1. Brownsville, Tex.
This metro area, which includes Harlingen and San Benito, is at the southwestern tip of the Lone Star State, hard against the Mexican border. The Gulf of Mexico and the popular beaches of South Padre Island are just a stone’s throw away. Rents in Brownsville average $659, that’s 4.2 times less than New York, the most expensive city in our annual rankings, where rents average $2,778. Utilities can be pricey, but costs for groceries and other consumer goods are exceptionally low. An affordable South Texas alternative to Brownsville is the McAllen metro area, just an hour’s drive away along the Rio Grande.
2. Pueblo, Colo.
Located about 100 miles south of Denver, Pueblo has an enviable combination of decent paychecks and super-low housing costs. Median household income ranks in the top five among the cities on our least-expensive list, yet the average home price is the lowest here. Grocery prices are higher relative to a place like Brownsville, where a T-bone steak, for example, will run you about $8.49 per pound. The same cut of beef costs about a buck more in Pueblo. The metropolitan area includes Boone, Avondale and Stone City.
3. Ft. Hood, Tex.
The Fort Hood metropolitan area, which includes Killeen and Temple, is about 60 miles north of Austin, the capital of Texas. The local economy is anchored in part by a major U.S. Army base. The high concentration of soldiers and military families may help explain why close to 15% of the population is 25- to 34-year-olds. Rent averages $596, and home prices are among the five least expensive in our ranking.
4. Fort Smith, Ark.
Nestled in a bend of the Arkansas River and bordering Oklahoma, the Fort Smith metro area includes Van Buren and Ozark. Low prices for groceries and utilities make it a budget-friendly place, as does a meager average rent of just $456 per month. Owning a home runs a bit higher than some other cities on our least-expensive list, but the average cost of a house is still $320,000 less than in San Diego, the tenth-ranked city on our most-expensive list.
5. Sherman, Tex.
Located 60 miles north of Dallas, the Sherman metropolitan area includes Denison and Pottsboro. The population is the lowest of any of the city metro areas that comprise our least-expensive list. Families make up about 70% of the population. Health care is one of the leading industries, providing one of the highest median incomes in our least-expensive rankings. The extra money can go a long way, considering the relatively affordable costs of food and utilities. Monthly apartment rents run just $595, on average.
6. Springfield, Ill.
Springfield is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago. It boasts two claims to fame that the Windy City can’t: It’s the state capital, and Abraham Lincoln was a longtime resident. A third may be its affordability. Average home prices are ideal for families, which make up 63% of the population. Rent averages $556. The metropolitan area includes Riverton, Auburn and Chatham.
7. Waco, Tex.
Waco lies midway between Dallas and Austin, giving residents access to big-city amenities such as cultural events, international airports, and multinational employers. The metropolitan area includes Beverly Hills, Crawford and Woodway. About 20% of the population is college-educated. The leading industries are educational services and health care. But proximity to two big cities also contributes to the highest average home prices on our least-expensive list. Typical apartment rent is $805 (about the national average), but expenses for groceries and other consumer goods remain low.
8. Fayetteville, Ark.
Food and utilities costs in the Fayetteville metro area, which includes Springdale and Rogers, are far below the national average. Apartment rent averages $584. Health care expenses are the lowest (tied with Waco, Tex.). Fayetteville is home to the University of Arkansas.
9. Austin, Tex.
The Austin metropolitan area includes Round Rock, Georgetown and Cedar Park, and it is home to numerous technology companies, most famously Dell. The result is that median household income is relatively high here, just $2,000 less than the median income of Los Angeles, one of the most expensive metro areas in America to live. But Austin’s housing, transportation and food costs remain very low compared to national averages. And like all Texas residents, workers in Austin aren’t subject to state income tax.
10. Springfield, Mo.
The third largest city in Missouri after St. Louis and Kansas City, Springfield shares a distinction with Fayetteville, Ark., 90 miles to its south, in having exceptionally low living costs. The average home price is lower than four other higher-ranked cities on our least-expensive list. Apartment rents average $629. Food is inexpensive, as are utilities, which are second-cheapest among the cities on our list (only Springfield, Ill., has lower utilities). The resort town of Branson is also a short drive to the south.