The cheapest small towns to live in aren't for everyone.
True, 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 sense of what inexpensive small-town living really costs, we compiled a list of the 12 cheapest small towns to live in America, with small towns defined as places with populations of approximately 10,000 to 50,000 people.
We compiled our rankings based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 265 urban areas. C2ER's Cost of Living Index measures prices for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous goods and services, such as going to a movie or getting your hair done at a salon.
The data, which sorts through thousands of prices in hundreds of cities, allowed us to pinpoint the small towns with the absolute lowest living costs. (For larger urban areas, be sure to read our list of the 25 Cheapest Places to Live: U.S. Cities Edition.)
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 so, without further ado, here are the 12 cheapest small towns to live in the U.S.
Source: C2ER's Cost of Living Index, 2022 Annual Average Data, published January 2023. Index data is based on average prices of goods and services collected during the first three quarters of 2022, with index values based on the new weights for 2023. Population data, household incomes, home values, poverty rates and other demographic information are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Local unemployment rates, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are not seasonally adjusted, and are as of April 5, 2023 for the month of February 2023, which is the latest available data.
12. Meridian, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 13.4% below U.S. average
- Population: 35,625
- Median household income: $31,198 (U.S.: $69,717)
- Median home value: $92,100 (U.S.: $281,400)
- Unemployment rate: 3.4% (U.S.: 3.5%)
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 13.4% 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 30% 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 30.4% is considerably higher than the Mississippi state rate of 19.4%.
11. Enid, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 13.6% below U.S. average
- Population: 51,129
- Median household income: $57,772
- Median home value: $123,500
- Unemployment rate: 3.1%
Enid is the first of four Sooner State locales to make the list of cheapest small towns in America. (Oklahoma City itself happens to make the list of cheapest places to live for city dwellers.)
True, with a population of more than 50,000, Enid isn't exactly a small town. But as the center of a micropolitan area with fewer than 62,000 residents in total, the Census Bureau lumps it in with smaller urban areas.
Known as the "Wheat Capital of Oklahoma," you can probably guess what one pillar of Enid's economy is all about. In addition to agriculture, major sources of employment include Vance Air Force Base, St. Mary's Regional Medical Center and AdvancePierre Foods.
A cost of living that runs 13.6% below what the average American pays only adds to Enid's budget-friendly appeal. Housing expenses are almost a quarter less than the U.S. average, and locals save big bucks on everything from groceries to utilities to transportation. Healthcare costs, however, are about 0.5% higher than the national average.
On the cultural front, the Enid Symphony Orchestra has been delighting locals ever since its founding in 1905. History buffs will want to check out the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center and Enid's historic downtown.
10. Martinsville, Virginia
- Cost of living: 14.0% below U.S. average
- Population: 13,476
- Median household income: $36,832
- Median home value: $77,600
- Unemployment rate: 4.8%
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.
On the leisure front, Martinsville is dotted with parks and outdoor recreation areas, and is known for the Piedmont Arts Association and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
But Martinsville is particularly notable as one of America's cheapest small towns. Housing expenses are 32% below the national average. Fittingly for a racing town, gasoline is about 8% 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.
9. Ponca City, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 14.4% below U.S. average
- Population: 24,499
- Median household income: $47,236
- Median home value: $102,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.5%
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).
Local attractions include the Marland Mansion, which was built by oil baron E.W. Marland in the early 20th century. It's now a museum. Dedicated in 1930, the Pioneer Woman Statute, a 30-foot-tall monument of a pioneer woman holding a young child, is also not to be missed.
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, healthcare and groceries.
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.
8. Dublin, Georgia
- Cost of living: 15.0% below U.S. average
- Population: 16,067
- Median household income: $34,970
- Median home value: $127,300
- Unemployment rate: 4.2%
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 second 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 38% lower than the U.S. average. The average price of a house in Dublin stands at $258,375, per C2ER, vs $452,510 nationally. That represents a savings of 43%. Rents, meanwhile, are cheaper by 28%.
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 $125 for the U.S. as a whole. You'll save 44% taking a yoga class or getting a haircut and a tire balance costs 20% 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 the Georgia state poverty rate.
7. Pittsburg, Kansas
- Cost of living: 15.1% below U.S. average
- Population: 20,667
- Median household income: $36,657
- Median home value: $85,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.3%
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 more than 15% below 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.
