The 10 Cheapest Places To Live In Iowa For 2021


We used data and science to determine which places in Iowa go easy on your wallet.

Editor’s Note: We updated this article for 2021. This is our seventh time ranking the cheapest places to live in Iowa.

If the good people of Iowa could pay for everything in corn, they would be super rich and life would be super affordable. But since they can't, HomeSnacks calculated the most affordable places to live in Iowa for 2021.

How did we determine the most affordable places to live in Iowa? We consulted the latest Census data on cost of living.

Most Iowans have never really experienced unemployment. The crossroads of the Midwest has managed to stay ahead of the national unemployment rate holding strong at 2.4%. And this is because we can thank Iowa for anything corn and soybeans. But did you know that Iowa is home to Pella windows and Winnebago? Coincidentally we can thank Iowa's education institutions like the University of Iowa for producing smart, hard-working individuals who want to make Iowa available and affordable for all.

It's simple economics, folks. Good jobs increase median incomes which translates to most people being able to live in our top most affordable Iowa places. Have we piqued your interest? If you want to know where the most affordable places in Iowa are located, keep reading.

Ask any Iowan, 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.

Yes, we think it has a little something to do with the great people and strong jobs in agriculture; however, to the economically savvy, to truly be the best, the state must have the nicest, most affordable places to call home.

What's the most affordable place to live in Iowa? That would be Denison according to the most recent Census data on incomes, rent, and home prices..

So, if you care about home values and cost of living, take a look at the list below to see where your Iowa dollar will go the furthest.

And if you already knew these places were cheap, check out some more reading about Iowa and the cheapest places in the country:

The 10 Cheapest Places To Live In Iowa For 2021

Denison, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 8,337
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 1.7x (most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 81.7x (80th cheapest)
More On Denison: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

Coming in as the absolute cheapest place to live in Iowa for 2021 is Denison. Denison might not have the cheapest homes on the market or lowest rent in the state, a combination of factors work together to make it the least expensive place in Iowa overall. Denison has the best-paid populace on this list, with a median income of $54,190, which, taken with Denison's median home price of $93,600, means that the city's residents pay the first least proportion of their income on homes in Iowa. And don't worry that cheap = boring; Denison has plenty going on to keep you occupied on a budget.

Denison is located in West Central Iowa.

Webster City, IA

Overall SnackAbility

8
/10

Population: 7,732
Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 6)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 1.7x (2nd most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 79.2x (15th cheapest)
More On Webster City: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

Webster City comes in as the second least expensive city in Iowa for 2021. 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 $97,000 and a median income of $55,446, the city stands out more for being the second 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.

Clarinda, IA

Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 5,388
Rank Last Year: 3 (No Change)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 1.9x (7th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 76.4x (64th cheapest)
More On Clarinda: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

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 seventh lowest proportion of their income on homes. The median home price in Clarinda is $93,300 and the median income is $50,013.

Clarinda is located in southwestern Iowa.

Marshalltown, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 27,053
Rank Last Year: 6 (Up 2)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 1.8x (5th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 76.0x (62nd cheapest)
More On Marshalltown: Real Estate | Cost Of Living

Located in the central part of the state between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown ranks as the fourth cheapest place in Iowa. At a population of 27,053, Marshalltown is the biggest city to make this list, so you know you'll never lack for things to do here. Marshalltown has the fifth 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.

Manchester, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 5,019
Rank Last Year: 4 (Down 1)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 2.1x (23rd most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 89.9x (3rd cheapest)
More On Manchester: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

Located about an hour north of Cedar Rapids, Manchester ranks as the fifth most affordable place to live in Iowa. Rent in Manchester is absurdly low, with a median price of $576/month. That's roughly half the average rent in Iowa, a state already known for having super-low rent to begin with. Add to that the fact that Manchester residents are paid a median income of $51,773, and you have the 16th best rent to income ratio in Iowa.

On the flip side, Manchester has the most expensive homes for sale on this list at $110,400. In any case, you'll have plenty of money left over to hit the boutique shops in Manchester's charming downtown.

Maquoketa, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 6,010
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 1)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 2.0x (18th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 74.3x (73rd cheapest)
More On Maquoketa: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

Ranking as the sixth 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 $600, but what really lands Maquoketa on this list is the affordability of homes. Maquoketa has the 11th cheapest homes on the market in Iowa, with a median price of $90,700.

Boone, IA

Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 12,487
Rank Last Year: 15 (Up 8)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 1.9x (12th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 78.5x (13th cheapest)
More On Boone: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

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 12,487 people. But those historical connections are only part of the area's appeal. It also stands as the number 7 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 $112,200 and the median rent sits at $738 per month. At the same time, Boone's economy is stronger than a lot of other places in Iowa. The median income sits at $57,943, 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 1.81%.

