Best known for its friendly, happy residents, unique geography and massive dairy and cheese industries, Wisconsin is a popular Midwestern state to call home. With a lush interior of farmland, forests and sandstone formations and coastlines on two of the Great Lakes, Wisconsin offers hiking, fishing, camping and boating.
Long overshadowed by coastal metropolises, its big cities are becoming trendy, fast-growing destinations for both work and fun. As centers for industry, culture, art and sports, Wisconsin cities like Madison are attracting more and more young professionals to live and work. Families also love living here thanks to the safe towns and fun family attractions like the Wisconsin Dells.
On top of all this, the cost of living in Wisconsin is also affordable. Many essentials like housing and groceries are cheaper than the national average. While some cost of living categories are above the national average, they’re not over-the-top expensive. Living in Wisconsin is attainable for a wide range of lifestyles and budgets, with different cities offering different quality of life and cost of living standards. Here’s how Wisconsin’s cost of living varies around the state.
Wisconsin housing prices
Overall, housing costs in Wisconsin are lower than the national average. The only exception is in its two biggest cities, Milwaukee and Madison. But even there, the cost of rent isn’t out of control. You’ll even make your New York City or Los Angeles friends jealous of how reasonable housing costs are. Even if an apartment in Milwaukee or Madison is too expensive, smaller cities and towns nearby likely have more affordable options.
Here’s what the average rent is like in some of Wisconsin’s biggest or most popular cities.
A former lumber town in the west-central part of the state, Eau Claire is now a hip indie town flush with art, culture, trendy dining and innovation. Ever heard of a little band called Bon Iver? Yeah, they’re from here. With great live music, performing arts, festivals, galleries and events, it’s one of the best places for an artist in Wisconsin. It’s extremely popular with young professionals and the University of Wisconsin has a campus here. It’s also Wisconsin’s second-fastest-growing city, surpassed only by Madison.
As if all that fantastic art access wasn’t enough, housing costs here are also 16.1 percent lower than the national average. You can find a one-bedroom apartment for $795. Two-bedroom apartments cost an average of $995 a month. These rates have stayed constant over the past year.
Eau Claire’s housing market has grown a little bit more. Since last year, prices have increased by about 15 percent. The median sale price for a home here is $279,000.
Go Packers! Located on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, this midsized city is best known for its National Football League team, the Green Bay Packers. But Green Bay has a lot more to offer besides sports. It has the distinction of being Wisconsin’s oldest settlement. It has a versatile range of things to do, from cool museums to outdoor activities. Sports fans and families alike enjoy living here.
Luckily, you don’t need too many greenbacks to afford housing in Green Bay. Housing costs here are 20.4 percent below the national average. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $847, while two-bedrooms go for $1,175. The price of one-bedrooms is down 8percent from last year. But the price for two-bedroom units is up 30 percent.
Growing 15 percent over the past year, Green Bay’s housing market is also on the rise. Homes here go for a median sales price of $238,000.
Centered around two different lakes in the southern part of the state, Madison is Wisconsin’s state capital. With 269,196 residents, it’s the second-most-populous city in the state next to Milwaukee. Residents love Madison for its livability just as much as its cultural offerings. Several universities have campuses here, most notably the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Food and drink are also a big deal here, with excellent restaurants and craft breweries. All in all, it’s considered one of the best places to live in Wisconsin.
Housing costs here are also not too high. In general, the cost of housing is only 2.4 percent above the national average. One-bedroom apartments go for around $1,312 per month, which is down 4 percent from the previous year. The price for two-bedroom apartments is up 5 percent to $1,625.
Madison’s housing market has also grown 11 percent from last year, bringing the median sale price up to $380,000. That’s a fair bit below the national median sale price for a home, which is $428,000.
Marshfield is a small city situated in the middle of the state. With its many family-friendly attractions like the Wildwood Zoo, it’s a popular place for families to live. It’s also the home of the Marshfield Clinic. This notable healthcare system serves most of the state and has a reputation for excellent care. As such, Marshfield is a hub for high-quality healthcare access.
