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The Cheapest Places To Live In The US

Carey Chesney6-minute read

September 20, 2021

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So, you’re thinking about moving and wondering where in the U.S. you might like to live. Let the adventure begin! To say 2020 has been a unique year would be a massive understatement. It has been full of economic uncertainty, COVID-19 anxiety, and many more hours than usual spent in our homes contemplating if we are living in the right space – or place. This type of domicile introspection may have been forced upon many of us, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Taking stock of where you are in relation to where you want to be can be a useful, even exciting, endeavor. The myriad factors into deciding what city and state you might want to reside in makes diving into all of them in one article next to impossible, so let’s take the affordability angle. This year has made money tight for many of us, increasing the chances that it may be desirable for those deciding where to live to move to a lower cost of living area.

Buying a house in 2020 has its own set of opportunities and challenges, from low interest rates (yay!) to nerves around seeing homes and moving safely during a pandemic (boo!). That said, the opportunity to find the perfect place to live at a good price and start working to increase your home value is very much alive. Keep in mind that, although real estate markets can be somewhat seasonal, deciding where to buy is probably even more important than deciding when to buy. So, let’s start with the where and go from there. And while there’s nothing wrong with living in an expensive city if that’s your cup of tea, knowing where the more cost-effective locales are can bring budget-conscious buyers a little peace of mind. Using data from the Council for Community and Economic Research, let’s take a look at 10 of the cheapest cities in the U.S. that fit the “bill.”

10. Anniston, Alabama

Are you an outdoorsy, mountain biking and hiking type who also likes a bit of quirky character in their city like it being home to the world's biggest office chair? Anniston may be the place for you! Get lost in the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge or enjoy the charming Victorian architecture of downtown.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 16.4% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $96,900

What Residents Say About Living Here: A lovely place with great restaurants, great houses and great people.

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9. Knoxville, Tennessee

Looking for a mix of country living sprinkled with a hint of big-city feel? Knoxville is a cost-effective candidate. The University of Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee river are just a few of the major attractions.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 16.8% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $139,900

What Residents Say About Living Here: Solid food, capable transportation, outdoor nature activities and civil war buff attractions are touted by the people proud to call Knoxville home.

8. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Has watching “Ozark” on Netflix piqued your interest in this increasingly infamous part of the country? Well Fayetteville sits deep in the midst of it and is very affordable. Throw in some college-town feel with the University of Arkansas and you've got a pretty interesting locale to call home.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 16.9% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $226,000

What Residents Say About Living Here: Pride brims when locals point out that their city often appears on “best places to live” lists thanks to its academic, innovative vibe.

7. Conway, Arkansas

Staying in “The Natural State,” we find a tech hub on the banks of the Arkansas river in Conway. Combining high tech companies with excellent fishing and hunting capabilities, Conway appeals to a broad swath of people and is very affordable.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 17% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $179,100

What Residents Say About Living Here: With Lake Conway and the Arkansas river, residents rave about the water sport capabilities.

6. Memphis, Tennessee

Close to the mighty Mississippi River and featuring an NBA franchise as well as legendary barbecue and music, you’ll be happy if you move here and find yourself “walking in Memphis.”

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 17.3% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $103,700

What Residents Say About Living Here: You’ll hear a lot about Graceland, that’s for sure. And why not? This musical mecca brings in travelers from all over the country ..and the world!

5. Amarillo, Texas

"The Yellow Rose of Texas" offers the charms of state traditions like big steaks and a love of high school football, in addition to being very easy on the wallet. It’s also known as the "Helium Capital of the World" for having one of the country's most productive helium fields, not that you necessarily care about that for your home search.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 18.6% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $137,600

What Residents Say About Living Here: Besides the helium? Well, they may mention the nickname "Bomb City," a moniker referencing the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the country, which is located in Amarillo.

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4. Joplin, Missouri

Ready to live with an outlaw state of mind in the infamous city where Bonnie and Clyde hid out for a while? Move to Joplin. You won’t need to be a bank robber, given how cost-effective it is to live here.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 19.6% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $123,700

What Residents Say About Living Here: Sorry to disappoint, but residents will probably mention tornados, as Joplin has had a few devastating ones over the years. Sometimes cost-effective living comes with a little danger.

3. Kalamazoo, Michigan

With Western Michigan University driving the local economy, “KZoo” (as the locals call it) also is home to two exceptional nationally known microbreweries – Arcadia and Bells. So, if you like education and beer, this might be the spot to call home.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 21.6% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $111,800

What Residents Say About Living Here: They might mention “The Kalamazoo Promise,” a pledge by a group of anonymous donors to pay up to 100% of tuition at any of Michigan's state colleges or universities for graduates of the public high schools of Kalamazoo. I mean, we are talking about affordability here, right?

2. Harlingen, Texas

Back to the Longhorn State where Harlingen features the Rio Grande to the south and the Gulf of Mexico to the east. This quaint Texas town offers a historic district filled with charming shops and restaurants combined with being a major distribution hub for goods making their way down the Rio Grande.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 24.4% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $83,300

What Residents Say About Living Here: Country music playing, tasty food and the Harlingen Performing Arts Theatre, one of the Rio Grande Valley’s premier community theaters, are just a few of the features residents might point out.

1. McAllen, Texas

Too much Texas? Sorry, but McAllen tops our list as the cheapest places to live in America. Other features beyond the cheap living? The Quinta Mazatlan, a luxury birding habitat and the International Museum of Art & Science are two of the main features McAllen offers.

Cost Of Living Relative To The National Average: 24.8% below U.S. average

Median Home Value: $130,900

What Residents Say About Living Here: Unfortunately, while the cost of living is cheap, the main themes are safety concerns and poverty. With a poverty rate of 30.5%. and the Mexican city of Reynosa (known for drug and gang violence), directly across the border, McAllen is not without concerns for its residents.

Methodology

Want to dig into the numbers? Check out the Council for Community and Economic Research. For example, their Cost of Living Index measures prices for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services.

Key Takeaways

So, while it's important to weigh all the factors when buying a new home, don't forget about the affordability of an area. Make a list of your must-haves, nice-to-haves and could-do-withouts and start searching the country for the perfect place to call home.

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Carey Chesney

Carey Chesney brings a wealth of residential and commercial real estate experience to readers as a Realtor® and as a former Marketing Executive in the fields of Health Care, Finance and Wellness.