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Study: The Average Renter Household Needs $549 in Savings for the Holiday Shopping

Ideally, the holiday season should be all about giving. Realistically, however, – well, it’s still all about giving, just not exclusively in the merriest sense of the word… Buying gifts, decorations and festive dinners toward the end of the year is a painful addition to everyone’s budget, but these extra holiday expenses put a strain on renters in particular as they typically have much lower incomes – about half that of homeowners.

Here’s what a quick reckoning of the average renter household’s holiday budget looks like

Study: The Winter Holidays Pushing American Renters into Debt - The winter holiday budget of the average American renter

The simple calculation above captures the pre-holiday season panic that many of the nation’s renters face. The numbers are based on the median renter household income according to the U. S. Census Bureau, November’s average rent according to Yardi Matrix, average cost of living data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation that reveals how much American consumers plan to spend on average this holiday season. Based on this data we’ve concluded that the average American family of four spends about 2.8% of their annual income on winter expenses. (See more details in the methodology). We also wanted to see, however, how our hypothetical family of four would do in the 50 largest cities, based on the local incomes and rents.

So How Will Your City’s Average Renter Family Close the Year?

Let’s take the Vincents, who happen to be the embodiment of the average family in Virginia Beach, VA. This family of four lives in an average neighborhood, they get around in an average car, and have an average dog. But most importantly, Mr. and Mrs. Vincent earn exactly the local median income for renter households, their monthly rent is bang on the local average, and they want nothing more than to make their children’s wish come true this season, which is – unsurprisingly – an average winter holiday. The Vincents are among the luckiest of the lucky few that can afford to do this without going near their savings account or taking their credit card out of their wallets. They will even have $689 left of their November and December salaries to put in the rainy day fund, or – why not – change their minds and go for an above-average holiday after all.

Study: The Winter Holidays Pushing American Renters into Debt - Cities where renters can afford the winter holiday season without savings

So with the financial challenges of Black Friday and Cyber Monday tackled successfully, the Vincents are looking forward to a cheerful holiday season. So are numerous other average families in 24 other large US cities, including Wichita, KS and Tulsa, OK, and Oklahoma City, OK where average renter households can expect to have $500 or more for the piggy bank after the holidays, but also in Tucson, AZ, where the Tucker family will have to make do with a modest $6. But at least they don’t close the year with a hefty debt…

…Like the Manning family is likely to do in Manhattan, NY – to jump straight to the other extreme. Unless they have $4,349 in savings just for this year’s winter holiday, they will need some serious outside help to pull through the season. So do the Boltons from Boston, MA, who will most probably charge their credit cards with $4,014 by the end of the year, and numerous other renter households in 26 other large cities across the nation. California has a strong presence on this list, with 6 contenders in the top 15 cities where the holidays cause the most financial trouble for renters.

Study: The Winter Holidays Pushing American Renters into Debt - Top 15 cities where renters need the largest savings to pull through the holiday season

Which Scenario Applies to Your Holiday Season?

To see how the holidays are likely to affect your wallet depending on your income and rent, our thoughtful analysts have prepared a surprise for you. This simple calculator will hopefully help you balance your expenses in the final days of the year:

How will you close the year after the holiday spending?

This tool gives you a rough estimate for the final two months of the year based on the formulas used in this study, tailored to your income, rent, and the number of earners in your household.

See how much of your savings will you need to use this season, or how much will you be able to put in the piggy bank after the holidays. 



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Description Information Quantity Amount
Discount :
Money left this winter after all spendings

Also check out the interactive table below for detailed data on the 50 largest US cities. We’ve put them in descending order of the sum a household is likely to put aside after the holidays (or needs to have in savings in order to avoid debt), but feel free to sort them by whichever factor is of interest to you. To do so, click on the header of each column. You can also expand the list to see all entries at once or use the search box to narrow it down to just one state or city:

Final-The Average Renter Household's Year-End Balance in the 50 Largest US Cities

