Everybody wants to save a buck. We use Groupon to get better deals at restaurants and then never go back there again. We share Netflix user names because why pay $12 a month when we can get that for free? And, when we show up to family gatherings we usually bring a bag of chips or beer just for us.
Not you though. Everyone else does that.
While most of us could be considered cheapskates every now and then, we don’t actually live somewhere to intentionally live a cheap lifestyle. Sure, people move into the suburbs to save on living expenses, or flee to the midwest for better life. But we don’t expect people to move to the cities we’re about to talk about just because they have a lower cost of living.
Today, we’re going to talk about the cheapest cities in America. Now, by cheap, we’re referring to the cost of living in these places. So if you’re a cheapskate, you’d fit right in. Ideally, people want to move to cheap cities so that they can afford to live without stress.
So, how do we define ‘cheap’ anyways? While we can’t tell if a population is generous or not, we can measure the cost of living in a place based on criteria most people would agree makes sense. So we used that criteria to determine the cheapest of the cheap cities in the States.
What’s the cheapest city to live in America? According to the most recent data, Fort Wayne ranks as the cheapest city in America over 100,000 people. And Glendale ranks as the most expensive American city.
Some people are just fine with cheap living. If that’s you, then pay attention. You might want to move one day, so you’ll be ahead of the game. So turn up the volume on your outdated phones and laptops, as we bring you America’s cheapest cities. To see exactly how we calculated these rankings, read on.
Or if you’re simply not interested in reading about saving a buck, check out:
The 10 Cheapest Cities To Live In America For 2021
This little jewel up in the northern corner of the state can’t brag about a lot, but it can hang its hat on being the most affordable place to live in the country for all cities with more than 100,000 people. In Fort Wayne, you can pay off your home in 2 years and 4 months or pay rent 64.7 times in a year. Plus, as you might presume, since this is Indiana and all, taxes are relatively low, as are standard living expenses.
The smartest thing to do would be to work from home, earning a high salary and just renting here. You could save a lot of money in very little time doing that in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Of course, it’s Fort Wayne. But the economy isn’t doing too badly. There’s a decent number of manufacturing and health care jobs. It’s not gonna wow you, but you’d be entertained for a little while I guess.
Right down the road from Rockford is an even cheaper place to live, Springfield, the capital of Illinois. While housing costs are more here, people in Springfield earn significantly higher salaries, too. Like 25% higher. Which means its cheaper to live here.
The average family brings in about $54,648 a year in Springfield, which goes a loooong way when your rent is about $805.0 bucks. In actuality, it makes far more sense to rent a home in Springfield – or Illinois – and save on property taxes. In fact, you’re almost incentivized to do it. You would basically get a $10,000 a year raise if you sold your home and rented in this state. Blame Chicago. Illinoyed.
Any interesting facts about Wichita Falls, Texas? Home prices are like the 19th lowest in the country, but rent is about average.
Have you ever heard of the world’s smallest skyscraper? That’s here. 100 years ago some developer said he was going to build a building that’s 40 feet, 480 inches, and investors thought he said the building would be 480 feet. Well he built the building, and investors were upset. The mix up led to the building being called the world’s smallest skyscraper.
Another Iowa city is on this list — Cedar Rapids. Well it makes sense when you look at Cedar Rapids’ rent to income ratio. Here in Cedar Rapids, you could pay for 76.3 months of rent with one household salary. That’s the 6th most in America – and Cedar Rapids is actually a pretty cool place people.
Now let’s compare that to the most EXPENSIVE rent to income ratio city in America, Paterson, New Jersey, where your income…to rent…is 31. Which means you could only pay rent 31 times in a year. That means it’s more than twice as expensive as Cedar Rapids. New York City is actually far less expensive than Paterson. The average family brings in about $58k, but it costs about $1,700 a month for rent. Of course, in San Francisco, it’s like a jillion dollars for rent a month, but households are far wealthier, bringing in about $96k a year.
