Personal Finance

The 25 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In

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.

But if you're thinking about relocating to one of these cheapest U.S. cities to live in, 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 based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 290 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.

Read on for our latest list of the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.

The Cost of Living Index is based on price data collected during the second quarter of 2021. 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 are as of Sept. 29 for the month of August, and are not seasonally adjusted.  

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25. Fort Wayne, Indiana

  • Cost of living: 13.2% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 413,263
  • Median household income: $57,287 (U.S.: $65,712)
  • Median home value: $143,800 (U.S.: $240,500)
  • Unemployment rate: 4.9% (U.S.: 4.8%)

The Fort Wayne metro area offers an enviable combination of affordability and amenities. Not only does this Northeast 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 34% 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. Grocery items and utilities are also notably cheaper compared against national averages, helping to secure Fort Wayne's spot among the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.

Happily, the metro area's unemployment rate has dropped sharply from last year's pandemic-caused spike, and compares favorably with the national level. Parkview Health, General Motors (GM) and Lincoln Financial Group (LNC) are just a few of the metro area's major employers.

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24. Savannah, Georgia

  • Cost of living: 13.3% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 393,353
  • Median household income: $60,371
  • Median home value: $201,000
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%

To outsiders, Savannah is probably best known as a tourist destination, famous for its massive oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, National Historic Landmark Districts, steamy summers and Southern Gothic charm.

But those who call Savannah home know how surprisingly affordable it can be. The overall cost of living in Georgia's oldest city (founded in 1733) runs 13.3% below the national average, led by housing costs that are 36% less than what the typical American pays. Utilities, groceries and transportation are also relative bargains, but healthcare is almost 11% higher than the U.S. average.

Low prices are just part of Savannah's appeal. Indeed, from film to fashion, the metro area punches well above its weight when it comes to cultural offerings. The Savannah College of Art and Design's annual Savannah Film Festival is a must for cinephiles. Savannah State University and the Armstrong Campus of Georgia Southern University also make homes in "The Hostess City of the South." 

Naturally, as with most of the cheapest U.S. cities on this list, prices can vary across the metro area. Median household income in the city of Savannah proper (pop. 144,457) is about $15,000 less than the metro area level of $60,371. The city suffers from lower median home values, higher unemployment and a higher poverty rate, as well. 

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23. Decatur/Hartselle, Alabama

  • Cost of living: 13.4% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 152,603
  • Median household income: $53,447
  • Median home value: $142,900
  • Unemployment rate: 2.6%

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 34% cheaper than the national average. Apartment rents are around 43% less than what the average American shells out every month. Prices on a wide range of goods and services, from pizza to haircuts to dry cleaning, are cheaper, too.

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22. Lynchburg, Virginia

  • Cost of living: 13.4% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 266,186
  • Median household income: $57,736
  • Median home value: $174,000
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0%

Lynchburg sits in the foothills of the famed Blue Ridge Mountains and is home to Liberty University, the city's largest employer. But a diversity of businesses and industries makes the metro area more than just a college town.

A comparatively resilient job market – the unemployment rate stands well below the national level – and a low cost of living help explain how Lynchburg has ranked near the top of Gallup's well-being index.

The "City of Seven Hills" makes this list of cheapest U.S. cities to live in largely because its residents spend nearly a quarter less than the national average on housing costs. Groceries and transportation costs run below what the average American pays, too.

But while Lynchburg is America's cheapest cities, not every last thing is less expensive here. Utilities do cost a little more than the national average, for instance. Beer, a movie ticket or a visit to the optometrist are a bit pricier than average, too. 

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21. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

  • Cost of living: 13.6% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 676,008
  • Median household income: $52,322
  • Median home value: $164,800
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%

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 fall more than 13% 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 then so is median home value. Indeed, in Thomasville-Lexington, overall housing costs are 31% lower. Transportation, meanwhile, is about 30% less expensive than the national average. On the downside, prices in the aforementioned healthcare sector do run a bit hot, or more than 22.2% above the U.S. average.

Residents of Thomasville-Lexington will find deals on all manner of other goods and services, however. The average apartment rents for $766 per month, vs. the national average of $1,215. Plus, sugar is about 24% less expensive, gas runs cheaper by 11% and you'll save a big bundle having your tires rebalanced. 

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20. Mobile, Alabama

  • Cost of living: 13.9% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 428,039
  • Median household income: $49,561
  • Median home value: $139,000
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8%

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. For those in search of more raucous pursuits, Mobile happens to host the oldest organized Mardi Gras festivities in the U.S.

Happily, the metro area and its abundance of activities and traditions come with affordable living costs, which stand almost 14% below the national average. Housing costs are particularly affordable, or almost 35% less than what the typical American pays. Transportation and utilities are comparative bargains also help Mobile maintain its place among the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.

