10 of America's Awesomest Cheap Cities

by Mikey Rox on 14 March 2014 11 comments

We all know that the land of the free isn't really "free" at all.

While opportunity may abound in America, bills tend to do the same, as we all need to put food on the table and keep personal finances well-attended to.

At the same time, some places are cheaper to live in than others, and certain cities that lend themselves well to frugal lifestyles and the agenda of the penny pincher. These cities are not only inexpensive, but the quality of life and opportunity there is still pretty good. (See also: Cheap Places to Live as an Expat)

I used CNN's cost of living calculator to compare each city to a smaller, more affordable rural area in the same state. Using that technique, I found places where you get the city life along with the country's low living expenses.

1. Charlotte, North Carolina

Comparable cost of living: Jacksonville, North Carolina

The largest city in the state of North Carolina is home to the Bank of America and Wells Fargo headquarters and is a major U.S. financial center. Housing prices here are comparable to a small college town at around $155,000, while median income is over $50,000 a year, spurred on by the strong financial and energy industry presence in the city.

This means good cash flow and a low mortgage are strong possibilities for those looking to move here. (See also: How to Refinance Your Mortgage)

2. Richmond, Virginia

Comparable cost of living: Hampton Roads, Virginia

The capital of Virginia feels quieter and less crowded than some oas the population is just a shade over 200,000 in the city. The town is rich in history and offers plenty to do, not to mention the unemployment rate is lower than the nation's average at 5.9%.

Cost of living hovers around the national average as well, while median income is over $54,000.

3. Ogden, Utah

Comparable cost of living: St. George, Utah

With a beautiful view of the mountains and less than 50 miles from Salt Lake City, Ogden is a great place to live cheaply with access to both rural and metropolitan communities. Median income is high for such a small area at over $60,000, due largely to a strong presence of federal government agencies and the healthcare industry.

Additionally, unemployment is under 5%, and cost of living dips nearly 8% below the national average.

Did we mention the median home price? It's just a shade over $135,000. As far as cheap cities go, this is one of the templates.

4. Idaho Falls, Idaho

Comparable cost of living: Pocatello, Idaho

Potatoes are cheap of course, but in Idaho Falls housing costs are fairly cheap as well, coming in almost 30% below the national average. Cost of living in general dips 12% below par, which means that with the Teton Mountain Range to the east, you can afford a beautiful view on a modest budget.

5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Comparable cost of living: York County, Pennsylvania

By big city standards, Harrisburg is one of Pennsylvania's cheaper metropolitan locales. Nestled on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, the city itself is populated by around 50,000 people, leaving plenty of room for expansion.

Cost of living dips 5.5% below the national average, and the median home price is under $140,000.

6. Fort Collins, Colorado

Comparable cost of living: Pueblo, Colorado

Fort Collins is a college town that's home to Colorado State University. It also plays host to the New Belgium Brewing Company and is located only about an hour north of Denver on I-25. Cost of living is well below the national average and median home prices are well under $170,000.

7. Waco, Texas

Comparable cost of living: Brazoria County, Texas

The city itself is halfway between Dallas and Austin along I-35 and gives residents plenty of access to both rural and city life. Tourist attractions and historic locations, including the Dr. Pepper museum, help to increase the city's appeal as well. (See also: Free Things to Do in Any City)

Waco boasts incredibly low housing prices, with a median home price of only $93,000.

8. Green Bay, Wisconsin

Comparable cost of living: Janesville, Wisconsin

Home to historic Lambeau Field and the NFL's Green Bay Packers, the city of Green Bay is the smallest metropolitan area in the country that hosts a professional sports team, with a population of just over 100,000. (See also: Ways to Save on Live Sports)

Cost of living is 10% below the national average, and the city has a median household income of over $50,000. Although it's an industrial city right along the arm of Lake Michigan, the healthcare industry has a significant presence there that helps keep unemployment below the national average.

9. Little Rock, Arkansas

Comparable cost of living: Hot Springs, Arkansas

The capital and largest city of Arkansas is still small and manageable by big city standards. Home costs hover around $137,000 while the median household income is a shade over $47,000.

