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Slide Show | May 2012

The 10 Least-Expensive CitiesFor Living in the U.S.A.

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It’s hard to beat the low cost of living in the South. Seven of the ten least expensive cities on our list are in Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

We compiled our rankings based on the Cost of Living Index produced by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The Index measures relative price levels for housing, utilities, transportation, grocery items, health care and miscellaneous goods and services (it does not include taxes). A composite score of 100 reflects the national average. So scores lower than 100 reflect a lower-than-average cost of living, and scores higher than 100 reflect a higher-than-average cost of living. Our rankings only include U.S. cities with metropolitan area populations of at least 75,000. Population and median household income data are from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.


The 10 Least-Expensive CitiesFor Living in the U.S.A.

1. Fort Smith, Ark.

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Cost of Living Index: 85.2
Metro Population: 288,595
Median Household Income: $35,726
Average Home Price: $223,885
Arkansas is a low-cost, low-tax state, and its second largest city, Fort Smith, is no exception. Housing, grocery and transportation costs here are well below the national average. And compared with the most-expensive city on our list, New York, everything in Fort Smith is a bargain.

1. Fort Smith, Ark.

2. Pueblo, Colo.

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© David Shankbone

Cost of Living Index: 85.9
Metro Population: 154,371
Median Household Income: $39,570
Average Home Price: $197,037
This economic hub of southeastern Colorado is just 103 miles from Denver but has a much lower cost of living. Homes in Pueblo are cheaper, on average, than in the rest of the state -- and nation. Pueblo residents also benefit from Colorado’s low state income-tax rate of 4.64% of federal taxable income.

2. Pueblo, Colo.

3. Harlingen, Tex.

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Cost of Living Index: 86.1
Brownsville/Harlingen Metro Population: 385,274
Median Household Income: $28,026
Average Home Price: $221,445

Housing prices in the southernmost city in Texas, on the Gulf Coast near the Mexican border, are well below the national average and are a big factor in the city’s overall low cost of living. The average cost of grocery items, transportation and health care also fall below the national average -- but utility costs are about 10% higher here. Brownsville/Harlingen has long been a popular destination for retirees on fixed incomes.

3. Harlingen, Tex.

4. McAllen, Tex.

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Cost of Living Index: 86.5
McAllen/Edinburg Metro Population: 706,039
Median Household Income: $28,328
Average Home Price: $213,383

Located only 50 miles away from Brownsville/Harlingen, this city in the southern tip of Texas also has extra-low housing costs. However, utility costs are higher than the national average.

4. McAllen, Tex.

5. Johnson City, Tenn.

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Cost of Living Index: 86.6
Metro Population: 193,457
Median Household Income: $36,853
Average Home Price: $217,986

Affordable homes and below-average utility, transportation and health-care costs keep the cost of living low in this city on the western edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's about a two-hour drive from Charlotte, N.C., or Knoxville, Tenn. To top it off, Tennessee has no state income tax.

5. Johnson City, Tenn.

6. Conway, Ark.

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Cost of Living Index: 86.8
Little Rock/Conway Metro Population: 699757
Median Household Income:
Average Home Price:

This city just 30 miles from Little Rock, Ark., has the highest average home price on our list -- but it still falls well below the national average. Costs for utilities and health care are extraordinarily low.

6. Conway, Ark.

7. Springfield, Ill.

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Cost of Living Index: 87.3
Metro Population: 206,445
Median Household Income: $49,116
Average Home Price: $206,715

Springfield has the lowest average home price on our list. Residents of Abraham Lincoln's adopted hometown also benefit from a low income-tax rate of 3% of federal adjusted gross income. However, transportation and health-care costs top the national average in the capital of Illinois.

7. Springfield, Ill.

8. Covington, Ky.

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Cost of Living Index: 87.4
Metro Population (including Cincinnati): 2,138,528
Median Household Income: $51,926
Average Home Price: $238,675

Although Covington is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, the cost of living in this Northern Kentucky city is lower than in its big-city neighbor. Low housing, utility and transportation costs make Covington more affordable.

8. Covington, Ky.

9. Louisville, Ky.

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Cost of Living Index: 87.7
Metro Population: 1,231,989
Median Household Income: $46,095
Average Home Price: $214,222
Louisville plays host every year to the Kentucky Derby, which draws the rich and famous. But the city’s low cost of living makes it suitable for the average Joe year-round. Housing costs well below the national average play a big role in the city’s affordability -- as do lower-than-average costs for grocery items and health care.

9. Louisville, Ky.

10. Omaha, Neb.

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Cost of Living Index: 87.9
Metro Population: 828,221
Median Household Income: $52,914
Average Home Price: $230,636
You’d think a city where one of the world’s richest men lives wouldn’t be among the most affordable. But legendary investor Warren Buffett is known for frugal ways despite his great wealth -- and Omaha’s low cost of living suits a frugal lifestyle. Unfortunately, sales and property taxes are high -- upwards of 10%.

10. Omaha, Neb.

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