We know that accounting salaries in New York and San Francisco are the highest in the country, but we also know that the cost of living in those cities is extraordinary. Where should you live if you want to make a great accountant’s salary and still have some left over at the end of the month?
To get to an answer, we looked at a few sources. We started with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ average accountant salary for 2014 ($73,670). This figure is higher for those with more experience and varies by the type of accountant, but we started with that as a simple average. We scaled that average by the city variances provided in Robert Half’s 2015 survey of accounting and finance salaries. That gave us a list of the cities that pay the largest accounting salaries (no surprises here, New York and San Francisco!).
But what, we asked, would happen if we then overlaid the cost of living in each of these cities? A consistent data source to cover all of our top-paying cities was hard to find, and we settled on the Consumer Price and Rent Index data provided by Numbeo. This data has been updated for 2015 and includes the key components of most household costs. Unfortunately the Numbeo data did not cover 100% of the cities where we had accountant salaries, but it does cover the major population centers. Now onto the results…
Top 10 Affordable Cities for Accounting Salaries
The results are fascinating, suggesting that wise accountants should avoid the big dollars offered in New York and San Francisco and look to smaller cities with thriving industries and great quality of life.
#10 – Reno, Nevada: Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and with easy access to Lake Tahoe, Reno is the epitome of affordable fun living. An accounting salary here approaches $70,000 per year, while taxes and the cost of living factors remain low. Lots of good accounting programs are around too, such as the University of Nevada at Reno.
#9 – Hartford, Connecticut: With an estimated accountant salary of $85,826, Hartford comes in at #9 on our list with its relative affordability compared to its above-average salary (estimated at 116% of the national average). Great reason to check out local accounting programs such as the University of Hartford!
#8 – Albuquerque, New Mexico: Albuquerque doesn’t beat the national average for salaries, but its affordability is exceptional. With everything from hot air ballooning to world class golf, there’s plenty to do with your spare change.
#7 – Akron, Ohio: With great art museums and a championship level NBA team, Akron brings plenty of livability. Average accounting salaries clock in over $65,000, but the affordable rent and consumer prices stretch these dollars further than almost anywhere else. Might be a good reason to start looking at the University of Akron for your accounting degree.
#6 – Kansas City, Missouri – Recently voted #3 city in America’s Best Cities for Foodies, Kansas City is a growing hub in the Mid West. It also has a thriving music scene. Salaries hover around the national average ($73,081), but the cost of living is relatively low by comparison. University of Kansas or Mizzou are both programs that set you up well for this great city.
#5 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Oklahoma City accountant salaries are predicted to be around 92% of the national average, totaling around $67,555. Nearby University of Oklahoma offers accounting programs, from bachelors to Phds. We even recently interviewed one of their grads to learn about this great school.
#4 – Detroit, Michigan – No doubt riding its heritage as a home base for large auto-makers, Detroit accountants earn almost exactly the national average, but affordable cost of living puts motor city in the top 5 of this list.
#3 – Salt Lake City, Utah – With world class ski resorts around almost every corner, it’s almost hard to believe that SLC is so affordable. With accountant salaries beating the national average (101%), it’s a great option for anyone looking capitalize on their accounting degree and have a top quality of life.
#2 – Phoenix, Arizona – Well known for its weather, golf courses, and as the home of Arizona State University (among others), Phoenix brings a combination above average salaries (108%) with the relative affordability that can be found in the South West.
#1 – Tucson, Arizona – Doubling down on the case for Arizona, Tucson takes our #1 spot for the cities with the highest relative accounting salaries. Accountant salaries are estimated at $75,143, and that can go a long way. Experience life to its fullest with Tucson’s mix of museums, access to the outdoors, and gaming venues.
To find great schools in Tuscon or anywhere else in the country, check out our college search page to find accredited accounting programs in any zip code.