The 10 Most Affordable Cities With High Salaries and Low Costs of Living

Updated Oct. 27, 2021
Christy Bieber
By: Christy Bieber

Our Research Expert

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The cost of living varies wildly across the United States.

Average expenses in Brownsville-Harlington, Texas are almost $110,000 less than those in the New York and Jersey City metro area. But the most affordable places to live aren't just cheap -- they also provide residents the opportunity to earn enough money to live.

The Ascent analyzed cost-of-living data from The Council for Community and Economic Research's Q3 2020 Cost of Living Index (the most recent report available at the time of this writing). The Index measures the cost of groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous goods and services. We combined this information with expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and income figures from the U.S. Census Bureau for over 200 cities to create this ranking.

Editor's note: We've also included a list of professions that are overrepresented in these areas compared to other cities as well as unemployment figures -- use these to get an idea of which types of jobs might be most available in each area and how the job market is currently performing. We've also pointed out the median property value in each city in case you're thinking about moving there and need to plan your new mortgage.

The 10 most affordable places to live in the United States

These are the 10 most affordable cities in the United States, as determined by the ratio of median income to estimated cost of living.

The higher this ratio, the lower expenses are relative to income and the more money a resident with average income and expenses would be left with after covering the basics.

Affordability ranking City Estimated income-to-expense ratio Cost of living estimate Median household income
1 Cedar Park, Texas 1.384 $58,497 $80,954
2 Midland, Texas 1.357 $60,894 $82,650
3 Ogden, Utah 1.318 $60,136 $79,251
4 Raleigh, North Carolina 1.317 $60,830 $80,096
5 Provo, Utah 1.294 $61,145 $79,152
6 Des Moines, Iowa 1.287 $55,283 $71,164
7 Austin, Texas 1.268 $63,855 $80,954
8 Minneapolis, Minnesota 1.266 $66,125 $83,698
9 St. Paul, Minnesota 1.260 $66,440 $83,698
10 Winchester, Virginia 1.254 $61,082 $76,583

Read on for more details on each affordable city:

1. Cedar Park, Texas

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.384
Cost of living index: 92.8
Cost of living estimate: $58,497
Median household income: $80,954
Median property value: $279,900
Population: 72,400 (2.17 million in Austin-Round Rock metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.9%

Cedar Park's cost of living index is 7.2% below the national average, while its median income is 17.8% above the national median, making Cedar Park our #1 most affordable place in the United States. In November 2020, Cedar Park's unemployment rate was just under the national rate of 6.4%.

According to Data USA, there's a higher-than-average number of people employed in three industries in Cedar Park: computers and mathematics, architecture and engineering, and business and financial operations.

2. Midland, Texas

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.357
Cost of living index: 96.6
Cost of living estimate: $60,894
Median household income: $82,650
Median property value: $204,800
Population: 135,100 (169,800 in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 9.3%

The cost of living index in Midland is only 3.4% below the national average, but the median income is 20.3% higher than the national median. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate in Midland is quite high compared to the national rate and the highest on our list.

Compared with other cities in the U.S., there are twice as many people in Midland working in construction and extraction occupations. There's also a high number of people working in engineering and architecture occupations and in installation, maintenance, and repair positions.

3. Ogden, Utah

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.318
Cost of living index: 95.4
Cost of living estimate: $60,136
Median household income: $79,251
Median property value: $152,100
Population: 86,100 (676,900 in Ogden-Clearfield metro area)
Unemployment rate: 3.6%

The median income in Ogden is 15.4% above the national median, and the cost of living index is 4.6% below the national average. Utah has one of the lowest state unemployment rates, so it's no surprise to see Ogden's unemployment under 4%.

Compared with other locations, a large number of Ogden residents work in production occupations, the material moving industry, and the field of construction and extraction.

4. Raleigh, North Carolina

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.317
Cost of living index: 96.5
Cost of living estimate: $60,830
Median household income: $80,096
Median property value: $268,900
Population: 470,500 (1.36 million in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.3%

Raleigh's median income, at 16.6% above the national income, complements the cost of living index, which is 3.5% below the national average. Raleigh's unemployment rate is very close to the national average.

Compared to other metro areas, there are twice as many residents working in computer and mathematical positions as expected. Other careers that are overrepresented among Raleigh residents include jobs in the life, physical, and social sciences field as well as in agriculture and engineering occupations.

5. Provo, Utah

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.294
Cost of living index: 97
Cost of living estimate: $61,145
Median household income: $79,152
Median property value: $247,100
Population: 116,100 (632,700 in Provo-Orem metro area)
Unemployment rate: 3.3%

With a cost of living index 3% below the national average and a median income that's 15.2% higher than the national median, Provo is an affordable place to live. One of the lowest unemployment rates in the country helps, too.