10. Springfield, Illinois

Comparable cost of living: Kankakee, Illinois

Springfield boasts a median home price around $120,000, cost of living at 12% below the national average, and historically rich culture with plenty of tourist attractions. It all makes the resting place of Abraham Lincoln one of the most optimal places to live in the state of Illinois.

Do you live in one of America's awesomest cheap cities? Let me know in the comments below.

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I have some relatives currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina. They owned a three story house, they were living there for almost 20 years already since they got married.

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I used to live about an hour from Richmond. I have not met anyone from Richmond who considers it "awesome."
The city has a major crime issue.

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Guest

Richmond is one of the coolest cities I've lived in and pretty cheap!(I've lived in Boston and Chicago).

Don't think you've been to Richmond lately Mike. Crime rates have dropped significantly over past 10 years and well within the national ave crime rates.

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Guest

I live in Waco and have for the last ten years. I agree the housing costs are much better than where I moved from (Dallas), however, you definitely have to do without a lot if amenities that a larger city might provide (such as shopping, dining, theater, museums, etc). Should I be able to actually choose where to live, I would absolutely choose a larger, more progressive city that had more going for it than the football record of the local college (Baylor). Old Wacoans are very opinionated and do not hesitate to share their opinions. I find good and bad in Waco, as in any city. But for me, the good outweighs the bad and I choose to stay. Your home is what you make of it, and I choose to make it mine!

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Elijah

WACOO IS THE BEST! I'm from Oregon and came to Waco for college (Baylor). I initially expected to hate Texas and Waco and therefore did! As soon as I got over myself and began actually exploring the place though, I found that it is an incredible, homey, fun, hip, and visionary place. The Waco community is hopeful and moving forward. Definitely deserves to be on more lists like this!

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Guest

I grew up in Waco and couldn't wait to get away. It sounds like things have changed somewhat since I moved away almost 10 years ago now, but I always remember it being as one of the most boring places to be. Baylor is EVERYTHING to the city, and it always got on my nerves. I come from a Baylor family (dating back over 100 years), and if you didn't want to be associated with the school, then you weren't going to amount to much. I very much prefer Fort Worth or Conroe to Waco, cost of living regardless.

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Guest

It is still the way you remember it. Baylor is IT. If you don't like BU, then this is not the area. I have no idea how it made this list and find it depressing to think of Waco as one of the best or most awesome in the country. Wow. Depressing. I am stuck and only came back to aid my aging parents. This does not list the median income or state that the Waco Independent School has 90% of its students living in poverty. The source of that statistic is Dr. Bonnie Cain, head of the district. The better schools are outside of Waco. I am trying to figure out how on earth the author found Waco to be "hip" or "visionary" in 2014. Wow.

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Guest

FYI, Wells Fargo is HQ'd in San Francisco. Some of the divisions are HQ'd in Charlotte, but the company is not.

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David

I noticed they did not mention the median income in Waco. Waco is a very nice place if you have a marketable degree or skill such as HVAC, welding or CDL. There are tons of other jobs there as well, but they all pay around $8.00 an hour or about 16,000 a year net income.That's what half the population there makes. I lived in Waco half my life. I used to love it there, but being away has opened my eyes to the opportunities in other places. I left a year and a half ago, and am glad to be gone.

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Guest

I noticed that convenient omission as well. From what I could find, the median income in Waco is about $30,000 a year. I guess if you are a BU professor, Waco seems like a play ground. For the average person, Waco is not "awesome." There is a huge sense of frustration between BU and the average Waco citizen. What is seen is a university that has caused rental prices to escalate. No, the prices are not as high as in some other areas, but Waco residents don't have the salaries found in other areas. This evaluation of Waco is very frustrating to me because I have seen the crime, drugs, and pronounced dichotomy between the haves and the have nots.

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Guest

WACO IS NOT AWESOME. Waco is a dumpy college town. If you have no association with Baylor, you honestly have nothing to do. They have extremely high unemployment, homeless, and poverty percentages. School system is rough. No reason to live here. I graduated from Baylor and loved my time in Waco, but who doesn't love college? Graduated and got the heck out.