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In burger prices, Juneau tops them all

NerdWallet indexes cost of living based on the price of a quarter pounder

Posted: May 15, 2013 - 12:05am
According to a NerdWallet spokeswoman, the prices in the Quarter Pounder Index are before-tax averages of quarter pounder with cheese prices over the last three financial quarters of 2012, with data being taken from the ACCRA Cost of Living Index. The current price of a quarter pounder with cheese at the McDonald's in Juneau is $4.99.  MELISSA GRIFFITHS,RANDI SPRAY | JUNEAU EMPIRE
MELISSA GRIFFITHS,RANDI SPRAY | JUNEAU EMPIRE
According to a NerdWallet spokeswoman, the prices in the Quarter Pounder Index are before-tax averages of quarter pounder with cheese prices over the last three financial quarters of 2012, with data being taken from the ACCRA Cost of Living Index. The current price of a quarter pounder with cheese at the McDonald's in Juneau is $4.99.

Juneau is not a cheap place to live. The price of gasoline has shot up since the beginning of May, and the affordability of housing in Alaska’s capital city has always been a hot-button issue.

But one website is positing a new way to look at the cost of living. And by that measure, Juneau is the most expensive city in the United States — if you have a hankering for fast food.

Juneau clocks in as the city with the costliest Quarter Pounder with Cheese at McDonald’s, according to consumer advocacy website NerdWallet.

NerdWallet created what it calls “a basic cost of living guide” by comparing the price of the well-known consumable from community to community. It dubbed the measure the “Quarter Pounder Index,” or QPI.

“We have a cost of living calculator, and the consumers have shown a lot of interest in that, comparing cities,” explained analyst Divya Raghavan on Tuesday. But she said abstract data points can be “confusing” without a relatable, concrete example, adding, “The Quarter Pounder Index makes it a little more digestible. … It’s really just making the cost of living more relatable.”

Currently, the price of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese at the McDonald’s restaurant in Juneau is $4.99. But the amount listed by NerdWallet’s QPI is $4.82, which website staff said was obtained from an average of the price over much of last year.

“The data we used is the average price across three quarters of 2012 (so that we get rid of any seasonal noise),” NerdWallet spokeswoman Julia Baily wrote in an email.

$4.82, or even $4.99, may not sound like much compared to the price of other hamburgers in Juneau. But it is more than double the pre-tax average price of $2.24 a McDonald’s customer in Conway, Ark., paid during the same period for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Raghavan wrote in a Sunday blog post on NerdWallet unveiling the QPI.

Conway has the distinction of being the city with the cheapest Quarter Pounders with Cheese, according to the index. The current price is listed in NerdWallet’s cost of living calculator as $2.25.

Alaska’s three largest cities all rank among the QPI’s ten most expensive cities for the fast food burgers, as does Honolulu.

“We do see that in the cost of living calculator in general, Alaska and Hawaii tend to be among the most expensive (states),” Raghavan said. She suggested shipping costs may be a significant factor.

The Northeast is also heavily represented among most expensive places for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in the country.

Providence, R.I., Boston and Nassau County, N.Y., grab the second, third and fourth slots on the list, with Manchester, N.H., and Portland, Maine, also ranking among the top 10.

The cheapest places for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese are predominantly Southern. According to the QPI, eight of the 10 least expensive spots for one of the burgers are in states considered part of the South by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Raghavan said the source of NerdWallet’s data is the ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which compares the cost of commodities between urban areas.

Calls to McDonald’s Southeast Alaska business office requesting comment went unreturned Tuesday.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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