Are you weary of standing in line for $10 cronuts and paying $50 per day to park your car? The list of 10 cities below will provide an instant boost to your budget through their low cost of living. The information for each city was compiled from data collected and analyzed by the Council for Community and Economic Research into the 2013 Cost of Living Index (COLI), which examined factors ranging from food prices to transportation.
As it turns out, if you are seeking the most bang for your Benjamins, you would be wise to set your sights south of the Mason-Dixon Line or west of the Mississippi. It turns out that Southern hospitality or Western adventure spirit extends to the cost of living in many urban areas. You should also be prepared for a somewhat slower pace of life than you may encounter in a major metropolis like Chicago or New York City. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll be moving to Mayberry, which isn’t even a real place. The cities on this list have populations of at least 50,000 residents, none of which are named Barney Fife.
1. Idaho Falls, Idaho
- Cost of Living: 12% below average
- City Population: 57,646
- Median Household Income: $45,990 (U.S.: $52,762)
- Median Home Value: $146,900 (U.S.: $186,200)
Situated just west of the Grant Teton mountain range, Idaho Falls gifts its residents with spectacular vistas. Its residents also have plenty of disposable income to enjoy all that gorgeous scenery, with housing prices that are nearly 30 percent below the national average. Homeowners benefit; households with middle-class incomes can afford spacious accommodations that would tax the budget of many trust fund babies in the big city. Apartment dwellers also benefit, with apartment rents averaging a modest $655 per month, as compared with the national average rental of $870. And this being Idaho, you would expect potato prices to be lower, and they are. Spuds cost an average 26 percent less here than in the rest of the country.
2. Conway, Arkansas
- Cost of Living: 12.1% below average
- City Population: 60,470
- Median Household Income: $44,745
- Median Home Value: $147,400
Conway may be a small city, but it is located an easy 30-mile drive north of Little Rock, tucked between the Arkansas River and Lake Conway. This fortunate location allows Conway’s residents access to both natural beauty and the bright lights of the big city. Health care is especially affordable; doctors’ visits cost 17 percent less than the national average, while dental checkups are 23 percent cheaper than in other parts of the country. Maintaining a clear vision is more affordable in Conway, with optometrist fees averaging 19 percent cheaper than anywhere else in the country.
3. Springfield, Illinois
- Cost of Living: 12.3% below average
- City Population: 117,076
- Median Household Income: $48,022
- Median Home Value: $114,100
Chicagoans call Springfield “downstate,” but as the state capital, Springfield is abuzz with activity, especially for political animals. At the same time, prices are more affordable all around, especially home prices, which average less than half the cost of comparable homes in and around Chicago. Utility costs are also low, averaging more than 15 percent below the national average.
4. Pueblo, Colorado
- Cost of Living: 12.9% below average
- City Population: 107,577
- Median Household Income: $34,750
- Median Home Value: $118,400
Another small city with proximity to a much larger metropolis, Pueblo, is located 100 miles from Denver. Home prices are approximately half of the values for homes in the rest of the state. But in Pueblo, affordability has a dark side – a low median income with a resulting high rate of poverty – nearly a quarter ofPueblo’s residents live below the poverty line. Unemployment is also above 10 percent. But if you have a portable career as an entrepreneur or have the means to operate your own business, this charming city will allow your dollars to stretch further than elsewhere in the state.
5. Wichita Falls, Texas
- Cost of Living: 13.6% below average
- City Population: 103,931
- Median Household Income: $42,559
- Median Home Value: $90,500
Nearly everything is bigger in Texas than anywhere else in the country, but it turns out that housing prices are not among the inflated values in Wichita Falls. Apartment rents in Wichita Falls average an amazing $565 per month, a more than $300 discount from average rents in the rest of the country. But nearby Sheppard Air Force base provides an economic boost to the community as a major employer, boosting the average income and keeping the local unemployment rate low.
6. Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Cost of Living: 14% below average
- City Population: 75,102
- Median Household Income: $35,970
- Median Home Value: $177,900
This affordable city could very well be called Misarkok or some variation of a name that incorporates its location close to both Missouri and Oklahoma, as well as the Ozark National Forest. Oh, and the University of Arkansas, which not only gives Fayetteville a college town atmosphere but also provides residents with a multitude of jobs, resulting in a lower-than-average unemployment rate. Although incomes are modest, housing, utility and transportation costs are low. The headquarters of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is also located nearby in Bentonville.
7. Memphis, Tennessee
- Cost of Living: 14% below average
- City Population: 652,050
- Median Household Income: $37,072
- Median Home Value: $99,000
A bona fide big city, Memphis hugs the mighty Mississippi. Home to world-famous Beale Street, world-class ribs AND Graceland, Memphis has enough culture and excitement to satisfy nearly anyone who yearns for urban life. But like much of the South, Memphis is especially affordable where home prices are concerned, with single-family homes available for less than $100,000. Boasting the headquarter of FedEx, International Paper and AutoZone, all of which reside in the Fortune 500, as well as major institutions of higher learning, Memphis also has plentiful employment opportunities.
8. Norman, Oklahoma
- Cost of Living: 14.4% below average
- City Population: 113,273
- Median Household Income: $46,595
- Median Home Value: $147,100
For low unemployment and the cost of living and a relatively high average income, it’s hard to beat Norman, Oklahoma. And if you yearn for the excitement of the big city, Oklahoma City is just north of Norman. Apartment rents average just $647 per month, a full $100 below average apartment rents in Oklahoma City. Staying well is less expensive in Norman, too – averaging more than 20 percent less than in Oklahoma City. The downside? Norman is right in the middle of Tornado Alley, which makes it an appropriate location for the National Weather Center.
9. McAllen, Texas
- Cost of Living: 14.6% below average
- City Population: 133,742
- Median Household Income: $39,193
- Median Home Value: $105,300
First, the good – housing and food costs are low and income is relatively high. McAllen also boasts a multicultural vibe, with a population that is almost 85 percent Latino, with nearly 80 percent of the population speaking something other than English as a first language. Located on the banks of the Rio Grande, McAllen enjoys great cross-pollination between itself and Reynosa on the other side of the Mexican border, as well as with Monterrey. The bad? High unemployment and the constant threat of a spillover of the drug-related violence that is prevalent in Mexico
10. Harlingen, Texas
- Cost of Living: 180.2% below average
- City Population: 66,122
- Median Household Income: $35,267
- Median Home Value: $77,900
Located due east of McAllen, Harlingen also boasts meager costs for both housing and groceries. The downside is that unemployment is persistently in double digits and nearly one-third of the city’s residents live in poverty, with a median income that is more than $17,000 below the national average. On the other hand, just as in Pueblo, if you are an entrepreneur or freelancer with a portable career, your disposable income would receive a huge boost, and with sunny Mexico situated at your front door, your next vacation is a hop, skip and a jump away.
So much for the cities with the lowest cost of living. What about major cities? Find out how much your paycheck would be worth in major US cities.
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Audrey Henderson is a Chicagoland-based writer and researcher. She holds advanced degrees in sociology and law from Northwestern University. Her writing specialties are sustainable development in the built environment, policy related to arts and popular culture, socially and ecologically responsible travel, civic tech and personal finance.