As a small business consultant who has assisted hundreds of entrepreneurs across the country, I‘m often asked – can you comfortably live on $70,000 a year in the U.S.?
The answer, as you might expect, is complicated. America is a diverse nation with drastic variation in cost of living and salaries. While a $70k income seems solidly middle-class, what it can buy you in terms of lifestyle varies enormously.
In this article, we will explore whether $70,000 is considered a good salary nationwide and what factors impact its livability. I‘ll draw on economic data and research as well as my own experiences advising clients to provide a detailed analysis you can apply to your own situation.
How Does $70k Stack Up to National Income Averages?
At first glance, an income of $70,000 appears well-above average compared to typical U.S. salaries. To understand why, let‘s examine some key national income benchmarks:
- The median household income was $67,521 in 2020. A $70k individual income exceeds the median household figure.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median per capita personal income was $35,384. At nearly double this number, a $70k salary is firmly above average.
- Income distribution data shows that just 30% of Americans earn $75,000 or more. So a $70k income puts you in the top 30% of earners nationally.
However, incomes vary widely by location. Large coastal cities with booming industries, particularly tech, finance, and healthcare, have much higher wages. For example, the median income is $142,573 in San Francisco and $67,886 in Akron, Ohio.
So while $70,000 is substantially higher than national medians, it‘s only moderately above average in high-cost metro areas.
Factors That Determine Whether $70k Is a Good Salary
While a $70k salary may sound great on paper, many variables impact whether it translates to a comfortable living in reality. Let‘s explore some of the most crucial factors:
Cost of Living
Where you live significantly impacts how far $70,000 stretches. For example, according to NerdWallet‘s cost of living calculator:
- $70k equates to around $135,000 in San Francisco – barely scraping by for a family.
- $70k is equal to $166,000 in New York City – a moderate income for a single person.
- $70k translates to $154,000 in Chicago – enough for a decent standard of living for a couple or small family.
- $70k equals nearly $200,000 in Memphis – quite a lavish salary.
As you can see, a $70k earner could be struggling or thriving based on location alone. Always evaluate salaries against the local cost of living.
Industry and Experience
Income expectations differ by industry and role. According to Payscale, $70,000 falls:
- Above the median pay for social workers ($56k) but below the median for data scientists ($95k).
- Near the median salary for high school teachers ($60k) but below the median for software engineers ($110k).
Within the same field, more experience often means higher pay. For example, the median salary for accountants ranges from $54k early career up to $83k at the executive level.
Family Size and Costs
While $70k provides a comfortable single-income household budget for a small family in many parts of the country, it would be extremely tight for a family of 5 with multiple children to care for.
Consider costs that add up for larger families – bigger housing, more vehicles, childcare, healthcare, college savings, etc. Two working adults or those with older children likely find $70k more livable.
Health Care Responsibilities
Health issues necessitating frequent treatment, therapy, or caregiving support can add significant costs that quickly diminish a $70k salary.
For example, full-time home health aides cost approximately $50,000 per year on average, consuming over 70% of this salary. Out-of-pocket healthcare expenses would make this salary barely livable.
Debt repayments, from student loans to credit card balances, reduce disposable income. Typical debt levels vary substantially by age:
- Average credit card debt for 25-34 year-olds: $10,000
- Average student loan debt for 35-49 year-olds: $59,000
- Average mortgage debt for 45-54 year-olds: $215,000
With prudent debt management, $70k provides reasonable loan repayment capacity. But high debts like those above still strain budgets, especially when combined with other obligations.
Maximizing Your Quality of Life on $70k
While $70,000 can certainly enable a comfortable lifestyle in many areas, you have to budget thoughtfully and make smart tradeoffs to really optimize it. Here are some tips:
Choose an affordable area – Opting to live in a lower cost-of-living city or neighborhood can save hundreds per month in housing, utilities, insurance and taxes compared to pricier zip codes and allow your $70k to stretch further.
Cook at home – Preparing meals yourself rather than dining out can easily save $300+ per month for an individual or $500+ for a family. Meal prepping also helps eliminate waste.
Drive used vehicles – Owning an older used car with good fuel efficiency rather than the latest model can mean less spent on monthly payments, insurance and gas. Learn basic maintenance to handle oil changes and repairs yourself.
Live minimalist – Focus discretionary spending only on the things that truly provide lasting value and cut out expensive hobbies, club memberships and luxury services.
Take advantage of free entertainment – Libraries, parks, free museum days and hiking provide low-cost leisure activities. Split streaming services rather than paying for multiple.
Use effective budgeting strategies – Track every expenditure, identify waste, set and stick to spending limits in each category, and automate savings right off the top of your paycheck.
Build an emergency fund – Having 3-6 months‘ worth of living expenses set aside helps weather unexpected costs and avoid high-interest debt when emergencies hit.
Contribute to retirement – Consistently fund retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs to work towards long-term financial growth. Use employer matches if available.
Find fulfillment outside work – Remember, studies show income only improves happiness up to about $75,000. Focus on cultivating a sense of purpose, strong relationships and good health rather than salary alone.
The Bottom Line
While $70,000 is considered an above-average salary nationwide, whether it equates to a comfortable income depends largely on where you live and work, your family size, and your ability to successfully manage expenses and savings.
With prudent budgeting and smart lifestyle choices, $70k certainly can provide a good standard of living in many areas of the country. But it also requires making tradeoffs and often strategic cost-cutting to maximize. As with any income, aligning expenses to meet your personal priorities is key.