Living in Pennsylvania gives you access to vibrant, historic cities and beautiful wildernesses in equal measure. It was one of the original 13 colonies that eventually formed the United States, and many of its founding tenets helped inspire the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Full of historic sites like Independence Hall, Pennsylvania’s cities and towns are now modern hubs for industry, art, culture, sports and dining. Throughout the state, forested mountain ranges like the Appalachians are the perfect playground for hiking, camping and outdoor recreation.
Home to giant cities like Philadelphia and smaller communities, you’ll find different standards of living all over Pennsylvania. Each comes with its own different cost of living. You’ll find there’s a city or town to fit all sorts of budgets. Some are more expensive than the national average, while others are at or below the national average.
In general, housing, transportation and utilities are the priciest categories for the cost of living in Pennsylvania. By seeing how the cost of living in Pennsylvania breaks down in different cities and towns around the state, you’ll find the right place for you.
Pennsylvania housing prices
Ranging from well below the national average to slightly above, the cost of living in Pennsylvania for housing is all over the place. That means you have many different options to choose from. Unsurprisingly, major cities like Philadelphia and Allentown have the highest housing prices. But, if you look in smaller cities and towns around the state, you’ll find some more budget-friendly accommodations.
Let’s take a closer look at average rents and home buying costs in some of Pennsylvania’s top cities.
Located in eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, Allentown is one of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing cities. New residents like the city’s abundance of beautiful parks, welcoming community and growing cultural offerings. It’s quickly becoming one of the best places to live in Pennsylvania.
This rapid growth has fueled big increases in housing costs here. Allentown’s housing is 9.6 percent above the national average, making it the most expensive of our highlighted Pennsylvania cities. One-bedroom apartments have jumped in cost 40 percent from last year to $2,035 a month. Two-bedroom units are up 29 percent to $2,054.
Allentown’s housing market has also gone up 14.9 percent from the previous year. Prospective homebuyers in the area are looking at median sales prices of $200,000.
Located on the shores of Lake Erie, the charming city of Erie is a great place to call home in Pennsylvania. Not only does it have a low cost of living, but its lakeside location gives residents near-instant access to boating, fishing, kayaking and more. Safe, clean and with lively art and cultural scenes, Erie is popular among young adults and families.
But, you can’t beat its low housing costs, falling 36.4 percent below the national average. One-bedroom apartments cost an average of $1,175 a month, which is down 1 percent from last year. Two-bedroom apartments are down 2 percent to $1,387 per month.
Data about the home buying market isn’t readily available for Erie. But if its low rent prices are any indicator, the median sale price for homes around Erie must also be on the affordable side.
Philadelphia needs almost no introduction. Pennsylvania’s biggest city is home to iconic attractions and landmarks from the early history of the United States, like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Nowadays, this exciting city has active sports, dining, fun neighborhoods and arts scenes. The city’s overall cost of living is pretty reasonable, as well.
Less exciting are Philadelphia’s high housing costs. The price of housing here is 1.2 percent above the national average, and affordable apartments are hard to find. One-bedroom apartments go for an average of $2,185 per month. This number has jumped 32 percent from last year. Two-bedroom units are actually slightly cheaper at $2,081. That rate is up only 3 percent from last year.
Philadelphia also has one of Pennsylvania’s pricier housing markets. Home prices here are up 5.6 percent from the year before, with the median sale price of $285,000.
Pittsburgh is Pennsylvania’s second-most-populous city, with a scenic location at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Dubbed both Steel City and the City of Bridges for its 446 bridges, the city’s past as a hub for the steel industry has morphed into a contemporary center for higher education, tech and higher education. There’s so much to love about living in Pittsburgh, from cheering on local sports teams like the Steelers to visiting esteemed art museums like the Andy Warhol Museum.
As one of Pennsylvania’s biggest and most popular cities, the price of housing here is higher. Housing costs in Pittsburgh are 9.3 percent lower than the national average. That may sound good at first glance, but a look at average rents tells a different story. Expect to pay around $1,597 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,959 for a two-bedroom. Those rates are up 12 and 8 percent, respectively, from last year.
Pittsburgh’s home buying market has also grown 12.3 percent from the previous year. If you want to buy a home here, you’re looking at a median sales price of $253,900.
