Big cities are known for having more job opportunities, people to meet, and things to do than small towns. On the flip side, they are also synonymous with traffic, crime, and—above all—high costs. That’s why a big city with a small price tag is an especially good find, offering urban perks without urban expenses. Kiplinger identified the 10 U.S. cities with populations above 250,000 that have the lowest living costs, also taking into account household incomes, home values, unemployment rates… and even average commute times.
1. Memphis, Tenn – The median home value is 46 percent below the national median (see mortgage rates in this area), and the average apartment rent of $709 per month is 21 percent below the U.S. average. Use the money you save to enjoy a Grizzlies pro basketball game (tickets start at $10) followed by a heaping platter of the city’s signature ribs.
2. Columbus, Ohio – Despite being home to the state capitol as well as multiple Fortune 500 corporations, Columbus has a small-town feel to go along with its small-town living costs (12.8 percent below the U.S. average, to be precise). Locals live and die by the fate of their beloved Ohio State University football team. Scouting reports dominate water-cooler talk, and streets become deserted as kickoff approaches. But you’ll pay a steep price for a seat in the stadium on game day.
3. Omaha, Neb. – The second Nebraska city to make our top 10, Omaha has a lot in common with Lincoln: low unemployment, low living costs and high incomes relative to those costs. But while Lincoln can boast that it’s home to the governor, Omaha can boast that it’s home to Warren Buffett.
4. Nashville, Tenn. – Nashville is known as “Music City” for good reason. Not only is it the heart of today’s country music scene, but it preserves the history of the musical genre in places such as the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Johnny Cash Museum and the Grand Ole Opry. Shows at the Grand Ole Opry can be expensive, but at smaller venues such as the Bluebird Café you can usually pay a small cover charge to see a mix of up-and-comers and established names perform.
5. Tulsa, Okla. – The average apartment runs just $604 a month, about one-third less than the national average. It’s no wonder Tulsa ranked high on our list of Affordable Big Cities for Renters.
6. San Antonio, Texas – Forget the Alamo. San Antonio’s true claim to fame just might be its right to call itself “America’s Biggest Cheap City.” Often overshadowed, San Antonio actually has a bigger population than Dallas or Austin–yet its living costs are much lower than either of its better-known Texas neighbors.
7. Lexington, Ky. – Horses aren’t cheap in Lexington, but many other things are. According to the Cost of Living Index, groceries run nearly 14 percent below the national average, and housing-related costs come in almost 24 percent below average (see mortgage rates in this area). Not bad considering Lexington is the second-biggest city in the Bluegrass State after Louisville.
8. Lincoln, Neb. – The smallest big city to make our top 10, Lincoln boasts thehighest median household income on this list. Paychecks are helped by the fact that the local jobless rate is below 3 percent, so employers are competing to fill openings. That Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska helps, too. Making Lincoln even more appealing to workers, the typical commute is 31 percent shorter than that of the average U.S. city.
9. Oklahoma City, Okla. – There’s something about capital cities when it comes to affordable living and economic stability. Jobs tend to be reliable because the state government needs to function no matter how well the economy is doing; there’s often a large university nearby that provides employment opportunities, services and inexpensive things to do; and big businesses set up shop to take advantage of an educated workforce and proximity to the capitol. Four of the 10 cities to make our list of affordable big cities are state capitals.
10. Louisville, Ky. – Louisville isn’t the capital of Kentucky—tiny Frankfort is—but it is the state’s largest and arguably most important city, much to the chagrin of Lexington. Louisville is home to three Fortune 500 companies: Humana, Yum Brands (owner of KFC, naturally) and Kindred Healthcare.
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