By Amrita Jayakumar
The Washington Post
— Looking for a good deal on a six-pack of beer? Try Charlotte. A haircut that won't burn a hole in your wallet? Harlingen, Texas, is your best bet. A trip to the movies? Hilo, Hawaii, is supposed to be nice this time of year.
That's according to the latest cost-of-living index, released last week by the Council for Community and Economic Research, which takes into account the average price of everything from a bottle of shampoo to a mortgage in more than 300 urban areas.
The areas ranked as the most expensive places to live in the first quarter included most of the usual suspects, with New York's Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs taking the top two slots on the list. And for the third year in a row, Washington snagged a spot in the top 10, driven by the region's high-priced housing market and relative immunity from the economic downturn.
"Since the beginning of the Great Recession, Washington has catapulted itself into the top 10 based on the housing market," said Dean Frutiger, project manager for the Cost of Living Index at the council. Washington, which took ninth place in the first quarter, had traditionally remained just shy of the top 10 high-cost urban areas, often swapping places with Boston, Frutiger said.
Overall, the Washington area was about 42 percent more expensive compared with the national average.
Housing in the region was more than twice as expensive as in the rest of the country. Groceries were about 13 percent more expensive, while health care was 1.6 percent more expensive. The region's cost of living dropped slightly from the same time last year but was higher than in 2011.
For the third consecutive year, the city with the lowest cost of living was Harlingen, Texas. On average, a haircut there costs $7.38, compared with $16.17 in Washington. A movie ticket in Hilo will set you back only $5.68. In Manhattan, it's $13.50.
A two-liter bottle of Coke costs an average of $1.74 in Washington, $2.76 in Fairbanks, Alaska, and only $1.21 in Ardmore, Okla.
California's cities are making a comeback as the housing market there improves, Frutiger said. A resurgence in home prices, fueled by high demand and low inventory, is driving up the cost of living in metro areas such as Los Angeles and Orange County.
The index is calculated by measuring how much goods and services cost in six categories: housing, utilities, transportation, groceries, health care and miscellaneous items. The index doesn't account for inflation and uses the pretax value of goods and services, so actual figures may vary.