12 Cheapest Small Towns in America
Affordable small towns might not be for everyone, but their charms put them among the best places to live for plenty of folks.
Small-town living has plenty of perks: light traffic, a strong sense of community and a slower pace of life. Perhaps best of all, there's the cost of living, which typically is cheaper in small towns than in expensive big cities.
To get a better sense of what inexpensive small-town living really has to offer, we compiled a list of the 12 cheapest small towns in America, with small towns defined as places with populations of 10,000 to 50,000 people. We based our rankings on the Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 267 urban areas. C2ER's expansive study tracks thousands of prices under the categories of housing, utilities, healthcare, groceries, transportation, and miscellaneous goods and services (such as an appointment with a physician or a ticket to the cinema).
It goes without saying that you should weigh the pros and cons before you pack up and relocate to one of the 12 cheapest small towns in America. While a low cost of living is attractive, it can be offset by issues such as scarce jobs, small paychecks or a lack of things to do in the area. Plan an extended visit to ensure the small town fits your lifestyle. And if you prefer larger locales, consider our list of the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.
Without further ado, here are the 12 cheapest small towns in America.
C2ER's Cost of Living Index data is based on average prices of goods and services collected for the first three quarters of 2021, with index values based on the new weights for 2022. Population figures, median household incomes, median home values, poverty rates and other demographic data are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Unemployment rates, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are as of April 27 for the month of March 2022, and are neither smoothed nor seasonally adjusted.
12. Meridian, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 12.5% below U.S. average
- Population: 37,252
- Median household income: $30,088 (U.S.: $64,994)
- Median home value: $84,300 (U.S.: $229,800)
- Unemployment rate: 3.5% (U.S.: 3.6%)
Meridian was rebuilt from 1890 to 1930 after being almost totally destroyed in the Civil War. As a result, it has not one but nine registered historic districts. The Highland Park Dentzel Carousel, dating back to 1909, is one of the more whimsical ones.
Meridian's other claim to fame is as the birthplace of Jimmie Rodgers, known as the "Father of Country Music." Music remains a centerpiece of Meridian's cultural scene to this day.
Today, the federal government plays an important role in its economic life, as Naval Air Station Meridian and Key Field are two of the largest employers.
Happily, the men and women in uniform – as well as all of Meridian's civilian citizens – catch a break on living costs, which stand 12.5% below the U.S. average. But what really pushes Meridian onto the list of America's absolute cheapest small towns is its comparatively modest housing costs. Indeed, housing expenses are 28% lower than what the average American pays.
Meridian's older residents also benefit from the fact that Mississippi is one of the more tax-friendly states for retirees.
Sadly, as with several of the small towns on this list, Meridian's low cost of living comes at a high price. Its poverty rate of 29.1% is considerably higher than the Mississippi state rate of 19.6%.
11. Nacogdoches, Texas
- Cost of living: 14.6% below U.S. average
- Population: 32,912
- Median household income: $35,050
- Median home value: $151,800
- Unemployment rate: 3.9%
The town of Nacogdoches traces its roots back to an early 18th century Spanish colonial mission. Needless to say, it's come a long way ever since. As home to Stephen F. Austin State University, the self-proclaimed "Oldest Town in Texas" is very much a college town today.
The college town setting helps keep costs under wraps. Overall living expenses run nearly 15% below the national average, led by affordable housing, which is a third less pricey. Healthcare, groceries and transportation are all significantly cheaper too. Utilities, however, run about 8% above the U.S. average, thanks to Nacogdoches' hot, oppressive summers.
The folks of Nacogdoches also benefit from the fact that Texas has no state income tax.
Visitors looking to get a feel for what East Texas pioneer life was like will want to check out Millard's Crossing Historic Village. But then Downtown Nacogdoches, with its red brick streets and carefully preserved historic buildings, maintains much of its old-timey East Texas character as it is.
Locals in need of a break from college town life can drive to Dallas or Houston in less than three hours. If nothing else, such mega metro-area visits should remind them of their enviably low costs of living.
10. Ponca City, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 14.9% below U.S. average
- Population: 23,940
- Median household income: $44,281
- Median home value: $102,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.7%
Ponca City traces its lineage back to the days of the Land Run of 1893, when pioneers decided to build a town in north-central Oklahoma near the Arkansas River and a freshwater spring. Not long after its founding, enterprising oil men successfully drilled wells in the area, and Ponca City remains an oil town to this day. Some of the area's largest employers include energy firms such as Schlumberger (SLB), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Phillips 66 (PSX).
Household incomes are well below the national median, but housing is a heck of a deal. The median value of a Ponca City home is just $102,600. Nationally, it's $229,800. Indeed, total housing costs are roughly just two-thirds of what the average American pays, according to C2ER's Cost of Living Index. Residents also catch a break on all manner of miscellaneous goods and services, which run 16% below the national average.
