Can You Live Comfortably as a Nurse? We Crunched the Latest Numbers

Everybody will have their own definition of what it takes to live comfortably. But broadly speaking, entering the nursing profession can lead to comfortable wages.
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Published on January 16, 2024
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  • The typical nurse earns enough money to live comfortably, a BestColleges analysis found.
  • Nurses can earn comfortable livings in any state.
  • Nurse anesthetists, thanks to high median salaries, will have the easiest time making a comfortable living.

Nurses, on average, tend to make enough money each year to live a "comfortable" life.

A BestCollege analysis of national salary data and the cost of living in each state found that median salaries for registered nurses (RNs) are well above what it would take to make a comfortable living in the United States. Salaries vary depending on specialization, but all nurse concentrations are likely to command wages that would cover typical living expenses.

In particular, a nurse anesthesiology career will lead to the highest earnings on average.

Nursing Proves to Be a Pathway to Comfortable Living

People are likely to have their own definition of what it means to live comfortably.

Broadly speaking, however, there are general guidelines for defining the amount of money it takes an individual or family to live self-sufficiently.

Persis Yu, deputy executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, previously told BestColleges that the average family of four would need to make more than 300% of the federal poverty guideline to be deemed self-sufficient.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2023 poverty guidelines for the continental U.S. are:

2024 Federal Poverty Guideline, All States Except Alaska and Hawaii
Number of People in Household Poverty guideline 300% of poverty guideline
1 $15,060 $45,180
2 $20,440 $61,320
3 $25,820 $77,460
4 $31,200 $93,600
5 $36,580 $109,740
6 $41,960 $125,880
7 $47,340 $142,020
8 $52,720 $158,160

The following are the median annual salaries for the four types of nursing careers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collected data on in 2022:

Using these figures and 300% of the poverty guidelines, all four broad nursing categories could feasibly support a family of three.

An RN may have trouble living comfortably on just one nurse's salary with a family of four or more. Two RNs in a single household, however, can support a household of four or more if both are making the typical nurse's yearly salary.

Nurse midwives, NPs, and nurse anesthetists could potentially support a four-person family — potentially even a five-person family — on just one nurse's salary.

Can You Live Comfortably as a Nurse in Your State?

The estimated cost of living varies by state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

The bureau published a breakdown of the average per capita personal consumption expenditures (PCE) in each state in 2022. That formula includes what people spend on:

  • Housing and utilities
  • Healthcare
  • Food and beverages
  • Gasoline and other energy goods
  • All other personal consumption expenditures

The "other" category makes up more than half of the total PCE calculation in each state.

PCE offers an average cost of living across the entire state, but expenditures like housing could vary widely depending on what county or city a person lives in. PCE provides a rough estimate of how much a nurse may need to earn to make ends meet without outside assistance.

Living Comfortably as a Registered Nurse

Aspiring RNs must have at least an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and must pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. But once they do, comfortable wages await them.

According to the BLS, the median salary for an RN was $81,220 in May 2022, which is the most recent month of available data. Salaries vary depending on state, but each state’s median annual RN salary is still at least 28% above that state's average cost of living.

Cost-of-Living Breakdown

The state with the median salary closest to its cost of living is South Dakota. Even still, the typical RN will earn $10,000 a year more than what it costs to make ends meet in the state.

In California, the typical RN makes more than double the average cost of living in the state.

Living Comfortably as a Nurse Midwife

Nurse midwives, on average, have a higher salary than RNs, so the path to comfortable living is easier for them.

According to the BLS, the median nurse midwife salary in May 2022 was $120,880. Every state with available data reported their median nurse midwife salary was higher than that state's average cost of living, usually by a significant margin.

Cost-of-Living Breakdown

Two states proved to have significant salary outliers.

Idaho's median nurse midwife salary is just 19.9% above the state's average cost of living. It’s the only state in the U.S. that’s not above 90% of its cost of living.

West Virginia, meanwhile, proved to be a positive outlier. The median nurse midwife salary in the state is over 300% of the average cost of living. No other state was above 205% of the average cost of living.

Living Comfortably as a Nurse Practitioner

NPs make comparable salaries to nurse midwives, which means NPs also have a fairly straightforward path to living comfortably in essentially any U.S. state.

According to the BLS, the median NP salary in May 2022 was $121,610. NP salaries vary depending on each state. But in all but two states, the median salary was more than double the state's average cost of living.

Cost-of-Living Breakdown

Florida posted the smallest gap between median NP salary and average cost of living. Still, even with the lowest gap in the country, the typical NP will make 93.8% more than the average cost of living in Florida.

New Mexico boasted the largest gap. NPs in the state typically make $125,190 per year, which is 188.9% above the average cost of living in New Mexico.

Living Comfortably as a Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists, on average, make significantly more than the three other nurse professions the BLS lists, meaning they have the easiest path to comfortable living.

Currently, nurse anesthetists only need a master's degree in nursing to practice. However, beginning in 2025, they will need a minimum of a doctorate in nursing.

According to the BLS, the median nurse anesthetist salary in May 2022 was $203,090. Median salaries vary depending on each state, but even on the low end, the typical nurse anesthetist will make nearly triple their state's average cost of living.

Cost-of-Living Breakdown

Nurse anesthetists in Florida reported the smallest gap between the cost of living and the median nurse anesthetist salary. Nurse anesthetists in the state typically earn about $165,770 per year, which is 198.6% higher than the average cost of living. Florida is the only state below 200%.

West Virginia is the state with the largest gap, meaning nurse anesthetists there are most likely to live comfortably. With a median salary of $214,360, that’s 382.1% higher than the average cost of living; more than five times higher than the cost of living.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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