The TRUE Cost of Living in Madison WI!

Joe Marks
Published on January 6, 2021

The TRUE Cost of Living in Madison WI!

Are you wondering what the home prices are like in Madison Wisconsin? Maybe what it costs to rent? What about taxes? We are going to take a deep dive into the cost of living in Madison WI.

Before digging into the cost of living in Madison WI, let’s talk a little about what this city is like. Madison is about 260,000 people and Dane County, the area around Madison, is 550,000 people. Madison is fairly spread out, it’s about 100 square miles of gorgeous lakes, hills, and prairies. When discussing the overall cost of living in Madison WI, one statistic that is helpful to consider is the cost of living index. On the cost of living index, Madison is at 100.6. What does that mean? The national average is 100 so anything above 100 is above the national average anything below 100 is below the national average. For example, if a city’s cost of living index is 110 that city’s cost of living is 10% higher than the national average. At 100.6 the cost of living in Madison WI is right at the national average.

What about home prices? As one of the largest monthly expenses, it’s important to know what your mortgage payment will look like when consider the cost of living in Madison WI. The median sales price in the city of Madison, not the surrounding area, just the city itself, is $325,000. This number is the cost of a pretty average 3 bedroom, 2 bath home. Of course, this number varies depending on the neighborhood or area of Madison you are considering. When looking at the median sales price for the entirety of Dane County, the number goes up a bit to $329,000. There are a number of surrounding suburbs that have quite of it of new construction being built which brings the median sales price up when you look outside of the city of Madison. On average, home prices in Madison are fairly similar to the national average making this factor of the cost of living in Madison WI pretty similar to many other areas of the nation.

Should I rent? What does the cost of living in Madison WI look like if I wait to buy and decide instead to rent? For a 1 bedroom it’s about $1,200 a month and for a 3 bedroom it’s around $2,000 a month.

How does sales tax affect the cost of living in Madison WI? Sales tax in the state of Wisconsin is 5%. However, in Madison and some other places around the state, there is a small local sales tax of .5% making Madison’s sales tax 5.5%.

Tell me about property taxes. While often overlooked, this number does have an impact on the cost of living in Madison WI. Unfortunately, property taxes in Wisconsin, in general, are high. The state has the 5th highest property tax rate in the nation. Wisconsin properties are taxed at a yearly rate of approximately 2.2% of the assessed value of the property. This being said, considering the median sales price, the average yearly property tax bill in Madison is $6,800. Not a small number when considering the cost of living in Madison WI. The benefits of having higher property taxes are seen in the quality of the schools in the Madison area, many are rated very highly by the Department of Public Instruction, as well as the ever improving infrastructure in our city, Madison has great roads! So, while property taxes may be high there are some very real, tangible benefits as a result.

What about my kids? What is it like to send my kids to childcare in Madison? How is the cost of living in Madison WI affected by the cost of daycare for my children? The Economic Policy Institute lists the cost of childcare in the state of Wisconsin at $1047 a month. This number seems fairly accurate for the Madison area, but, as with anything, there are variations on this number depending on the type and location of the childcare you are seeking.

I might need to commute for work. What will I pay for gas and how do those prices impact the cost of living in Madison WI? Gas in Wisconsin is relatively inexpensive when compared to the rest of the country, we have the 9th LOWEST gas prices in the nation. With access to both the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, the ability to transport fuel to our area is easy so gas prices stay low.

What if I work from home? How easy is it to get a good internet connection and how does the price of internet change the cost of living in Madison WI? In Madison, internet is around $56 a month. A fiberoptic connection is actually less expensive in Madison than in many other places, however a cable internet connection is a little more expensive than in the surrounding Midwestern states. This is likely due to the limited number of providers in the area.

Now that I know more about the cost of living in Madison WI, what are income levels like? The median household income in Madison is $63,000 a year, which is higher than the national average of $55,000 a year. Madison also has a higher median income than most of the rest of Wisconsin. A big reason for this income discrepancy is due to the types of jobs available in Madison. There are a large number of medical, university, tech, and government jobs available in our area. You can make a good living in Madison!

Besides the things that directly impact the cost of living in Madison WI, there are several other factors you’ll want to consider as you research making Madison your home.

Commute times. While, as I said, not a direct factor in the cost of living in Madison WI, how far you drive to work can affect your monthly budget. Overall, the commute time in Madison is pretty low, around 25 minutes on average. Without much of a rush hour, commute times decrease. The main reason for the 25 minute commute time is because the city of Madison is spread out. You can get pretty far in those 25 minutes! Many people live in the suburbs and commute a fair distance to get to work in Madison because it is easy to get around.

Related to commute times and another indirect cost of living in Madison WI, is the city’s walk score. How easy is it to walk to your destination in Madison? Madison is not a super walkable town. Our walk score is 48, for comparison, New York City is the most “walkable” city in the nation and has a score of 88. As we’ve discussed, Madison is very spread out so getting to wherever you’re going on foot is not particularly feasible. However, there are quite few neighborhoods within the Madison area that are very walkable and have access to pretty much anything you need. If walkability is important to you, you’ll want to check out the Dudgeon Monroe & Vilas Neighborhood, The Willy Street Neighborhood, and the Hilldale area. All of these neighborhoods have easy access to great restaurants, shopping, grocery stores, and recreation.

Again, in relation to commute times, Madison’s public transportation system ranks 90th among cities in the U.S. with a population of over 100,000 people. Madison does have a public transportation system but there isn’t a train or tram in the city, everything is by bus. The bus system is great and even reaches as far as some of outer suburbs, however for a city the size of Madison, there is definite room for improvement in terms of access to public transportation. Another factor to consider when thinking about the cost of living in Madison WI.

We hope this information is helpful as you consider moving to the Madison area. If you have any questions about moving to Madison or about the cost of living in Madison WI, please reach out! I’d love to help!