When it comes to finding the cheapest places to live in the U.S. for city dwellers, the best locations to settle down are mostly south of the Mason-Dixon line. Alabama and Texas are just a couple of the Southern states making multiple appearances on our list of the cheapest places to live among U.S. cities.
But if you're thinking about relocating to one of these places with the lowest costs of living, just remember to weigh the pros and cons. Cheap prices are attractive, but the allure can fade if jobs are hard to come by, paychecks are small or the area offers little to do. Plan an extended visit to ensure that one of these cheapest places to live fits your needs.
"It is undeniable that larger metro areas like New York and Los Angeles offer better opportunities for higher paying jobs," notes Tyler Baines, cost of living project manager and research analyst at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness. "But jobseekers should not only consider the size of their paycheck when figuring out where they should call home."
To that last point, Kiplinger has extensive experience in covering real estate, demographics and cost of living data for jobseekers, would-be homeowners, remote workers and retirees.
How we found the cheapest places to live
Our analysis of the cheapest places to live in the U.S. is based upon the Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 265 urban areas. We then limited ourselves to metro areas with at least 50,000 inhabitants. We further supplemented C2ER's research with data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
(For smaller urban areas, be sure to read our list of the 12 Cheapest Small Towns in America.)
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.
Thanks to that data – which sorts through 90,000 prices covering 60 different items in hundreds of cities – we were able to pinpoint the places with the absolute lowest costs of living.
And make no mistake, the difference between the priciest place to live and cheapest places to live in the U.S. is striking.
"The after-tax cost for a professional/managerial standard of living ranges from more than twice the national average in Manhattan, New York, to more than 20% below the national average in Harlingen, Texas," notes C2ER.
Read on for our latest list of the 25 cheapest places to live, in the U.S., for city dwellers.
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. Metro-level data on populations, household incomes, home values, poverty rates and other demographic information are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Metropolitan area unemployment rates, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are not seasonally adjusted, and are as of March 17, 2023 for the month of January 2023, which is the latest available data.
25. Sioux City, Iowa
- Cost of living: 13.3% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 149,400
- Median household income: $64,232 (U.S.: $69,717)
- Median home value: $159,300 (U.S.: $281,400)
- Unemployment rate: 2.9% (U.S.: 3.6%)
Sioux City is the first of three Iowa metro areas to make our list of cheapest places to live for U.S. city dwellers. Tucked away in the northwest corner of the state about 100 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska, Sioux City serves as a regional hub for business, medical care and higher education in the Northwest Iowa, Southeast South Dakota and Northeast Nebraska regions.
And it does so with an overall cost of living more than 13% below the national average. As is typically the case, affordable housing leads the way in keeping costs in check. Overall housing costs – which include mortgages, rents, insurance and related expenses – run 30% below the national average. Utilities are another outsized bargain at 15% less than what the average American pays.
Transportation and miscellaneous goods and services are also less expensive in the Sioux City metro area, but healthcare costs about 5% more than the national average.
Happily for locals, this relatively small city punches well above its weight when it comes to opportunities for higher education. Briar Cliff University, Morningside College and St. Luke's College of Nursing are just a few of the academic institutions calling Sioux City home.
On the entertainment and cultural fronts, Sioux City hosts everything from the Sioux City Bandits professional indoor football team to the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra and the Sioux City Art Center.
24. South Bend, Indiana
- Cost of living: 13.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 323,695
- Median household income: $59,416
- Median home value: $163,700
- Unemployment rate: 4.2%
South Bend is best known for the University of Notre Dame and its illustrious college football program. In addition to being a major employer, the presence of so many graduate and undergraduate students also helps keep costs in check.
The overall cost of living in the metro area runs nearly 14% below the national average. Comparatively affordable housing leads the way in which locals save money. Overall housing costs run 17% below the national average, but residents also catch big breaks on transportation, healthcare, groceries and miscellaneous goods and services.
