For our survey of the five least expensive cities in the United States, we looked at cities with more 100,000 people. We ranked each city by cost of living. All ten of these inexpensive cities are in the middle third of the country. One reason for the lower cost of living in this region may be that less people want to live there. The midwest is generally seen as having a poorer economy than either coast, with less access to ports and other sources of commerce.
Each of the ten least expensive cities on our list have populations between 100,000 and 200,000. Looking deeper into the cheapest ten cities in the U.S. this trend continues, with the exceptions of El Paso, Texas and Wichita, Kansas. El Paso’s population is 672,538 while Wichita’s is 385,577.
Sioux Falls, SD has the third lowest cost of living, yet paradoxically it has the highest median monthly housing cost at $797 per month. The cheapest median monthly housing cost is Brownsville, Texas with $617 per month.
It’s no surprise that Flint, Michigan tops our list of the ten cheapest cities to live in in the U.S. Flint, with a population of 100,515 featured famously in Michael Moore’s hit documentary “Roger & Me,” about the rampant job loss and economic damage in the wake of massive auto plant shutdowns by General Motors. Flint is listed among the most dangerous cities in the country, with a crime rate seven times the national average. Since 2011, the city has been in a state of financial emergency. It has an estimated median household income of $27,149 and a median home value of $32,700.
Brownsville, Texas, the city with the second lowest cost of living on our list, has a population of 180,097 and an estimated median household income of $29,619.
Brownsville is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the U.S., thanks largely to heavy business trade with Mexico. The city serves as both a border town and shipping port for Mexican trade, which has grown rapidly in recent years because of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Brownsville has a $617 per month median monthly housing cost, which gives it the least expensive housing of any city on our list. However, the median home value in Brownsville is $78,100, which is significantly more expensive than the median home cost in Flint, Michigan. One reason for this housing cost discrepancy may be that home values in Brownsville have nearly doubled in the last fifteen years, while they’ve dropped significantly in Flint. It’s possible that rent prices in both towns have yet to fully catch up to home costs, skewing the median monthly cost of housing.
Sioux Falls has a median household income of $48,261, considerably more than cities one and two on our list of cities with the least expensive costs of living in America. It has a population of 159,908 and the highest median monthly housing cost on our list at $797 per month.
Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota, boasts more than 70 greenways and parks, along with a 16 mile river path for walking, biking and jogging. The hot dry summers and cold winters are balanced by its crime rate, which is half the national average. Its lack of a corporate state income tax is probably one reason for the city’s booming financial sector.
With the fourth least expensive cost of living on our list, Odessa has a median household income of $51,948 and a median home value of $106,400. In 2014 Forbes magazine listed Odessa as the third fastest growing city in its size category in the U.S. It currently has a population of 106,102.
Odessa’s economy is based mostly on oil, and in fact it only became a city after oil was discovered just outside of town. Odessa has a hot, humid climate and the highest rate of violent crime in Texas.
Topeka, Kansas has the fifth least expensive cost of living on our list. Topeka has a median home value of $95,400 and a median household income of $40,469. Topeka is the capital of Kansas and has a population of 127,939.
While the crime rates in most cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants has risen since 2000, Topeka is one of the few small cities whose crime rates have decreased, attracting the attention of researchers from Michigan State University.
The state government is the largest employer in Topeka. One in five people in the city work for the government. Another tenth of the population work in the retail trade.
Topeka has one of the most variable climates in the country, with wide fluctuations in temperature, wind and precipitation. In 1966 the city center was struck by an F5 tornado.
The next five cities with the lowest costs of living in the U.S. are all similarly in the middle third of the country, and four of them are in Texas. They are:
- #6: McAllen, Texas
- #7: Beaumont, Texas
- #8: Abilene, Texas
- #9: El Paso, Texas
- #10: Wichita, Kansas
Also see our list of the Five Most Expensive Cities in the U.S.