inflation to boot.
However, it's still pretty good compared to where I came from: the west side of Los Angeles, with an overall index of 193.2 (339.6 for housing).
Actually, looking at all the places I've lived, I'm ending up staying in the cheapest: Ann Arbor MI comes in at 114, and even the little town, population 3000, that I lived in in Vermont for 3 years has an index of 98. But things could be even worse than L.A.: I was at Stanford for a year and lived a mile from campus. The index there is 387, with housing at 860!
You can find the comparisons for your locales by going to
To compare the cost of living in two cities, you can calculate cost in city1 x (city2 index/city1 index), which will give you the cost in city2. For example, a $50,000 salary where I currently live would need to be $50,000 x (193.2/94.4) = $102,330 in Los Angeles to buy me the same menu of goods and services. (!!!)