The presence of both Notre Dame University and Indiana University South Bend boost the region's cultural bona fides, along with attractions such as the Morris Performing Arts Center, the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center and the Studebaker National Museum. And if folks feel like getting a taste of big-city living, Chicago is only about a 90-minute drive away.
23. St. Louis, Missouri
- Cost of living: 13.7% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 2,806,615
- Median household income: $70,189
- Median home value: $215,700
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
The St. Louis metro area, which spills over into neighboring Illinois, boasts big-city amenities at bargain prices.
Major league sports certainly help put the city on the national radar, but three national research universities, an extensive roster of major corporate headquarters, and an internationally known symphony orchestra place St. Louis in rare company when it comes to what residents receive in terms of forgiving costs of living.
The city known as the Gateway to the West is home to seven Fortune 500 companies, including Centene (CNC), Post Holdings (POST) and Emerson Electric (EMR). Emerson Electric happens to be a member of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats, an index of S&P 500 companies that have raised their payouts for at least 25 consecutive years.
As for major academic institutions, the city is host to Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis.
The presence of so many major corporations and universities helps the metro area boast a median household income that's higher than the national median, and yet overall housing costs run about a quarter less than the national average.
Economic conditions at the city level aren't quite as bright, however. Median household income in the city of St. Louis proper (pop. 293,310) is roughly two-thirds that of the metro area. Meanwhile, the city's poverty rate is nearly double the metro area figure of 10.6%.
22. Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa
- Cost of living: 13.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 167,796
- Median household income: $61,833
- Median home value: $167,100
- Unemployment rate: 5.2%
The Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa, metro area is a manufacturing and agricultural center. And while entertainment and nightlife options might be minimal, outdoor and cultural activities abound.
Sportier types can take advantage of the many waterfront parks and a 67-mile bike trail running to Cedar Rapids. For a lazier afternoon, residents can enjoy the 40-acre Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens. The area also hosts two noted science museums and the highly regarded Waterloo Center for the Arts.
As for higher education, Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa, which is where NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner played during his college days.
All in all, it's a Midwestern setting with typically affordable Midwestern prices. The metro area's cost of living is nearly 14% below the national average, led by a 20% savings on housing costs.
Be forewarned, however, that Iowa is one of the least tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
21. Jackson, Tennessee
- Cost of living: 14.0% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 180,799
- Median household income: $52,186
- Median home value: $158,700
- Unemployment rate: 3.6%
Jackson, Tennessee, and surrounding Madison County are located 90 miles northeast of Memphis, serving as a regional center of trade for West Tennessee. Some of the area's largest employers include Kellogg (K), Stanley Black & Decker (SWK) and Masco's (MAS) Delta Faucet Company.
The city doesn't lack for leisure activities either. The Ned R. McWherter West Tennessee Cultural Arts Center, the West Tennessee Healthcare Sportsplex and the International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame Museum are just three of the city's main attractions.
And it all comes in an affordable package. The overall cost of living is 14.0% lower than the national average, led by particularly low healthcare, transportation and housing expenses.
Indeed, housing costs, including mortgages, rents and insurance, are nearly 30% lower than the U.S. average. Folks looking to buy will be happy to hear the average house price stands at $337,591, a savings of $115,000 when compared to the national average. Average apartment rent is $963 vs $1,369 for the U.S. as a whole.
20. Des Moines, Iowa
- Cost of living: 14.0% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 719,146
- Median household income: $74,208
- Median home value: $229,900
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
Des Moines kind of has it all: a robust and multifaceted economy; a vibrant cultural scene; major universities; and – most importantly for our purposes here – a low cost of living.
On the economic front, Des Moines is probably best known as a major center of the insurance industry and other financial services. Healthcare, manufacturing and logistics are also key planks supporting the local labor market.
Des Moines' strong economy helps keep both the unemployment and poverty rates well below state and national averages.