Red Oak, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 5,362
Rank Last Year: 25 (Up 17)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 1.9x (9th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 67.1x (57th cheapest)
More On Red Oak: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

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 5,362 residents.

These days, Red Oak has other things going for it besides a famous native son. It ranks as the number 8 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 sixth most affordable in the state, with a figure of $82,400. Rent costs are similarly under control, with a median value of $642 per month.

In terms of other economic indicators, the median income in town sits at $43,085, while the unemployment rate runs a at a level of 4.89%.

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.

Creston, IA

Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 7,784
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 3)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 2.1x (20th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 72.8x (39th cheapest)
More On Creston: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

Creston started life as a railroad junction. Even today, Amtrak's California Zephyr passes through town as part of its regular service between Chicago and San Francisco. That means most people experience the town as a passing blur from a train window. But they are missing out. After all, Creston stands as one of the cheapest places to live in all of Iowa.

Rents in Creston are among the cheapest in the state, coming in at a median level of $600 per month. Buying a house is a good value as well. The median home value in the area stands at $90,600, the tenth most affordable figure in the state.

Generally speaking, the cost of living for the area sits at about 80% the national average. Most of that value comes from the cheap housing available. Turning to other stats, the median income is $43,693 and the unemployment rate is 3.61%.

Creston sits in a rural region. However, it's not your stereotypical horizon of unbroken cornfields. There are a few sizable lakes nearby, offering the town's 7,784 residents access to lots of outdoor activities. For instance, they an visit the nearby Green Valley State Park.

Charles City, IA

Overall SnackAbility

7
/10

Population: 7,396
Rank Last Year: 31 (Up 21)
Home Price To Income Ratio: 2.3x (29th most affordable)
Income To Rent Ratio: 77.5x (38th cheapest)
More On Charles City: Real Estate | Crime Rate | Cost Of Living

Charles City gets its name from Charles Floyd, a contributor to the Lewis and Clark Expedition that charted large chunks of the west in the early 1800s. It's also a key location in the history of the tractor, with a local resident being one of the inventors of an early version of that crucial farming device.

But Charles City isn't all about the past. It has a lot going on in the present as well. For example, it stands as the number 10 best value for putting down roots in Iowa.

Getting an apartment in the area offers a significant value. Charles City offers the number 1.0 cheapest rent in the state. The median figure sits at $530. If you're looking to buy property, you still get a good deal in Charles City. The median home value hovers at $93,600.

Befitting the birthplace of the tractor, Charles City sits in a rural area in the northern part of the state. The state capital of Des Moines is about two and a half hours south. Or if you're looking for an even bigger city experience, Minneapolis sits about the same distance to the north.

How We Determined The Most Affordable Places To Live In The Hawkeye State For 2021

Map Of The Cheapest Places To Live In Iowa
The two most important things to think about when it comes to being able to afford if you can live comes down to:

  1. How much do money do I make?
  2. 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).

You can then compare these metrics in each of the places in Iowa to figure out which is the least expensive.

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 80 places in Iowa that have more than 5,000 people.

The place with the lowest cost of living in Iowa according to the data is Denison. You can download the data here.

There You Have It Mr. Or Mrs. Iowa Cheapskate

If you're looking at the cost of living numbers in Iowa, this is an accurate list of the most affordable places to live in Iowa for 2021.

Here's a look at the most expensive cities in Iowa according to the data:

  1. Iowa City
  2. Ames
  3. Coralville

For more Iowa reading, check out:

