Cost of Living Forum

IowaFarmer @iowafarmer
Joined: 2 years ago

Cost of Living in Ames for a Long-Time Resident

I’ve lived in Ames for over 20 years and have seen the cost of living change quite a bit during that time. As someone considering retirement in the next few years, I’m curious to get a realistic picture of current living expenses here.

My wife and I own our home (a 3-bedroom house just outside the city center that we purchased years ago), but I’d appreciate estimates for things like:

– Utilities for a moderately-sized home
– Groceries and dining out for two adults
– Transportation costs (gas, maintenance, etc. for 2 vehicles)
– Entertainment, gym memberships, etc.
– Healthcare costs not covered by insurance

I make a decent salary working for the university, but we’ll be living off savings/investments after retirement, so cost of living is important. What has your experience been with the overall affordability of Ames these days? I’d love to hear from others who have lived here long-term as well as recent transplants. Thanks in advance!

Posts: 20

10 Replies

CycloNation @cyclonation
Joined: 2 years ago

Hey IowaFarmer, as a fellow long-time Ames resident, I can share my perspective on living costs here. Overall, I’d say Ames is relatively affordable compared to many bigger cities, especially if you own your home already.

For a moderately-sized 3-bedroom house, I’d estimate utilities (electric, gas, water, etc.) to be around $250-300 per month. Groceries for two can vary a lot depending on your habits, but a reasonable budget might be $500-600 per month if you cook at home often and go out occasionally. The cost of dining out isn’t too crazy, with a casual meal for two around $30-40.

Transportation is one area where costs can add up with multiple vehicles. Gas has been pretty high lately, so budget $200+ per month for gas if you have a decent commute. Car maintenance, insurance, etc. is probably another $200-300 per month for two vehicles.

As for entertainment, Iowa State has some great facilities that are free or discounted for seniors. A gym membership may run $40-50 per month per person. Movie tickets are around $8-10 each.

Healthcare is where things can get pricey for retirees. If you have decent insurance coverage, maybe budget $300-500 per month for premiums, copays, medications, etc. If not, costs can be much higher.

The lack of a high state income tax is a plus once you’re living off investments/retirement income. Ames has a relatively low cost of living compared to many larger cities, especially if you have a paid-off home. Let me know if you need any other specific estimates!

Posts: 19
CampusTown_Lifer @campustown_lifer
Joined: 2 years ago

I’d echo what CycloNation said – Ames is a very livable town, especially if you’re retired and don’t have to worry about a huge housing payment. Here are some of my thoughts having lived here for 30+ years:

Utilities are quite reasonable. We have a 1,800 sq ft home and our utility bills (electric, gas, water, etc.) rarely exceed $250/month year-round.

Groceries can be as low as $400/month for two if you shop strategically. Hy-Vee, Fareway, and Aldi all have great prices. Dining out won’t break the bank either – you can get a good meal for $10-15 per person at places like Culver’s, Applebee’s, etc.

My big monthly expenditures are my truck (gas, insurance, maintenance) and healthcare costs (premiums, medications). Gas has been around $3/gallon lately, and insurance/maintenance on a truck are no joke. Healthcare is easily $500+/month even with Medicare.

The rec centers are affordable for seniors (annual passes $150-300 I believe) and have great amenities like pools, gyms, fitness classes, etc. Entertainment is pretty cheap with $5 movies, free concerts/events, and reasonable prices for eating out.

Housing is probably the biggest pro for retirees here. My paid-off 3-bed 2-bath home would easily rent for $1,200-1,500/month or sell for $300k+. The low property taxes are also a huge plus.

Overall, I’d say a retirement budget of $3,000-4,000/month (not including major housing costs) can provide a very comfortable lifestyle here depending on your circumstances. The biggest risks are healthcare costs and car/transportation expenses. Let me know if you need any other Ames-specific estimates!

Posts: 3
CornFedCoed @cornfedcoed
Joined: 8 months ago

As a current Iowa State student, I can’t speak to all the costs of living in Ames long-term, but I can provide the perspective of someone on a tighter budget.

Rent is likely the biggest monthly expense for most students – you’re looking at $500-700 for a decent 1-bedroom apartment, $800+ for 2-bedroom units. Utilities for an apartment that size run $100-200 per month.

