Cheapest Places to Live: US Cities Edition

By Rebecca Lake · August 21, 2023 · 9 minute read

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Cheapest Places to Live: US Cities Edition

Researching the most affordable places to live might be on your to-do list if you’re hoping to move to an area with a lower cost of living. Reducing household expenses can be one of the best ways to start building wealth, or at the very least, create some financial breathing room.

We’ve put together a list of the most affordable places to live in the U.S., based on things like housing costs and overall value for the money. Keep reading to learn which cities are rated as the most budget-friendly places to call home.

Most Affordable Cities in the US

If you’re considering how to move to another state and are interested in finding the most affordable places to live in the U.S., it helps to know what makes one city better than another. Things like housing costs, the cost of utilities, and what you’ll spend on food, transportation, and entertainment can all factor into your decision if you’re planning a move.

Keep in mind that the cost of living is not static, which can affect how affordable a city is at any given time. Additionally, the cost of living by state can vary dramatically based on factors like the size of the population, demand for housing, availability of jobs, tax laws, and average household incomes.

💡 Quick Tip: We love a good spreadsheet, but not everyone feels the same. An online budget planner can give you the same insight into your budgeting and spending at a glance, without the extra effort.

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How We Found the Cheapest Places to Live

We compiled our list of the most affordable places to live in the U.S. based on the cost of living as it relates to housing. Specifically, we considered median rents for a one-bedroom apartment and median home sale prices for individual metro areas across the country. The cities that had the lowest cost of living in the U.S. overall, based on those criteria, are the ones that made the list.

What are some characteristics of the most affordable places to live? In general, the list includes:

•   An accessible housing market that isn’t pushing homeowners or renters to the limits of their budgets

•   Utility prices that are at or below the national average

•   Lower tax rates, including income tax, sales tax, and property tax

•   Pricing for groceries and fuel, as well as other goods and services, that align with the typical household income

Do the cheapest places to live always check all of these boxes? Not necessarily. But the most affordable places to live typically offer a cost of living that’s below the national average.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the cheapest places to live in the U.S.

1. Hickory, North Carolina

Median home price: $288,000

Median rent: $879

Hickory may be an ideal place to live if you love the outdoors. There’s plenty of access to hiking and biking trails and mild temperatures are perfect for kayaking or tubing down the Catawba River. In terms of affordability, Hickory offers housing and rental prices that are well below the national average. Plus, the city offers the additional advantage of being close to both Asheville and Charlotte.

2. Brownsville, Texas

Median home price: $225,500

Median rent: $700

Brownsville offers the dual advantages of moderately priced housing and being located in a state with no income tax. Home prices rise the closer you get to the Gulf of Mexico, but there are still plenty of budget-friendly options to choose from. Cold weather is a rarity here, which is a plus if you’re looking to move to a warmer climate. Keep in mind, however, that hurricanes and tropical storms occasionally pay visits to the Texas coastline.

3. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Median home price: $230,300

Median rent: $1,149

Fort Wayne could be ideal for home buyers looking for affordable housing. Renters don’t fare quite as well, as median rental prices are higher than some of the other cities included in our rankings. Overall, however, Fort Wayne has a low cost of living, and it offers a quiet place to call home while still having plenty of the amenities you’d expect to find in a bigger city.

4. Dayton, Ohio

Median home price: $207,600

Median rent: $736

Dayton is one of the most affordable places to live for both homeowners and renters alike, with home prices and rents that are well below the national average. The city of Dayton could be a good fit for families who are looking for access to a strong public school system, or for single people and childless couples who desire a relaxed pace. There are plenty of outdoor spaces to enjoy, as well as numerous options for dining and entertainment.

5. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Median home price: $354,500

Median rent: $815

If you’re looking for an area with a low cost of living that experiences all four seasons of weather, Sioux Falls might be on your list. Housing is a little more expensive here compared to some of the other cities in our rankings, but rent prices may be appealing if you’re not quite ready to buy. There’s a thriving job market, and Sioux Falls offers plenty to do, including aquariums, museums, and parks.