Most people hear Scranton, and instantly think of it as being the location for the beloved comedy series “The Office.” But this historic city in northeast Pennsylvania is much more than a backdrop for the office antics at Dunder Mifflin. Forming part of the larger Scranton-Wilkes-Barre metro area, Scranton is Pennsylvania’s sixth-largest city. It’s noted for its industrial past, museums and family-friendly activities.
Housing costs here are 20.6 percent lower than the national average. For renters, prices for some unit types have decreased over the past year. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment decreased 24 percent from the previous year to $1,000. Two-bedroom apartments have climbed 4 percent to $1,362.
Scranton’s housing market has seen a huge amount of growth over the past year. The median sales price is $171,000, which is up 52.7 percent from last year. But compared to the national median sales price of $430,695, house prices here are a steal.
Pennsylvania food prices
Another cost of living in Pennsylvania is food. Pennsylvania’s culinary offerings are one of the most unique things about the state. It’s the birthplace of delicious dishes like Philly cheesesteaks and tomato pie. It also is America’s biggest pretzel supplier. Food costs here are higher than the national average by 9.3 percent. But Pennsylvania is among the bottom states for monthly food spending. The average Pennsylvanian spends between $200 and $233 on food each month. This comes out to between $2,400 and $2,800 annually.
Let’s take a look at grocery costs in these Pennsylvania cities compared to the national average:
- Allentown is 2.7 percent below the national average
- Erie is 1 percent above the national average
- Scranton is 5 percent above the national average
- Pittsburgh is 5 percent above the national average
- Philadelphia is 18.4 percent above the national average
Philadelphia has the highest food prices of the five cities. For example, a dozen eggs cost $1.99 in Philly compared to $1.57 in Pittsburgh. A half-gallon of milk in Philly has a price tag of $2.41. The cheapest cities to buy that same half-gallon of milk at Scranton and Pittsburgh at $2.22. But for a city that loves beef and steak so much, the cost of steak in Philadelphia is not the highest. The highest price tag for steak is in Pittsburgh at $18.25 compared to $15.99 in Philly.
Dining out in a big city compared to a smaller one will also be more expensive. The bill for a three-course meal for two at a nice restaurant in Philly comes out to $60. Pittsburgh is slightly cheaper at $57.50. In Scranton, you’ll save more by paying only $45 for a fancy date night dinner.
Pennsylvania utility prices
Overall, the cost of living in Pennsylvania for utilities is higher than the national average. Historically, Pennsylvania has been one of the biggest and most important coal-mining states in the nation. Today, much of the state’s electricity still comes from coal, natural gas and petroleum-fired power plants. But renewable energy sources like wind and hydropower are starting to become more prevalent.
A high electric bill can take a decent chunk out of a monthly budget. Here’s how much more locals in these Pennsylvania cities are paying for utilities compared to the national average:
- Erie is 3.8 percent above the national average
- Scranton is 4.1 percent above the national average
- Allentown is 4.1 percent above the national average
- Philadelphia is 12.2 percent above the national average
- Pittsburgh is 26 percent above the national average
Pittsburgh is the most expensive city for utilities. With total energy costs running at $251.31 per month, it must hurt opening up that utility bill. Although Erie’s utility costs are the lowest above the national average, energy bills are cheaper in other cities. In Allentown and Scranton, the monthly energy bill comes out to around $184.29 compared to $193.07 in Erie.
On top of that, Pennsylvania residents can expect to pay around $30 for water and $59.99 for the internet.
Pennsylvania transportation prices
In an effort to provide reliable public transportation to all parts of the state, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation invests $1.5 billion annually for mass transit. Thanks to all that support, public transportation services are available in every county. That’s a nice cushion to your cost of living in Pennsylvania.
Some cities and areas, like Philadelphia, have larger and more extensive systems. But all counties have access to at least some form of mass transit. This primarily takes the form of bus routes. Not only does this prove access for those living in rural areas, but in larger cities, it helps reduce traffic and commuting times and saves money on gas.
Transportation costs in Pennsylvania are higher than the national average. The exact amount varies around the state:
- Scranton is 1.4 percent below the national average
- Allentown is 2.4 percent above the national average
- Erie is 3 percent above the national average
- Pittsburgh is 8.7 percent above the national average
- Philadelphia is 13 percent above the national average
Average transportation costs in Scranton actually fall below the national average. Locals get around Scranton and surrounding Lackawanna County using the COLTS buses, or County of Lackawanna Transit System. A one-way ticket costs $1.75, with transfers adding an extra 75 cents. A 31-day pass costs $60.