Groceries are quite affordable if you take advantage of Aldi, Walmart, and budgeting carefully. I probably spend $200-250 per month on food shopping primarily at Aldi and utilizing food pantry/dining dollar resources on campus.

Entertainment is cheap if you’re smart about it – $5 campus movie tickets, free gym access, sports games, campus events and performances, etc. Eating out is really the big splurge, with most meals running $10-15 per person before drinks.

You definitely need a car/parking pass ($150-300 per year) to get around easily unless you live very close to campus. Gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. is probably $150+ per month.

The cost of living in Ames isn’t too crazy compared to my friends at other Big 10 schools. As long as you’re smart about housing, groceries, and transportation, it’s quite manageable for students. But healthcare costs could potentially be very high without adequate coverage.

Posts: 13
IAcornGrower @iacorngrower
Joined: 2 years ago

I moved to Ames 5 years ago from a higher cost-of-living area and have been pleasantly surprised at how affordable it is, even for a family of 4.

Our biggest monthly expenses:
– Mortgage/taxes on our 4-bed 2.5-bath house just outside downtown: $1,800
– Utilities (electric, gas, water, internet, etc): $400-500
– Groceries: $800-1,000
– Gas/car insurance for 2 vehicles: $400
– Healthcare premiums, copays, etc: $600
– Restaurants/Entertainment: $400-600

We probably spend a bit more than the average family because we like to eat out 1-2 times per week and enjoy activities like movies, bowling, recreational sports leagues, etc. But there are plenty of free/cheap entertainment options too.

Childcare was a major factor for us when our kids were younger (easily $1,000+ per month for 2 kids) but public schools are great and very affordable now.

Overall, our total household expenditures are around $5,000-6,000 per month for a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle. The lack of a state income tax is a nice benefit.

While not a low cost-of-living area, Ames is quite affordable, especially compared to bigger cities. The university and local job market in industries like finance/insurance help keep salaries and home prices reasonable as well. Let me know if you need any other insights from a family perspective!

Posts: 3
BrokeAmesBro @brokeamesbro
Joined: 12 months ago

As a recent grad still paying off student loans, the cost of living in Ames can be pretty brutal on an entry-level salary. I have to be really frugal to make ends meet:

Rent: $600 (rent a room in a shared house)
Utilities: $100
Groceries: $250
Car payment/insurance/gas: $400
Student loans: $300
Gym: $35
Restaurants/Entertainment: $100

That’s pretty much my whole paycheck from my $40k job after taxes. Doesn’t leave much for savings or extras like travel. Healthcare coverage is still through my parents, which is a huge help financially.

Things like haircuts, clothing, toiletries, etc. add at least another $100 per month in expenses.

Granted, my situation could be better if I had a higher-paying job or went without a car. But even a frugal one-bedroom apartment is $800+ these days. Groceries and dining out add up quickly.

I love Ames and hope to eventually buy a home here if I can progress in my career. But for now, the cost of living is just barely manageable on an entry-level salary, even with things like affordable utilities and no state income tax helping out. It’s tough, but I’m making it work for now.

Posts: 12
CornFedCarl @cornfedcarl
Joined: 12 months ago

Ames is a pretty affordable place to live, in my experience, especially compared to other cities of its size in the Midwest. Some key expenses for my family:

Housing: We own a 3-bed 2.5 bath home a few miles from campus that we purchased 8 years ago for $250k. Similar homes in the area now go for $325-375k. No mortgage payment is huge.

Utilities: Around $350/month total for electric, gas, water, internet, etc. Prices have crept up but still very reasonable.

Groceries: Around $600-700/month for a family of 4. We do a mixed bag of Aldi, Hy-Vee, Costco, and locally grown produce.

Transportation: I have a 10-year-old truck, so $200/month for gas, insurance, maintenance. Wife drives a used sedan that’s another $150/month.

Healthcare: The big wildcard – $500/month for insurance premiums, another $100-200/month for prescriptions, copays, etc. And always the risk of bigger urgent/ER costs.

For entertainment, we tend to stay pretty cheap – movies in the $25 range for a family, dining out $50 for a casual family meal. We do a lot of parks, bike trails, campus events, etc.

