We bet you’re smart.
Why else would you be looking for the cheapest places to live in Iowa?
Well, we think you’re smart. And to help you out, we used Saturday Night Science to pinpoint the exact locations of the most affordable places to live in Iowa. We looked through the Census data for housing costs relative to incomes for every place in the state.
More affordable places include suburbs of bigger cities like Des Moines. That said, you’ll probably have a cornfield in your backyard in most of these places. But at least Ledges State Park is just a short drive away.
The 10 most affordable places to live in Iowa
Ask any Iowan, and they will say, hands down, that their corner of the world is the best. Heck, there’s a reason The Hawkeye State is the 30th most populous in the country.
What’s the most affordable place to live in Iowa? The most affordable place to live in Iowa is Osceola according to the most recent Census data on incomes, rent, and home prices.
Check out some more reading about Iowa and the cheapest places in the country:
The 10 Cheapest Places To Live In Iowa For 2023
If you’re looking for a place where you don’t have to hand over whole paycheck just to get the mortgage paid, Osceola is the place for you. With a median home price of $101,800 and a median income of $55,149, Osceola has the tenth best home price to income ratio in Iowa. Only a slightly less favorable market for renters keeps Osceola from a higher spot on this list. But hey, if you’re feeling lucky about living in the cheapest place in Iowa, head to the local Lakeside Casino and your luck might just continue.
Osceola is about 45 minutes south of Des Moines.
Ranking as the second most affordable place to live in Iowa is Maquoketa, a city 45 minutes north of Davenport. Maquoketa is home to Maquoketa Caves State Park, so you can go on outdoor adventure any time without spending a dime. The median rent in Maquoketa is quite low at $604, but what really lands Maquoketa on this list is the affordability of homes. Maquoketa has the tenth cheapest homes on the market in Iowa, with a median price of $92,800.
Estherville, Iowa is a great place to live for those seeking affordability. With a median home value of $85,200 and a median rent of just $682, residents can enjoy a low overall cost of living score of 85.0. Additionally, with a median income of $53,404, the home price to income ratio is just 1.60, making it easier for residents to own their homes.
But affordability isn’t the only perk of living in Estherville. The city also boasts a low unemployment rate of just 2.0%, ranking it 13th in the state. With a population of 5,904, Estherville offers a small-town feel with easy access to larger cities in Iowa. And with Iowa Lakes Community College located in town, residents have plenty of educational opportunities at their fingertips. Overall, Estherville is a top choice for those looking for an affordable and comfortable place to call home in Iowa.
Cherokee ranks as one the cheapest and best places to live in Iowa. As the county seat of Cherokee County, it has a bustling downtown area with local shops and restaurants. The nearby Cherokee State Park also provides opportunities for outdoor recreation such as hiking and fishing. Overall, Cherokee is a great option for those who want to save money without sacrificing quality of life.
With a $98,300 median home value and $533 median rent, Cherokee ranks as one of the most affordable places to live in Iowa. This low cost of living is reflected in the $48,559 median income of Cherokee residents.
Located in the central part of the state between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown ranks as the fifth cheapest place in Iowa. At a population of 27,570, Marshalltown is the biggest city to make this list, so you know you’ll never lack for things to do here. Marshalltown has the third best home price to income ratio in the state, so you won’t have to fork over half your paycheck just to live in a nice place.
It probably doesn’t mean much these days to be the hometown of Johnny Carson. But from the 1960s to the 1990s, the host of the Tonight Show was one of the most recognizable people in America. That’s a pretty big claim to fame for Red Oak, Iowa, a town of just 5,576 residents.
These days, Red Oak has other things going for it besides a famous native son. It ranks as the number 6 most affordable spot in Iowa.
Thanks in large part to cheap housing, the cost of living in Red Oak comes in at about 80% the norm for the U.S. The median home value in town is the fourth most affordable in the state, with a figure of $80,500. Rent costs are similarly under control, with a median value of $691 per month.
In terms of other economic indicators, the median income in town sits at $48,533, while the unemployment rate runs a at a level of 6.45%.
Located in an agricultural region, Red Oak offers a rural lifestyle. For big city excitement, your best bet would be Omaha, Nebraska, located about an hour to the northwest.
Oskaloosa offers one of the most affordable lifestyles in Iowa. With a median home value of $99,500 and median rent of $728, the cost of living in Oskaloosa is well below the national average.
Oskaloosa’s low unemployment rate of just 5.03% and median income of $54,216 make it a stable and secure place to live.