Just note that healthcare expenses run almost 7% above the national average. 

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.

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19. Lake Charles, Louisiana

  • Cost of living: 13.9% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 209,035
  • Median household income: $51,547
  • Median home value: $164,700
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%

From cajun cooking to classical music to petrochemicals, 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, liquid 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.

And let's not forget the culinary culture. Lake Charles cookouts are the perfect opportunity to indulge in a classic Louisiana shrimp boil, complete with crawfish, corn and potatoes. This being Cajun country, boudin sausage stuffed with pork, seafood or even alligator is popular too.

Meanwhile, living costs run nearly 14% below the national average, led, as per usual, by housing, which is 23.3% cheaper than what the typical American pays. Utilities are an even bigger bargain, with residents saving 26% on their bills vs. the national average.

Sadly, there's another part of the equation when it comes to the metro area's low cost of living. The poverty rate of 20.4% is about 10% higher than the state level, and towers over the U.S. rate of 12.3%.

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18. Decatur, Illinois

  • Cost of living: 14.2% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 104,009
  • Median household income: $50,839
  • Median home value: $105,500
  • Unemployment rate: 8.2%

Decatur, Illinois, and its surrounding metro area is probably best known as an agricultural and manufacturing center. Archer Daniel 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).

ADM'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 14.2% 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 roughly 30% lower than the national average in metro Decatur, and healthcare and groceries are notably cheaper too. Residents save 13% on a doctor's appointment, for example, while a half-gallon of milk costs 20% less than the national average.

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 more than 5,000 people taking classes at Richland Community College. 

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17. Memphis, Tennessee

  • Cost of living: 14.6% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 1,369,904
  • Median household income: $54,295
  • Median home value: $167,800
  • Unemployment rate: 6.1%

To say that real estate is cheap in the Memphis metro area is an understatement. Average home prices come to $309,222 – an amount that would elicit screams from people who live in the most expensive U.S. cities. (The national average stands at $395,284, per C2ER.) Renters benefit, too. A typical apartment in Memphis rents for about $200 a month less than the U.S. average.

The pandemic recession hurt the local economy, but there's good work if you can get it. Proximity to 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.

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16. Conway, Arkansas

  • Cost of living: 14.7% below U.S. average
  • City population: 67,640
  • Median household income: $46,805
  • Median home value: $202,500
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%

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, such as digital marketing firm Acxiom, and post-secondary educational institutions, including the University of Central Arkansas.

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.

While Conway's median home value is among the highest on the list of the 25 cheapest U.S. cities, the figure is still below the U.S. median, and housing-related expenses, including utilities, are modest. Relatively low costs for healthcare also contribute to Conway's affordability.

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15. Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa

  • Cost of living: 14.9% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 168,522
  • Median household income: $63,131
  • Median home value: $158,500
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0%    

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 52-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.

Major employers include agricultural machinery manufacturer Deere (DE), Tyson Foods (TSN) and discount retailer Target (TGT), which helps keep the unemployment rate under wraps. 

All in all, it's a Midwestern setting with typically affordable Midwestern prices. The metro area's cost of living is almost 15% below the national average, led by a 21.5% discount on housing costs. 

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14. Florence, Alabama

  • Cost of living: 15.2% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 147,970
  • Median household income: $45,824
  • Median home value: $145,500
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5%

The city of Florence, the birthplace of Helen Keller, sits in the northwest corner of Alabama on the Tennessee River, about a two-hour drive from Birmingham.

Florence – as well as the surrounding metro area, known as The Shoals – boast a number of other attractions. The nearby Muscle Shoals Sound Studio has a rich history; it's where The Rolling Stones recorded the hit songs "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar." 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 32% lower than what the average American pays. For example, the average apartment rents for $626, which is about half the national average. Healthcare costs almost a fifth less in Florence.

All other major expenses tracked by the Cost of Living Index likewise take a smaller bite of folks' paychecks, putting Florence in the middle of the pack of the 25 cheapest U.S. cities to live in.

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13. Jackson, Tennessee

  • Cost of living: 15.5% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 178,644
  • Median household income: $48,700
  • Median home value: $121,400
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%

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.

Jackson serves 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 15.5% lower than the national average, led by particularly low healthcare and housing expenses.

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12. Texarkana, Texas/Arkansas

  • Cost of living: 15.7% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 149,308
  • Median household income: $51,544
  • Median home value: $117,200
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1%

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 $943 a month in this border city. Nationally, the average rent comes to $1,215. Grocery items, utilities, healthcare and transportation are all significantly cheaper, as well.

A trip to the doctor in Texarkana costs an average of $100.50, according to the Cost of Living Index. Nationally, a doctor's visit runs $117.19. And a dozen eggs will go for $1.31 in Texarkana vs. a national average of $1.62.