Although it's among the cheapest small towns in America, Ponca City's low costs of living do come at a cost of their own: The town sits pretty much smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley.
9. Martinsville, Virginia
- Cost of living: 15.1% below U.S. average
- Population: 12,646
- Median household income: $36,166
- Median home value: $79,000
- Unemployment rate: 5.3%
Martinsville needs no introduction to race fans. The tiny Virginia town, an hour's drive south of Roanoke, lays claim to the Martinsville Speedway of NASCAR fame. Racing enthusiasts laud the short track for its tight turns and intimate seating.
Beyond the track, manufacturing has always been central to the area's economy, and although a number of firms have moved on over the past decades, factory work remains important. Major employers include Eastman Chemical (EMN), a manufacturer of plastics, and Monogram Foods.
Martinsville has a rich history dating back to colonial times, and the town boasts multiple historic districts and historic sites, including the John Waddey Carter House and the Dry Bridge School.
But Martinsville also is notable as one of America's cheapest small towns. Housing expenses are 29% below the national average. Fittingly for a racing town, gasoline is about 9% cheaper per gallon.
And in another source of savings, Martinsville's older citizens benefit from Virginia's status as a tax-friendly state for retirees.
8. Burlington, Iowa
- Cost of living: 15.3% below U.S. average
- Population: 24,858
- Median household income: $46,707
- Median home value: $94,000
- Unemployment rate: 5.0%
Burlington sits on the Mississippi River, about a 170-mile drive east of Des Moines. Manufacturing has long been a staple of the area’s economy, but a number of major companies have left over the years. Today, top area employers include Great River Health Systems and American Ordnance, which makes ammunition for the U.S. military.
Utilities in Burlington are close to 9% more expensive than the national average, but pretty much everything else – from healthcare to transportation to groceries – is notably less expensive. Affordable housing, however, is what makes Burlington a truly economical small town. Housing-related costs are 38% lower than what the average American pays. Rents, on average, are 40% less than the national average.
True, median incomes are 28% lower than the national figure, but then median home values are cheaper by about 60%.
7. Dublin, Georgia
- Cost of living: 15.5% below U.S. average
- Population: 15,762
- Median household income: $32,095
- Median home value: $123,900
- Unemployment rate: 3.7%
Tiny Dublin, Georgia, punches well above its population-size weight. This town situated about halfway between Atlanta and Savannah hosts three institutions of higher education (Georgia Military College, Oconee Fall Line Technical College and Middle Georgia State University all have campuses there), a Veterans Administration Medical Center, and two nationally recognized historic districts.
And yet it also boasts the lowest housing costs on our list of cheapest small towns. Whether residents buy or rent, expenses related to keeping a roof over one's head are 40% lower than the U.S. average. The average price of a house in Dublin stands at $239,067, per C2ER, vs. $398,690 nationally. That likewise represents a savings of 40%. Rents, meanwhile, are cheaper by 37%.
Locals catch breaks on everything from groceries to transportation to utilities to miscellaneous goods and services, as well. A trip to the doctor averages $75, vs. more than $117 for the U.S. as a whole. You'll save 40% taking a yoga class or getting a haircut, and a tire rebalance costs 13% less.
And in a special break for Dublin's senior citizens, Georgia happens to be one of the more tax-friendly states for retirees.
Sadly, too many of Dublin's residents struggle despite its low costs of living. The town's poverty rate is more than double that of the state of Georgia.
6. Salina, Kansas
- Cost of living: 16.4% below U.S. average
- Population: 46,706
- Median household income: $49,870
- Median home value: $133,500
- Unemployment rate: 2.8%
The small town of Salina sits at the intersection of Interstates 70 and 135, about 90 miles north of Wichita and 175 miles west of Kansas City.
Manufacturing and healthcare are among the town's most important industries. Major employers include Schwan's Company, the maker of Tony's frozen pizza; Great Plains Manufacturing, which serves the agricultural industry; and the Salina Regional Health Center. Salina is also home to several institutions of higher education, including the University of Kansas School of Medicine Salina Campus and Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.
Salina's economic mix has proven adept at delivering both low unemployment and low living costs. Housing expenses come in at roughly two-thirds of the national average, according to C2ER. Groceries are much cheaper too, running about 12% less than the national average.
Not everything in Salina is a bargain, however. Utility bills are almost 2% higher than the U.S. average, and healthcare costs about 1% more than what the typical American spends. Additionally, taxes are burdensome statewide. In fact, Kansas rates as one of the least tax-friendly states for middle-class families, largely because of a high sales tax.
5. Statesboro, Georgia
- Cost of living: 17.3% below U.S. average
- Population: 32,115
- Median household income: $32,790
- Median home value: $115,100
- Unemployment rate: 4.3%
As home to the flagship campus of Georgia Southern University, Statesboro offers many of the benefits of college-town living but at exceedingly affordable prices. Thanks to its status as an academic hub, cultural attractions tied to the local university include a performing arts center, symphony, museum, planetarium and botanic gardens.
