Texas and California are two of the largest states in the union, both in terms of population and geography. The cost of living can vary significantly between individual counties or cities within either state. That said, the average Californian faces higher costs of living than the average Texan.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology tracks living wage calculations for cities and states across the United States, defining a living wage as the "approximate income needed to meet a family's basic needs." MIT further defines basic needs as "food, clothing, housing, and medical care." According to its 2017 figures, an individual has to earn 23.8% more income to earn a living wage in California than in Texas.
Measuring Cost of Living
When economists or statisticians are measuring the cost of living for a given country or region, they are measuring the amount that consumers need to spend in order to reach a certain average standard lifestyle. Put another way, the cost of living measures how much food, shelter, clothing, health care, education and fuel can be bought with one unit of currency.
Comparing Typical Expenses in Texas and California
MIT compares the costs of six different typical expenses for each state: food, child care, medical, housing, transportation, and "other."
In all areas, California was more expensive than Texas. The average single adult could expect to eat with $296 a month in California versus $249 in Texas, a more than 18% difference.
It is 25% more expensive to raise one child in California than in Texas. The difference is 22% with two children and 26% with three children.
On average, Texas also has less expensive medical care than California. Here, the difference is roughly 8%.
Housing is the largest single expense category in MIT's calculation; it is also the area where Texans see the largest advantage. Housing costs are an impressive 54.7% higher in the Golden State than in the Lone Star State. The difference is more pronounced for bigger families, where normal housing expenses for two adults and two children are 61.7% higher for Californians.
California does win out on transportation costs. The average adult in Texas spends 16.8% more on getting around than his Californian counterpart.
Lumping expenses such as entertainment, dining out, pet care and other possible expenses together, the "other" category is another win for Texas; its average residents spend 14% less here.
Problems with Cost of Living
Cost of living averages do not address the quality of the goods or services available. It could very well be that shoes cost 25% more in one state than in another, yet they last 50% longer. Perhaps food prices are the same between two states, but on average the food in one state tastes better and is healthier to consume. Nevertheless, the data does suggest that it is relatively less expensive to live in Texas than in California.
In fact, the Lone Star State is home to the two most-affordable burgs in America: McAllen and Harlingen, according to Kiplinger's "Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In 2017" survey.
No. 2, Harlingen, with its population of 65,774, has a median household income of $34,466 and a median home value of $80,660, based on 2017 U.S. Census data. McAllen, which edged out Harlingen for the No. 1 spot this year, is a bigger, wealthier town (population 140,269; median household income $44,254; median home value, $115,400. Yet its cost of living is 23.7% below the U.S. average. Harlingen's is 20.6% below.
Both are located in southern Texas, where not only living is affordable, but food is as well. A recent study done by Kiplinger revealed that of a few hundred grocery stores that were analyzed by affordability and pricing, only a handful had cheaper goods than the stores in Harlingen.
Both towns are also close to Mexico and, while located in a hot, dry state, both are within an hour's drive of the beach. McAllen hosts a 15-acre birding habitat, too.