This Midwestern College Town Is One of the Best Places to Save Money

by Elizabeth Aldrich | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on Jan. 26, 2020

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This "Silicon Prairie" offers high salaries and low housing costs.

This "Silicon Prairie" offers high salaries and low housing costs.

Whether you're trying to pay off debt, buy a house, or save for retirement, there's one of two ways to give your savings account a boost: cut your spending or increase your income. Ideally, you do both.

Unfortunately, a lot of Americans are struggling with a rising cost of living and stagnant wages. The answer to both of those predicaments might be this unassuming, yet beloved midwestern college town: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

A savings sweet spot of high salaries and a low cost of living

The key to choosing where to live if you want to skyrocket your savings rate is two-fold. You've got to find an affordable locale, but also one where you can make good money.

A recent study by The Ascent ranked Champaign-Urbana fourth in the nation on their list of the best cities with a low cost of living and high salaries. The town has the second-lowest cost of living of any place on the list, and the mean annual salary is a respectable $50,630.

General wisdom advises spending around 30% of your monthly pre-tax income on housing. In theory, this allows you some room in your budget for savings, but the more you can decrease that ratio, the more you can save. The median rent in Champaign-Urbana sits at $742 for a one-bedroom. Assuming you make close to the mean annual salary for the area, you'd be earning just over $4,100 per month. That means your rent would only be 18% of your income, allowing you to save all that additional money.

Opportunities for career growth, entrepreneurship, and education

As for career growth, there are opportunities in the area. Industry often builds itself around highly-ranked colleges as they provide a continual supply of talented graduates, and Champaign-Urbana is no different. It's home to the University of Illinois, known for its engineering, information sciences, law, education, business, and psychology programs.

The education industry is booming in Champaign-Urbana, with the University of Illinois being Champaign County's top employer, followed by Parkland College. The jobs offered by these institutions are some of the best in the state.

However, the area is also a hotspot for the growing tech industry -- its nickname being Silicon Prairie. "We're the proud home to dozens of high-tech companies," explains City of Champaign Mayor, Deborah Frank Feinen, "and many of our country's brightest entrepreneurs and successful startups were launched right here in Champaign."

What people love about Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

Saving money is important, but you're probably wondering, "Would I enjoy living in Champaign-Urbana?" For folks who aren't from the Midwest, it has the stereotype of being flat and boring.

Feinen insists that's far from the case. "People move here for the world-class educational opportunities at the University of Illinois and Parkland College," she told The Ascent. "But then they fall in love with the micro-urban vibe of our diverse community and they stay to start their careers and families."

With a downtown revival project well underway, Champaign-Urbana has a cozy urban atmosphere, with the perks and rich opportunity of a city, but the easy lifestyle and community of a small town. Add in the spirit and fun of living in a college town, and it's easy to see why people are pleasantly surprised by this area. If you're ever itching for some time in a big city, both Chicago and Indianapolis are only a couple of hours away.

If you're trying to improve your savings habits and considering relocation, the home of the Fighting Illini could be a good place to call home.

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