Overall, $4,000/month can provide a great middle-class lifestyle if you have affordable housing costs. Of course, a bigger mortgage or higher property taxes in the nicest areas could push that up considerably. The university helps keep real estate pretty grounded compared to similar cities. And the low taxes make a difference!

Posts: 8
CityGirlGoesCountry @citygirlgoescountry
Joined: 2 years ago

Coming from a very high cost-of-living city, I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable Ames is overall. As a single professional, here’s a rough breakdown of my monthly expenses:

Rent: $875 for a nice 1-bed apartment downtown
Utilities: $150 (electric, internet, water/sewer/trash)
Groceries: $300 (I cook at home a lot)
Gas: $100
Car insurance/maintenance: $100
Restaurants/Entertainment: $300
Gym membership: $50
Healthcare: $250 premium, $100 avg out-of-pocket

So altogether I spend around $2,200 per month to live relatively comfortably – going out occasionally, taking vacations a couple times a year, with a newish car, healthy groceries, etc.

My salary of $65k may not go as far in a bigger city, where I’d easily spend $1,500+ just for a decent 1-bedroom apartment. But in Ames, I’m able to max out my retirement contributions, sock away some savings, and still have disposable income.

The lack of crazy traffic, affordable housing, and great amenities like the trails and rec facilities make it an easy city to embrace a healthy, frugal lifestyle in. I miss some of the dining/nightlife of bigger cities, but Ames still has a lot to offer. Just have to get used to the winters!

Posts: 11
CornFedThrifter @cornfedthrifter
Joined: 11 months ago

As someone who lives extremely frugally, I can say Ames is a very affordable place if you’re willing to embrace a minimal lifestyle and get creative:

Housing: I split a cheap 2-bedroom apartment on the low-income side of town – $400 for my portion of rent/utilities. Nothing fancy but gets the job done.

Groceries: Around $150/month by shopping sales at Aldi, Walmart, and taking advantage of food pantry/assistance resources.

Transportation: Don’t own a car – I bike, walk, and take the bus everywhere for free with a student ID. Probably save at least $3-400/month this way.

Healthcare: Currently on Medicaid, so I just pay small copays for check-ups.

Entertainment: So many free/cheap options – campus facilities, parks, libraries, community events, etc. I’ll go to $5 movies maybe once a month.

Phone: $25/month for a basic prepaid plan.

These ultra-low expenses allow me to cash flow university costs with a part-time job and minimal loans. If I budget carefully, I can get by on $12-15k per year pretty comfortably.

Of course, this level of extreme frugality isn’t for everyone. But it shows Ames is very affordable if you make some lifestyle sacrifices. I actually appreciate the simple, low-cost living and find it very manageable as a student.

Posts: 3
LuxuryAmesBaller @luxuryamesballer
Joined: 2 years ago

While Ames can be quite affordable for those on a tight budget, my experience is that it offers a pretty lavish lifestyle for higher income professionals and families:

We own a $750k+ 5-bed 4-bath home in one of the nicest neighborhoods, with around $1,500/month in mortgage and $800/month in property taxes/insurance.

Utilities (electric, gas, internet, etc.) for our larger home run $400-500/month.

Groceries we probably spend $1,200+/month shopping at places like Hy-Vee and Wheatsfield for high-end items.

We each drive luxury SUVs (Toyota Land Cruiser and Porsche Cayenne) that cost around $1,000/month to operate with financing, insurance, maintenance, etc.

For entertainment, we frequently do nice dinners ($100+), attend ISU sporting events and concerts, golf and country club memberships, etc. Call it $1,500/month.

We pay around $2,000/month for a nanny to assist with our two young children. And send them to a private pre-school that’s $1,200/month.

Healthcare is probably $1,200-1,500/month for our family premium and out-of-pocket costs on a great employer plan.

All-in we probably spend $150-175k per year to live this lifestyle. While not cheap, Ames offers a great quality of life with good schools, amenities, low crime and very manageable costs compared to living similarly in a major metro area, where housing/taxes alone would be double or triple. The best of both worlds!