Low housing costs are another benefit of living here. The cost of housing is 17.1 percent below the national average. One-bedroom apartments cost an average of $775 per month. Two-bedroom units jump significantly up to $1,010 up 3 percent from last year.
With median sale prices around $202,000, Marshfield is also a great place to buy a home. The local housing market has seen a small amount of growth from last year, going up 5 percent.
Unsurprisingly, housing costs in Milwaukee are among the highest in the state, rising 3.7 percent above the national average. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan in southeastern Wisconsin, Milwaukee is Wisconsin’s most populous city. This vibrant, magnetic city is best known for its brewing industry, cool cultural institutions and small-town atmosphere in a big-city package.
Despite being Wisconsin’s biggest urban center, rent prices have decreased over the past year. One-bedroom apartments are down 10 percent to $1,387 a month. Two-bedrooms are down 22 percent to $1,632.
Milwaukee’s housing market, on the other hand, has grown 3 percent over the past year. But with a median sale price of $195,000, Milwaukee is still a great city for a homeowner.
Wisconsin food prices
From beer to cheese, Wisconsinites love their local food. And luckily, it doesn’t break the bank to do so. Average grocery costs in Wisconsin are only 0.9 percent above the national average. Wisconsinites spend between $233 and $266 per person on food each month. That comes out to between $2,801 and $3,200 annually.
Food prices do vary by city, though. Here’s how food costs in these Wisconsin cities compare to the national average:
- Green Bay is 6.9 percent below the national average
- Milwaukee is 3.7 percent below the national average
- Eau Claire is 0.5 percent below the national average
- Marshfield is 0.3 percent below the national average
- Madison is 2.7 percent above the national average
Madison is the most expensive city for food prices, while Green Bay is the least expensive. To illustrate that difference, a half-gallon of milk costs $2.38 in Madison. In Green Bay, it only costs $2.12. Want to buy a dozen eggs? It will cost you $1.48 in Madison and $1.32 in Green Bay. However, specific food costs don’t always reflect their citywide average. In Eau Claire, you’ll find the cheapest price for eggs at $1.16.
You’ll also be paying more to dine out in bigger cities. This is especially true of major foodie cities like Milwaukee and Madison. Going out for a three-course dinner for two at a nice restaurant in Madison will set you back $75. In Marshfield, a fancy date night out with your partner will only cost around $45.
Wisconsin utility prices
For the most part, you’ll be paying more than the national average for utilities like electricity, water and internet in Wisconsin. The costs for these services in most cities are slightly above nationwide rates. But, in other cities, it’s a few notches below the national average. That can come out to a pretty big dollar amount difference between cities. So considering the overall cost of utilities in different cities is important in determining where to live in Wisconsin.
For a brief overview of Wisconsin’s energy profile, the state gets the majority of its electricity from coal-powered plants. Natural gas and nuclear also make up a decent chunk of the electricity pie chart. Renewables represent a smaller portion, coming from hydroelectric and wind power primarily. Deep underground aquifers and lakes supply the majority of the state’s water.
Here’s how the cost of utilities in these Wisconsin cities compares to the national average:
- Green Bay is 4.4 percent below the national average
- Milwaukee is 4.4 percent above the national average
- Marshfield is 3.4 percent below the national average
- Eau Claire is 4 percent above the national average
- Madison is 6.2 percent above the national average
With a total monthly energy bill of $197.82, Madison is the most expensive city for utilities. Green Bay is the cheapest, with total monthly energy costs coming out to $164.79. Wisconsinites also have a low average water bill of $18. The average statewide internet bill is $59.99. But, in some cities, it’s more expensive. In Madison, you’ll pay $72.50 for 60 megabits per second.
Wisconsin transportation prices
Most Wisconsin cities, towns and counties have some form of mass transit. The most extensive systems are found in major cities like Milwaukee and Madison.
