Ideally, what should I be earning to live "comfortably" in Portland, OR?
February 23, 2013 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Hello, people of Portland! Is $50,000 a year enough to live on comfortably in your city?

I know, rather specific number, yes? I've been itching (like many people in their mid 20s to mid 30s) to make the pilgrimage to Portland, OR for a change of scenery and a boost in general inspiration. I've been searching the area for jobs in my field (research analyst) which generally pay around $50 to $55 grand a year with the added benefit of subsidized health insurance. That sounds like a nice number to ME, however, I currently live in a city that has a cost of living that is well below the national average (although this is changing given it is becoming the "next Portland" according to some...).

Currently I earn around $41 a year and I am able to save money each month. I checked a few websites that compare cities based on their cost-of-living averages and I believe that to keep my current standard of living I would need to earn between $48-53,000 a year in Portland, but that doesn't really tell me much. I just know everything is far more expensive.

To define comfortable: To be able to rent an nice apartment/house/condo in an area that is not "dodgy" and to be able to afford staples (food/transportation/utilities/Internet/health care, etc.) while squirreling away a bit for clothes, entertainment and maybe savings.

I know, you can't know how much my personal expenses are currently or what they will be in the future, so I wager what salary a person needs depends entirely on what they shill out every month for health care expenses, debts, etc. I don't live "high on the hog" but I also don't live paycheck to paycheck. I don't take any regular medications, I don't have cable, don't drink or smoke, I tend to be very frugal with food, but I do have student loans that will eventually need repaying (maybe $400 a month?). I also like to splurge on "nice" things every so often, like dining out, clothes, coffee or what not, but never anything I would define as extravagant. I do not own a car, but I share one with my partner.

I suppose my general question is, is it even a good idea to consider a move to Portland for a job that pays $50-55,000? Would I be just scraping by on that amount or would I be able to stay afloat and maybe actually ENJOY living there?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Young Kullervo to Work & Money (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I rented a nice bedroom in a house with 2 roommates in one of the most desirable areas of Portland (SE 30th off of Belmont Street) while affording staples, feeding a very expensive drums/percussion habit, and going out for food/drinks/shows about twice a week on about $24k/year. I think you'll be fine.
posted by ltisz at 12:46 PM on February 23, 2013

This, everywhere, depends entirely on housing. Do you want to live in a one bedroom apartment or a three bedroom house? Do you care if it's in the suburbs or does it need to be downtown? Everything ends up practically trivial compared to housing, especially since it's so much less variable from place to place (cable TV, for example, does not cost 8x more in Manhattan than Des Moines, even though housing probably does).

What kind of house do you want to live in? How much are they renting for on Craigslist? That the biggest difference that you have to account for, by far.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:47 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Housing is the largest and most variable expense. Downtown/Pearl/Inner NW are going to be a LOT more to live in than further out on the east side. There's no sales tax here, so the rest of your food/clothes/eating out budget goes a touch further. I think groceries are a little pricier than I saw in Colorado or Texas - but like, $.50 more for a box of pasta, sort of thing. Meat and eggs are about the same. Winter heating is pricier than I expected, paying around $100 for a 1 bdrm with not a ton of windows. Public transit is plentiful and pretty affordable - $100/month for a 30 day pass on all of Trimet. Does your state have income tax? It's not a huge bite, but you should be aware of it.

I would bet you'd be fine, but I'd do some housing searches and make a budget if I were you.
posted by ansate at 12:58 PM on February 23, 2013

Response by poster: I don't mean to thread sit, BUT:

I haven't done much research on housing in Portland yet because I haven't done much research on the areas that are considered to be highly desirable. I'd like to live close to where things "happen" but I don't need to live downtown or far out in the suburbs. Maybe a happy medium, whatever that is? I currently live in a two bedroom house in a prime (hip) location and pay around $865 dollars a month in rent. I admit that is a steal, because similar houses in the area rent for around $1200-2000 a month. Utilities are typically $140 in the winter and summer when I turn on the central heat/air, water averages around 80 every two months, etc.

