The 10 Most Affordable Cities With High Salaries and Low Cost of Living in the South

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Children walking dog near a lighthouse.

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When it comes to the most affordable places to live in the U.S., the South can't be beat. Out of the 10 best bargains we found in the country, six are located in the South. More than any other region, it offers the ideal blend of high wages and a low cost of living.

So, what are the 10 most affordable cities in the South? Keep reading to see the full list and learn more about them.

The 10 most affordable places to live in the southern United States

To find the most affordable cities, The Ascent compared median household incomes to cost-of-living data. This was used to calculate an estimated income-to-expense ratio, with a higher ratio indicating more affordability.

Affordability ranking City Estimated income-to-expense ratio Cost-of-living estimate Median household income
1 Cedar Park, Texas 1.401 $61,774 $86,530
2 San Marcos, Texas 1.338 $64,652 $86,530
3 Midland, Texas 1.327 $60,637 $80,478
4 Raleigh, North Carolina 1.326 $64,318 $85,303
5 Ardmore, Oklahoma 1.313 $56,621 $74,331
6 Douglasville-Douglas County, Georgia 1.290 $60,168 $77,589
7 Louisville, Kentucky 1.288 $64,050 $82,503
8 Austin, Texas 1.280 $67,597 $86,530
9 Huntsville, Alabama 1.257 $61,239 $76,963
10 Alexandria, Virginia 1.203 $91,758 $110,355
Data source: The Motley Fool Ascent calculations.

For each city, its cost-of-living index (from the Council for Community and Economic Research) was multiplied by national median household expenditures to calculate a cost-of-living estimate.

Then, the city's median household income was divided by its cost-of-living estimate. The result was the estimated income-to-expense ratio. The higher this score is, the more that city's median income exceeds estimated living costs. Therefore, a higher score indicates more affordability.

1. Cedar Park, Texas

Suburban homes in Texas.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.401
  • Cost-of-living index: 92.3
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $61,774
  • Median household income: $86,530
  • Median home price: $478,900 (for the Austin-Round Rock, Texas metro area)
  • Population: 78,693
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%

Cedar Park is the most affordable city in the South, and in the United States as a whole. It has excellent wages, with a median income 22.2% higher than the U.S. median income. While it isn't the cheapest city in the country, the cost of living beats the national average by 7.7%. If you're looking to keep food costs down, you'll be happy to read that groceries cost 15% less than the national average here.

Affordability is far from the only thing Cedar Park has to offer. The school system is highly rated and nearly 80% of residents have gone to college, with more than half holding a college degree. With lots of parks and a suburban environment, Cedar Park is one of the best affordable cities to raise a family.

Cedar Park has a median age of 35.4, below the U.S. average of 38.5. Its unemployment rate is 3.6%, so it's almost even with the national rate of 3.5%. This city's largest industries are:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Retail trade
  • Healthcare and social assistance

2. San Marcos, Texas

Courthouse in San Marcos, Texas.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.338
  • Cost-of-living index: 96.6
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $64,652
  • Median household income: $86,530
  • Median home price: $478,900 (for the Austin-Round Rock, Texas metro area)
  • Population: 68,580
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%

The two most affordable Southern cities aren't far from each other. Second-place San Marcos is only about 50 miles south of Cedar Park, and it shares many of the same advantages. The median income is 22.2% higher than the national median, and groceries are cheap at 14.2% less than the national average.

However, while Cedar Park is more family-oriented, San Marcos is a great place to live for young adults. Its median age is only 25.1, the lowest on this list. There's also no shortage of things to do, from bars offering live music to museums and fun outdoor attractions.

Unemployment in San Marcos is on the high side at 4.3%. The industries that employ the most people here are:

  • Accommodation and food services
  • Retail trade
  • Educational services

3. Midland, Texas

Midland, Texas at dusk from river.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.327
  • Cost-of-living index: 90.6
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $60,637
  • Median household income: $80,478
  • Median home price: $345,900
  • Population: 131,325
  • Unemployment rate: 3.0%

Midland is one of those rare places that has extremely affordable housing and above-average wages. Housing costs are 22.9% less than the national average, and if you want to buy a home, prices are lower than average house prices in much of the country.

Overall, residents in Midland enjoy a cost of living 9.4% better than average, and groceries are 12.6% cheaper than average. This is a popular place to live for young professionals, and it has a median age of 31.4.

