Top 6 Most Affordable (and Growing) Cities in the U.S.
The most desirable places to live are often among the most expensive. But some of the most popular cities in America now have below-average costs of living and affordable home prices. Some also boast low unemployment and competitive median incomes. To find these pockets of affordability, Cheapism.com started with a list of places that popped up most often on lists of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. We whittled them down by combing through a range of vital stats on each one, seeking out the most recent publicly available data. We awarded the cities a score of 1 to 6 for each data point, based on where they fell relative to the competition. We gave the most weight to cost of living, as calculated by Sperling's, which accounts for housing, food, transportation, and health care, among other expenses. We also factored in median household incomes from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, to a lesser extent, state and local income and sales tax rates from the Tax Foundation. The top six leans heavily toward the Lone Star State: Texas has a lot to recommend it right now.
6. Raleigh, N.C. (47 points)
Cost of living index: 101.7 Median household income: $53,699 Unemployment rate: 5.4 percent State income tax: 6-7.75 percent Combined sales tax: 6.75 percent
The median household income of $53,699 is one of the highest we found and a bit higher than the national median, based on American Community Survey data collected from 2008 to 2012. Forbes recently named Raleigh the second-biggest driver of tech-sector employment -- ahead of the San Francisco Bay Area, a.k.a. Social Media Central. The report credits multinationals such as IBM and GlaxoSmithKline that have made themselves at home in Raleigh. Unemployment sits at a relatively low 5.4 percent.
5. Houston, Texas (50 points)
Cost of living index: 88.9 Median household income: $44,648 Unemployment rate: 5.6 percent State income tax: 0 percent Combined sales tax: 8.25 percent
Houston claims one of the lowest cost of living indexes on the entire list: 88.9, based on a national average of 100. For a sprawling, low-density city like this, transportation is worth highlighting. Houston has relatively low gas prices -- a gallon averaged $3.105 when we checked on Jan. 8 -- and also manages to keep annual transportation costs down relative to other large metro areas, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology. Zero percent income tax gives the entire state a leg up on the competition.
4. Charlotte, N.C. (53 points)
Cost of living index: 93.4 Median household income: $52,916 Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent State income tax: 6-7.75 percent Combined sales tax: 7.25 percent
The overall cost of living index in the so-called Queen City is 93.4, where 100 represents the national average. The unemployment rate is also far below the nationwide rate of 6.6 percent, at 4.1 percent as of November 2013. The median gross rent in Charlotte, according to the American Community Survey, is $875 -- a little on the high side among the cities we researched. Still, Sperling's pegs the median home price at $126,600, which is among the lowest.
3. San Antonio, Texas (54 points)
Cost of living index: 85.7 Median household income: $44,937 Unemployment rate: 5.6 percent State income tax: 0 percent Combined sales tax: 8.25 percent
In some ways the city is similar to Houston: Median household income is on the low side, but here, again, the state's nonexistent income tax comes into play. San Antonio has the lowest cost of living index on our list, at 85.7 (groceries are particularly cheap). The Atlantic Cities identifies San Antonio as a magnet for young people. Many have found stable jobs where they're already earning enough to save up to buy a home and pay off their student loans.
2. Fort Worth, Texas (56 points)
Cost of living index: 90.1 Median household income: $51,105 Unemployment rate: 5.6 percent State income tax: 0 percent Combined sales tax: 8.25
We can't get enough of Texas and its 0 percent income tax. Fort Worth has a relatively low cost of living, as reflected in an index of 90.1 and also in its extremely low home prices; it leads our list with a median of $93,500. Transportation costs are middling overall but, as anywhere, depend on the method you use. Fort Worth hosts a nonprofit bike-sharing service as a cost-saving alternative to owning a car. The city is opening an industry incubator in an effort to foster small business and help the economy thrive.
1. Austin, Texas (57 points)
Cost of living index: 102.1 Median household income: $52,431 Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent State income tax: 0 percent Combined sales tax: 8.25 percent
No. 1 is, to little surprise, another Texan city. One of the biggest draws to Austin is the jobs picture, including an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent -- well below the national rate. Median income is relatively high, at $52,431. The city has a reputation for being business-friendly, catering to startups as well as larger companies such as Dell. Forbes reports that such employers have made the Austin metro area the nation's leader in new technology jobs.