You might be able to trim annual costs by thousands of dollars by relocating to a different area. Bottom Line/Personal asked Bert Sperling, coauthor of Cities Ranked & Rated, to identify the 10 most affordable yet desirable places to live in the US.
Sperling limited his search to metropolitan areas of 500,000 people or more, favoring regions with low crime and unemployment rates, short average commutes, long life expectancies, quality medical care and good schools.
Sperling looked for areas where the cost of living, including median home prices, was well below the national average. Here, the 10 best, ordered by cost of living, lowest to highest…
Metro-area population: 592,126
Cost-of-living index: 76.8*
Median home price: $131,210
Wichita is not just one of the most affordable cities of its size in the country, it also offers one of the lowest unemployment rates and highest job-growth rates and an appealing sense of community. Downtown Wichita has under-gone urban renewal. Attractive new parks have sprung up near the city’s center. There also is a new convention center along the Arkansas River and new restaurants and shopping areas throughout the city. Wichita has more arts and entertainment facilities than you might expect from a city of this size, and homes are very affordable.
Metro-area population: 1,942,217
Cost-of-living index: 77.3
Median home price: $172,530
San Antonio is a modern city but one with lots of history. It features such a wide variety of neighborhoods that virtually everyone can find a part of town that is appealing. The economy is strong, and commute times are very reasonable considering the city’s size (average commute time is about 27 minutes one way). There’s a lively downtown with plenty of entertainment, including the River Walk, one of the nation’s most beautiful urban shopping and dining areas. Texas Hill Country to the north and east offers wonderful scenery and recreational opportunities.
Metro-area population: 897,752
Cost-of-living index: 79.0
Median home price: $158,900
It has been said that Tulsa combines the best of the American South with the best of the West. The city’s downtown is attractive and modern, with numerous parks, gardens and historic districts. Appealing suburbs lie to the east, northeast and south. Summers are hot, but Tulsa is far enough north that it usually avoids extended periods of sweltering heat. It’s far enough south that extreme winter cold is rare as well. Tulsa’s strong economy and affordable housing combine to make it a true value.
Metro-area population: 1,666,032
Cost-of-living index: 79.6
Median home price: $166,730
Indianapolis’s downtown has undergone major renovations in recent years and now boasts attractive buildings, pedestrian zones and a state-of-the-art sports arena. The city has a well-rounded arts and cultural scene, a strong and diversified economy and the intellectual opportunities of Butler University and the nearby Indiana-Purdue joint campus. The most desirable suburbs tend to be north of downtown.
OMAHA, NEBRASKA/COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA
Metro-area population: 822,549
Cost-of-living index: 82.5
Median home price: $157,570
Omaha’s historic district and the beautiful shaded streets and older suburbs north and west of the city are charming, but it is this city’s growth and vibrancy that mark it as a truly appealing place to live. Omaha has a new convention and performing arts center and a booming music scene. Prices are low in this city on the Missouri River, and the job market is strong. The whole city exudes a quiet confidence.
Metro-area population: 2,370,776
Cost-of-living index: 83.6
Median home price: $149,530
Once a decaying steel town, Pittsburgh has remade itself into an attractive and desirable location for both young families and retirees. It’s a city of neighborhoods, each with a unique identity and personality. Some of the neighborhoods located in the hills on the edge of town can be reached via a 19th-century incline tram from the central city. Pittsburgh is rooted in traditional values, but it also offers exciting nightlife along the riverfront and an active shopping district downtown.
Metro-area population: 534,230
Cost-of-living index: 85.4
Median home price: $186,530
Des Moines is the cultural and economic heart of Iowa. The city offers numerous diversions, including parks, museums, zoos, a well-regarded symphony and ballet and a large concert venue — but it is still small enough that you can get virtually anywhere in town in less than 15 minutes. Jobs are available, particularly in the insurance industry.
DALLAS/FT. WORTH/ARLINGTON, TEXAS
Metro-area population: 6,003,967
Cost-of-living index: 85.7
Median home price: $205,370
Dallas’s size guarantees an extremely wide range of work, leisure and cultural opportunities. Housing is very affordable by the standards of large American cities, and the local job market is strong despite the tough economy. The downside is that commute times can be lengthy (more than 30 minutes) due to long distances and heavy traffic.
Metro-area population: 525,380
Cost-of-living index: 89.9
Median home price: $226,490
Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, is a quiet city located on the Susquehanna River a little more than 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The city offers an assortment of historic museums, minor-league sports teams and a lovely riverfront area. Real estate is very affordable compared with the standards of the Northeast, and the economy is relatively stable due in part to the inherent stability of state government jobs.
Metro-area population: 543,022
Cost-of-living index: 94.0
Median home price: $266,310
Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin and cultural, entertainment and intellectual opportunities abound. Two large lakes virtually surround the city, providing natural beauty and recreational options. It has a pedestrian-friendly downtown featuring a number of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a former resident. The downside is that the winter is long and cold. Choose a fuel-efficient home, or high energy prices will undercut your savings.
*Cost-of-living index estimates the cost of basic family expenditures compared with a US metropolitan-area average of 100. Wichita’s cost-of-living score of 76.8, for example, means that the cost of living there is 23.2% lower than that of the typical US location.