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

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The Western United States has a well-earned reputation for being expensive. While salaries are high, so is the cost of living, so it doesn't score as well as other regions for affordability.

There are some exceptions, though, including cities with cheaper costs of living and places where wages are high enough to balance out the cost of living there. Here are the 10 most affordable cities in the West, as well as its cheapest and most expensive cities overall.

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

To rank the most affordable cities, The Ascent calculated an estimated income-to-expense ratio. This was based on median household incomes and cost of living data. A higher income-to-expense ratio indicates more affordability.

Affordability ranking City Estimated income-to-expense ratio Cost-of-living estimate Median household income
1 Westminster, Colorado 1.282 $70,743 $90,716
2 Provo-Orem, Utah 1.240 $69,873 $86,629
3 Denver, Colorado 1.227 $73,955 $90,716
4 Ogden, Utah 1.211 $67,196 $81,364
5 Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Washington 1.182 $66,325 $78,367
6 Surprise, Arizona 1.150 $65,857 $75,731
7 Colorado Springs, Colorado 1.124 $70,274 $79,014
8 Phoenix, Arizona 1.085 $69,806 $75,731
9 Reno-Sparks, Nevada 1.080 $70,542 $76,182
10 Olympia, Washington 1.072 $76,164 $81,659
Data source: The Motley Fool Ascent calculations.

For the cost-of-living estimate, each city's cost-of-living index from the Council for Community and Economic Research was multiplied by median household expenditures nationwide. The city's median household income was then divided by its cost-of-living estimate. That determined its estimated income-to-expense ratio.

This ratio measures how much a city's median income exceeds its estimated living costs. A higher score means that the city is a more affordable place to live.

1. Westminster, Colorado

The Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains of the Boulder Flatirons as viewed from Westminster, Colorado

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.282
  • Cost-of-living index: 105.7
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $70,743
  • Median household income: $90,716
  • Median home price: $524,000
  • Population: 114,561
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2%

A suburb of Denver, Westminster tops the list of the most affordable cities in the West because of its excellent wages. The median income comes in 28.2% higher than the median U.S. income. It also has strong employment numbers, with the unemployment rate of 3.2% being lower than the national rate of 3.5%.

In addition to being affordable, Westminster is widely considered a fantastic place to live for those who love the outdoors. It has a large trail network and open space system, so residents have plenty of places to go hiking and camping. The median age here is 37.2, which reflects its mix of young adults, families, and retirees.

Like Denver as a whole, Westminster has expensive housing costs that are 36.4% higher than the national average. Utilities are affordable, though, costing 24.4% less than average. Overall, living in Westminster costs 5.7% more than the average nationwide. The largest industries in this city, by number of employees, are:

  • Retail trade
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Manufacturing

2. Provo-Orem, Utah

Aerial photo of Provo, Utah, with mountains in background.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.240
  • Cost of living index: 104.4
  • Cost of living estimate: $69,873
  • Median household income: $86,629
  • Median home price: $435,000
  • Population: 211,945
  • Unemployment rate: 2.4%

Provo and neighboring town Orem are grouped together here, as they make up the Provo-Orem metro area, and they're by far the youngest places on this list. The median age in Provo is just 23.7, and it's 26.5 in Orem. That's in part due to the presence of Brigham Young University, which is located in Provo and sponsored by the LDS Church.

That makes the Provo-Orem area a popular place to live for students. It's full of beautiful sights, including Provo Canyon and Bridal Veil Falls, and it also has several interesting museums.

The cost of living in this area is 4.4% higher than average expenses nationwide, but the median income is 22.4% higher than the U.S. median. Unemployment is also quite low at 2.4%. This metro area's major industries are:

  • Educational services
  • Retail trade
  • Healthcare and social assistance

3. Denver, Colorado

Aerial photo of downtown Denver, Colorado.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.227
  • Cost-of-living index: 110.5
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $73,955
  • Median household income: $90,716
  • Median home price: $640,000
  • Population: 711,463
  • Unemployment rate: 5.9%

Major metropolises usually aren't the most affordable places to live, but Denver is an exception. The median household income here is 28.2% more than the national median. Unfortunately, this city has a very high unemployment rate of 5.9%.

