Published in: Banks | Jan. 5, 2020

The Low Cost of Living Large in St. Louis

By:  Dana George

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If you're looking for a place with good salaries and a high standard of living, it's tough to do better than St. Louis. 

St. Louis, Missouri landed in the No. 5 spot on The Ascent's list of metropolitan areas in the U.S. with the best combination of high salaries and low cost of living. But this Midwest Mecca has even more to be proud of.

Let's begin with the Cost of Living Index (COLI). The average COLI -- which includes everything from housing to healthcare -- is 100. For example, if an area has a cost of living score of 150, that means that the cost of living there is 50% higher than the national average. According to our report, the COLI for St. Louis is 87.4, meaning the cost of living there is nearly 13% below the national average.

The average salary in St. Louis is $50,250, which is slightly below the national average. But the lower-than-average cost of living means residents can stretch their income further and possibly even keep more in their savings accounts.

The St. Louis arch and city skyline.

Image source: Getty Images

"I think there are a number of factors that attract small businesses to St. Louis. We have excellent diverse and affordable neighborhoods and an extremely high quality of life with many, many world-class attractions," Jacob Long, Director of Communications, St. Louis Mayor's Office told The Ascent. "We are centrally located in the United States with easy, convenient access to air, rail, and water. We also have a talented, skilled workforce and many higher education institutions to continually draw from." 

St. Louis is home to nine Fortune 500 companies and 14 Fortune 1000 companies. The unemployment rate as of October 2019 was 3.1%, lower than the national average of 3.6%. In 2018, Forbes named St. Louis as one of the top 10 rising cities for startups, in part because the cost of doing business is 8% below the national average.

In addition, St. Louis can brag about being home to top-notch higher education institutions, like Washington University and St. Louis University. The St. Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University Hospital, and Barnes-Jewish Hospital are also all located in St. Louis. In addition, 8 of the top 10 public high schools in the state of Missouri are located in the St. Louis area.

Free attractions

St. Louis has the unusual distinction of providing amazing amenities for free. Residents and visitors alike can visit world-class attractions without having to shell out a dime (unless they're paying for a special exhibit, rides, food, or parking).

Here's a sample of what they offer:

  • St. Louis Art Museum -- a stunning piece of architecture (built for the 1904 World's Fair), filled to the brim with some of the most famous pieces of art on the planet.
  • Missouri History Museum -- where you can learn more about the rough-and-tumble history of the state.
  • St. Louis Zoo -- one of the most widely-respected zoos in the country with up-to-date animal exhibits (and more being built).
  • Forest Park -- NYC has Central Park and St. Louis has Forest Park, home to museums, festivals, and outdoor activities.
  • Grant's Farm -- One of the most popular local attractions, the park allows visitors to go on a mini-safari and see animals from around the globe. And because it's owned by Anheuser-Busch, beer samples are free to anyone over 21.  
  • Science Center -- with smart, interactive exhibits for kids and adults. Perfect for anyone who enjoys science, space, and/or natural history.

These six attractions represent a small percentage of the dozens of interesting, free experiences to be had in St. Louis.

Home in the heartland

John Barringer is one of many St. Louis natives who left the area to build a career and have now moved back. The 38-year-old public accountant initially took a job as a public accountant with Ernst & Young in New York City. 

After more than two years, the pull back home was strong enough to spur him to look for a job in Missouri. The Great Recession was underway, but Barringer quickly found a position and is now CFO of Stifel Bank. 

Barringer says there were some attractive things about living in New York City, including a great transportation system. He enjoyed his friends, job, and getting to know a new area of the country. Still, Barringer says that he found himself wishing for a "few more days" whenever he visited family in St. Louis.

He and his wife Mari have three children, all of whom attend private school. They live in a home that Barringer recognizes would cost much more in most parts of the country and have access to St. Louis parks, museums, and outdoor activities. Most importantly, the couple is surrounded by family. Both John and Mari's parents live 10 minutes away and the children are rich with cousins.

Barringer estimates that 25% of his friends returned to the St. Louis area after college, while 75% moved away. About five years later, he says those numbers had flipped and 75% were back living in the area.

According to Jacob Long, it's not surprising. "I think there are a lot of reasons that keep people in St. Louis or bring them back, and I'm speaking from personal experience as a native who returned here to work. Again, we have super affordable housing and affordable, if not free, attractions and endless options for entertainment," he said. "We have a great food scene with restaurants that are often nationally ranked. We also are often referred to as the Silicon Valley of the Midwest because of our robust, emerging startup scene that attracts a lot of young talent."

Of all they have to brag about, perhaps St. Louis should be most proud of the number of people who leave just long enough to figure out there's no place like home.

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