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When it comes to cheap living, don’t mess with Texas. Three of the ten cheapest cities in the U.S. can be found in the Lone Star State. Several Texas cities, including San Marcos, McAllen and San Antonio, didn't crack the top ten but ranked very highly for affordability nonetheless. The other seven cities on our 2014 list are scattered across the nation, from as far west as Idaho to as far east as Georgia. Some might come as a surprise.
We compiled our rankings based on the Council for Community and Economic Research’s calculations of living expenses in 308 urban areas. Its Cost of Living Index measures prices for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services. We screened out cities with populations below 50,000. All ten finalists, while different in many ways, share one overarching similarity: super-affordable housing options for renters and homeowners alike.
Take a look at our 2014 list of the ten cheapest places to live in America.
The Cost of Living Index is based on annual data from 2013. The U.S. Census Bureau provided data on populations, household incomes and home values.
By Michael DeSenne, Executive Editor
| May 2014
gomattolson via creative commons
Cost of Living: 12.9% below U.S. average
City Population: 197,872
Median Household Income: $38,714 (U.S.: $53,046)
Median Home Value: $102,800 (U.S.: $181,400)
For one week every April, Augusta becomes one of the priciest places to be in Georgia thanks to the Masters. Golf fans can pay $1,000 a night to rent a house near the fabled course. The Masters winner pockets $1.62 million in prize money, the equivalent of how much 42 local families earn in a year. The other 51 weeks, Augusta is remarkably affordable. Housing costs fall a full 26.5% below average, and groceries go for 13.9% less, according to the Cost of Living Index. The greater metropolitan area includes the South Carolina cities of North Augusta and Aiken.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Augusta area.
Billy Hathorn via Wikimedia Commons
City Population: 69,148
Median Household Income: $51,192
Median Home Value: $113,200
Just an hour north of Austin, this city in central Texas is a world away from the state capital when it comes to affordability. The overall cost of living in Temple is nearly 13% below average, compared with 6.8% below average for Austin. A typical home costs $100,000 less in Temple than in Austin. Yet cheap living doesn’t equate to a weak local economy. Household incomes -- the highest on this list -- are nearly as high as they are in Austin, and the unemployment rate for the Temple metropolitan area, which includes Killeen and Fort Hood, comes in below the national jobless rate.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Temple area.
Billy Hathorn via Creative Commons
Cost of Living: 13.2% below U.S. average
City Population: 104,552
Median Household Income: $44,390
Median Home Value: $91,300
Wichita Falls has the third-lowest home value on our list of cheap cities. You can move in for less than $100,000. If you prefer not to own, the typical apartment rents for just $577 a month, $316 less than the national average. To put that rental figure in perspective, the average apartment in Manhattan will set you back $3,783 a month. But income is solid relative to the city’s reasonable across-the-board living expenses, and the unemployment rate is a low 5% (versus the U.S. rate of 6.7% as of March 2014). Sheppard Air Force Base is a top employer of Wichita Falls residents and a major contributor to the regional economy.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Wichita Falls area.
Thomas R Machnitzki via Wikimedia Commons
Cost of Living: 13.3% below U.S. average
City Population: 70,187
Median Household Income: $39,388
Median Home Value: $133,500
It’s only fitting that the Cash Highway peters out before it enters Jonesboro. After all, you don’t need a lot of cash to live there. The cost of everything from groceries to utilities is well below average. Health care can be a particular bargain: A dental checkup in Jonesboro runs 28% less than the national average, and a trip to the optometrist is 27% cheaper than you'd typically find elsewhere in the U.S. Even ibuprofen costs 13% less than average, according to the Cost of Living Index.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Jonesboro area.
Cost of Living: 13.5% below U.S. average
City Population: 65,405
Median Household Income: $24,421
Median Home Value: $48,100
That Youngstown is much closer to Pittsburgh than Columbus, Ohio’s capital, underscores its roots in the steel industry. Like other Rust Belt cities, Youngstown has struggled to find its footing in a modern economy. The population is declining, home values are a staggering 73% less than the national median, and household incomes are 54% below the norm for the U.S. There’s some consolation, albeit small, in the fact that grocery, health care and housing expenses are well below average, too.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Youngstown area.
