With the cost of living prices basically right at the national average and below, North Carolina’s affordability is just one reason to consider calling it home. The diverse population has a reputation for kindness and a sense of community. No matter where you settle, you’ll get a down-home feeling.
The weather is pretty solid, which is great since North Carolina and outdoor activity go hand-in-hand. From the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ve got plenty of hiking trails to explore and over 300 miles of coastline.
If people and places aren’t enough to entice you, then let’s talk about North Carolina food. It’s all about southern comfort food, fresh seafood and that signature style of BBQ.
So, are you ready to take a deeper dive into whether North Carolina is the right place for you? To see if all the numbers match up, let’s look at average prices in key cost-of-living areas so you can see if this state is something your budget can afford.
North Carolina housing prices
There are a lot of cities in North Carolina that claim they’re the best, but what’s better is that many are reasonably priced when it comes to housing. You’ll find options that just step over the national average, as well as those that are significantly below, which means there’s a place for every budget.
Nestled within the Blue Ridge mountains, with plenty of outdoor activities, Asheville is both a beautiful and fun place to live. The food scene is eclectic, and the whole city has a comfortable but quirky vibe. Hiking is as easy as walking around the downtown area, and there’s always Biltmore Estate when you need a little class.
Living in this mountain town, though, comes with a price, and housing is 3 percent above the national average. Rentals are on the rise, as well, and two-bedroom apartments saw a 33 percent increase in price over last year. The average rent right now is $1,866 per month. One-bedroom apartments are growing at a faster pace, up 38 percent over last year, for an average rent of $1,592 per month.
Homes are also in high-demand here, leading to a price increase of 21.8 percent over last year. The median home price in Asheville is $489,500.
The most expensive city on the list, Chapel Hill, is so much more than a college town. Although, as home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it’s a big piece of the city’s story. There are also plenty of job opportunities and stability here, along with an amazing food scene (check out the flying burrito) and a variety of museums and cultural stops. With housing prices at 18.3 percent above the national average, though, it can get pricey to live in this particular North Carolina town.
Rent prices reflect the higher housing costs here in Chapel Hill. On average, a one-bedroom apartment will cost you $1,883 per month. Two-bedrooms also have a high average price tag of $2,253 per month. These rents come at a significant price increase over last year, as well. One-bedrooms are up 45 percent, and two-beds are up by 52 percent.
Individual home prices may vary greatly, but on average, they’re all going up. Home prices have increased by 13.6 percent over last year, and the median home price in Chapel Hill is $611,500.
Southern charm seamlessly mixes with all the features of a cosmopolitan city in Charlotte. A fun and busy nightlife, delicious restaurants and a strong job market attract families and young professionals alike. Charlotte is also an affordable place to call home with housing prices 11.4 percent below the national average.
Even with lower overall prices, rent in Charlotte can still get pricy. One-bedroom apartments average out to cost $1,515 per month in rent, up 15 percent over last year. Two-bedroom apartments are growing in price more slowly but still can set you back an average of $1,783 per month. This price is up only 10 percent over last year.
Homes in Charlotte offer a cool range of architectural designs, but demand is definitely impacting price. The median home in Charlotte costs $405,000, which is a 19.1 percent increase over last year.
A smaller city that’s experiencing great growth, Lexington offers residents more space than other North Carolina spots. It has a more suburban feel minus that densely-packed downtown area. It’s also extremely affordable. Housing prices in Lexington are 40.8 percent below the national average.
Resulting from the local growth, rent prices within Lexington are on the rise. Two-bedroom apartments are up 20 percent. The average monthly rent for a one-bed is $1,345, and two-beds average out just slightly higher at $1,485.
Housing prices in Lexington are holding steady with the average home costing $529,000.
As the capital of the state, the appeal of Raleigh centers on its commitment to education, research and technology. For balance, the city also has a thriving music and art scene, not to mention its growing reputation for excellent food and brew. Still, within an affordable range for college students and professionals alike, average housing prices in Raleigh are 4.8 percent below the national average, although the city is experiencing considerable growth in costs.