Posts: 8
CyclingIowan @cyclingiowan
Joined: 7 months ago

As an avid cyclist, I’ve found Ames to be a very affordable place to pursue an active lifestyle on a modest income. A few of my regular expenditures:

Rent: $550 for a simple 1-bed apartment close to trails
Utilities: $100
Groceries: $250 (I cook most meals at home)
Bike stuff: $100 (maintenance, gear, etc.)
Gas: $80 (minimal driving)
Entertainment: $100 (mostly bars/restaurants post-ride)
Gym membership: $30 (for showers, etc.)
Healthcare: $220 premium, $50 average out-of-pocket

Overall I can live comfortably on around $1,500/month all-in without too much sacrifice. I spend quite a bit of time outdoors biking the trails, hitting the park links for frisbee golf, etc. Very affordable entertainment!

The only real drag is the high healthcare costs, even on my employer plan. That’s probably an extra $300-400/month compared to larger cities. But still very manageable overall for my active, low-frills lifestyle.

It does get tricky looking ahead though – affording a home, saving for retirement, dealing with higher costs if I have kids, etc. But I’ve definitely enjoyed the affordability of this bike-friendly town thus far in my 20s and 30s. It’s allowing me to pursue my passions without breaking the bank.

Posts: 6

Detailed Price Insights of Abilene, TX

  • Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant – 13.00 $
  • Meal for 2 People, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course – 45.00 $
  • McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal) – 9.00 $
  • Domestic Beer (0.5 liter draught) – 6.00 $
  • Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle) – 6.50 $
  • Cappuccino (regular) – 5.00 $
  • Coke/Pepsi (0.33 liter bottle) – 1.99 $
  • Water (0.33 liter bottle) – 1.50 $
  • Milk (regular), (1 liter) – 0.97 $
  • Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g) – 3.67 $
  • Rice (white), (1kg) – 3.45 $
  • Eggs (regular) (12) – 3.23 $
  • Local Cheese (1kg) – 8.82 $
  • Chicken Fillets (1kg) – 12.40 $
  • Beef Round (1kg) (or Equivalent Back Leg Red Meat) – 14.61 $
  • Apples (1kg) – 5.43 $
  • Banana (1kg) – 1.81 $
  • Oranges (1kg) – 4.41 $
  • Tomato (1kg) – 5.19 $
  • Potato (1kg) – 3.86 $
  • Onion (1kg) – 3.48 $
  • Lettuce (1 head) – 1.90 $
  • Water (1.5 liter bottle) – 1.94 $
  • Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) – 12.50 $
  • Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle) – 1.73 $
  • Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle) – 3.00 $
  • Cigarettes 20 Pack (Marlboro) – 8.99 $
  • One-way Ticket (Local Transport) – 1.00 $
  • Taxi Start (Normal Tariff) – 5.00 $
  • Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff) – 1.40 $
  • Taxi 1hour Waiting (Normal Tariff) – 50.00 $
  • Gasoline (1 liter) – 0.86 $
  • Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (Or Equivalent New Car) – 34,332.93 $
  • Toyota Corolla Sedan 1.6l 97kW Comfort (Or Equivalent New Car) – 26,105.64 $
  • Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment – 192.43 $
  • Mobile Phone Monthly Plan with Calls and 10GB+ Data – 51.71 $
  • Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) – 71.67 $
  • Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult – 50.00 $
  • Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) – 0.00 $
  • Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat – 7.99 $
  • Preschool (or Kindergarten), Full Day, Private, Monthly for 1 Child – 1,120.00 $
  • International Primary School, Yearly for 1 Child – 30,000.00 $
  • 1 Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar) – 41.25 $
  • 1 Summer Dress in a Chain Store (Zara, H&M, …) – 40.00 $
  • 1 Pair of Nike Running Shoes (Mid-Range) – 61.33 $
  • 1 Pair of Men Leather Business Shoes – 84.50 $
  • Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre – 933.33 $
  • Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre – 783.33 $
  • Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre – 2,216.67 $
  • Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre – 1,533.33 $
  • Price per Square Meter to Buy Apartment in City Centre – 2,416.49 $
  • Price per Square Meter to Buy Apartment Outside of Centre – 2,147.39 $
  • Average Monthly Net Salary (After Tax) – 3,718.25 $
  • Mortgage Interest Rate in Percentages (%), Yearly, for 20 Years Fixed-Rate – 5.96
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