The 25 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In
Take a look at our list of American cities with the lowest costs of living. Is one of the cheapest cities in the U.S. right for you?
When it comes to cheap living, the best places to settle down are mostly south of the Mason-Dixon line. Texas, Tennessee and Alabama are just a few states making multiple appearances on our list of the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.
But if you're thinking about relocating to one of these low-cost cities, just remember to weigh the pros and cons. A low cost of living is attractive, but the allure lessens if jobs are hard to come by, paychecks are small or the area offers little to do. Plan an extended visit to ensure the city fits your needs.
We compiled our rankings of America's 25 cheapest cities based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 267 urban areas. We then limited ourselves to metro areas with at least 50,000 inhabitants. (For smaller urban areas, be sure to read our list of the 12 Cheapest Small Towns in America.)
In both cases, 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.
That data, which sorts through hundreds of cities and thousands of prices, allowed us to pinpoint the places with the absolute lowest costs of living.
Read on for our latest list of the 25 cheapest U.S. cities to live in.
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. Metro-level data on populations, household incomes, home values, poverty rates and other demographics come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Metropolitan area unemployment rates, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are as of April 27 for the month of March 2022, and are smoothed and seasonally adjusted.
25. Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Cost of living: 13.7% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 409,419
- Median household income: $57,693 (U.S.: $64,994)
- Median home value: $138,200 (U.S.: $229,800)
- Unemployment rate: 2.0% (U.S.: 3.6%)
The Fort Wayne metro area offers an enviable combination of affordability and amenities. Not only does this northeastern Indiana city host a collection of pleasant and quiet neighborhoods, but it also boasts a thriving arts scene with year-round festivals and events. The annual Three Rivers Festival is just one such family-friendly summertime favorite.
Indeed, the three local rivers – the St. Marys, the St. Joseph and the Maumee – are a main feature of the area, providing ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and cruising.
As is usually the case, affordable housing is the main driver of the metro area's comparatively low cost of living. Residents spend 36% less on housing costs – including mortgages, rents and related expenses – than what the typical American pays to keep a roof over his or her head. And that's enough to get Fort Wayne into the top 25 cheapest U.S. cities.
Happily, the metro area's unemployment rate has dropped sharply from a pandemic-caused spike and now stands well below the national level. Parkview Health, General Motors (GM) and Lincoln Financial Group (LNC) are just a few of the metro area's major employers.
24. Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Cost of living: 13.8% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 996,141
- Median household income: $57,341
- Median home value: $155,000
- Unemployment rate: 2.8%
Ask outsiders what they know about Tulsa, and oil derricks, cowboys and Route 66 might come to mind. But while the energy industry does remain an important part of the local economy, Tulsa has diversified far beyond its oil-patch roots.
Aviation, telecommunications and finance are just a few of the industries supporting the metro area today. Indeed, in addition to energy firms such as Oneok (OKE) and Baker Hughes, major employers also include American Airlines (AAL), Arvest Bank and AT&T (T).
The city also happens to be known for its architecture, which ranges from 20th century Art Deco gems to the modern BOK Center. And the Philbrook Museum has been called "The Most Beautiful Place In Oklahoma."
On the downside, Oklahoma presents a mixed picture when it comes to taxes on middle-class families. And the same can be said for taxes on retirees.
You can't quibble with the comparatively low cost of living, however. In total, living expenses run almost 14% below the national average. Housing-related costs are the biggest bargain, or 36% less than what the typical American pays. In fact, Tulsa is one of the cheapest U.S. cities for renters, with an average monthly apartment cost of just $690 per month.
23. Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa
- Cost of living: 13.8% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 169,107
- Median household income: $58,996
- Median home value: $152,300
- Unemployment rate: 3.4%
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 almost 14% below the national average, led by a 20.2% discount on housing costs.
Be forewarned, however, that Iowa is one of the least tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
22. Mobile, Alabama
- Cost of living: 14.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 430,313
- Median household income: $49,370
- Median home value: $137,200
- Unemployment rate: 3.7%
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.