The city also benefits from a comparatively large student population, driven by Drake University, Grand View University, Mercy College of Health Sciences and numerous other institutions of higher learning.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Des Moines is known for being especially attractive to retirees. The city boasts plenty of healthcare facilities specializing in aging-related services.
Retirees won't lack for things to do, either. There are numerous museums and arts venues, including an outdoor sculpture park, a zoo and botanical gardens. There's even a casino and racetrack in nearby Altoona that hosts annual camel, ostrich and zebra races (sorry, no wagering on these exhibition races allowed).
Best of all, Des Moines delivers all this with a cost of living that's 14.0% lower than the U.S. average. Housing expenses are roughly a third less than what the typical American spends to keep a roof over his or her head, while transportation and utilities costs are significantly lower too.
19. Decatur/Hartselle, Alabama
- Cost of living: 14.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 156,758
- Median household income: $57,041
- Median home value: $165,800
- Unemployment rate: 2.1%
Decatur and Hartselle are two northern Alabama cities with an abundance of outdoor activities, cultural diversions and low costs of living. Decatur's economy benefits from being one of the busiest ports on the Tennessee River, and from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in nearby Huntsville. Tourism is another driver of the local economy, thanks to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the Carnegie Visual Arts Center and festivals such as the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic.
Nearby Hartselle, about 10 miles south, shares the charms of its neighbor to the north. Residents can cool off in the summer at the city's sprawling aquatic center, which includes a water slide and diving platform. And Southern history buffs will want to stroll through the Hartselle Downtown Commercial Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Residents can enjoy all this and more without breaking the bank. Decatur's housing-related costs, including mortgages and rents, are about 35% cheaper than the national average. Prices on a wide range of goods and services, from pizza to haircuts to dry cleaning, are less expensive, too.
18. Lake Charles, Louisiana
- Cost of living: 14.6% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 208,680
- Median household income: $58,736
- Median home value: $207,500
- Unemployment rate: 3.5%
Tucked away in steamy Southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles is steeped in Creole and Cajun culture. An economy bolstered by petrochemical refining, casinos, tourism and higher education helps give the metro area an unemployment rate a tick lower than the national average.
At the same time, the cost of living runs almost 15% lower than the national average. As is typical with every city on this list, affordable housing leads the way. Overall housing costs run 30% less than what the average American pays. That includes everything from mortgages and rents to insurance and other allied costs.
Utilities, which cost about a quarter less than the U.S. average, are another notable way that locals save on their bills. Groceries, transportation, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services all run 5% to 8% lower than the national average.
Tourists flock to metro Lake Charles – also known as the Lake Area – thanks to its abundance of lakes and waterways, as well as its casinos. But the metro area has significant academic life, too, thanks to the presence of McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College.
Just be forewarned that the metro area's poverty rate of 18.7% – while lower than the state level of 19.6% — is much higher than the national rate of 12.8%. That sad reality also helps keep costs in check.
17. Knoxville, Tennessee
- Cost of living: 15.1% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 893,002
- Median household income: $62,592
- Median home value: $232,100
- Unemployment rate: 3.3%
Thrifty types should volunteer to check out Knoxville and its greater metro area, one of two Tennessee cities to make the list for inexpensive living. The city is notable for its across-the-board affordability for everything from food to transportation, according to the Cost of Living Index.
The biggest savings, as per usual, come from the city's especially low housing costs, which run more than a quarter below the U.S. average. Indeed, the mean price of a Knoxville home is $111,000 lower than the national average. Apartment rents are about a third less expensive.
Consider Knoxville, the original state capital before Nashville, a good mix of city and country living. It is home to the University of Tennessee and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, but Knoxville is also the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Tennessee River runs through downtown.
Major employers include the U.S. Department of Energy, Alcoa (AA) and Covenant Health.
The city was a strategic objective in the Civil War, so history buffs can visit a number of battlefields nearby, too.