The median income in Midland is 13.7% higher than the national median, and it has a low unemployment rate of 3.0%. It's also one of the largest oil production centers in the country, so the first of its top three industries is no surprise:

  • Mining, quarrying, oil, and gas extraction
  • Retail trade
  • Healthcare and social assistance

4. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina, at dusk.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.326
  • Cost-of-living index: 96.1
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $64,318
  • Median household income: $85,303
  • Median home price: $431,000
  • Population: 469,124
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%

Raleigh is the most affordable Southern city outside of Texas, and most major expenses are cheaper here. Groceries cost 8.4% less than the national average, transportation costs 5.5% less, and the cost of living as a whole is 3.9% below the national average.

At the risk of sounding cliche, Raleigh has something for just about everyone. It's often referred to as the "Smithsonian of the South" for all its free museums. There are also plenty of outdoor activities and quality schools, so it's another excellent place to raise a family. Age-wise, the median in Raleigh is 34.0.

The job market is strong in Raleigh as well. The median income is 20.5% more than the national median, and the unemployment rate of 3.1% is less than the national rate. The industries with the most people employed in Raleigh are:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade

5. Ardmore, Oklahoma

Tucker Tower on lake Murray, in Ardmore Oklahoma

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.313
  • Cost-of-living index: 84.6
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $56,621
  • Median household income: $74,331
  • Median home price: $189,000
  • Population: 24,893
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%

Those looking for a quiet place to live will feel right at home in Ardmore. With under 25,000 residents, it's the smallest city on this list. It also has the lowest cost of living, beating the national average by 15.4%, making it one of the best places to retire. The median age is 37.4.

Housing is where residents save the most. Its housing costs are a whopping 37.3% less than the national average, and Ardmore is one of the few places where median home prices are still under $200,000.

Ardmore also has the lowest median household income among the most affordable Southern cities, although it still beats the national median by 5.0%. Unemployment is close to the U.S. average at 3.6%. The major industries in Ardmore are:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade
  • Manufacturing

6. Douglasville-Douglas County, Georgia

Suburban Georgia neighborhood at dusk

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.290
  • Cost-of-living index: 89.9
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $60,168
  • Median household income: $77,589
  • Median home price: $330,000
  • Population: 35,561
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0%

Douglasville is another city that's on the small side, and it provides a balance between a low cost of living and reasonably high salaries. Households have a median income 9.6% greater than the national median, although unemployment of 4.0% is above the national rate. The median age in Douglasville is 36.7.

This city's cost of living comes in 10.1% lower than the national average. While costs are low across the board compared to average American households' expenses, residents save the most on utilities (17.9% less than the national average) and housing (17.3% less). Douglasville's biggest industries are:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade
  • Educational services

7. Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky, USA skyline on the river.

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.288
  • Cost-of-living index: 95.7
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $64,050
  • Median household income: $82,503
  • Median home price: $251,200 (for the Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky-Indiana metro area)
  • Population: 628,594
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0%

Sports fans will love Louisville, which was home to Muhammad Ali and now has a self-guided tour, "Footsteps of Greatness," dedicated to the boxing icon. The Kentucky Derby also takes place here every year at Churchill Downs, and most professional baseball teams get their bats from the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Store.

Louisville's cost of living is lower than the national average by 4.3%, but expenses vary quite a bit. It has very cheap housing and healthcare, as those cost 21.2% and 24.3% less than the national average, respectively. On the other hand, some costs are higher in Louisville, most notably transportation at 13.0% more than average. The median age is 37.7.

While Louisville's median income is 15.6% more than the national median, its 4.0% unemployment rate is a bit high. In the Louisville-Jefferson County metropolitan area, the major industries are:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail trade

8. Austin, Texas

View of Austin, Texas, from river.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.280
  • Cost-of-living index: 101.0
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $67,597
  • Median household income: $86,530
  • Median home price: $478,900 (for the Austin-Round Rock, Texas metro area)
  • Population: 964,177
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%

Home to nearly 1 million people, Austin is the largest city on this list and the capital of Texas. It's one of the most affordable Southern cities because of its median income, which is 22.2% higher than the national median. The unemployment rate is 3.9%.

Since it's a big city, Austin is full of things to do. It has a fantastic live music scene, lots of parks and lakes, and plenty of places to go out at night. It's also home to the University of Texas, a highly rated university and the place residents go to see this city's beloved Longhorns. Austin is definitely a place for young adults, and the median age is 33.7.

