Essential Tips To Estimate the Cost of Living

Cost of LivingTwo very popular questions we are asked are “How did you plan your budget?” and “How did you figure out the Cost of Living?”.  These two simple questions can almost paralyze your mind when you are contemplating a move or even a long holiday.  We are going to help you out and make it seem easy!

Alan and I have moved a few times during our 16+ years of marriage.  Each time we needed to figure out the Cost of Living in our new location, so we could appropriately plan our budget.  We moved from California to London, England and back, from California to North Carolina and from North Carolina to Spain.  Each of these moves took a great deal of research to determine exactly where we would live and what we could afford.  As time progresses and technology improves, the task of estimating the cost of living becomes a bit easier.

Estimate the cost of living for travelI would like to share with you the tips and tools we like to use when trying to estimate the cost of living for our next destination.  Whether it is a new place to live or if we are just doing some fun family travel, it is great to estimate the costs.  These tips should be applicable to most locations you desire to live / travel internationally or within your home country.

Essential Tips To Estimate the Cost of Living

Cost of living Calculators:

  1. My first stop is always Numbeo when planning a vacation or a move.  “Numbeo is the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide.” 
  2. I like to get an idea of prices for everyday things.  I have personally contributed to this site using actual receipts to enter my data, so I think it is fairly accurate.  This is obviously not all-inclusive of every small town, but you can get pretty close from a stick of butter to utilities.  This does include housing as well, but as you will see a full search on current prices on the housing market is better.
  3. I often head directly to the cost comparison between 2 locations.  This helps me spot check my current location for accuracy and then I can estimate the accuracy for the “to be” location as well.  There is so much to learn here, Prices by City or Country as well as Cost of Living Calculators.  Go ahead and poke around and get a feel for it.


  1. Property Searches: I scour long-term and short-term rental properties in the area, regardless of planning to stay for a year, a month or a week.  I want to get a feel for the “going rates”, so if I need to negotiate an offer I can be educated (yes even for a weekly rental).
  2. Look at all options – Owner Managed and Property Managed listings.  I often search for “name of location” along with accommodations or long-term or short-term rentals.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask a “long-term” rental owner for a short last-minute stay.  On the converse, don’t be afraid to ask a “short-term” rental owner about a long-term stay.  That is how we landed our incredible place in Spain.  It was listed as a holiday rental.  We asked if he would consider long-term as we would guarantee one full year.  I had also done loads of research on pricing for a long-term rental, so it was easy to come up with an agreed upon price.
  4. General rule –  You can count on a higher price in a more touristy area, closer to the coast, or closer to the city center.
  5. Be realistic when searching and view properties that you think you can afford as well as those that visually appeal to you.  Remember at this point you are only trying to get a feel for the housing prices, but you do need to look at the amenities too.  What is included in the price?  (Parking, Utilities, Furnishings, Internet etc.)

The Cost of Everyday Things:

  1. I search for local web sites:  sporting goods, grocery, clothing, see if they have on-line shopping to give you an idea of pricing.
  2. Restaurants:  see if they have menus with prices.
  3. Communications:  internet, cell phone plans, SIM cards and ball park prices/packages.
  4. Transportation:  Search for the local public transit costs, monthly or daily passes, family discounts.

Travelers love to share info:  Hey you already know that, you read our blog!  🙂

  1. Look for expat blogs in the area you desire.  There are many blog directories or a Google search should do the trick, to see if your desired location is listed.  It is likely someone is writing about your location.
  2. Travel Blogs are full of detailed information, tips and tricks.  I know a few years ago, I happened upon The Soul Travelers 3 Family.  Reading their blog helped get me over the hurdle of dreaming about living ab
    road and realizing it was not only possible, but affordable.

Cost of Living - cut that budget

If you have any tips or tricks you use, please share in the comments below.

20 thoughts on “Essential Tips To Estimate the Cost of Living

  1. Great tips!! Any ideas on where to go online to find suggestions of interesting places in Europe to live? (how’s that for vague?!)

    • Nicely done Ron! You have me stuck on that one… first thing that popped into my mind was Google. 🙂 I guess that depends on your idea of “interesting”. I would make a list of what I was looking for, even if it is a certain feel or look and go from there. That is half of the fun, just finding the right place. I would search for bloggers and get the real story on places and also search official tourist office sites to see what and who “places” are trying to cater to. Of course then your budget comes into play as well and potentially weather, language and food.

      When we picked Spain it was out of a long list of other countries… Then on our scoping trip we drove every day for 8 days until we found a place that just “felt” like it was for us. Let us know if we can be of any help…

  2. Great tips. We also used numbeo and cost posts from other bloggers when we were planning our trip. We’ve since found that it’s a good idea to set a rough daily budget for ourselves once we’re been in a country for a week or so to get a realistic sense of living costs. We also use the Trail Wallet app to track our expenses as we travel – it’s great.

    • Thanks Amy. Yes, it is a great idea to set that “realistic” daily budget once you arrive. I haven’t tried the Trail Wallet yet, but I am hearing great things!

  3. THis is a great post, I never knew about that website, so excited to start using it! We actually headed out on our trip before realising anyone else had done it. Now I love devouring blogs.

    • I know exactly what you mean Erin, we thought we were alone in the beginning too. It is great that there is an entire world of people that have a passion for travel, especially with kids too.

  4. These are great tips! I always assume that wherever I go will be cheaper because I live in NYC, but when I was in Stockholm I discovered that was not the case!

    • Thanks Liz. Yes NYC is expensive, but we have just experienced Switzerland and that takes the cake for us. We have family and friends in NYC and LI, so we know the area well.

  5. Oh such an incredibly helpful and useful post, Heidi! Now the only thing missing is the “how to earn the money to do these things” section haha! Especially here in Spain with the unemployment that there is!

  6. Great tips, but it is also important to compare your salary (and not just prices) when moving from one location to another to ensure that you maintain the standard and quality of living you are used to. You need to look at all basket groups that can affect this (such as Communication, education, housing, household, transport, etc) as well as negative cost of living differences. Some websites only cover the basics and I have often found that they are not quality assured of the data that is entered, and sometimes only retail prices are captured.

    • Yes Denise that is very true. Right now Alan and I aren’t working, so we don’t have a salary to compare. 🙂 But that is only temporary. When you switch countries, the standard of living typically changes regardless, so yes that will need to be factored in. It isn’t realistic to think you will have the same exact life as you did in your home country, but do you want to? Why experience living abroad if you are just trying to live like “home”? There are likely countless things to take into account, but this is what I use for quick guidance for a vacation or when we moved to Spain. Thanks for commenting and if you have any other references for people to use, please do feel free to share.

  7. When I’m comparing costs, I like to see what per diem the US state department gives. The rates are usually pretty outrageous, but they give me a good idea of how Rome compares to, say, Cape Town.They break down hotels and food costs, so it helps me out.

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