Erie natives get their public transit from the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates fixed bus routes throughout the city and metro area. Fares start at $1.65 for bus routes. The provider also runs a vintage-style trolley through the downtown area.
Let’s take a closer look at the public transportation systems servicing some of Pennsylvania’s biggest cities.
Pittsburgh Regional Transit in Pittsburgh
Consisting of bus, paratransit and light rail transit, Pittsburgh Regional Transit is the second-biggest public transportation system in the state. Their service area covers the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas.
Allegheny County, with over 7,000 bus stops and 27 light rail stations. Fares start at $2.75 for a three-hour window with unlimited transfers for both bus and light rail. Day passes cost $7 and a 31-day pass is $97.50. Riders can pay in cash or use the system’s Connect Card. If you use the system enough, you can even get an annual pass for $1,072.50.
The Pittsburgh Regional Transit also runs the two different inclines or funicular railways in the city. Although these steep railways are popular tourist attractions, they’re still used and operated as public transportation to get up and down some of the city’s steep slopes. A one-way ticket costs $2.75. Connect Cards do work on the inclines, as well.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have any toll roads within the town. But, if you leave town frequently for work or fun, you’ll likely travel along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This 360-mile-long road runs from Pennsylvania’s western to eastern border, connecting Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Fees vary depending on how long you use the turnpike. Unfortunately, it has a nasty reputation for being the most expensive tollway system in the world. If you have an E-ZPass, passenger vehicles pay $1.70 per toll. If you don’t have E-ZPass, rates increase to $4.10
Between the funicular railways, buses and light rail, Pittsburgh boasts a high 61 score for its mass transit. This compact city is also very walk- and bike-friendly, with a walk score of 69 and a bike score of 58.
SEPTA in Philadelphia
Standing for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, SEPTA provides Philly and its five surrounding counties with a mix of bus, rapid transit, light rail, commuter rail and electric trolleybus services. In addition to reducing traffic and providing riders with affordable, reliable mass transit, SEPTA has a strong focus on sustainability. By 2040, they plan to only operate zero-emission buses.
SEPTA accepts both cash and the SEPTA Key card to use the SEPTA system. Starting fare is $2.50, which is the same for all modes of transit. The only exception is the Regional Rail Transit commuter rail, based on distance and what day of the week and time of day you’re traveling.
The lowest fares start at $4. Monthly passes are available starting at $96. Different types of passes are available to include more or less Regional Rail options. Since monthly parking rates in Philly range from $140 to $500, using SEPTA is a great way to cut down on time sitting in traffic and paying for gas and parking.
Similar to Pittsburgh, the only toll road in the Philly area is the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Tolls start at $1.70 for passenger vehicles.
With its many different modes of transit and straightforward fare system, Philadelphia earns a high transit score of 68. With its close-knit neighborhoods and highly walkable city center, Philadelphia is also an ideal city for pedestrians and cyclists. Philly has high scores for both walking and biking, with a walk score of 84 and a bike score of 76.
LANTA in Allentown
The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, or LANTA, operates bus routes throughout Allentown and the Lehigh Valley. One-way, one-ride tickets are $2 and a full day pass is $4. Transfers cost 25 cents extra. A 31-day pass costs $60.
Allentown is off the Pennsylvania Turnpike route, but it does have a service plaza for toll road travelers. So, the toll road and its toll fees are accessible from Allentown.
While using LANTA buses is a great way to save money, Allentown’s mass transit only has a score of 36. So, a car might still be a necessity. Allentown’s city center is pretty walk- and bike-friendly with scores of 59 and 41.
Pennsylvania healthcare prices
Healthcare is one of Pennsylvania’s cost of living categories that falls below the national average throughout the state. But, it’s important to note that it’s hard to determine average healthcare costs due to the variability of the subject. Healthcare costs vary from person to person depending on their personal health situation. Some people have pre-existing conditions requiring higher levels of specialized care. Others may have expensive prescription drugs. That’s why it’s important to view healthcare costs with a grain of salt.