The cost of living in Austin is only 1.0% more than the national average, but housing is a big expense here, coming in at 15.5% more than average. On the bright side, it has inexpensive grocery costs (11.6% less than the national average) and transportation (9.1% less). Austin is home to various industries, with the largest being:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Educational services
  • Healthcare and social assistance

9. Huntsville, Alabama

Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama during the spring time.

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.257
  • Cost-of-living index: 91.5
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $61,239
  • Median household income: $86,963
  • Median home price: $334,800
  • Population: 216,963
  • Unemployment rate: 2.0%

Huntsville stands out for its robust job market. Its unemployment rate of 2.0% is the lowest on the list and well below the national rate. These aren't low-paying jobs, either. Households earn a median income 22.9% higher than the national average.

The median age in Huntsville is 36.8, and the city has a good mix of activities for both younger and older generations. Residents can learn about the space program at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center or get a blast from the past at Constitution Hall Park, which re-enacts life in 1819.

The cost of living is competitive here at 8.5% less than the national average. Housing costs, in particular, are where Huntsville shines. Those are 25.1% below the national average, making this one of the best cities to buy a home. This city's three largest industries are:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Manufacturing

10. Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria, Virginia, at dusk.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.203
  • Cost-of-living index: 137.1
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $91,758
  • Median household income: $110,355
  • Median home price: $550,100 (for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia area)
  • Population: 154,706
  • Unemployment rate: 2.3%

Less than 10 miles from Washington D.C., Alexandria is an exciting option for U.S. history buffs. It has an Old Town full of 18th- and 19th-century buildings, but the main attraction may be Gadsby's Tavern. In service since 1770, this restaurant once hosted some of the Founding Fathers.

Unlike the majority of the most affordable cities, Alexandria isn't a cheap place to live. The cost of living is much higher than the national average, topping it by 37.1%. Housing costs take up a huge portion of people's budgets, as these are a staggering 98.1% more expensive than the national average.

Alexandria makes the top 10 entirely due to its excellent job market. The median household income is 55.9% higher than the national median, taking some of the sting out of the cost of living. Unemployment is also very low at 2.3%. Thanks to that, it's considered a top city for young professionals, and the median age is 36.8. The largest industries in Alexandria are:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Public administration
  • Healthcare and social assistance

Cheapest and most expensive cities in the Southern United States

Harlingen, Texas is the cheapest city in both the South and the United States as a whole, with a cost-of-living index of 77.1, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Washington, D.C. is the most expensive in the South at 152.3. A cost-of-living index of 100 represents the nationwide average. That means Harlingen is 22.9% less expensive than average, and Washington, D.C. is 52.3% more expensive.

In the tables below, you'll find the 10 cheapest and most expensive cities in the Southern United States. These lists are based entirely on cost of living. Income wasn't considered, so this isn't an affordability ranking.

Cheapest cities in the South

City Cost-of-living index
Harlingen, Texas 77.1
Muskogee, Oklahoma 78.2
McAllen, Texas 79.3
Tupelo, Mississippi 81.4
Statesboro-Bulloch County, Georgia 83.0
Anniston-Calhoun County, Alabama 83.1
Albany, Georgia 83.5
Jackson, Mississippi 83.7
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 83.9
Data source: Council for Community and Economic Research (2023).

Most expensive cities in the South

City Cost-of-living index
Washington, D.C. 152.3
Arlington, Virginia 140.8
Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick, Maryland 139.8
Alexandria, Virginia 137.1
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 122.2
Plano, Texas 121.2
Miami-Dade County, Florida 120.6
New Orleans, Louisiana 111.5
Wilmington, Delaware 109.5
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida 108.9
Data source: Council for Community and Economic Research (2023).

Methodology

Each city's cost-of-living index was taken from the Council for Community and Economic Research's 2022 annual average cost-of-living index report.

The estimated cost of living in each city is calculated by multiplying the city's cost-of-living index score by the median annual household expenditure across the United States. This number is an estimate of median expenditures per household in the city. Household expenditure data is from the 2021 Consumer Expenditure survey.

The estimated income-to-expense ratio is calculated by dividing the median household income in the city by the cost-of-living-estimate for the city. A higher estimated income-to-expense ratio score means the city is more affordable as the median household income there is above the cost-of-living estimate. Income data is from the 2021 American Community Survey.

Regional designations are based on Census Bureau geographic classification.

Sources

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