HCoL Budget: Can a Family of Four Breakeven on $81K?

4 mins read
Credit: Sasha Prasastika, Pexels.

It may not seem hard to live on $81,000 , a salary far north of the national average household income, but it’s not easy in a High Cost of Living Area. Raising kids in the metro Boston area on a salary under $100,000 is hard, especially if they are under 5 or need after school care. Here’s a sample budget breakdown I’ve come up with to illustrate how fast that income would go.  

The Massachusetts Median Household Income was $81,215, for the 2015-2019 period, according to the Census . That is higher than the national average of $68,703  according to the 2019 census data. But the Greater Boston area is pretty expensive; while it’s not San Francisco or New York, it’s still pricey. 

Credit: Sasha Prasastika, Pexels.

Let’s say you have a family of four renting in an area adjacent to Cambridge or Somerville. They have two kids and live off of one income,  so one parent stays home with the toddler and an older kid is in kindergarten. Parenthood and money is a hard tightrope to walk when your kids are young; you are tired and want to outsource everything, but it also costs a lot to feed and care for young kids. 

This is my budget estimate based on a family of four renting a 2-bedroom and living in a quasi-urban area, making the state median income of $81K. 


  • Family of Four, one employed outside the home, one stay at home parent, one toddler, one in Kindergarten. 
  • The family rents a 2-bedroom, which in the Cambridge-adjacent cities would run a minimum of $2,500/month. 
  • They still have $30,000 of student loan debt. 
  • They borrowed $20,000 for a car. 
  • Pre-Tax Benefits include: 
    • 6% of gross pay to a 401K
    • $550 for family HMO
    • $100 for a health FSA 

You can see from my mock estimate, this is a very tight budget — AND it includes a stay-at-home parent ie no childcare costs. 

Category Income Expense
Net Pay (12% Tax Rate) $5,102 Pre-tax Deductions:

Health Premium, FSA & 6% 401K

Rent (2BR)   $2,500
Student Loans ($30K, 4%, 10Y)   $304
Car Loan ($20K, 3%, 4Y)   $443
Gas   $120
Groceries + Formula   $800
Takeout   $200
Electric + Gas   $125
Internet   $50
Streaming Services   $20
Cell Phones   $110
Auto Insurance   $70
Clothes/Shoes/Diapers   $100
Miscellaneous   $50
Vacation / Xmas Fund   $120
TOTAL $5,012 $5,012

Some may say one can move to an area with a lower cost of living, especially now that many jobs are remote. But it’s hard to move when you have a network of friends, you know and like the area, and your kids started elementary school. 

This is just something to keep in mind. Before I had children, especially in my late 20s and early 30s, I was not aware of the time and resources required to raise children. While I don’t think the government should supply every resource, I definitely think there should be more resources such as:

  • State funding to towns for full day “free” kindergarten
  • Greater tax credits for children, especially for lower income families
  • More funding for daycares in low income areas

I am not thrilled to pay the amount of taxes I do, but I’m completely content paying that bracket if it means additional benefits are made available to the American families that need it the most. The more people can work, the more we can support businesses and move back to a positive cycle. 

Merry Christmas to you and yours!



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