The Most Affordable Places To Live In Iowa

Rank City CheapScore Population Home/Income Ratio Income/Rent Ratio
1 Denison 13.0 8,337 1.7x 81.7x
2 Webster City 16.33 7,732 1.7x 79.2x
3 Clarinda 17.0 5,388 1.9x 76.4x
4 Marshalltown 18.33 27,053 1.8x 76.0x
5 Manchester 21.0 5,019 2.1x 89.9x
6 Maquoketa 22.0 6,010 2.0x 74.3x
7 Boone 22.0 12,487 1.9x 78.5x
8 Red Oak 23.0 5,362 1.9x 67.1x
9 Creston 23.67 7,784 2.1x 72.8x
10 Charles City 24.67 7,396 2.3x 77.5x
11 Estherville 25.33 5,796 1.8x 63.8x
12 Keokuk 25.67 10,324 1.8x 61.4x
13 Oelwein 26.0 5,979 2.0x 64.4x
14 Oskaloosa 26.67 11,511 2.0x 72.6x
15 Knoxville 26.67 7,192 2.0x 71.2x
16 Ottumwa 27.67 24,545 1.8x 57.4x
17 Fort Madison 28.33 10,513 1.9x 60.2x
18 Sheldon 30.0 5,128 2.5x 95.2x
19 Iowa Falls 30.0 5,122 1.9x 61.2x
20 Osceola 30.67 5,103 1.9x 64.0x
21 Orange City 31.0 6,127 2.4x 107.3x
22 Centerville 31.33 5,458 2.0x 56.3x
23 Nevada 31.33 6,754 2.4x 90.7x
24 Bondurant 31.67 6,191 2.2x 114.1x
25 Marion 31.67 39,328 2.3x 99.5x
26 Mount Pleasant 32.33 8,581 2.3x 74.3x
27 Le Mars 33.0 9,941 2.4x 100.3x
28 Sioux City 33.33 82,531 2.1x 70.8x
29 Burlington 33.33 24,974 2.0x 59.5x
30 Glenwood 34.5 5,326 2.4x 89.1x
31 Perry 34.67 7,599 2.0x 58.1x
32 Norwalk 36.33 10,978 2.4x 100.0x
33 Clinton 36.33 25,416 2.3x 64.2x
34 Mason City 36.33 27,200 2.3x 69.7x
35 Fort Dodge 37.33 24,278 2.3x 62.7x
36 Washington 38.0 7,313 2.2x 66.0x
37 Storm Lake 38.33 10,558 2.4x 72.8x
38 Cedar Rapids 38.67 132,301 2.4x 76.3x
39 Muscatine 39.0 23,774 2.1x 61.5x
40 Anamosa 39.0 5,476 2.5x 69.6x
41 Newton 40.17 15,164 2.4x 65.9x
42 Clear Lake 40.67 7,597 2.7x 92.8x
43 Council Bluffs 42.0 62,355 2.2x 63.1x
44 Independence 42.33 6,056 2.5x 72.5x
45 Asbury 42.33 5,557 2.5x 131.7x
46 Waverly 43.0 10,094 2.7x 90.8x
47 Algona 43.0 5,447 2.6x 73.3x
48 Clive 43.0 17,167 2.5x 106.5x
49 Altoona 44.0 18,458 2.5x 83.3x
50 Urbandale 46.33 43,441 2.6x 97.2x
51 Indianola 47.33 15,802 2.7x 77.6x
52 Pleasant Hill 47.33 9,871 2.6x 78.7x
53 Decorah 47.67 7,701 3.0x 98.3x
54 Waukee 47.67 20,785 2.5x 83.7x
55 Pella 48.0 10,231 2.7x 80.2x
56 Ankeny 48.0 61,938 2.5x 80.6x
57 Waterloo 48.67 67,912 2.5x 61.9x
58 Sioux Center 48.67 7,534 2.8x 91.2x
59 Atlantic 49.0 6,669 2.8x 66.8x
60 Davenport 49.67 102,169 2.6x 66.2x
61 Bettendorf 50.0 35,919 2.7x 89.9x
62 Vinton 51.0 5,103 2.9x 73.2x
63 Spencer 51.0 11,052 2.8x 68.0x
64 Des Moines 51.33 215,636 2.5x 62.6x
65 Dubuque 51.5 58,196 2.6x 68.6x
66 Grimes 52.33 12,839 2.8x 81.8x
67 North Liberty 53.33 18,829 2.6x 75.6x
68 Carroll 53.5 9,904 3.1x 75.1x
69 Eldridge 54.33 6,529 3.5x 97.8x
70 Johnston 54.67 21,406 2.8x 84.6x
71 Fairfield 55.83 10,290 2.8x 60.1x
72 Winterset 57.0 5,260 3.0x 71.4x
73 West Des Moines 57.67 65,606 2.9x 75.1x
74 Grinnell 59.33 9,031 2.9x 63.3x
75 Cedar Falls 61.0 40,983 3.1x 70.2x
76 Spirit Lake 61.0 5,069 2.9x 64.0x
77 Hiawatha 62.5 7,333 3.0x 62.3x
78 Coralville 68.33 21,103 3.8x 67.3x
79 Ames 74.33 66,023 4.3x 51.7x
80 Iowa City 75.67 74,950 4.4x 50.7x

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About Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar has been in the real estate business for almost ten years now. He originally worked for Movoto Real Estate as the director of marketing before founding HomeSnacks.

He believes the key to finding the right place to live comes down to looking at the data, reading about things to do, and, most importantly, checking it out yourself before you move.

If you've been looking for a place to live in the past several years, you've probably stumbled upon his writing already.

You can find out more about him on LinkedIn or his website.