16. Augusta-Aiken, Georgia/South Carolina
- Cost of living: 15.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 616,395
- Median household income: $56,515
- Median home value: $182,000
- Unemployment rate: 4.0%
While most sports enthusiasts associate Augusta with the storied Masters Tournament, there's much more to this city than golf. The metro area, which includes Aiken, South Carolina, is a major center for cybersecurity companies thanks to the presence of the U.S. Army Cyber Command at nearby Fort Gordon.
Augusta is also a regional hub for medicine and biotechnology, supported by Augusta University – the state's only public health sciences graduate university – and the allied Medical District of Augusta.
Happily for locals, the area remains among the country's cheapest cities to live in despite the presence of so many well-paid occupations. Augusta-Aiken's cost of living runs 15.5% below the U.S. average, helped by housing costs that are 30% less than what the typical American pays. Folks pay about 12% less than the national average for utilities and healthcare, and get a nearly 22% break on transportation.
And older citizens catch yet another break: Georgia happens to be one of the more tax-friendly states for retirees.
As much as the Masters dominates outsiders' imagination about this city, which sits a two-and-a-half-hour drive from downtown Atlanta, it has much more going on than golf. Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, minutes from downtown Augusta, offers 14 miles of hiking trails. Aiken is home to the University of South Carolina Aiken and the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum.
15. Florence, Alabama
- Cost of living: 15.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 151,517
- Median household income: $51,639
- Median home value: $156,200
- Unemployment rate: 2.9%
Florence and the Florence-Muscle Shoals metro area, which encompasses the birthplace of Helen Keller, sits in the northwest corner of Alabama on the Tennessee River. It's about a two-hour drive from Birmingham.
In addition to a low cost of living, Florence – and the surrounding area known by locals as The Shoals – boasts a number of attractions and a rich history of music. Florence native W.C. Handy's legacy as the "Father of the Blues" is celebrated with an annual summer festival. And it's no coincidence The Rolling Stones recorded the hit songs "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar" at the nearby Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
Florence claims Alabama's only house designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The city also hosts the University of North Alabama.
Best of all, the city's distinctive sites and southern charm come at a reasonable price. Housing-related expenses are 36% lower than what the average American pays. Healthcare, meanwhile, costs about 22% less.
All other major expenses tracked by the Cost of Living Index likewise take a smaller bite of folks' paychecks, securing Florence's place among the 25 cheapest places to live for U.S. city dwellers.
14. Mobile, Alabama
- Cost of living: 15.7% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 430,714
- Median household income: $49,691
- Median home value: $159,100
- Unemployment rate: 3.2%
The city of Mobile, Alabama, was founded in 1702 by the French and for the next century served as a colony of France, England and Spain. The colonial past and a mixture of Creole, African and Catholic heritage gives Mobile one of the more distinctive cultures of any American city.
Additionally, Mobile stands out as a Gulf Coast gem, with numerous art museums, a symphony orchestra, a professional opera and a professional ballet company.
The metro area and its abundance of activities and traditions come with affordable living costs, which stand at almost 16% below the national average. Housing costs are particularly affordable, or 40% less than what the typical American pays. Transportation and miscellaneous goods and services are likewise comparative bargains, which also help Mobile maintain its place among the top 10 cheapest places to live in the U.S.
As a port city, it should come as no surprise that shipbuilder Austal USA is among the area's major employers. However, jobs abound in healthcare, high tech and engineering too.
Meanwhile, folks who've put their working years behind them will be happy to know that Alabama is among the most tax-friendly states for retirees.
13. Amarillo, Texas
- Cost of living: 15.8% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 270,119
- Median household income: $58,354
- Median home value: $167,000
- Unemployment rate: 3.2%
Amarilloans are known for their love of high school football, hot sauce and thick steaks. They also enjoy savings on a wide range of goods and services. Need to get your eyes checked? An appointment with an optometrist is 36% less expensive in the city known as "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Dry cleaning bills are about a third cheaper than the national average. And you'll save about 14% getting your washer repaired after it inevitably breaks down.