Another perk? The charming city of Savannah is just an hour's drive to the southeast.
Although the university is the area's largest employer, manufacturing jobs also play an important part in the local economy. At the same time, it should be noted that Statesboro has a high poverty rate of 37.7% vs. 14.3% for the state of Georgia as a whole.
Statesboro's place among America's cheapest small towns is largely due to housing costs, which are 32% lower compared with the national average. Healthcare is another notable bargain, running 12% below the U.S. average. An appointment with a physician, for example, costs about 12% less in Statesboro, while dental care is 27% cheaper, according to C2ER's Cost of Living Index.
Just watch out for taxes. While Georgia is generally a great state for retirees, income and sales taxes can put a pinch on middle-class families.
4. Pittsburg, Kansas
- Cost of living: 17.8% below U.S. average
- Population: 20,096
- Median household income: $34,353
- Median home value: $86,800
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
Pittsburg is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive due south from Kansas City on Route 69. When you get there, you'll find a small town with a cost of living nearly 18% lower than the national average.
Once upon a time, the town was known for its abundance of coal and the Southern and Eastern European immigrants who worked the mines. Today, the area relies more heavily on higher education, thanks to the presence of Pittsburg State University. Famous alumni of Pittsburg's local university include actor Gary Busey and Brian Moorman, retired two-time Pro Bowl punter for the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
Although median incomes are almost $31,000 below the national average, average home prices are a whopping $126,163 cheaper. All told, housing costs are less than two-thirds of what the typical American pays. Myriad other items are economical, as well. A haircut will set you back an average of $16.64 vs. $20.43 nationally. A dozen eggs cost $1.31, whereas the average American pays $1.58.
3. Richmond, Indiana
- Cost of living: 18.0% below U.S. average
- Population: 35,467
- Median household income: $40,871
- Median home value: $86,300
- Unemployment rate: 2.9%
Few cities of any size can claim Richmond's place in the early history of recorded jazz. Some of the first jazz records were made in this small town, featuring greats such as Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. There's a Walk of Fame celebrating jazz and other artists who recorded with Richmond's Gennett Records.
While jazz will always be part of its history, today's Richmond, which is an hour's drive west from Dayton, Ohio, is known more for its colleges and seminaries. They include Indiana University East, the Earlham School of Religion (part of Quaker-influenced Earlham College) and the Bethany Theological Seminary.
Inexpensive housing is a key to Richmond's place among our nation's cheapest small towns. Residents spend a third less on housing than the average American does. Apartment rents are 45% lower than the national average. Average home prices are 25% less.
Healthcare is a bargain, too. For example, a visit to the eye doctor costs half the national average. An appointment with a physician is 30% less expensive.
The Hoosier State isn’t terribly tax-friendly, however, thanks to a high general sales tax and the fact that many counties impose their own income taxes.
2. Tupelo, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 18.7% below U.S. average
- Population: 38,251
- Median household income: $54,691
- Median home value: $148,900
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
Tupelo's biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Indeed, the town, 110 miles southeast of Memphis's Graceland, is looking forward to hosting its 24th annual Elvis Festival in June.
Not a fan of The King? The cultural scene also includes the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Tupelo Automobile Museum.
But Tupelo's second-biggest claim to fame is arguably its super-low living costs. Electric and gas bills are about 13% lower than the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index. Housing is 35% cheaper and groceries go for 14% less.
For residents not making a living as Elvis impersonators, major employers include North Mississippi Health Services, Cooper Tire & Rubber and BancorpSouth (BXS), which is headquartered in Tupelo.
1. Muskogee, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 21.3% below U.S. average
- Population: 37,337
- Median household income: $38,218
- Median home value: $98,800
- Unemployment rate: 3.6%
Muskogee is the cheapest small town in America, and it packs a lot of history, culture and higher education into a pint-sized package.
Located about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa, the town traces its roots back to 1817. It's home to four institutions of higher learning, as well as the Oklahoma School for the Blind. Jim Thorpe – All-American, the 1951 film starring Burt Lancaster, was shot on the campus of what was then known as the Bacone Indian University in Muskogee. The town also boasts six museums and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
And let's not forget what is arguably the town's most famous appearance in popular culture: Merle Haggard's hit song "Okie from Muskogee," which became an emblem of Vietnam-era America.
Today, the area's employers include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a VA medical center and paper company Georgia-Pacific.
But what really puts Muskogee on the map is its ultra-low cost of living. The biggest break comes from housing-related expenses, which are 40% lower than the national average, according to C2ER's Cost of Living Index. Transportation, groceries and healthcare are notably cheaper, too.