Overall, Pennsylvania is a healthy state with good healthcare resources and access. Here’s how much a trip to the doctor’s office will cost in different cities around the state:
- Erie: $124
- Scranton: $77
- Pittsburgh: $97.25
- Philadelphia: $137.50
- Allentown: $110.10
You’ll be paying the most for a doctor’s visit in Philly, followed by Erie and then, Allentown. Rates are the cheapest in Scranton. Pittsburgh is a good middle point, and it’s also a great city to live in for quality healthcare. With 68 different universities and colleges in the area, Pittsburgh is home to numerous top-notch medical schools. With such excellent training programs, city hospitals are nationally ranked for the quality of their care. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is especially notable. So, while costs aren’t the cheapest in Pittsburgh, the quality of care is top-rate.
Here’s how healthcare costs in these different cities stack up to the national average.
- Scranton is 11.8 percent below the national average
- Pittsburgh is 4.3 percent below the national average
- Philadelphia is 2.8 percent below the national average
- Erie is 1.1 percent below the national average
- Allentown is 0.2 percent below the national average
Average healthcare costs in Scranton are the cheapest. The $77 doctor’s co-pay is evidence of that. But going to the dentist is more expensive in Scranton, costing $107. The lowest rate for a dental check-up is $94 in Philly. This is why healthcare averages don’t always tell the full story.
Pennsylvania goods and services prices
When determining a monthly budget, it’s important to always factor in miscellaneous goods and services in the cost of living in Pennsylvania. This nebulous cost of living category encompasses regular spending on things not related to housing, groceries or other costs of living categories. This includes things like going to get a haircut or seeing a movie.
Let’s see how those goods and services costs stack up to the national average:
- Pittsburgh is 4.5 percent below the national average
- Erie is 2.8 percent below the national average
- Scranton is 0.9 percent below the national average
- Philadelphia is 1.3 percent above the national average
- Allentown is 5.3 percent above the national average
Compared to the national average, Allentown is the most expensive city for miscellaneous goods and services. But individual costs can vary by city. Getting your haircut in Allentown costs $20.50. But in Scranton, it’s $25.75. If you need to go to the dry cleaners, it’s the most expensive in Erie, costing $15.60. But in Philly, it’s $12.70.
With their safe neighborhoods, good schools and fun assortment of family-friendly attractions and activities, Pennsylvania cities and towns are great places to raise a family. If you plan on moving your family to Pennsylvania, you’ll need to consider childcare costs. Allentown comes out on top for the most expensive childcare, with a month of private preschool or kindergarten costing $2,000 per child. Erie and Scranton are the cheapest at $500 and $800.
Taxes in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s statewide sales tax is 6 percent. To put that into perspective, for every $1,000 you spend on Philly cheesesteaks, you’re paying an extra $60 in tax.
Some counties and cities around Pennsylvania levy additional sales tax while others do not.
- Erie has a combined tax of 6 percent
- Scranton has a combined tax of 6 percent
- Pittsburgh has a combined tax of 7 percent
- Philadelphia has a combined tax of 8 percent
- Allentown has a combined tax of 6 percent
Most of our highlighted cities stick to the statewide rate. The city where you’ll be paying the most sales tax is Philadelphia. Instead of $60, you’ll be paying $80 in tax for every $1,000 you spend. That’s a lot towards your cost of living in Pennsylvania.
How much do I need to earn to live in Pennsylvania?
Now that we’ve seen how Pennsylvania’s cost of living breaks down throughout the state, it’s time to figure out if it’s the right fit for you and your budget. It’s recommended that you only spend 30 percent of your gross money income on housing.
The average rent in Pennsylvania is $1,642. That means that you need to earn $5,473 per month or $65,676 annually to adhere to the 30 percent rule. That’s pretty darn close to Pennsylvania’s median household income of $63,627.
This rent calculator can help you crunch some numbers to see which Pennsylvania city or town fits your budget.
Living in Pennsylvania
The overall cost of living in Pennsylvania’s cities and towns is usually cheaper than the national average, if not close to the national average. By being neither too expensive nor too cheap, living here is open and accessible to a variety of renters, homeowners and budgets. Plus, living in Pennsylvania allows you to take full advantage of all the state’s benefits, such as pristine nature and fun sports.
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 June 2022. Rent prices are for illustrative purposes only. This information does not constitute a pricing guarantee or financial advice related to the rental market.