But the biggest way folks in this part of the Texas Panhandle save money is by what they shell out for housing.
Metro-area residents spend 28% less on housing-related costs vs the national average. The average house price of $310,017 is $142,000 below the national average. Apartment rents are 22% cheaper than what the typical American pays every month.
It's also encouraging that Amarillo's economy has bounced back well since the short-but-sharp recession of 2020. For example, the metro area's unemployment rate of 3.2% stands below the national rate of 3.6%. Major employers include Tyson Foods (TSN), CNS Pantex and BSA Health System.
However, despite having no state income tax, Texas's tax picture for middle-class families is fairly mixed.
12. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Cost of living: 15.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 681,438
- Median household income: $57,392
- Median home value: $193,100
- Unemployment rate: 3.6%
The Winston-Salem metro area – and its enclave of Thomasville-Lexington, in particular – packs tons of Southern hospitality at a price everyone from singles to families to retirees will like.
Not only do living costs run almost 16% below the national average, but the Tar Heel State doesn't tax Social Security benefits. Winston-Salem doesn't lack things to do, either: Six colleges, 75 recreational parks and 33 wineries call the region home, and Winston-Salem's theater and visual arts heritage earned it the nickname "The City of the Arts." It also boasts a huge healthcare sector, so doctors and specialists are not hard to find.
Meanwhile, the median home value is about two-thirds that of the U.S. level. Indeed, in Thomasville-Lexington, overall housing costs are 39% lower than what the typical American pays. Transportation, meanwhile, is 28% less expensive.
Indeed, being among the cheapest U.S. cities to live in means residents of Thomasville-Lexington will find deals on all manner of other goods and services. Sugar is about 35% less expensive, cooking oil costs 25% less and you'll save a big bundle having your tires balanced.
11. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 16.0% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 1,441,647
- Median household income: $61,815
- Median home value: $190,800
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
The largest city in Oklahoma offers remarkably affordable prices for its size. The biggest reason: Housing costs run 29% below the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index, which takes into account both home prices and apartment rents.
Drilling down into those categories, home prices in Oklahoma City average $333,325 vs a national average of $452,510. Renters also do quite well on a relative basis. Average apartment rent comes to $860 a month compared with a U.S. average of $1,369.
Utilities, groceries and transportation also cost appreciably less in Oklahoma City. Healthcare, however, is slightly pricier than what the typical American pays.
And, yet, as a metro area with 1.4 million people, Oklahoma City offers a lot of big-city attractions, from a philharmonic orchestra to the National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum. At the professional sports level, the Oklahoma City Thunder represents the metro area in the NBA.
Meanwhile, a well-rounded metro-area economy helps folks find jobs in a wide range of industries. Major employers include the U.S.A.F.'s Tinker Air Force Base, the University of Oklahoma and Amazon.com (AMZN).
Be forewarned, however, that Oklahoma is not tax-friendly for middle-class families and presents a mixed tax picture for retirees.
10. Jackson, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 16.3% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 586,758
- Median household income: $54,123
- Median home value: $178,100
- Unemployment rate: 3.0%
Metro Jackson is a surprisingly eclectic city that holds appeal for Civil War buffs, blues music aficionados and even ballet fans. Every four years, dancers from around the world flock to Jackson for the two-week USA International Ballet Competition to compete for medals, scholarships and spots in ballet companies. Similar competitions are held only in Russia, Bulgaria and Finland.
The state capital also happens to be a great place for retirees. The Milken Institute ranks Jackson eighth among the best large cities for successful aging due to its affordability and an abundance of nurses, nurse practitioners and orthopedic surgeons, as well as caregiving options and geriatric facilities.
The bottom line? Jackson falls within the top 10 cheapest places to live for U.S. city dwellers. Overall living costs are more than 16% cheaper than the national average, led by housing, which is a third less expensive. Utilities and transportation expenses are also big bargains. Healthcare costs, however, run in line with the U.S. average.