Happily, the metro area and its abundance of activities and traditions come with affordable living costs, which stand at better than 14% below the national average. Housing costs are particularly affordable, or almost 37% less than what the typical American pays. Groceries, transportation and utilities are likewise comparative bargains, which also help Mobile maintain its place among the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.
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.
21. Lake Charles, Louisiana
- Cost of living: 14.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 209,821
- Median household income: $52,986
- Median home value: $159,600
- Unemployment rate: 4.0%
From cajun cooking to classical music to petrochemical jobs, Lake Charles, Louisiana, has something for everyone – and at reasonable prices too.
Situated on the Gulf Coast – and boasting extensive lakes and waterways – the metro area is as ideal for outdoor recreational activities as it is for oil refineries, liquefied natural gas terminals and petrochemical plants. Casino gambling, tourism, museums, golf courses, a symphony orchestra, professional sports teams and McNeese State University are just some of the offerings and attractions to be found in the region.
Meanwhile, living costs run nearly 15% below the national average, led, as per usual, by housing, which is 24.5% cheaper than what the typical American pays. Utilities are an even bigger bargain, with residents saving almost 26% on their bills vs. the national average.
Louisiana is also easy on residents come tax time. The Pelican State boasts some of the lowest property taxes in the country, and income tax rates aren't too bad, either.
Sadly, there's another part of the equation that explains Lake Charles' place among America's cheapest cities. Although the poverty rate of 16.5% is less than the state level of 18.7%, it remains considerable nonetheless. For context, the national poverty rate stands at 12.8%.
20. Topeka, Kansas
- Cost of living: 14.7% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 232,248
- Median household income: $59,815
- Median home value: $137,900
- Unemployment rate: 2.5%
Topeka has engineered a prosperity that most cities of similar size would envy. That the state capital has done so while maintaining one of the lowest costs of living in the country only makes its achievements all the more impressive.
Agriculture and manufacturing are key planks of the economy, but government services add a critical level of stability. Just look at the unemployment rate, which stands well below the national level. In the private sector, Goodyear Tire & Rubber (GT) and Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Kansas are just a couple of Topeka's major employers.
Local attractions include the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, the Mulvane Art Museum and famed Gage Park – a sprawling 160 acres that hosts a zoo, aquatic center and carousel, among numerous other features.
And yet residents enjoy an overall cost of living that's nearly 15% lower than the U.S. average. As is usually the case, affordable housing – an increasingly rare commodity – drives the savings. Housing-related costs, including mortgages and rents, are 18% cheaper in Topeka.
Groceries are another big source of savings, or 14% below what the typical American pays. Locals also spend less on transportation, healthcare and utilities, albeit by slimmer margins.
19. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Cost of living: 14.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 671,156
- Median household income: $52,607
- Median home value: $157,700
- 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 15% 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.
Median household income is only about 80% of the U.S. average, but median home value is about two-thirds that of the U.S. level. Indeed, in Thomasville-Lexington, overall housing costs are almost 34% lower than what the typical American pays. Transportation, meanwhile, is about a third 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 26% less expensive, gas runs cheaper by 9% and you'll save a big bundle having your tires rebalanced.
18. Memphis, Tennessee
- Cost of living: 15.1% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 1,343,150
- Median household income: $53,896
- Median home value: $161,300
- Unemployment rate: 4.6%
To say that real estate is cheap in the Memphis metro area is an understatement. Average home prices come to $305,002 – an amount that would elicit screams from people who live in the most expensive U.S. cities. (The national average stands at $398,690, per C2ER.) Renters benefit, too. A typical apartment in Memphis rents for about $200 a month less than the U.S. average.
And unlike some of the other cheapest U.S. cities to live in, residents also catch a major break on taxes. Not only is Tennessee one of the nation's most tax-friendly states for middle-class families, but it also happens to rank among the most tax-friendly states for retirees. The Volunteer State has no income tax and relatively low property taxes.
