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The Cost of Living Diaries: Champaign, IL

How much does it cost to live in Champaign? We got a local to tell us all the details.

By Erica Buehler on December 30, 2022

Eberfest Virginia Theater in Champaign, IL.
Courtesy of Visit Champaign County

Champaign County in central Illinois has it all: a thriving university and diverse community; plenty of good food, drinks and ways to stay entertained; and an affordable housing market, whether you’re renting or buying. It has a 29% lower cost of living than Chicago, an average commute time of 15 minutes and consistently lands on our Best College Towns lists. But what does it cost to live in Champaign-Urbana? We chatted with a local to find out, from coffee and cocktails to some of the area’s coolest festivals and events.

Londonn Blake headshot

Name: Lonndon Blake
Age: 36
City: Savoy (a village in Champaign County)

How long have you lived in Champaign County?
I currently live in Savoy and have lived here for a little over ten years. I went to school in Charleston for my undergraduate degree, and I’m originally from Bloomington. Champaign was the sweet spot in the middle; I just always wanted to stay.

What is the typical rent for the greater Champaign-Urbana area?
Rent is anywhere upwards of $1,100-$2,000 for a one-to-two-bedroom apartment, depending on the area. I would say the square footage of said one-bedroom is approximately 750 square feet.

Are there affordable modes of transportation in the greater Champaign area?
A really cool perk of the bus system is that if you are a University of Illinois student, staff member, or retiree, it’s free to use the bus with your I-card. All others pay $1 per trip. We also have an Amtrak station in Downtown Champaign that is approximately $25 each way to Chicago (about a 2.5 to 3-hour train ride).

Exterior of Literary in Champaign, IL.
Courtesy of Visit Champaign County

What do you like to do for fun in Champaign-Urbana, especially if you’re on a budget?
It’s only a couple of dollars for a cup of coffee, probably $5 at the maximum. I like The Literary coffee shop and wine bar, where the cocktails aren’t any more than $7. The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts also has a lot of local and touring performances, too.

We have so many festivals year-round that are free, so even if you’re visiting Champaign on a budget, you’ll still be able to enjoy the city. We host Ebertfest each year, but my absolute favorite is the Boneyard Arts Festival, held every spring. We also have Friday Night Live in the warmer months, which showcases local bands each Friday night on the corners of Downtown Champaign.

Are there any other activities someone can enjoy that are low-cost?
Aside from budget-friendly entertainment options, we also have a great civic community here; there’s a lot of great local nonprofits that cater to everyone’s passions. The Junior League of Champaign-Urbana is the one I work with the most, but there’s also The United Way of Champaign County.

Is there decent access to grocery stores and restaurants in the Champaign-Urbana area?
All of our grocery stores are on the bus line, so even if you don’t have a vehicle, you can always access them. We have larger grocery store chains as well as a lot of local ones, plus co-ops, international grocery stores, and some of the most diverse restaurants in the nation, too (a reflection of the large international population that comes for the University of Illinois).

Does someone moving to Champaign-Urbana have a fair chance at finding a job there?
Yes, there are plenty of jobs at the University of Illinois, and we also have two large hospitals — including the Carle Foundation Hospital — as well as a midsize clinic. Champaign is also home to the Kraft Heinz plant, which provides a large number of jobs every year.

Big Grove Tavern in Champaign, IL.
© 2012 Justine Bursoni Photography www.justinebursoni.com

You have a friend coming to visit you in Champaign-Urbana; where do you take them?
First, we’d go to Sun Singer for brunch, where it’s about $100 for two people to have a really great meal and two cocktails each. Then we’d head to the Virginia Theater, which features a lot of throwback movies and often has really affordable tickets, sometimes as low as $3 each.

For afternoon/happy hour cocktails, we’d go to Punch! Bar & Lounge or Big Grove Tavern, both of which have really great and affordable drinks and food.

If the weather’s nice and we feel like doing something outdoorsy, there are several public golf courses in the area; my favorite is the University of Illinois Golf Course. We also have a lot of really great hiking trails and gardens at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, which is a little further out in Monticello, but worth the drive.

What is your favorite part(s) about living in the greater Champaign-Urbana area?
My favorite thing about living in Champaign is that there’s an opportunity to have every kind of experience. No matter where you are in your life, there’s something for you here. Speaking as a young professional, you get a high-quality experience for an affordable price; I feel I’m able to live pretty comfortably here given the job market and housing affordability, and you’re able to save while still enjoying the fun and entertaining aspects of life.

This article was sponsored by Visit Champaign County.

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