For those with stable income, Denver has a lot to offer. With all its bars, restaurants, parks, and other activities, you'll never run out of things to do or places to see. It's considered one of the best cities in the country for young professionals, with a median age of 34.6, and it's also great for sports fans. You can catch a Broncos game at Mile High Stadium or see the Nuggets during basketball season.

Living in Denver isn't cheap, as the cost of living is higher than the national average by 10.5%. Housing costs are the biggest expense at 35.9% more than the national average. Denver's biggest industries are:

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

4. Ogden, Utah

Downton Ogden, Utah, with mountains in background.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.211
  • Cost-of-living index: 100.4
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $67,196
  • Median household income: $81,364
  • Median home price: $453,500
  • Population: 86,798
  • Unemployment rate: 2.5%

Ogden is relatively inexpensive, at least compared to most of the Western United States. The cost of living is only 0.4% more than the national average, and housing is 3.1% more. It's actually transportation which is on the expensive side, here, as that costs 8.7% more than the national average.

This city is less than 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, and it's in close proximity to several popular ski resorts. Another highlight of Ogden is the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park featuring life-size dinosaurs.

Ogden is on the young side, with a median age of 33.0. The job market is strong, with just a 2.5% unemployment rate and a median income 14.9% greater than the national median. The three top industries in Ogden are:

  • Manufacturing
  • Retail trade
  • Healthcare and social assistance

5. Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Washington

River lighthouse at dusk in Kennewick WA.

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.182
  • Cost-of-living index: 99.1
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $66,325
  • Median household income: $78,367
  • Median home price: $417,000
  • Population: 225,288
  • Unemployment rate: 7.5%

Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco are close enough that they're generally grouped together and referred to as the Tri-Cities. They're located in the Columbia Valley, which is an area particularly well-suited for producing wine. Because of that, the Tri-Cities area has a considerable number of wineries and microbreweries.

Quite a few families live in the Tri-Cities, although Pasco does skew much younger. It has a median age of 29.7, compared to 35.1 for Kennewick and 36.1 for Richland.

The cost of living in the Tri-Cities is 0.9% less than the national average, although residents do pay 19.8% more than the national average for healthcare. To their credit, the Tri-Cities have the lowest median home price on this list. While the median income is 10.7% above the national median, the unemployment rate is extremely high at 7.5%. The largest industries are:

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

6. Surprise, Arizona

Houses in Arizona.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.150
  • Cost-of-living index: 98.4
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $65,857
  • Median household income: $75,731
  • Median home price: $442,200
  • Population: 149,191
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%

If you're looking for the best places to retire, Surprise is one of the top affordable options in the West. It has the lowest cost of living on this list at 1.6% below the national average. Groceries and healthcare are especially cheap here, coming in at 7.7% and 15.3% below the national average, respectively.

Surprise is a fun place to live for people who like to stay active. It has professionally designed golf courses, tennis courts, and aquatic centers. Because of how popular this city is with retirees, it has the highest median age on this list at 41.9.

Wages are 7.0% above the national median, and this city has a low unemployment rate of 3.1%. Its biggest industries by number of employees are:

  • Retail trade
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Educational services

7. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.124
  • Cost of living index: 105.0
  • Cost of living estimate: $70,274
  • Median household income: $79,014
  • Median home price: $$443,400
  • Population: 483,956
  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%

Perched at 6,035 feet, Colorado Springs is also known as "Olympic City," because it's home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. Fortunately, there are things to do here besides training for the Olympics. It has a diverse mix of restaurants and plenty of outdoor attractions, including Garden of the Gods, a national landmark with stunning red-sandstone formations.

Colorado Springs also has highly rated public schools, so it's one of the best affordable cities to raise a family. The median age here is 34.7, and the cost of living is 5% above the national average.