9. Albany, Georgia
- Cost of living: 16.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 146,961
- Median household income: $48,659
- Median home value: $143,200
- Unemployment rate: 4.0%
Albany, which sits in southeastern Georgia about 150 miles south of Atlanta, is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Ray Charles. And lest anyone forget, the downtown area features a memorial to the legendary singer and songwriter.
Other cultural attractions include the Thronateeska Heritage Center, which houses the Wetherbee Planetarium, as well as science and history museums. For those with more of an outdoor bent, the Flint RiverQuarium keeps turtles and alligators native to the local Flint River. Then there's Chehaw Park, which features hiking trails and a zoo with cheetahs and rhinos.
Although the unemployment rate runs a bit higher than the national average in Albany, the overall cost of living helps ease that pain. Folks spend nearly 17% less than the national average to reside in the metro area, thanks primarily to housing costs that run 40% below what the typical American pays.
Groceries, utilities, healthcare and miscellaneous goods and services are also bargains, costing anywhere from 5% to 14% less than the U.S. averages.
8. Conway, Arkansas
- Cost of living: 16.5% below U.S. average
- City population: 65,126
- Median household income: $53,029
- Median home value: $230,900
- Unemployment rate: 3.2%
The city of Conway – an affordable enclave in the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metro area (pop. 749,673) – is home to a number of high-tech companies, including information technology firm Insight Enterprises (NSIT).
At the same time, a large proportion of younger residents helps keep costs in check. Known as "The City of Colleges," Conway hosts three post-secondary educational institutions: the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College.
Close proximity to the Arkansas River and Lake Conway makes the city ideal for fishing and water sports, and there's ample space for hunting. Yet you can drive to the state capital of Little Rock in a half-hour or so.
Not that Conway is without its own more aspirational cultural attractions. The city is home to the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, the state's only professional Shakespeare company.
Although Conway's median home value is among the highest on the list of the 25 cheapest U.S. cities, it's still well below the U.S. median, and housing-related costs run 27% below the national average. Groceries, transportation and healthcare costs are also comparatively modest.
7. Anniston, Alabama
- Cost of living: 16.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 115,972
- Median household income: $46,524
- Median home value: $139,400
- Unemployment rate: 3.8%
About an hour's drive east from Birmingham sits the Anniston metro area. The city's proximity to the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge makes it a good jumping-off point for hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoorsy types. The city also has its quirks. It's home to the world's largest office chair – a 33-foot-tall seat that was once recognized by Guinness World Records.
Major employers include the Anniston Army Depot and Alabama Regional Medical Center.
Anniston's low cost of living puts it among the 10 cheapest places to live, but it comes alongside a median income that's a third lower than the national median. That said, household incomes and home values are higher in other parts of Calhoun County, of which Anniston is the county seat.
Either way, overall housing costs in the Anniston area are 41% lower than what the average American pays. Utilities, however, are relatively pricey, running 23% above the national average.
Although the income picture could be brighter, Anniston has its charms, including Victorian homes and historic churches among other architectural gems.
6. Topeka, Kansas
- Cost of living: 17.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 232,670
- Median household income: $57,474
- Median home value: $154,800
- Unemployment rate: 3.1%
Sitting along the Kansas River out on the prairie, Topeka is known for its dense suburban feel of single-family homes, parks and plenty of coffee shops.
And as the capital of Kansas, Topeka can always count on the state government as a source of good and stable employment. The metro area supports jobs in plenty of other industries too, including healthcare, retail and manufacturing.
The city is home to Washburn University and the Topeka Symphony Orchestra, but there are plenty of less high-falutin attractions, as well. For example, the 1989 opening of Heartland Park Topeka transformed the city into a major host of motorsports.
Topeka cracks the top 10 cheapest places to live in the U.S. for city dwellers thanks to a cost of living that's almost a fifth lower than the national average. Once again, housing costs lead the way on savings. Indeed, housing is cheaper than the U.S. average by about 28%. Groceries are similarly discounted compared to what the typical American shells out at the supermarket. Locals save substantial bucks on utilities, transportation and healthcare, as well.