Ideally, I'd like to rent a two bedroom house or maybe a two-three bedroom apartment in an area that has easy access to the more interesting areas if I couldn't afford to live in the epicenter.

I do get taxed pretty heavily in my current city. I pay city, state AND federal taxes but I don't pay income tax. I think around $1000 is taken out of each paycheck each month. Maybe that is not a lot, but it seems like it is sometimes. Sales tax here is 6% and most grocery items that are essential (raw meat, fruit, etc.) is not taxed.

Oh I forgot to mention that I get free access to public transportation (as crappy as it is), which saves me God knows how much on gas.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:19 PM on February 23, 2013

that will be a fine income for most of Portland. Here is the wikipedia page. That would be about the median Household income so for one person you will be well above subsistence living. You can probably even swing living alone as long as you aren't too picky, and I am not too sure there IS a bad neighborhood (like LA or Chicago has) that isn't ok for a single person to live in. Some are better than others, but the big problem here is petty property crime, not violent crime. You will probably want a car (although not really necessary for living in a lot of Portland) but used cars seem to last well here-mild climate and no salt. While I don't live in Portland (eugene/springfield is about two hours south but the next largest metro area) overall I find the cost of living here much less than Flagstaff, Arizona (admittedly not a cheap town to live in) and about comparable to Albuquerque or Phoenix. And the food is SOOO much better, except for chiles. I really miss new mexican chile's (the fruit, not the chain restaurant).
posted by bartonlong at 1:20 PM on February 23, 2013

Best answer: I moved to Oregon (Corvallis) last year, and recommend you build an annual budget spreadsheet. You can fill in the details of what your life is currently like, and come up with a surplus number: the amount of income left after you subtract expenses.

Then you duplicate that spreadsheet for a move, and start collecting data on comparable neighborhoods, comparable homes, and various expenses. This one question I asked a little over a year ago contained some various data points. To summarize that and my past year of living in Oregon:

* No sales tax.
* No property tax on vehicles, but you do need front and back license plates. Also, you can't pump your own gas.
* Downtown is home to a lot of homeless.
* Car insurance was nearly double what I used to pay. You can ask your provider for a prospective quote.
* The Trimet ended free fares in the downtown zone. Here's their new fare schedule, use it to estimate what you'll be spending. You might also ask your employer if they participate in an annual pass program, which could save you some money on income tax. If not, they still have an annual pass program for individuals.
* Speaking of income tax, it's pretty high. In 2007, the State of Oregon was the state most reliant on income taxation for revenue.
* Weather is one of those intangibles; cloud cover approaches an average of 95 percent outside the summer months. On the plus side, summers are typically light enough that you won't pay a huge electric bill for A/C.

Once you have a good estimate you can compare surplus living in one place vs the other, and decide whether it's worth the intangibles.
posted by pwnguin at 2:20 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A two bedroom house in good shape in a nice neighborhood will run you about $1,200-$1,400 per month.
posted by Specklet at 3:08 PM on February 23, 2013

Best answer: That salary sounds fine for Portland. You will want to find a place for about 1000-1200/month, which should be very doable. Portland neighborhoods each have their own distinct flavor. Personally, I would avoid SE and look at Hollywood-ish NE. That should fit with your price range and be relatively non-sketch.
posted by ainsley at 3:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think I do actually pay roughly 6% state income tax on top of city taxes and federal taxes. Does a resident of Portland pay state and federal taxes only or are there also city taxes?

Also I notice some of you have mentioned ideal neighborhoods, thanks! Any further suggestions about areas to live are really appreciated. That way I can take pwnguin's advice, check craigslist, and make a comparative budget.

I am not certain where the job will be if I apply, but a few I considered are at the local universities, if that helps.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:52 PM on February 23, 2013

Best answer: I think I do actually pay roughly 6% state income tax on top of city taxes and federal taxes. Does a resident of Portland pay state and federal taxes only or are there also city taxes?