The median income balances that out, as it's 11.6% higher than the national median. However, like many of the cities on this list, unemployment is a problem. The unemployment rate in Colorado Springs is 5.6%. This city's top three industries are:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade
  • Educational services

8. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix AZ skyline at sunset

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.085
  • Cost-of-living index: 104.3
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $69,806
  • Median household income: $75,731
  • Median home price: $450,400
  • Population: 1,624,569
  • Unemployment rate: 4.9%

The capital of Arizona is the largest city on this list and also one of the largest in the United States. Despite its size, Phoenix has remained fairly affordable. Housing is costly at 24.0% more than the national average, but the overall cost of living is only 4.3% above average.

With a median age of 33.9, Phoenix has a balanced mix of younger adults, professionals at the peaks of their careers, and seniors. It's popular among retirees, although many prefer nearby Surprise. Residents can pamper themselves at the city's luxurious spas and play golf on courses designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Salary-wise, the median household income in Phoenix beats the national median by 7.0%. The unemployment rate is on the high side at 4.9%. The largest industries here are:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade
  • Accommodation and food services

9. Reno-Sparks, Nevada

An aerial view of Reno, Nevada, with mountains in the background.

Image source: Getty Images

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.080
  • Cost-of-living index: 105.4
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $70,542
  • Median household income: $76,182
  • Median home price: $562,100
  • Population: 378,647
  • Unemployment rate: 4.5%

The Reno-Sparks metro area is another affordable option on the West Coast, thanks to a median income 7.6% higher than the national median. The cost of living is 5.4% more than the national average, with housing costing 21.2% more.

Reno is a popular tourist destination. Although it doesn't get nearly as many visitors as Las Vegas, it still has a large gaming industry with plenty of casinos. The median age in Reno is 36.1. Neighboring Sparks is smaller and has an older population, with a median age of 37.8.

The unemployment rate in Reno-Sparks is 4.5%. This area's biggest industries are:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade
  • Accommodation and food services

10. Olympia, Washington

Olympia, Washington with mountains in background.

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.072
  • Cost-of-living index: 113.8
  • Cost-of-living estimate: $76,164
  • Median household income: $81,659
  • Median home price: $525,00
  • Population: 55,919
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%

Although it's not as famous as nearby Seattle, Olympia is the state capital and a good option for those who prefer smaller cities. The median income here is 15.4% above the national median, making it a fit for career-oriented people, and the median age is 37.7.

Education levels are high here, with over three-quarters of the population having at least some college and over half having a degree. Olympia also has excellent public schools, so it's an affordable place for families.

The main drawbacks are an unemployment rate of 5.4% and the cost of living. It's 13.8% higher than the national average, making Olympia the most expensive city on this list. The major industries in Olympia are:

  • Public administration
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Retail trade

Cheapest and most expensive cities in the West

Great Falls, Montana is the cheapest city in the Western United States with a cost-of-living index of 87.4, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. Honolulu, Hawaii is the most expensive city in the West with a cost-of-living index of 184.1. A cost-of-living index of 100 represents the nationwide average. That means Great Falls is 12.6% cheaper than average, and Honolulu is 84.1% more expensive than average.

The tables below have the cheapest and most expensive cities in the Western United States. Note that the cheapest cities are ranked only by their cost of living. It's not a ranking of affordability, because it doesn't account for the average income in each city.

Cheapest cities in the West

City Cost-of-living index
Great Falls, Montana 87.4
Casper, Wyoming 90.0
Bullhead City, Arizona 90.6
Twin Falls, Idaho 91.3
Las Cruces, New Mexico 92.0
Laramie, Wyoming 92.6
Albuquerque, New Mexico 92.9
Cheyenne, Wyoming 95
Yuma, Arizona 95.8
Sandoval-Rio Rancho, New Mexico 97.1
Data source: Council for Community and Economic Research (2023).

Most expensive cities in the West

City Cost-of-living index
Honolulu, Hawaii 184.1
San Francisco California 178.8
Orange County, California 151.4
Los Angeles-Long Beach, California 150.7
Seattle, Washington 149.9
Oakland, California 145.9
San Diego, California 143.8
Lake Havasu City, Arizona 131.9
Kodiak, Alaska 128.7
Juneau, Alaska 128.0
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.

Region designations follow the Census Bureau's geographic designations.

Sources

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