Cost of Living: 14.4% below U.S. average
City Population: 57,899
Median Household Income: $46,291
Median Home Value: $147,800
With the Teton Range to the east and overall housing expenses an astonishing 34.6% below average -- the lowest among all 308 urban areas covered by the Cost of Living Index -- Idaho Falls residents can afford big views on tiny budgets. Not only do homeowners reap the benefits of reasonable real estate prices, but apartment renters can enjoy the same panoramic views for just $674 a month, on average. (Nationwide, typical rent for an apartment is $893.) And, yes, potatoes are cheap in Idaho Falls -- 26% less than the national average, to be precise.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Idaho Falls area.
Mark Gstohl via Creative Commons
Cost of Living: 14.6% below U.S. average
City Population: 655,155
Median Household Income: $36,817
Median Home Value: $98,300
Memphis is a big city -- it’s the biggest in Tennessee, and it has nearly a half-million more residents than the next-largest city on this list (Augusta, Ga.). Yet it doesn’t have big-city prices. You can buy a home in Memphis for less than $100,000, a price tag that’s hard to match in a comparably sized city. Proximity to the Mississippi River makes it a hub for the shipping and transportation industries. Memphis is home to three Fortune 500 companies (FedEx, International Paper and AutoZone), numerous colleges and universities, mouthwatering ribs and, of course, Graceland.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Memphis area.
OKGuy via Creative Commons
Cost of Living: 16.2% below U.S. average
City Population: 115,562
Median Household Income: $48,248
Median Home Value: $149,900
Just south of Oklahoma City, Norman enjoys a unique combination of low unemployment, cheap living expenses and solid incomes. Housing and utilities are particularly affordable. Apartments, for example, rent for $598 a month, on average, $169 less than in the state capital. And yet the median household income is $2,500 more than it is in Oklahoma City. Norman is home to the National Weather Center, which shouldn’t come as a surprise -- the city is located right in the heart of tornado country.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Norman area.
Cost of Living: 16.6% below U.S. average
City Population: 107,772
Median Household Income: $35,176
Median Home Value: $116,700
Pueblo, a small city in southern Colorado about 100 miles from Denver, is known more for its green chiles than the amount of green its residents earn. The median household income is 34% lower than the nation’s and 40% below Colorado’s. But the low incomes come with low living expenses, which makes Pueblo a perennial contender when we look for the cheapest places to live in the U.S. The median home value, for example, is less than half that of the state as a whole, and the typical rent falls 23% below the national average.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Pueblo area.
Harlingen Convention & Visitors Bureau
Cost of Living: 18.4% below U.S. average
City Population: 65,679
Median Household Income: $34,096
Median Home Value: $77,700
South Texas is home to the cheapest place to live in the U.S. Head inland from the beaches of South Padre Island and you’ll soon run into Harlingen. Cheap housing is a big factor in Harlingen’s affordability, but so is cheap food. Of the 308 urban areas examined by the Cost of Living Index, just three have cheaper groceries than Harlingen. But affordability doesn't necessarily equate to prosperity. One in three Harlingen residents live below the poverty line, nearly double the poverty rate for Texas and more than double the U.S. rate.
RESOURCE: Find the best, latest mortgage rates in the Harlingen area.
1. Harlingen, Texas
2. McAllen, Texas
3. Norman, Okla.
4. Memphis, Tenn.
5. Fayetteville, Ark.
6. Wichita Falls, Texas
7. Pueblo, Colo.
8. Springfield, Ill.
9. Conway, Ark.
10. Idaho Falls, Idaho
Kiplinger updates many of its "best places" rankings annually. Above is last year's list of the cheapest cities in the U.S. Keep in mind that ranking methodologies can change from year to year based on what data was available at the time of publishing, changes to how the data was gathered, switches to new data providers and tweaks to the formulas used to narrow the pool of candidates.
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