Lower Cost of Living Comparison - Cities in the Southeast

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It's a toss-up as to the number one reason why Baby Boomers are relocating to the South at retirement. Is it the lower cost of living, better weather, quality of life or moving closer to family? Whatever the reason, we anticipate you'll want to know where you can get the biggest bang for your buck in the South.

Cost of living indexes generally include costs for housing, food, utilities, transportation, healthcare and miscellaneous purchases. Several reputable reporting agencies calculate various cost of living comparisons using U.S. census data, reported prices and tax roll information. Some benchmark their index to U.S. or state averages, others to a particular city, such as New York, New York. Others gauge by percentage of income required to afford the same basket of goods in each state. What most of these indexes do not take into consideration is tax burden. Property tax, sales tax, state income tax, estate and inheritance taxes, and use taxes and fees can add up quickly. A city or town that looks affordable according to a standard cost of living report may not be such a bargain once tax burden is added to the mix.

For our cost of living comparison to be useful, we needed to 'pick on' a city to use as our benchmark. We felt there is no better place to escape than the Northeastern city of Newark, New Jersey. New Jersey residents pay the highest property taxes, car insurance and tolls — making the costs of home ownership and transportation soar.

Below is a list of how much money we estimate you will save in taxes on income, property, and purchasing everyday necessities if you moved from Newark, New Jersey, to various Southern cities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Clearly, you can save at least 50% in taxes alone by moving to Eastern Tennessee or Florida. South Carolina and Georgia are the most expensive states to live in the Southeast, and Tennessee is the least expensive state to live in with low property taxes and no state income tax. Add to this the annual savings from much lower costs for housing, food and utilities, and your savings moving from New Jersey to Tennessee could be as high as 50% of your entire annual budget.

Here is how we arrived at our numbers. We assumed a $200,000 home, $40,000 in annual income for a married couple, and spending of $24,000 on household and daily necessities. We compared state averages, as well as costs by selected cities within states. All figures are for 2017 unless otherwise noted. Collecting data for cost of living and tax burden can be, well, taxing. Fortunately, we have found and scored quality master planned communities in the South, where your dollar goes much farther.


#1 Lowest Cost of Living State - Tennessee - $ 3,579 total real estate taxes, sales tax, personal income tax

#2 Lowest Cost of Living State - Florida $ 4,894 total real estate taxes, sales tax, personal income tax

#3 Lowest Cost of Living State - North Carolina - $5,343 total real estate taxes, sales tax, personal income tax

#4 Lowest Cost of Living State - South Carolina - $5,642 total real estate taxes, sales tax, personal income tax

#5 Lowest Cost of Living State - Georgia - $5,863 total real estate taxes, sales tax, personal income tax


To calculate real estate taxes, we assumed a $200,000 market value home. Note that “assessed” valuation methods for taxation vary greatly by state. For instance, in Georgia “assessed” value is 40% of fair market value, while in Florida it is based on market value at time of sale, with increase in value capped at 3% annually for homesteaded property.

  • Florida $ 3,675 property tax
  • Georgia $ 2,400 property tax
  • North Carolina $ 1,800 property tax
  • South Carolina $ 2,000 property tax
  • Tennessee $ 1,500 property tax


Assuming the average couple spends $ 24,000 per year on taxable goods, of which $6,000 is for food (non-prepared) and medicine, let's estimate what they spend on sales tax:

  • Florida - $1,219 sales tax
  • Georgia - $1,320 sales tax
  • North Carolina - $1,344 sales tax 
  • South Carolina - $1,680 sales tax
  • Tennessee - $2,083 sales tax


For this comparison, we will assume our annual taxable income is $40,000 for a married couple filing jointly:

  • Florida - zero personal income tax
  • Georgia - $2,143 personal income tax
  • North Carolina - $2,200 personal income tax
  • South Carolina - $2,305 personal income tax
  • Tennessee - zero personal income tax


Newark, N.J.

Newark Total: $8,951 – Sales Tax 6.674%; Real Estate Tax Average 3.56% (35.6 Mills) x assessed market value less exemptions; No Personal State Income Tax on social security, pensions, or retirement income up to $40K for married couple filing jointly ($30K for HH, Single, windowed), if income <100K


State Average: $4,894 – Sales Tax 6.774%; Real Estate Tax 2.1 % (21 Mills) x market value less $25K homestead exemption; No Personal State Income Tax

Naples - $3,093, 37% below state average, 65% less expensive than Newark

Orlando - $4,075, 17% below state average, 54% less expensive than Newark

Palm Coast $4218, 14% below state average, 53% less expensive than Newark

Sarasota - $3,470, 29% below state average, 61% less expensive than Newark

Vero Beach - $4,006, 18% below state average, 55 % less expensive than Newark


State Average: $5,863 – Sales Tax 7.334%; Real Estate Tax 3% (30 Mills) x 40% of fair market value less exemptions; Personal State Income Tax is progressive with top tier at 6% for annual earnings over $10,000, with social security and $130K of retirement income exempt for those over age 64

Atlanta - $6,457, 28% less expensive than Newark

Augusta - $6,302, 30% less expensive than Newark

Savannah - $6,067, 32% less expensive than Newark

North Carolina

State Average: $5,343 – Sales Tax 6.91%; Real Estate Tax .09% (9 Mills) x assessed market value less exemptions; Personal State Income Tax 5.5%  of taxable  income

Asheville - $5,735, 36% less expensive than Newark

Charlotte - $6,193, 31% less expensive than Newark

Wilmington - $5,961, 33% less expensive than Newark

South Carolina

State Average: $ 5,642– Sales Tax 7.427%; Real Estate Tax 25% (250 Mills) x 4% of assessed value less exemptions; Personal State Income Tax 7% over $14,650 taxable income (residents over 65 can exempt up to $15,000 in retirement income)

Beaufort - $5,643, 37% less expensive than Newark

Charleston - $6,384, 29% less expensive than Newark

Greenville - $6,105, 32% less expensive than Newark


State Average: $3,579 – Sales Tax 9.492%; Real Estate Tax 3% (30 Mills ) x 25% of market value, No Personal State Income Tax, although interest and dividends are taxed above certain income levels

Chattanooga - $4,549, 49% less expensive than Newark

Cookeville - $3,928, 56% less expensive than Newark

Knoxville - $4,319, 52% less expensive than Newark

Nashville – $3,605, 60% less expensive than Newark












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