Using public transportation like buses or light rail has many benefits. It can help you save money on gas, insurance costs and other vehicle expenses. If you live in a major city, it can cut down on commuting time and help reduce traffic. It’s also a more sustainable and eco-friendly mode of transportation. If you do need a car to get around, Wisconsin doesn’t have any toll roads.
Since the cost of transportation varies so widely between cities in Wisconsin, whether using public transit saves you money really depends on where you live. Let’s take a closer look at the differences in the cost of transportation in different Wisconsin cities:
- Milwaukee is 9.5 percent below the national average
- Marshfield is 9.2 percent below the national average
- Madison is 3.3 percent below the national average
- Eau Claire is 0.9 percent above the national average
- Green Bay is 1.4 percent above the national average
All these cities have some form of public transportation. In Marshfield, a shared-ride taxi service called Running Inc. provides shared ride transit within the city limits. Adult fares are $5 per ride. This service does have limited hours, though. A fleet of buses provides mass transit to residents of Eau Claire for $1.75 per ride.
Let’s take a closer look at the bigger public transit systems in major cities like Milwaukee. We’ll also look at Green Bay, where public transit prices are the highest above the national average.
Metro Transit in Madison
Consisting of a fleet of buses, Metro Transit operates 47 bus routes throughout Madison and the surrounding suburbs. Single-ride adult fares are $2. You can purchase a full-day pass for $5 or a 31-day pass for $65. On routes servicing the University of Wisconsin campus, rides are free for anyone associated with the university.
With a transit score of 45, Metro Transit does a decent job of connecting the city through mass transit. However, this pretty city is also great to explore and navigate on foot. Madison boasts a high walk score of 64. Its bike score is even higher at 75. With a score that good, maybe the only wheels you need in Madison are a pair of bike wheels.
Green Bay Metro in Green Bay
Green Bay only scores a 31 for its public transit. This could be because the local provider offers limited routes. Green Bay Metro only operates 14 different bus routes. Some of these routes only have limited service. The cost of a single ride is $2 with no transfers. Day passes are available for $4 and a 30-day pass is $39. One benefit is that Green Bay Metro has free game-day routes during the National Football League season. Not only is this a nice show of community spirit, but it also improves public safety and access to the games.
Along with its transit score, Green Bay has low walk and bike scores. Its walk score is 45 and its bike score is 50. While certain parts of town are walkable or cyclist-friendly, the overall city isn’t well-connected enough.
MCTS in Milwaukee
With monthly parking costs averaging between $70 and $175, using public transit in Milwaukee is a great way to save money. The Milwaukee County Transit System provides bus-based public transit through Milwaukee city and county. It’s also the biggest transit agency in the state, with 60 bus routes and thousands of stops.
There are fare discounts if you pay using the system’s M-CARD or app. With the card, a single ride costs $2. Paying in cash costs $2.25. Day passes are $4 and $5, respectively, for card and cash. A 31-day pass is $72.
The Hop streetcar also provides mass transit around downtown and the city center. At the moment, it only has one 2-mile route. The Hop is a great option for visitors and residents who live or work in the city center. Best of all, riding the Hop is free.
With good connectivity and affordable rates, MCTS has a decent transit score of 53. If you want to live in a walk- and bike-friendly city, Milwaukee is a great option. It has high scores for both walking and biking, at 70 and 69 respectively.
Wisconsin healthcare prices
With the exception of Green Bay, you’ll be paying more than the national average for healthcare costs in Wisconsin. But with that high price tag comes top-quality care. As we mentioned above, Marshfield is home to the renowned Marshfield Clinic. The state also has many nationally- and internationally-ranked hospitals. It’s one of the healthiest states overall, as well. So, while healthcare costs are higher here, you also know you’re getting exceptional care.
We should also note that it’s difficult to determine average healthcare costs. This is because healthcare costs vary by person. Some people have to pay more for healthcare due to pre-existing conditions or more expensive prescriptions. Regard healthcare averages with a grain of salt as a result.