Here is a calculator and tax rates for Oregon.

The no sales tax thing is really nice, stuff actually costs what it says it does on the tag.

If you are looking for University work, University of Oregon in Eugene and Oregon STate in Corvallis are big schools. And both of those towns are actually really nice places to live. Neither is as big as Portland (of course) but they both have their charms. They are also cheaper to live in the Portland generally, and both within 2 hours of easy driving.
posted by bartonlong at 7:17 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

bartonlong: "If you are looking for University work, University of Oregon in Eugene and Oregon State in Corvallis are big schools."

And neither have a substantial presence in Portland outside of fundraising. Portland State University, on the other hand, is based in Portland. As is OHSU. One major challenge you'll find is that the state legislature has passed laws restricting the duplication of programs. OHSU is the state Med School. UofO is the Law school. OSU is the Engineering school. Some programs are grandfathered in, but they're heavily restricted. With the two flagships hours away, finding tenure track positions in Portland might be daunting.
posted by pwnguin at 8:29 PM on February 23, 2013

Just be aware that all those people in their mid 20s to mid 30s moving to Portland for a change of scenery and a boost in general inspiration have been depressing wages in PDX for the last few decades.
posted by Good Brain at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the help! It looks like I have all of the tools available to start thinking this over in a realistic fashion.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:23 AM on February 24, 2013

"Dodgy" areas? In Portland? Portland proper? Compared to what? Some would say there are "dodgy" parts of deep SE (, NE past Alberta (the historical redline for segregation) or North or past 82nd. If you know where to look, you will see signs of junkies here and there. Worst case scenarios are petty theft, petty vandalism and maybe once a year, if you're paying attention, you might hear some gunshots in the distance from some gangbangers who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Portland has a lot of affordable and high density housing spread around, so the cost of housing in a particular neighborhood doesn't absolutely correlate to the rate of crime like it does in most places.

That is to say, some blocks can feel dodgy if you have a lousy neighbor or if you don't have any urban background, but that's the truth of living in any city. Downtown has a lot of homelessness, including a lot of youth runaways bumming for change, if that kind of thing causes concern. As per anywhere, don't move into a housing situation sight unseen. You would have to be pretty unlucky to move into a "bad neighborhood" that is comparable to the "bad neighborhoods" of similarly sized cities. Actually, I just compared Portland to Pittsburgh and San Antonio, which are the most similarly sized metropolitan centers and to a few other cities I was thinking about ( Pretty consistently, Portland tends to show high on rape and property crime but low on all other violent crimes. The rape stat is scary, maybe there are higher levels of reporting? Acquaintance rape versus stranger rape?

The cost of living in Portland isn't based on the cost of a basket of goods and services. The cost of living in Portland is the depressed salaries because the supply of labor is inflated by people like yourself moving there for the quality of life. If you get a job offer for $50k in Portland, yeah, take it. Keyword: If.

I often think about moving back to Portland and making that kind of salary. I would live like a frickin' king. This is the consensus between myself and other Portland expats that I know who have moved to other cities in order to make that range of income.
posted by Skwirl at 9:46 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Lots of good info above so I wont re-invent the wheel.

Perspective: I bring home $67k/Year. 2 kids, 1 dog, 2 cars (1 paid off), married. ~$1500/m Mortgage. Live in suburbs of Portland. Wife stopped working June of last year and things have been totally fine. Sure I dont eat out as much, but that really is the only thing I can remember that has changed. Oh and going out to the movies. So can you live off $50k/Year? I say absolutely, but that is based on how we live.
posted by NotSoSimple at 5:14 PM on February 25, 2013

The rental market is Portland is still a little tight, and prices of rentals has inched higher over the past year. It looks as though by summer we'll see more apartments coming onto the market (construction projects are moving toward completion), so by autumn rental prices should stop creeping.

And if you are interpret to look at crime statistics for the general dodgyness of a neighborhood, is where to find crime incidents mapped.

A map of transit connectivity is here.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2013

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