On the jobs front, metro Memphis benefits from the city's legendary status as an inland port. Indeed, the mighty Mississippi River makes Memphis a hub for the shipping and transportation industries. Three Fortune 500 companies – FedEx (FDX), International Paper (IP) and AutoZone (AZO) – call the city home.
You'll also find numerous colleges and universities, an NBA franchise, mouthwatering ribs and, of course, Graceland.
17. Hattiesburg, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 15.2% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 168,646
- Median household income: $48,231
- Median home value: $135,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.8%
The Hattiesburg metro area might be on the smaller side population-wise and it might be cheap, but it sure has a lot going on. It's home to both the University of Southern Mississippi – Southern Miss to locals – and William Carey University, a Baptist liberal arts college. Camp Shelby, the largest National Guard training base east of the Mississippi River, is nearby. Hattiesburg is also home to the African American Military History Museum, as well as numerous other museums, galleries and theaters.
Meanwhile, the area's labor force is supported by major employers such as Forrest General Hospital, the aforementioned Southern Miss, Mar-Jac Poultry and Channel Control Merchants.
Feel the need to get out of town? It's a 90-minute drive from Hattiesburg to the beaches and casinos along Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
At the same time, Hattiesburg, just 115 miles to the north of New Orleans, is one of the cheapest U.S. cities to live in. Whether you rent or own, housing expenses are almost 36% lower than the national average. Utilities, transportation costs and healthcare are also bargains. Groceries, however, actually run a bit higher than the national average.
Mississippi does have a mixed tax picture, however. One thing the Magnolia State has going for it is comparatively low property tax rates. Plus, the state's income tax burden is being lightened. But sales taxes are on the high end.
16. Florence, Alabama
- Cost of living: 15.2% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 147,827
- Median household income: $48,244
- Median home value: $140,000
- 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.
Happily for residents of Florence, the city's distinctive sites and southern charm come at a reasonable price. Housing-related expenses are 30% lower than what the average American pays. Healthcare, meanwhile, costs about 17% 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 U.S. cities to live in.
15. Conway, Arkansas
- Cost of living: 15.5% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 66,776
- Median household income: $47,999
- Median home value: $179,400
- Unemployment rate: 3.2%
The city of Conway – an affordable enclave in the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metro area – 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 highfalutin cultural attractions. The city is home to the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, the state's only professional Shakespeare theater.
Although Conway's median home value is 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 25% below the national average. Utilities, transportation and healthcare costs are also comparatively modest.
Arkansas also isn't terribly tax-burdensome to retirees. Arkansas exempts Social Security benefits and up to $6,000 of retirement income from its state income tax, and all military pension income is tax-exempt.
14. Texarkana, Texas/Arkansas
The twin cities of Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas, make up some of the most affordable real estate in the U.S., especially when it comes to some of life's biggest expenses.
Housing-related costs are about a third below the U.S. average. For example, the average apartment rents for $988 a month in this border city. Nationally, the average rent comes to $1,218. Grocery items, utilities, healthcare, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services are all significantly cheaper, as well.
For example, a trip to the doctor in Texarkana costs an average of $103.33, according to the Cost of Living Index. Nationally, a doctor's visit runs $117.28. Or take a dozen eggs, which goes for $1.31 in Texarkana vs. a national average of $1.58. Locals save a bundle on everything from movie tickets to yoga to shampoo, too.
Major employers include the U.S. Army, Cooper Tire & Rubber and Walmart (WMT), but Texarkana life is hardly one of all work and no play. With five golf courses, seven public parks, eight public lakes and the historic Perot Theatre, locals suffer no shortage of things to see and to do.
13. Decatur, Illinois
- Cost of living: 16.0% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 104,688
- Median household income: $53,725
- Median home value: $103,100
- Unemployment rate: 6.5%
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 significant operations in this central Illinois city. Caterpillar (CAT), the world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment, has facilities there. 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 16% below the national average is partly a symptom of ADM's exit, but at least it's also something of a salve.