But to give you a rough overview, here’s how much a doctor’s visit costs in these different cities:
- Green Bay: $168.75
- Eau Claire: $178.28
- Milwaukee: $181.67
- Madison: $204
- Marshfield: $207.70
Now, let’s see how overall healthcare costs in these cities compare to the national average:
- Green Bay is 2.4 percent below the national average
- Eau Claire is 13.9 percent above the national average
- Milwaukee is 14.5 percent above the national average
- Madison is 17.1 percent above the national average
- Marshfield is 27.9 percent above the national average
Marshfield comes out on top as the most expensive city for healthcare. But once again, you’ll be receiving top-tier care from the Marshfield Clinic system. Marshfield is also among the top cities for expensive dentist visits, costing $100.50 for a dental check-up. Going to the dentist is the most expensive in Milwaukee at $127.50.
While healthcare costs here are high, you know you’re being extremely well taken care of at Wisconsin medical facilities.
Wisconsin goods and services prices
For various goods and services like getting a haircut or going to the movies, these costs bounce around a lot in different Wisconsin cities. Let’s see how the overall cost of goods and services in these cities compares to the national average:
- Marshfield is 12.3 percent below the national average
- Milwaukee is 6.2 percent below the national average
- Green Bay is 1.1 percent below the national average
- Madison is 3.3 percent above the national average
- Eau Claire is 8.2 percent above the national average
Marshfield comes out on top with the least expensive goods and services. You’ll pay $15 for a haircut here compared to $19.32 in Eau Claire, which is the highest city above the national average. Milwaukee actually has the most expensive haircuts at $22.
But let’s look at that all-important Wisconsin item: How much does beer cost? The least you’ll pay for a six-pack is $7.82 in Milwaukee. The most expensive beer is $8.99 in Green Bay. Still pretty reasonable, but hey, as a big beer-loving state it does add up.
Wisconsin is a great place to raise a family, so you may need to consider childcare costs.
Childcare is pretty pricey around the state, but Green Bay is the most expensive. For a month of private preschool or kindergarten for one child, you’ll be paying $1,333.33. After Green Bay, Madison is $1,300 a month and Milwaukee is $1,250 a month.
Taxes in Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a statewide sales tax of 5 percent. If you go out and spend $1,000 on beer for a party, you’ll be paying $50 on top of that in tax.
Some counties and cities add extra sales tax on top of the statewide rate. Here’s what the total sales tax is in each of these cities:
- Madison has a combined tax of 5.5 percent
- Eau Claire has a combined tax of 5.5 percent
- Marshfield has a combined tax of 5.5 percent
- Green Bay has a combined tax of 5.5 percent
- Milwaukee has a combined tax of 5.5 percent
All these cities and counties only add a 0.5 percent tax to the state rate. For that $1,000 spent on beer, the county sales tax brings that $50 up to $55.
How much do I need to earn to live in Wisconsin?
A good rule of thumb for figuring out if you can afford to live somewhere is to follow the 30 percent rule. While not a strict rule, it’s recommended by experts that you only spend 30 percent of your gross monthly income on rent or housing costs. This is to ensure that you cover your biggest monthly expense, which is usually housing, and still have plenty left over for other essentials like groceries.
The average rent in Wisconsin is $1,069. To only spend 30 percent of your gross monthly income on rent, you’d need to earn about $3,563 a month or $42,756 annually. The median household income in Wisconsin is $63,293, which is well above what you would need to earn to follow the 30 percent rule. This shows that it’s likely that most people are able to afford housing without straining their budget and can comfortably afford the cost of living in Wisconsin.
To find the right place in Wisconsin for your budget, use our rent calculator.
Living in Wisconsin
Beer, cheese and reasonable prices for things like housing. What could be better? With so much to offer, Wisconsin’s affordable cost of living is the icing on the cake. Living in this Midwestern state promises exciting opportunities, supportive communities and plenty of great beer and food.
The Cost of Living Index comes from coli.org.
The rent information included in this summary is based on a calculation of multifamily rental property inventory on Rent. as of July 2022.
Rent prices are for illustrative purposes only. This information does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.