Webster City comes in as the eighth least expensive city in Iowa for 2023. Webster City scored an 8/10 on our overall Snackability scale, with an 8/10+ in most categories, so you know it’s an all-around great place to call home. Especially if you’re into fishing or kayaking, what with the illustrious Boone River running along the city’s east side. Webster City is quite affordable for renters, but with a median home price of $89,500 and a median income of $54,413, the city stands out more for being the fourth easiest place to pay off the mortgage in Iowa.
Another fun fact: Webster City’s unemployment rate is under 3%, so you should not have a problem locking down a job here.
Boone, Iowa, was built in the 19th century on the back of mining and trains. The community still commemorates its old railroad connection with the annual Pufferbilly Days festival. The town also has a presidential connection: Dwight D. Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, was born in Boone.
Not bad for a community of 12,509 people. But those historical connections are only part of the area’s appeal. It also stands as the number 9 most reasonable place in Iowa to put down roots.
Home prices and rents in the region are affordable, if not aggressively cheap. The median home prices comes in at $118,100 and the median rent sits at $780 per month. At the same time, Boone’s economy is stronger than a lot of other places in Iowa. The median income sits at $61,997, which is relatively high for the state.
Overall, the cost of living in Boone is about 90% of the national average, thanks largely to its affordable housing. On top of this low-cost appeal, Boone can boast a crime rate that is about 40% below the national standard. The unemployment rate hovers at 1.26%.
Clarinda’s motto is “Honor the Past…Imagine the Future” and boy do they hold true to that. Liberal arts lovers will rejoice that there is not only an amazing art museum in Clarinda, but also a history museum. And you don’t need to scrimp and save to enjoy all this high culture. Clarinda residents pay the 17th lowest proportion of their income on homes. The median home price in Clarinda is $95,100 and the median income is $47,154.
Clarinda is located in southwestern Iowa.
Cheapest places to live in Iowa FAQs
The county in Iowa with the lowest cost of living is Decatur County. The average living wage in Decatur County is $84,148 according to MIT data. Decatur County has the lowest cost of living because it has relatively less expensive childcare and housing costs compared to Iowa as a whole. Childcare costs $11,870 a year in Decatur County for two children compared to the Iowa average of $15,077. Housing costs, defined as a blend of the average rent and average mortgage payment, are $8,580 per year in Decatur County compared to $9,843 on average in Iowa.
The cost of living in Iowa is 0.6% lower than the US average. According to MIT, the required living wage for a family of four with two working parents in Iowa is $89,241 vs the national average for a family of four with two working parents of $89,744. The median income of a Iowa household is $61,836.
The cheapest housing market in Iowa is Centerville. The average home value in Centerville is $73,000, the lowest in the state. The average home value in Iowa is $153,900, almost 2.1 times higher than Centerville.
Methodology: How we determined the most affordable places to live in the Hawkeye State for 2023
Determining affordability for places in Iowa boils down to two factors:
- How much money do I make?
- How much does it cost to live here?
You need to understand your costs in the context of how much money you make to determine affordability. For example, imagine a place in Iowa where median incomes are $100,000 and housing costs $200,000 to buy. That’s more affordable than living in a place with a median income of $50,000 where houses cost $101,000. The ratio of income to home prices is higher in the first example.
With that logic in mind, we derived several cost of living statistics from the latest Census American Community Survey 2017-2021 for Iowa. The cost of living statistics are:
- Median Home Price / Median Income (lower is better)
- Median Rent / Median Income (lower is better)
- Median Home Price
You can include median home price as a stand alone variable because high home prices generally correlate with higher costs for all goods and services (heating, electricity, food, etc). You then compare these cost of living metrics for each place in Iowa to figure out which is the least expensive.
We aggregate those rankings into a “Cost of Living Index” for each city in Iowa. The “Cost of Living Index” allows you to rank all of the 83 places in Iowa that have more than 5,000 people from least expensive to most expensive.
The place in Iowa with the lowest cost of living according to the data is Osceola.
We updated this article for 2023. This reports reflects our tenth time ranking the cheapest places to live in Iowa.
Iowa Affordabilility Summary
This is an accurate list of the most affordable places to live in Iowa for 2023, if you’re looking at the cost of living numbers in Iowa.
Here’s a look at the most expensive cities in Iowa according to the data:
- Iowa City
For more Iowa reading, check out:
Cheapest Places To Live In Iowa
|Rank||City||Population||Median Income||Home Prices||Rent||Home Price To Income||Rent To Income|
|79||West Des Moines||67,640||$76,564||$239,200||$1,062||3.1x||0.17x|