6. Knoxville, Tennessee

Median home price: $395,000

Median rent: $1,256

The city of Knoxville attracts a diverse mix of people who are looking for an affordable place to live, including families, young professionals, college students, and retirees. Housing prices are on the higher side here, but the overall cost of living remains low. Knoxville offers plenty to do and see, which is great for people who are hoping to maintain a more active lifestyle. It’s also just over an hour away from the Great Smoky Mountains in case you want to get away from the bustle of city life for the weekend.

7. Erie, Pennsylvania

Median home price: $177,500

Median rent: $750

Erie boasts affordable housing for both renters and homeowners, along with lakefront views and access to good schools. Erie has low levels of crime and rates well for livability. Its population isn’t growing as quickly as other comparable cities, though whether that’s a pro or a con for you might depend on whether you prefer a larger city or a smaller one. Keep in mind that slower job growth can be a side effect of lower population growth, which is something to consider if you’re moving to Erie to explore career opportunities.

8. Huntsville, Alabama

Median home price: $350,000

Median rent: $975

Huntsville has a burgeoning economy, with plenty of opportunities for job-seekers. The cost of living is low overall, though a home may cost you a little more here compared to other cheapest cities on the list. Huntsville has a number of attractions to take in, including the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, along with some eye-catching natural scenery. One thing to note about the weather is that northern Alabama is often prone to seeing tornadic activity during the spring months.

9. Peoria, Illinois

Median home price: $120,000

Median rent: $695

Peoria might make your shortlist of possible candidates for a new place to live if you’re looking for affordability, good schools, and access to housing. There are plenty of young professionals and families living here, though the population isn’t so large that you’ll feel like you’re getting lost in the crowd. If there’s one potential downside to consider it’s crime. Property and violent crime rates are both above the national average.

10. Kalamazoo, Michigan

Median home price: $195,000

Median rent: $895

Kalamazoo is something of a cultural hotspot, with plenty of theaters, museums, and live music venues. The city hosts numerous community events year-round that always draw a crowd. From a cost perspective, Kalamazoo is highly affordable, and it attracts a lot of young people who are looking to start a career. There are a few downsides, however, including harsh winters and high poverty rates.

Recommended: 10 Most Affordable Cities Based on Cost Per Square Foot of Homes

Other Factors to Consider Before Deciding Where to Live

Cost can be a major concern when planning a move. For example, you might be debating the merits of renting vs. buying, or what you might pay for things like childcare if you’re a parent or health care if you don’t have insurance.

While the financial side of things is important, there are some other things to weigh when deciding where to move. That can include things like:

•   Job opportunities if you’re moving without a job lined up

•   Access to daycare and quality schools if you have kids

•   Crime rates and overall safety

•   Access to public transportation if you’re not taking a vehicle with you

•   Climate and whether the area is vulnerable to things like tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires

•   Population size and seasonality (for example, a beach town could get crowded once summer rolls around)

•   Recreation and entertainment

Last but not least, consider how much money you might need for the move itself. If you don’t have cash on hand to cover a moving van, security deposits, or other expenses, you might need to look into financing options. For example, getting a relocation loan for moving could make it easier to get settled in your new place.

💡 Quick Tip: Income, expenses, and life circumstances can change. Consider reviewing your budget a few times a year and making any adjustments if needed.

The Takeaway

Keeping your budget in check — whether you’re relocating across the country or across town — is important when a move is in the works. For example, if you’re planning to buy a home in your new city, using an online home affordability calculator can help you pinpoint what price range you should be looking in for properties.

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What determines cost of living for a city?

Cost living is influenced by several factors, including how affordable housing is in a given location, what people pay for transportation and food, and the cost of entertainment and recreation. Areas that have a higher cost of living may also offer a higher median household income, though the two don’t always go hand in hand.

How can I lower my cost of living?

Cutting expenses is a good way to reduce your cost of living. That might include making smaller cuts to your budget, or larger ones, like downsizing your home or moving to a cheaper city. Making a move might seem impractical, but it could yield significant savings if your cost of living in your new city is much lower than it was in your previous location.

Can I borrow money to move?

Moving loans can put cash in your hands that you can use to cover the expenses of relocating. For example, you might use a moving loan to hire professional movers, rent a moving truck, pay for shipping costs, or fund deposits if you’re renting a new place. You could also use a moving loan to help cover your expenses as you get settled in until you find a job.

Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz

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