Housing costs are a third lower than the national average in metro Decatur, and healthcare and groceries are notably 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 U.S. cities to live in is no doubt appreciated by its significant student population, which includes Millikin University's 2,000 students and the 2,850 people taking classes at Richland Community College.
12. Decatur/Hartselle, Alabama
- Cost of living: 16.1% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 152,321
- Median household income: $51,842
- Median home value: $137,600
- 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 38% 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.
11. Jackson, Tennessee
- Cost of living: 16.3% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 178,601
- Median household income: $48,146
- Median home value: $123,300
- Unemployment rate: 3.2%
Jackson, Tennessee, and surrounding Madison County are located 90 miles northeast of Memphis, which, as we've already seen, is also among the cheapest cities in the U.S.
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 16.3% lower than the national average, led by particularly low healthcare and housing expenses.
Indeed, housing costs, including mortgages, rents and insurance, are 29% lower than the U.S. average. Folks looking to buy will be happy to hear the average house price stands at $280,867, a savings of $118,000 when compared to the national average. Average apartment rent is $889 vs. $1,218 for the U.S. as a whole.
10. Kokomo, Indiana
- Cost of living: 16.4% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 82,486
- Median household income: $56,387
- Median home value: $113,900
- Unemployment rate: 4.5%
As a longtime manufacturing hub for the global automotive industry, it follows that Kokomo's major employers include Chrysler Indiana Transmission, General Motors (GM), Aptiv (APTV) and Haynes International (HAYN).
One disadvantage of Kokomo's dependence on the auto sector is that it makes the local economy especially sensitive to downturns. The area's unemployment rate peaked at 30% during the 2020 pandemic-caused recession. Thankfully, unemployment has since plummeted, and currently stands at a low level, at least in absolute terms.
Fortunately, the low cost of living helps cushion the blow when Kokomo does periodically hit hard times. Indeed, the metro area's poverty rate is lower than both the state and national levels.
Area residents spend about a third less on overall housing costs. Folks save significant dollars on transportation and grocery items, as well, but healthcare and utilities cost about the same as what the typical American pays. One notable downside, however, is that Indiana isn't particularly tax-friendly to retirees.
If you're just passing through, the Old Silk Stocking Neighborhood, the Seiberling Mansion and the Elwood Haynes Museum are just a few architectural and historical gems that are not to be missed.
9. Augusta-Aiken, Georgia/South Carolina
- Cost of living: 16.4% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 605,303
- Median household income: $55,049
- Median home value: $153,300
- Unemployment rate: 3.5%
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 16.4% below the U.S. average, helped by housing costs that are almost 30% less expensive than what the typical American pays. Folks pay about 15% less than the national average for utilities and transportation, and get a nearly 10% break on grocery items.
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.
8. Joplin, Missouri
- Cost of living: 17.4% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 178,816
- Median household income: $50,244
- Median home value: $126,200
- Unemployment rate: 3.1%
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 tornados, 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 are about 35% below the national average, and a large reason why Joplin's ranks among the top 10 cheapest U.S. cities. Groceries, healthcare and transportation costs are comparatively low, as well.
Although utility bills are essentially in line with the U.S. average, all manner of goods and services – from chicken to a haircut to major appliance repair – are notably less expensive in Joplin.
From a tax perspective, Missouri is pretty average, but the state did recently lower its top income tax rate, to 5.4% from 5.9%.
7. Knoxville, Tennessee
- Cost of living: 17.7% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 861,872
- Median household income: $56,857
- Median home value: $180,700
- Unemployment rate: 2.7%
Thrifty types should volunteer to check out Knoxville and its greater metro area, one of three 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 30% below the U.S. average. Indeed, the typical price of a Knoxville home is $107,000 below 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.
6. Anniston, Alabama
- Cost of living: 17.9% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 114,324
- Median household income: $50,128
- Median home value: $121,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.4%
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 U.S. cities to live in, but it comes alongside a low median income that's 23% below 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 42% lower than what the average American pays. Utilities, however, are relatively pricey, running 25% above the national average.