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11. Augusta-Aiken, Georgia/South Carolina

  • Cost of living: 16% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 610,648
  • Median household income: $55,143
  • Median home value: $161,800
  • 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% 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 about a 10% break on grocery items.

As much as the Masters dominates outsiders' imagination about this city a two-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.

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10. Hattiesburg, Mississippi

  • Cost of living: 16.3% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 168,469
  • Median household income: $48,359
  • Median home value: $145,300
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%

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.

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 36% lower than the national average. Utilities, transportation costs and healthcare are also bargains.

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9. Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Cost of living: 16.4% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 869,525
  • Median household income: $56,623
  • Median home value: $186,900
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5%

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.

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.

The city was a strategic objective in the Civil War, so history buffs can visit a number of battlefields nearby, too.

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8. Kokomo, Indiana

  • Cost of living: 16.9% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 82,544
  • Median household income: $53,440
  • Median home value: $109,800
  • Unemployment rate: 6.8%

As a longtime manufacturing hub for the global automotive industry, it follows that Kokomo's major employers include the Chrysler division of Stellantis (STLA), General Motors (GM), Aptiv (APTV) and Haynes International (HAYN).

One downside of Kokomo's dependence on the auto sector is a comparatively high unemployment rate, which peaked at 31% during the 2020 pandemic-caused recession. Fortunately, low living costs help cushion the blow of downturns. Indeed, the metro area's poverty rate of 11.9% is no higher than the state level and is less than the U.S. rate. 

Area residents spend about a third less on overall housing costs. The average home price of $284,691 is 28% cheaper than the U.S. average of $395,284, per C2ER. Folks save significant dollars on transportation and grocery items, as well, but healthcare costs the same as what the typical American pays. 

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. 

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7. Joplin, Missouri

  • Cost of living: 17.3% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 179,564
  • Median household income: $48,909
  • Median home value: $127,800
  • Unemployment rate: 3.0%

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 among the 10 cheapest U.S. cities. Groceries, healthcare and transportation costs are comparatively low, as well.

Utilities, however, run slightly above the U.S. average. Prescription drugs, pizza and phone bills are a bit more expensive too.

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6. Anniston, Alabama

  • Cost of living: 17.7% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 113,605
  • Median household income: $48,156
  • Median home value: $121,600
  • Unemployment rate: 4.1%

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.

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 roughly 27% below the national average. 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 more than 40% lower than what the average American pays. Utilities, however, are relatively pricey, running 24% 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.

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5. Amarillo, Texas

  • Cost of living: 18.3% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 269,447
  • Median household income: $53,510
  • Median home value: $156,300
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%

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 39% less on housing-related costs vs. the national average.

It's also encouraging that Amarillo's economy has bounced back comparatively well since the short-but-sharp recession of 2020. For example, the metro area's unemployment rate of 3.6% stands well below the national rate of 4.8%.

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4. Jackson, Mississippi

  • Cost of living: 20.9% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 594,800
  • Median household income: $52,426
  • Median home value: $153,800
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%

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.

Overall living costs are almost 21% below the national average, led by housing, which is close to 40% cheaper. Transportation expenses are also a big bargain. Healthcare costs, however, are about in line with the U.S. average. 

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3. McAllen, Texas

  • Cost of living: 22.3% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 868,707
  • Median household income: $41,800
  • Median home value: $93,400
  • Unemployment rate: 8.9%

South Texas border towns are known for low costs of living, but not always for happy reasons.

McAllen, which is about 30 miles west of Harlingen on the Rio Grande, may 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 27.3%. That's about double the Texas rate of 13.6% and more than twice the U.S. rate of 12.3%. The unemployment rate also remains stubbornly high 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 almost 42% lower than the national average, healthcare expenses are 29% cheaper and grocery items are 15% 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.

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2. Harlingen, Texas

  • Cost of living: 22.7% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 423,163
  • Median household income: $41,123
  • Median home value: $89,000
  • Unemployment rate: 7.9%

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 25.6% 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 median home value in Harlingen is a striking $151,100 less than the U.S. median. The average apartment rents for $702 per month – or 42% lower than the national average of $1,215. 

However, as with not-too-distant neighbor McAllen, utility bills run a bit high, or 10.2% 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.

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1. Kalamazoo, Michigan

  • Cost of living: 22.9% below U.S. average
  • Metro population: 265,066
  • Median household income: $56,441
  • Median home value: $171,800
  • Unemployment rate: 4.6%

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. 76,201), more than 26% of residents live below the poverty line. (At the metro level, which includes Portage, Michigan, the figure comes to 13.4%.) The U.S. and Michigan state poverty rates are 12.3% and 13%, respectively.

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.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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