Topeka also boasts the cheapest pizza prices in the U.S.
On the downside, Kansas ranks among the least tax-friendly states for both middle-class families and retirees, alike.
5. Joplin, Missouri
- Cost of living: 18.0% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 182,541
- Median household income: $55,045
- Median home value: $149,500
- Unemployment rate: 2.6%
It used to be that Joplin, at least to outsiders, was probably best known as a place where Depression-era bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde hid out for a time. Today, sadly, Joplin is perhaps better known for tornadoes, such as the deadly storm that destroyed about 30% of the city in 2011.
The city and greater metro area has since recovered from the costliest single tornado in modern U.S. history, helped by its status as a regional medical center. Its two major hospitals serve a four-state area that includes Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Housing-related costs, which run about 38% below the national average, help secure Joplin's place among the top five cheapest places to live for U.S. city dwellers. Expenses for groceries, healthcare and utilities are comparatively low, as well.
From a tax perspective, Missouri is pretty average, but the state did recently lower its top income tax rate to 5.3% from 5.4% for 2022. It's dropping again – to 4.95% in 2023 – with more rate reductions possible in the future.
4. Decatur, Illinois
- Cost of living: 19.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 102,432
- Median household income: $46,807
- Median home value: $110,800
- Unemployment rate: 5.4%
Decatur, Illinois, and its surrounding metro area is probably best known as an agricultural and manufacturing center. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2013 but maintains operations in this central Illinois city. Caterpillar (CAT), the world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment, has facilities in the area, as well. Decatur likewise lays claim to a massive corn-processing plant owned by U.K.-based food ingredients company Tate & Lyle (TATYY).
Archer Daniels Midland's departure following a price-fixing scandal was a blow to the local economy, and Decatur struggles with elevated unemployment to this day. A cost of living that's nearly a fifth lower than the national average is partly a symptom of ADM's exit, but at least it's also something of a salve.
Housing costs are 43% lower than the national average in metro Decatur, and healthcare, utilities and transportation are much cheaper too. Those savings help make up for the fact that Illinois is among the least tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
Decatur's status as one of the cheapest places to live in the U.S. is no doubt appreciated by its significant student population, which includes Millikin University's approximately 1,875 students and the roughly 2,500 people studying at Richland Community College.
3. McAllen, Texas
- Cost of living: 20.6% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 880,356
- Median household income: $44,818
- Median home value: $107,500
- Unemployment rate: 4.9%
McAllen might be one of the cheapest places to live in the U.S., but it comes at a price. The poverty rate in the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area is 29.3%. That's more than double both the Texas rate of 14.3% and the U.S. rate of 12.8%.
On the plus side, McAllen is famous for bird watching because of its location on a major migration route. The Quinta Mazatlan, a luxury birdhouse with more than 15 acres of birding habitat, is not to be missed. The city also features the International Museum of Art & Science, which has a specific focus on Latin American art.
And McAllen is indeed one of the cheapest places to live in the U.S. for city dwellers. Housing costs are 55% lower than the national average, healthcare expenses are 23% cheaper and grocery items are around 17% less than what the typical American pays. One of the few things residents pay a little extra for is utilities (+5.4%), which isn't surprising given that temperatures routinely soar into the high 90s during the summer months.
But surprisingly, Texas isn't a great place when it comes to taxes. How does a state with no income tax at all not end up on the "most tax-friendly" list? It starts by having the seventh-highest median property tax rate in the country.
2. Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Cost of living: 22.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 261,108
- Median household income: $62,128
- Median home value: $208,300
- Unemployment rate: 4.6%
Kalamazoo annually ranks among the cheapest places to live in the U.S. Sadly, low costs are very much a necessity for too many of its residents.