Alabama also happens to be a fairly tax-friendly state. Property taxes are very low, for instance, and you can deduct federal income taxes and payroll taxes alike from your state income.
Although the income picture could be brighter, Anniston has its charms, including Victorian homes and historic churches among other architectural gems.
5. Amarillo, Texas
- Cost of living: 19.3% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 264,345
- Median household income: $56,055
- Median home value: $147,600
- Unemployment rate: 3.1%
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 35% less expensive in the city known as "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Dry cleaning bills are 28% cheaper. And you'll save about 15% 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 about 40% less on housing-related costs vs. the national average. The average house price of $218,201 is more than $180,000 below that national average. Apartment rents are a quarter 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 two years ago. For example, the metro area's unemployment rate of 3.1% stands below the national rate of 4.8%. Major employers include Tyson Foods, CNS Pantex and BSA Health System.
However, despite having no state income tax, Texas's tax picture for middle-class families is fairly mixed. Sales taxes run high, for instance, as do property taxes.
4. Jackson, Mississippi
- Cost of living: 20.4% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 596,287
- Median household income: $53,639
- Median home value: $148,300
- Unemployment rate: 3.8%
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.
Older folks also benefit from Mississippi's tax-friendly approach to retirees. The state exempts Social Security benefits from state income tax, among other breaks. The tax situation for middle-class families, however, is more mixed.
Jackson falls within the five cheapest U.S. cities to live in. Overall living costs are a fifth cheaper than the national average, led by housing, which is close to 37% less expensive. Transportation expenses are also a big bargain. Healthcare costs, however, are about in line with the U.S. average.
3. McAllen, Texas
- Cost of living: 23.2% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 861,137
- Median household income: $41,846
- Median home value: $90,000
- Unemployment rate: 7.9%
McAllen might be one of the cheapest cities in the U.S., but it comes at a price. The poverty rate in the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area is 28.4%. That's about double the Texas rate of 14.2% and more than twice the U.S. rate of 12.8%. The unemployment rate also remains stubbornly high, both in absolute terms and compared with state and national levels.
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 U.S. cities to live in. Housing costs are 42% lower than the national average, healthcare expenses are 27% cheaper and grocery items are 14% less than what the typical American pays. One of the few things residents pay a little extra for is utilities, 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 if you want to avoid taxes in retirement. Again, the state has no income tax and it even offers seniors some tax breaks, but it has the seventh-highest median property tax rate, as well as one of the highest sales taxes in the nation.
2. Harlingen, Texas
- Cost of living: 23.4% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 443,554
- Median household income: $41,053
- Median home value: $88,200
- Unemployment rate: 6.8%
Harlingen sits on 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 26.6% of residents live below the poverty line. That's about twice 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 13% on a good cut of steak or ground beef compared to the national average (this is Texas, after all). The average home price in Harlingen is a striking $172,000 less than the U.S. average. The average apartment rents for $714 per month – or 41% lower than the national average of $1,218.
However, as with not-too-distant neighbor McAllen, utility bills run a bit high, or 8.1% above the national average.
In addition to its proximity to Mexico, Harlingen is about an hour's drive to the beaches of South Padre Island.
1. Kalamazoo, Michigan
- Cost of living: 24.3% below U.S. average
- Metro population: 264,322
- Median household income: $58,836
- Median home value: $168,500
- Unemployment rate: 4.1%
Kalamazoo is the cheapest city in the U.S. Sadly, that's very much a necessity for too many of its residents.
In the city of Kalamazoo proper (pop. 76,106), nearly 28% of residents live below the poverty line. (At the metro level, which includes Portage, Michigan, the figure comes to 14.4%.) The U.S. and Michigan state poverty rates are 12.8% and 13.7%, respectively.
Another downside? Michigan is among the least tax-friendly states for middle-class families.
Western Michigan University, with its multiple campuses and research facilities, is a major driver of the local economy. Pfizer (PFE), the drug company, has a sizable operation in Kalamazoo, and medical equipment maker Stryker (SYK) is headquartered in the city.
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.