All housing in Raleigh is seeing price increases of over 15 percent from last year. One-bedroom apartments are up 18 percent, two-bedroom apartments are up 16 percent and home prices are up 19.4 percent. This means properties are in demand, and some could price out above your budget.
On average, a one-bedroom currently rents for $1,530 per month. Two-bedrooms are at $1,763. The median home price in Raleigh is currently at $430,000.
North Carolina food prices
North Carolina’s reputation for food is without exaggeration. You can get great barbecue, complete with all the sides, decadent peach cobbler, creamy she-crab soup and, of course, biscuits and gravy. Even home cooking is a serious business, and North Carolinians spend between $233 and $267 per month on groceries.
Food prices throughout the state are thankfully pretty reasonable, mostly at or just below the national average, so eating right is never outside the budget.
- Raleigh is 8 percent below the national average
- Lexington is 4.9 percent below the national average
- Asheville is 4 percent below the national average
- Chapel Hill is 3 percent below the national average
- Charlotte is 2.8 percent below the national average
The only city to stretch past the national average when it comes to food prices is Salisbury. It just barely gets there at 0.9 percent above the national average.
What this means when it comes to individual items on your grocery list is that food prices won’t vary by a lot. For example, a dozen eggs range within 46 cents of each other in every city, and bananas only have a 24-cent differential.
Going out to eat also means paying similar-sized bills no matter where you are. The differential between most cities on our list is only $5 for a three-course meal for two. It ends up costing you the most in Asheville, at $65.00, but in our cheapest city, Raleigh, the same meal is only slightly less at $60.00.
North Carolina utility prices
As with most prices across North Carolina, utility averages hover close to the national average, and even though some are over, it’s never by an extreme amount.
- Chapel Hill is 11.8 percent below the national average
- Charlotte is 7.5 percent below the national average
- Lexington is 6.9 percent below the national average
- Raleigh is 1.2 percent above the national average
- Asheville is 7.9 percent above the national average
It’s possible that certain weather conditions could increase your air conditioning or heating usage when the season is right, driving these averages up. Certain areas in North Carolina can get pretty hot in the summer, and those towns in the mountains, like Asheville, may need a little extra heat as temperatures cool down. On average, total energy bills range from $150 per month to slightly above $200.
North Carolina transportation prices
Transportation prices in North Carolina total up to include all different modes. There are the costs associated with owning a vehicle and taking public transportation, which can potentially save if you live in an area where it’s possible to get around on foot or by bike.
Overall, most transportation prices are, again, close to the national average. The only city to exceed it is Winston-Salem, at 3.9 percent above.
- Lexington is 32.5 percent below the national average
- Chapel Hill is 9.4 percent below the national average
- Raleigh is 6.4 percent below the national average
- Charlotte is 5.7 percent below the national average
- Asheville is 1.6 percent below the national average
Not the most walkable state, most North Carolina cities have an average walk score in the 30s. You could live somewhere that’s walkable for a few blocks, but you can’t navigate the whole city that way. Chapel Hill is also pretty bike-friendly, with a score of 55. Overall though, you’re getting around in a car, bus or some other form of public transportation.
Providing bus service throughout the entire city, Asheville Rides Transit, or ART, operates 18 different routes. Set hours have bus service ending at 10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. Extended service for University of North Carolina Asheville stops is available Friday and Saturday nights, but only when classes are in session.
A single-way fare is $1, but you can buy both ticket booklets and passes. A booklet is $9 and provides for 11 rides. A monthly pass is $20 and an annual pass is $220.
Operating both buses and a rail system, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), makes it easy to ride through its color-coded system. Routes in red are express, routes in green are local or neighborhood shuttles and blue routes are rail lines.
The one-way fare for local bus services is $2.20, and a monthly pass is $88. Shuttle service is less expensive at only $0.90 per way. If you’re hopping on an express route, the one-way cost is $3, and a monthly pass is $121.
A long list of routes takes you anywhere you want to go in Raleigh, hence the name GoRaleigh. Currently, all routes are free and will remain so until June of 2023.