In the city of Kalamazoo proper (pop. 73,255), nearly 31% of residents live below the poverty line. (At the metro level, which includes Portage, Michigan, the figure comes to 14.5%.) The U.S. and Michigan state poverty rates are 12.8% and 13.1%, respectively.
Another downside? Michigan is among the least tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
On the brighter side, Western Michigan University, with its multiple campuses and research facilities, is a major driver of the local economy. Medical equipment maker Stryker (SYK) is headquartered in the city, and Pfizer (PFE), the drug company, maintains its largest manufacturing site in Kalamazoo. In late 2022, the pharma giant committed to investing $750 million into its Kalamazoo facility.
As for recreational activities, the Kalamazoo Nature Center hosts free daily activities. Nearby parks offer a combined 140 miles of trails and three swimming beaches. If you want to get away to the big city, Chicago is less than three hours by car if traffic is merciful. For these reasons and more, Kalamazoo also ranks among the best places to retire.
1. Harlingen, Texas
- Cost of living: 22.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 423,029
- Median household income: $48,115
- Median home value: $103,500
- Unemployment rate: 5.7%
Harlingen currently ranks as the cheapest place to live in the U.S. among cities with metro areas with at least 50,000 inhabitants.
The city sits at the southernmost tip of Texas, with the Rio Grande to the south and the Gulf of Mexico to the east. The Brownsville-Harlingen metro area is a hardscrabble place where 24.7% of residents live below the poverty line. That's about one-and-a-half times the poverty rate for Texas as a whole. Comparatively low median household income and high unemployment are other grim aspects of the metro area's economy.
However, just about everything, from groceries to gasoline, costs less in Harlingen. Locals save about 22% on a good cut of steak compared to the national average (this is Texas, after all). The average home price in Harlingen is a striking $178,000 less than the U.S. average. The average apartment rents for $757 per month – or 45% lower than the national average of $1,369.
As with not-too-distant neighbor McAllen, utility bills run a bit high, or 6.8% above the national average.
Although agriculture remains central to Harlingen's local economy, the healthcare and telecommunications industries are rapidly gaining importance.
Lastly, it would be negligent to forget one of the area's biggest selling points: Harlingen is only about an hour's drive to the beaches of South Padre Island.
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.
It’s Giving Tuesday: Charity Strategies the Wealthy Can Apply
When markets are down and interest rates are high, philanthropy can take a hit. Here are some ways that affluent consumers can make the most of their charitable giving.
By Karen Harding, CFA Published
Looking for a Job? Here’s How Not to Get Hired
A pair of HR consultants offer some advice to help people heading out on interviews to land that job.
By H. Dennis Beaver, Esq. Published
12 Places to Retire If You're Sick of the Heat
places to live Some like it hot; others not so much. Here are the 12 best places to retire if you can't stand the heat.
By Stacy Rapacon Published
The 10 Cheapest Countries to Visit
Despite inflation, there are some areas where the strong dollar will definitely work in your favor.
By Quincy Williamson Published
15 Ways to Prepare Your Home for Winter
home Now that fall is officially here, it's time to prepare your home for cold weather.
By Donna LeValley Published
5 Ways to Shop for a Low Mortgage Rate
Becoming a Homeowner Rates are high this year, but you can still find an affordable loan.
By Daniel Bortz Published
Six Steps to Get Lower Car Insurance Rates
insurance Shopping around for auto insurance may not be your idea of fun, but comparing prices for a new policy every few years — or even more often — can pay off big.
By Donna LeValley Published
10 Things You Need to Know About Retiring to Florida
Making Your Money Last If Florida is part of your retirement plan, we offer up a few tips to help you find your way.
By Bob Niedt Last updated
6 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score — Fast
Tips for boosting your credit score quickly, starting with paying down your credit card debt.
By Lisa Gerstner Published
Debit Cards vs Charge Cards
credit & debt Whether sticking to a budget or reaping big rewards, understand whether debit cards vs charge cards are right for you.
By Ellen Kennedy Published