A higher-than-expected number of Provo residents hold positions in occupations related to art, design, entertainment, sports, and the media. There are also more workers in education, instruction, and library jobs as well as in computer and mathematics jobs than would be expected.

6. Des Moines, Iowa

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.287
Cost of living index: 87.7
Cost of living estimate: $55,283
Median household income: $71,164
Median property value: $127,200
Population: 215,900 (655,400 in Des Moines-West Des Moines metro area)
Unemployment rate: 3.2%

Des Moines has the lowest unemployment rate on our list, making it a great place to look for a job. It's also the cheapest place to live on our list at 12.3% below the national average, which makes up for the median income being only 3.6% above the national median.

A higher-than-expected proportion of Des Moines work in jobs related to production, personal care and services, and food preparation and service.

7. Austin, Texas

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.268
Cost of living index: 101.3
Cost of living estimate: $63,855
Median household income: $80,954
Median property value: $365,600
Population: 964,200 (2.17 million in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.9%

Austin's cost of living index is actually 1.3% above the national average, but the median income is 17.8% above the national median. Combine that with a middling unemployment rate, and you get the largest affordable city on our list.

Among those working in Austin, there is an overrepresentation of employees in computer and mathematical jobs, legal positions, and architecture and engineering jobs.

8. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.266
Cost of living index: 104.9
Cost of living estimate: $66,125
Median household income: $83,698
Median property value: $269,500
Population: 425,400 (3.63 million in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro area)
Unemployment rate: 3.9%

While residents can expect to pay 4.9% more than average to live in Minneapolis, they can also expect to make 21.8% more than the national median. Alongside a very low unemployment rate, this makes Minneapolis a great place to look for a job.

Industries in which workers are over-represented relative to what is expected include design, entertainment, sports and media; community and social services; and the life, physical, and social science fields.

9. St. Paul, Minnesota

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.260
Cost of living index: 105.4
Cost of living estimate: $66,440
Median household income: $83,698
Median property value: $216,100
Population: 307,700 (3.63 million in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro area)
Unemployment rate: 3.9%

St. Paul has the highest cost of living on our list at 5.4% over the national average. However, residents also earn almost 22% more than the national median income. A sub-4% unemployment rate is notably low, too.

The number of St. Paul residents employed in life, physical and social science occupations is 2.31 times higher than expected. There's also a disproportionate number of people working in legal and healthcare support occupations.

10. Winchester, Virginia

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.254
Cost of living index: 96.9
Cost of living estimate: $61,082
Median household income: $76,583
Median property value: $236,800
Population: 27,800 (136,300 in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 3.5%

Winchester's median income is 11.5% above the national median, and its cost of living is 3.1% below the national average. Add an unemployment rate that's rather low for this area of the country and a small population, and Winchester becomes a very attractive city to live in for people seeking a less metropolitan feel.

Compared to other cities, Winchester has a high number of people working in construction and extraction; installation, maintenance, and repair; and law enforcement.

Cheapest and most expensive cities in the United States

The Council for Community and Economic Research releases a list of the 10 cheapest and most expensive cities to live in every quarter.

Remember that a cost of living index of 100 represents the nationwide average.

Here are the results from Q4 2020:

Cheapest cities in the U.S.

City Cost of living index
Harlington, Texas 75.6
McAllen, Texas 77.6
Kalamazoo, Michigan 77.9
Amarillo, Texas 80.4
Pittsburg, Kansas 80.6
Tupelo, Mississippi 80.9
Richmond, Indiana 81.3
Muskogee, Oklahoma 81.3
Joplin, Missouri 81.5
Conway, Arkansas 81.6
Data source: The Council for Community and Economic Research.

Most expensive cities in the U.S.

City Cost of living index
Manhattan, New York, New York 248.6
Honolulu, Hawaii 199.3
San Francisco, California 194.5
Brooklyn, New York, New York 180.2
Washington, District of Columbia 159.5
Seattle, Washington 156.7
Oakland, California 154.7
Boston, Massachusetts 151.7
Arlington, Virginia 150.0
Orange County, California 148.5
Data source: The Council for Community and Economic Research.

Methodology

Each city's cost of living index was taken from the Council for Community and Economic Research's Q3 2020 cost of living index report. To determine the estimated cost of living in each city, we transformed the cost of living index into a percentage and multiplied it by the average annual expenditure of all consumer units from the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

We divided the median annual household income (sourced from the 2019 American Community Survey) to determine the estimated income-to-expenses ratio.

Sources

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that compensate us. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.