How much does it really cost to live in the Tampa Bay area?

When compared to other places in the U.S., Florida has the reputation of being relatively easy on the wallet. Given the reasonable housing rates and absence of state income tax, that narrative isn't so off base. But the truth is that our day-to-day budgets in the Tampa Bay area are impacted by much more than just our rent or mortgage payments.

Between transportation, insurance and childcare, the cost of living for local, young professionals is shaped by a number of factors. Which ones have the biggest impact? When it comes to how much it really costs to live in the Tampa Bay area, here are some key costs to consider.

Commuting comes with a price tag

For most area residents, a long work commute is par for the course. 

"The Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater areas actually have one of the longest average commutes of any metropolitan area in the country," says Holly P. Thomas, a Tampa-based certified Financial Planner and Economist. "We have a lot of outlying suburbs, and people will drive a long way for a job."

At first glance, commuting costs don't necessarily stand out as a major cost-of-living indicator. But, according to Thomas, driving to and from work every day can majorly impact your budget. Fluctuating gas prices combined with on-the-rise tolls are obvious concerns. And when you factor in the cost of insuring and maintaining your car, it's easy to see the dollar signs adding up.

Ara Hurak, a 33-year-old father of two, shaved 20 miles off his daily commute when he moved his family from the Wesley Chapel suburb of Pasco County to Safety Harbor in Pinellas County last year.

"I commute to St. Pete every day, so living in Safety Harbor saves me a lot in gas," says Hurak.

The reduced commute time was a driving force in his decision to relocate.

The average annual cost for driving, insuring and maintaining a car in Florida is $2,516, third highest in the nation, according to a 2014 study by Bankrate. That doesn't include the car's purchase.

An expanded public transit system that is more easily accessible could also be a solution. Passes for unlimited rides on PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) and HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) buses, for example, cost up to $95 a month or under $1,200 a year.

Housing costs play a major role

On the whole, housing costs are more reasonable in these parts than, say, South Florida. (The median price for a single-family home in Miami is $250,000, while the average 3-bedroom home in the Tampa area goes for $175,000. 

Of course, it's all relative; prices fluctuate depending on your proximity to water and happening, downtown areas and whether you’re renting or buying.

"For four-bedroom family homes close to downtown St. Petersburg, you could be looking anywhere from $600,000 to $800,000," says Liane Jamason, a local real estate agent with Smith and Associates.

Jamason adds that St. Pete and South Tampa are especially booming right now, with average home sales in South Tampa landing between $500,000 to $800,000. Prices drop off in outlying areas like Riverview, Brandon, Largo and Seminole. Northern Pinellas County is also likely to snag you some more reasonable housing rates, she says.

But taxes and insurance can't be overlooked, especially if you're in a designated flood zone. 

"The house I live in is 1,600 square feet and not on the water, but I still pay $3,000 a year for flood insurance," says Jamason.

For those who aren't looking to buy, the average monthly rent in the Tampa area lands at just under $1,000 a month, according to a recent report in The Tampa Tribune. Rent Jungle, which features local apartment listings, reports that two-bedrooms go for about $1,161. Opting for a roommate would cut that number in half.

Property taxes can add up

While Florida has no state income tax, property taxes are indeed a key cost-of-living indicator for Tampa residents. According to Thomas, a lot of people looking to move to this area tend to forget about this. 

"There's no free lunch; you're going to pay for it in your property taxes," she says. "The state gets the money one way or another, so people get sticker shock when they see the property taxes because they just don't think about it."

Another often-overlooked factor comes back to property insurance. For example, Thomas says that Tampa-area homeowners can expect to have a 2 percent hurricane deductible. This means that in addition to the cost of the premium, people will also be responsible for covering part of the damage sustained by an unexpected hurricane.

"If you have a $200,000 house, then the first $4,000 of damage is out of your pocket," says Thomas.

Childcare is a key factor for many

The cost of childcare is perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle for many Tampa-area families. For Hurak, who has two young daughters who aren't yet old enough for school, childcare is the most significant line item on his budget.

"Daycare is the biggest factor for us," he says, adding that he and his wife, Jill, pay roughly $430 per week in childcare bills. 

That works out to about $1,700 a month, which he says is the same as what he was paying in Wesley Chapel. For parents like Hurak, the price is unavoidable because both he and his wife work full time. 

What the Huraks are paying seems typical. For example, Tampa-area childcare center Kids R Kids charges $250 a week for infant care during the summer months. (Rates go up to $260 in August.) Parents of preschool kids can expect to pay anywhere from $185 to $200 a week.
 
The numbers are a little better statewide. According to a 2012 report from Child Care Aware of America, the average annual cost of full-time, center-based care in Florida is $8,299.
 
Of course, there are cost-effective alternatives available. The hourly babysitting rate in the Tampa area lands at $13.50, according to Care.com. This certainly reduces the cost for families that don't need full-time care. Plus, Florida boasts free VPK (voluntary prekindergarten) for children who are 4 years old at the start of the school year.

Even though Hurak will have to take the daycare hit regardless of where he lives, he couldn't be happier with his move to Safety Harbor.
 
"Taxes and homeowner's insurance are a bit more expensive," says Hurak, adding that leaving Tampa did eliminate his HOA fee. "But Safety Harbor is really family-oriented, and we're closer to the water."
 
In other words, it's all a tradeoff. 

To suggest additional story ideas, email 83 Degrees.

To subscribe to our free weekly e-magazine, follow this link.

Read more articles by Marianne Hayes.

Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
Signup for Email Alerts