Once fares get reintroduced, it’s still not expensive to take advantage of GoRaleigh routes. A single-ride fare is only $1.25, and a 31-day pass is $40. You can buy an express or regional pass, as well, extending your access to other cities in the area that have their own ‘Go’ public transportation.
North Carolina healthcare prices
Healthcare prices in North Carolina, which include doctor’s visits, urgent care trips, prescription medications, the dentist and even the eye doctor, are all close to the national average in the United States. Probably the highest set of numbers so far, all our cities are actually slightly over.
- Raleigh is 0.1 percent above the national average
- Chapel Hill is 8.3 percent above the national average
- Asheville is 8.7 percent above the national average
- Charlotte is 11.6 percent above the national average
- Lexington is 18.2 percent above the national average
This puts visits to the eye doctor at anywhere from $118 up to $158, a doctor’s visit from $115 to $177 and trips to the dentist between $104 and $140. All combined, that’s a lot of out-of-pocket spending you may have to add to your budget.
North Carolina goods and services
Totaling up all the things you like doing regularly, but aren’t absolutely necessary, goods and services are like bonus activities. They’re what you do for you — like going out or getting your work clothes dry cleaned. Life would still go on without doing these things, but you wouldn’t be as happy.
Lumping in the costs of all goods and services together is a great way to understand how much this could add to your budget.
- Raleigh is 8.8 percent below the national average
- Chapel Hill is 8.4 percent below the national average
- Lexington is 5.7 percent below the national average
- Asheville is 1.1 percent below the national average
- Charlotte is 6.4 percent above the national average
Charlotte is going to produce the highest price tag, in total, when it comes to grabbing a pizza, going to the movies and more. However, when you look at the average costs of everything, Charlotte might not always be the most expensive city.
In fact, according to these specific goods and services prices, Charlotte never has the most expensive option on the list.
Adding in childcare
Though it’s possibly not a particular good or service you’re ready for yet, this one is a doozy. Once the need for childcare comes into play, your cost of living budget will go way up. But, what you pay each month can vary greatly based on what city in North Carolina you’re living in.
The most expensive city for a full-day, private preschool is Chapel Hill, where the monthly price tag is $1,433.00. Raleigh is also over a thousand dollars a month, but then the price begins to dip. In Asheville, this monthly expense averages out to only $866.67. We told you it was expensive.
Taxes in North Carolina
North Carolina has both an individual income tax and a sales tax. The income tax rate of 4.99 percent applies to all income levels.
The state sales tax is 4.75, and local areas can only add on up to 2.75 percent more. This means the highest combined sales tax rate you’ll pay is 7.5 percent. Think of it this way, for every $1,000 you spend shopping, $124.90 is going straight to taxes if the city you live in charges the max amount, which not every city does.
- The sales tax rate in Asheville and Lexington is 7 percent
- The sales tax rate in Charlotte and Raleigh is 7.25 percent
- The sales tax rate in Chapel Hill is 7.5 percent
It seems that many cities get close to the maximum amount of sales tax, but few go all the way to the top. That’s good for your budget.
How much do I need to earn to live in North Carolina?
One of the best ways to figure out what you need to make to live comfortably anywhere is a calculator. You’ve just got to crunch some numbers to make sure it all works, and starting with rent is key. Using our rent calculator, you can accurately start budgeting.
You can also do some rough estimating using averages and expectations. It’s expected that you’ll put 30 percent of your annual salary toward rent. Given that the average rent in North Carolina is $1,387, you’d need to make a minimum salary of $55,480 per year.
Is this possible? Yes, but not always. The average annual salary in North Carolina is $53,100. It comes close to the minimum salary you need to get an average-priced apartment, but not quite. This may mean adjusting your location to find housing options a little less expensive or cutting your budget elsewhere to put more toward rent. Either way, you’ve got options.
Living in North Carolina
North Carolina is a friendly and delicious place to call home. Southern hospitality is at its peak, and between the barbecue and a variety of other restaurants, your belly will always be full. North Carolina is also a state of opportunity, with a lot to attract young professionals, students and families. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a beautiful place to live.
If North Carolina is calling your name, start adding those numbers up. Does your budget match up to the cost of living in the Tar Heel State? Sure hope so.
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.