Other major employers include transportation company Watco, and Via Christi Hospital medical center.
As for leisure activities, tiny Pittsburg doesn't lack for family-friendly things to do. Area highlights include Lakeside Park, the Crawford County Historical Museum and the Pittsburg Aquatic Center.
Although median incomes are well below the national average, average home prices are a whopping $121,000 cheaper. All told, housing costs are 30% lower than what the typical American pays. Myriad other items are economical, as well. Miscellaneous goods and services run about 15% cheaper in Pittsburg. A movie ticket, for example, averages about six bucks, or roughly half the national average.
6. Ardmore, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 15.4% below U.S. average
- Population: 24,829
- Median household income: $45,797
- Median home value: $124,000
- Unemployment rate: 3.6%
Ardmore is another Sooner State locale making the list of cheapest small towns in the U.S., thanks to a cost of living that runs more than 15% below the national average.
Ardmore is about a 90-minute drive south from Oklahoma City. And just like that big city to the north, it offers citizens breaks on all kinds of daily expenses. Housing, as is always the case, leads the way in which locals save their hard-won wages. Overall housing costs, which include mortgages, rents, insurance and related expenses, are 37% cheaper in Ardmore compared to the U.S. average.
True, groceries are only about 1% cheaper than the U.S. average, but healthcare is almost 17% less expensive. Utilities, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services are all on sale, as well.
Major employers include Michelin North America, Mercy Hospital Ardmore and Valero Energy (VLO), which operates an oil refinery in the area.
Locals who love the great outdoors can avail themselves of Lake Murray State Park, while those looking to escape the brutal summer heat can find refuge in Ardmore's Greater Southwest Historical Museum. The town is also known as the home of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, a leading agricultural research institution.
5. Statesboro, Georgia
- Cost of living: 17.0% below U.S. average
- Population: 32,400
- Median household income: $35,353
- Median home value: $126,700
- Unemployment rate: 4.6%
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 36% vs 13.9% 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 28% lower compared with the national average. Healthcare is another notable bargain, running 13% below the U.S. average. An appointment with a physician, for example, costs about 11% less in Statesboro, while dental care is 25% 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. Richmond, Indiana
- Cost of living: 17.1% below U.S. average
- Population: 35,854
- Median household income: $41,569
- Median home value: $86,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.8%
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 47% lower than the national average. Average home prices are 29% less.
Healthcare is a bargain, too. For example, a visit to the eye doctor costs half the national average, while an appointment with a physician is a fifth 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.
3. Salina, Kansas
- Cost of living: 17.3% below U.S. average
- Population: 46,896
- Median household income: $52,702
- Median home value: $138,500
- Unemployment rate: 3.3%
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.
Locals catch breaks in lots of other ways, too. Groceries, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous goods and services all cost less than the national averages.
On the other hand, taxes are somewhat 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.
2. Tupelo, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 18.6% below U.S. average
- Population: 37,872
- Median household income: $58,887
- Median home value: $158,800
- Unemployment rate: 2.8%
Tupelo, which sits 110 miles southeast of Memphis's Graceland, is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Tourists flock to the town's Elvis Presley Birthplace museum and the annual Elvis Festival held in June.
Not a fan of The King? The area's leisure and cultural scene also includes the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Park and Zoo, Tombigbee National Forest, the Tupelo National Battlefield and the Tupelo Automobile Museum, among other attractions.
Tupelo's second-largest claim to fame is arguably its super-low living costs. The comprehensive cost of living comes in at nearly 19% below the national average. Housing is 37% cheaper, groceries go for 14% less and locals save about 12% on everything from transportation to healthcare to utilities.
For residents not making their livings as Elvis impersonators, major employers include North Mississippi Health Services and Cooper Tire & Rubber. Additionally, two regional banks – Renasant Bank (RNST) and BancorpSouth (BXS) – are headquartered in Tupelo.
1. Muskogee, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 21.7% below U.S. average
- Population: 37,214
- Median household income: $41,430
- Median home value: $101,100
- Unemployment rate: 3.7%
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 44% lower than the national average, according to C2ER's Cost of Living Index. Transportation, groceries and healthcare are notably cheaper, too.
Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.
A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.
Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.
In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics, demographics, real estate, cost of living indexes and more.
Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.
Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.
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