Anyways, back in Cedar Rapids – they enjoy the cheapest public utilities in the nation, too, where a family can expect to pay only about $100 a month for all the basics. Of course, that doesn’t include internet. As you know they’re ripping all of us off for really slow internet. And we continue to pay.
We’re gonna take the car all the way to Peoria, Illinois, our 5th cheapest city. You can bet the people in Peoria sneak in candy to the movies. This is one cheap place.
If you thought the home prices in Des Moines made it super affordable to live there, it’s even cheaper here in Peoria. The home price ratio is 2.4 times income, so you could buy a home, and in two years and a couple months, pay the whole thing off. Of course, that doesn’t mean people make a lot of money here. The average income is $51,771 a year. If you rolled into Peoria making $100k a year, you would be like the richest person in town. .
There isn’t a city in America where it’s cheaper to get groceries. Topeka’s rent is also far below average – you could pay rent about 58.8 times with your salary, and the housing costs are really down there too – where the average family could pay off their homes in about two years and two months.
For a state capital, living here is a real steal.
Did you know Topeka changed its name to Google once?
Okay so our next stop is up to Rockford, Illinois.
Rockford is a bit of a real mess. The big reason it’s one of the cheapest cities in the country is that it’s a real ghetto. That’s one reason home prices are the 13th lowest in the nation – where a family could pay off their home in two year’s time. However, property taxes are through the roof here – about $800 a month. Which, considering how cheap groceries and other necessities are here, is why Rockford doesn’t top this list.
People in Illinois are leaving in droves because of high taxes alone. They’re Illinoyed.
We go back to Iowa again and cruise into Davenport, our 9th cheapest city in the country. Sure homes are cheap here – about $131,700 bucks, but in Davenport, it’s the rent to income ratio that really stands out.
The rent to income ratio is explained like this: Your annual income, in this case for Davenport its $51,029 is divided by your monthly rent, which in Davenport is about $771.0. That’s a 66.2x difference. That means you can pay your rent 66.2 times each year. That’s good for the 25th highest number in the nation.
Davenport folks also have some of the cheapest groceries and utility bills, too.
How We Determined The Most Affordable Large Cities in The US For 2021
The two most important things to think about when it comes to being able to afford if you can live comes down to:
- How much do money do I make?
- How much do I have spend to live there?
You need to understand your costs in the context of how much money you make.
For example, if the median household earns $100,000 and spends $40,000 on housing it’s actually cheaper to live there than a place with a median income of $50,000 and housing costs of $21,000. You might spend more on housing, but you have more money overall to play with.
With that example in mind, we derived several statistics from the latest Census American Community Survey 2015-2019 around incomes and costs. They are:
- Median Home Price / Median Income (lower is better)
- Median Income / Median Rent (Higher is better)
- Median Home Price
We added simply median home price because high home prices generally correlate with higher expenses for all costs related to homes (heating, electricity, etc).
What you are left with is a “Cost of Living Index” by taking the average rank of each of these metrics for each city.
So we used that cost of living index in order to rank all of the 323 cities in the US that have more than 100,000 people. You can download the data here.
The place with the lowest cost of living in America according to the data is Fort Wayne.
There You Have It — The Cheapest Big Cities in America
Okay, there ya go. Our cheapest cities in the USA. The places where you can live the most comfortably on your income. After measuring every cost of living factor that makes sense, there isn’t a clear ‘region’ that has the advantage for cheap living.
And while this is good news for the places we mentioned, if you happen to live in Yonkers, NY, Jersey City, NJ or San Francisco, CA, you’re probably head over heels in living expenses.
So we hoped you learned something. We did. The next time you’re in over your head with bills, wondering why you paid all that money for a worthless college degree and lamenting that new car purchase you just made, remember this: You could always move somewhere in the midwest. No? Okay.
Here’s a look at the most expensive cities in America:
- Daly City
- Los Angeles
For more reading, check out: