Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cost of Living in Urban Iowa Today

Cost of Living in Urban Iowa Today

I’m kinda’ interested in what it costs to live in an urban area in Iowa, such as Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Des Moines, Council Bluffs or Sioux City.  I’d appreciate your help in figuring this out.  Do you (or anyone you know, and could put me in touch with) have a source for this kind of information that is unbiased, valid, reliable and accurate? 

I know there are lots of variables that can come into play, so let’s get the numbers for a basic “budget” for a single person, 20 to 50 living in an urban area in Iowa.  Let’s define “urban” as a population of 30,000 people or more.  Let’s define a “basic budget” as one that includes the categories in the table below, and that allows one to live a healthy life, and a life relatively free of worry and stress regarding these categories.  That is, the individual has sufficient access to quality products and services, in adequate amounts to sustain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  (Okay, okay.  I just threw that last bit in because I like the sound of it.  Let’s don't get all political here, okay?)  We’re talking a decent standard of living.  The bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.[i] 

I’ve, rather arbitrarily, set up the following categories of expenses.  These are purposefully broad and inclusive because I want something that is pretty direct.  If these categories skew perceptions, let me know.  What would you suggest?

I consider the first five categories as requisite to a minimum quality of life.  Some folks will likely take issue with including Transportation as a requisite, but if you can’t get to the grocery store or the dentist . . . well?  Transportation can be public transportation, but the costs need to be considered.  There are those who will likely take exception to including Medical care as a requisite.  I say, “Let ‘em.”  I’m keeping it.  Again, don’t wax political on me.  I’m not advocating for a “right” to medical care, or a “right” to transportation.  This is just trying to figure out what “is,” not what “ought to be.”  Constructive suggestions are encouraged.




Medical care**




Food includes meals eaten out as well as non-grocery items usually purchased at the grocery store such as shampoo, dish soap, sanitizing sprays, and so on.  If we eat three times a day, that is 21 meals per week.  90 meals per month (30 days).  1095 meals per year (365 days).  Eating all meals “at home” (includes sack lunches) is cheaper than “eating out.”  Preparing food from scratch is usually cheaper than buying prepared foods or ordering in.  I don’t know what is “the norm” these days, so any input on this welcome.

†† Clothing includes not only purchase price, but also washing, mending, dry-cleaning, etc.  It would also include any accessories and adornments, such as jewelry, hats, scarves, gloves, and so on.  I would also include wallets, purses and the like.  I’m thinking make-up and perfume for the women, aftershave and cologne for men, would be included here.  If it’s not medicine, but you put it on, put it in this category.

* Shelter includes rent/mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, maintenance, repairs, etc.,  I’m considering the cost of internet and cell/mobile communication devices as utilities.  Again, if you live in a single family dwelling, the costs of equipment to mow lawns and clear walks goes here.  Or if you hire those services.  I’m looking for “immediacy” in these number, not long-range costs, so I’m not including depreciation, appreciation, capital gains, and so forth.

** Medical care includes the costs of dental and vision care, over-the-counter meds (e.g., sunscreen, lip balm, antacids, and such), dietary supplements such as vitamins, medical insurance, and all services from the healthcare industry. 

*** Transportation includes purchase/lease/rental, operating costs, maintenance, repairs and insurance.  I’m looking for “immediacy” in these number, not long-range costs, so I’m not including depreciation, etc.

**** Other includes education, recreation, etc.  If you have a book bag, a bicycle, a briefcase, it goes in “Other.”  “Other” also includes donations to charities, and worthy causes.  It includes gifts you give to family and friends for birthdays, holidays, and other occasions.  Arbitrarily, I’m putting computers of all sorts, and the software used on them here in “Other.”  “Other” will include any savings or retirement funds.  I’m excluding “investments.”  Yeah, it’s arbitrary.  

Here are my un-researched, off-the-top-of-my-head guestimates for a minimum standard of living in urban Iowa.  I have the raw figures and calculations on a spreadsheet: if anybody wants it, message me on Facebook.  Again, THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL STATEMENT.  I’m not advocating for an increase in the minimum wage.  I’m not advocating for tax reform.  I’m not advocating for some change in poverty levels.  This is not a statement about “take-home” pay, or “after-tax income.”  I’m just trying to get a handle on what it costs to live decently in urban Iowa.  Just seeking some perspective.  I’d appreciate your input.

Medical care


Food – if we figure $3.00 per meal, on average, that comes to $63.00 per week, $252.00 per month, or $3,168.00 per year.  That’s living pretty skinny.  I think a more realistic figure would be an average $5.00 per meal, which yields the figures shown.  If you have data that shows that these numbers are way off the mark, I’ll revise them.

†† Clothing – I haven’t a clue what the average urban Iowan spends on clothing, so I’m just making a wild guess here.  Let’s say three pair of jeans, 8 t-shirts, 8 regular shirts/blouses, 3 sets of work clothes (pants/skirts/dresses, shirts/blouses, etc.), underwear for two weeks,  footwear (1 pair sandals, 1 pair athletic shoes, 1 pair casual shoes, 1 pair dress shoes, winter boots).  It would also include rental of formal wear for those occasions calling for such (weddings, proms, funerals, visits to heads of state – just joking – and so on). Also, frequency of purchase, and so on.[ii]  I did some rough calculation on some rough guesses to come up with the numbers here.  As I said, I don’t have any really good numbers for this category, so this is a really rough guestimate.  Particularly for women’s clothing. If you find these numbers are way off, and you have data on specific costs, length of wear, and so on, that information is most welcome. 

* Shelter – just an estimate. There should probably be two lines for shelter; one if you rent, one if you own.  If I get good data, I’ll make that modification, if it’s warranted. 

** Medical care – just an estimate for a normally healthy 20 to 50 year old.

*** Transportation – an estimate based on the following parameters: 
Purchase/lease total of $20,000 (includes tags and taxes & interest) amortized over 36 months.  Forty-six cents per mile operating costs, and routine maintenance based on 7,500 miles per year.  Purchase, balance, install one set of 55,000 mile tires, and so on. 

**** Other – wild guess.

[i] Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, published a “hierarchy of needs” in the late 1950s or early 1960s.  I’m not sure if research has supported his hypotheses; I’m just using his pyramid for pedagogical purposes.
[ii] How long does a pair of Levis last these days?  When I was a kid, in the 1950s I grew out of my Levis before I outgrew them.  (In those days Levis had the button fly.  They were cut “loose,” and the first time you wore them, you put ‘em on soaking wet, and “wore them dry” for a good fit.)