City Median Renter Income (2M) Average Rent (2M) Cost of Living (2M) Holiday Spending Balance (2M)
Virginia Beach, VA $8,129 $2,314 $3,737 $1,388 $689
Wichita, KS $4,927 $1,262 $2,265 $842 $558
Tulsa, OK $5,034 $1,358 $2,314 $860 $502
Oklahoma City, OK $5,294 $1,456 $2,433 $904 $500
Mesa, AZ $5,834 $1,788 $2,682 $996 $367
Columbus, OH $5,628 $1,756 $2,587 $961 $324
Las Vegas, NV $6,052 $1,932 $2,782 $1,034 $304
Phoenix, AZ $5,820 $1,870 $2,676 $994 $280
El Paso, TX $4,785 $1,870 $1,488 $817 $280
Raleigh, NC $6,689 $2,224 $3,075 $1,143 $247
Omaha, NE $5,266 $1,730 $2,421 $899 $216
Arlington, TX $5,741 $1,922 $2,639 $981 $199
Fort Worth, TX $6,127 $2,088 $2,817 $1,047 $176
Indianapolis, IN $4,815 $1,630 $2,213 $822 $149
Colorado Springs, CO $6,198 $2,150 $2,849 $1,059 $140
Memphis, TN $4,391 $1,484 $2,018 $750 $138
Albuquerque, NM $4,885 $1,680 $2,245 $834 $125
San Antonio, TX $5,615 $1,958 $2,581 $959 $117
Jacksonville, FL $5,618 $1,988 $2,582 $960 $88
Kansas, MI $5,290 $1,880 $2,432 $904 $75
Charlotte, NC $6,362 $2,294 $2,925 $1,087 $57
Austin, TX $7,156 $2,600 $3,290 $1,222 $44
Houston, TX $5,875 $2,138 $2,701 $1,004 $33
Tucson, AZ $4,341 $1,598 $1,995 $741 $6
Louisville/Jefferson, KY $4,691 $1,776 $2,156 $801 -$43
Dallas, TX $5,964 $2,292 $2,741 $1,019 -$89
Fresno, CA $4,593 $1,972 $2,111 $785 -$275
Sacramento, CA $6,057 $2,578 $2,784 $1,035 -$340
Nashville Davidson, TN $5,784 $2,526 $2,659 $988 -$389
Baltimore, MD $5,120 $2,468 $2,354 $875 -$576
Portland, OR $6,147 $2,862 $2,826 $1,050 -$591
Denver, CO $6,576 $3,022 $3,023 $1,123 -$592
Milwaukee, WI $4,291 $2,216 $1,972 $733 -$631
New Orleans, LA $4,160 $2,170 $1,912 $711 -$633
Atlanta, GA $5,465 $2,688 $2,512 $933 -$669
Seattle, WA $8,554 $3,954 $3,932 $1,461 -$793
Detroit, MI $2,983 $1,992 $1,371 $510 -$890
Minneapolis, MN $5,545 $2,940 $2,549 $947 -$891
San Diego, CA $8,449 $4,090 $3,884 $1,443 -$968
Washington, DC $8,186 $4,180 $3,763 $1,398 -$1,156
Long Beach, CA $6,809 $3,742 $3,130 $1,163 -$1,226
Philadelphia, PA $4,744 $2,994 $2,181 $810 -$1,241
Chicago, IL $5,836 $3,580 $2,683 $997 -$1,424
San Jose, CA $10,075 $5,216 $4,631 $1,721 -$1,494
Miami, FL $4,421 $3,192 $2,032 $755 -$1,558
Los Angeles, CA $6,294 $4,570 $2,893 $1,075 -$2,245
Oakland, CA $6,720 $5,050 $3,089 $1,148 -$2,567
San Francisco, CA $11,387 $6,864 $5,235 $1,945 -$2,657
Boston, MA $6,794 $6,524 $3,123 $1,161 -$4,014
Manhattan, NY $10,362 $8,178 $4,763 $1,770 -$4,349


  • This analysis covers the 50 largest US cities by population.
  • All calculations were based on November’s national and local average rents for multifamily rental communities with 50 or more units, as provided by Yardi Matrix.
  • For the income figures, our analysts used the past 12 months’ median renter household income values according to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, at national as well as city level.
  • To estimate the average household’s holiday-related expenses, we used the National Retail Federation’s 2017 holiday spending forecast, adjusted to households with two earners by doubling the amount spent on gifts and considering the non-gift purchases and other holiday-related expenses to remain unchanged regardless of the number of earners per household. The sum obtained this way ($1,575) represents 2.8% of the median household income at national level ($55,322 as defined by ACS). Ultimately, we applied the same percentage to the median renter household income in each city.
  • The cost of living was calculated in all cases based on 2016 stats released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which include all expenses related to food, transportation, healthcare, personal insurance and pensions, entertainment, and all other expenditures. We only adjusted the annual food costs in order to exclude the amount spent on festive foods (which is part of the winter holiday-specific expenses). The cost of living obtained this way represents 46% out of a household’s gross income (before taxes), and we considered the same proportions to be valid for each city.
  • As the holiday-related expenses were calculated for the last two months of the year, we also adjusted all other indicators to reflect two months’ values.


All sums generated using the calculator are provided for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as financial advice. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content generated through this tool without seeking professional financial advice. The content generated this way contains general information, which may not accurately reflect the current market conditions or address your specific situation. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on the results obtained using this calculator.

Fair use and redistribution

We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to RENTCafe.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology. For more in-depth, customized data, please contact us at media@rentcafe.com.

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About the author

Balazs Szekely

Balazs is a qualified journalist with a thing for real estate. This obsession comes in handy in his work as an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafe. When he’s not thrashing his keyboard, he takes pleasure in photography, aquascaping and all kinds of DIY projects. Feel free to get in touch with Balazs via email or Twitter.

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