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The True Cost of Living in UK Cities

Depending on where you live and work in the UK, it’s likely that someone is making more money in the same role. It can sometimes seem like a real postcode lottery.

However, this doesn’t necessarily make them better off than you.

There are several factors involved which level the playing field regardless of someone’s wages. These fall under the ‘true cost of living’ which looks at everything from property prices, taxes and energy costs to grocery shopping.

Once all of this has been paid up for the year, you’re left with your disposable income. But it isn’t always so black and white.

In some cities, if you earn the average wage, you’re working to simply meet your essential spend – leaving you with nothing in the way of disposable cash come year’s end.

Depending on which city you call home, you could even be earning less than your region’s average cost of living meaning you’ll always have to either scrimp and save or accept some level of debt.

The map below shows the average amount of disposable income by city in the UK:

UK disposable income

To find these figures the essential annual spend (cost of living) of each region was subtracted from their cities’ average wages.


When looking at wages aside from the cost of living, it can be quite surprising to see how much of a difference it makes to those who live in some of the more expensive areas of the UK – despite their higher earnings.

Here is a look at some of the UK’s largest cities and where they rank in terms of expense for everything from rent to dining out at restaurants in the form of a cost of living index:

RankCityCost of LivingRentGroceriesRestaurant Price
2Milton Keynes86.6255.1076.9995.23

The index figures in the table above are based on a variety of Cost of Living criteria which create a data point from 0-100 in a rising expense scale. Figures correct as of Jan 2018.

One of the largest, most frequent expenditures that applies to everyone is the cost of food shopping. The following rankings, based on the same cities as the table above, show the highest and lowest spenders when it comes to getting groceries.

Least expensive UK cities
Most expensive UK cities

To give a wider overview of these essential costs – here is a regional comparison which shows the average annual outgoings per household.

UK cost of living by city

This brings things into perspective when compared to the average wages of each city, for instance, the examples below show those cities left with the highest and lowest amount of money after the average annual household spend per region has been taken off their wages…

Highest disposable income cities UK
Lowest disposable income cities UK


Wherever you live there’s bound to be fluctuations – let’s be honest – not everyone makes the average wage for their city and we don’t all spend the same amount on a weekly shop, however, there is one trend that affects us all, earnings across the UK are continuing to steadily rise.

Median gross weekly income UK

The East Midlands, London and the East of England have seen the largest growth in employee pay during 2017.

This upwards trend has also been charted by the ONS since 1997 and, as you can see below, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have seen a greater increase in wages than London (as well as England including London), with Wales trailing behind.

Median UK income by country

The index on this chart references percentage increases in wage growth with a baseline of 100. Every country in the UK has seen at least a 60% wage increase since 1997.

It isn’t all good news though as unpredictable interest rates frequently raises our essential spend alongside, or even ahead of, these increases to remuneration. For instance, the end of 2017 they hit 3.1% – a five-year high for the UK’s cost of living, food prices rose at their fastest for four years as well as the cost of everything from transport to clothing.

UK inflation rate by year

This is significant as, if you look back to our chart showing the percentage growth of median gross weekly income across 2017 you’ll see that the highest pay rise was in the East Midlands at 3.4%, only 0.3% ahead of inflation while the average UK wages rose almost a full 1% behind.


While many are tempted to run to the capital, or any of the UK’s larger cities, for their higher-paying job opportunities, it’s essential to bear in mind the costs associated with bringing in larger wages in more expensive areas.

Now you should have a better idea of the true cost of living across the UK. This will hopefully grant you with a much more realistic perspective the next time you’re looking at comparative wages elsewhere.

Could a change of location benefit you? Are you pleasantly surprised at how well your city ranks? Don’t forget to let us know your thoughts on our social media channels.

January 2018 average wage data sourced from Adzuna.
Cost of living & additional income data sourced from Numbeo & the ONS.