Most Affordable Downtowns To Live In Across America


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The United States has no shortage of cities with charming downtowns chock full of attractions. The best cities to live in, however, are not always the most affordable cities. When choosing where to live, a balance must be struck between the features and benefits a city offers and the cost of day-to-day living in that city.

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To help with the computation, GOBankingRates undertook a cost of living comparison by city — using ZIP codes to determine the downtown area — to find the best places to live in the U.S. if you’re looking to live in a downtown area. Information considered included costs a homeowner could expect to pay each month, the rent for non-homeowners, utility costs and the price of a monthly transportation pass.

The downtowns represented encompass a wide range of locations and sizes, with a multitude of different attractions. As they are the most affordable downtown areas in the country, they could offer good value for first-time homebuyers, or anyone else looking for an exciting city on a budget.

Last updated: May 14, 2021

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15. Reno, Nevada — 89503

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,484
  • Median rent: $915
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $189
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $62

Reno is known as “The Biggest Little City In The World,” and it boasts tons of things to do beyond gambling. The 89503 contains some of Reno’s gems, starting with the Rancho San Rafael Park.

The park, a former cattle ranch of the Old West, is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, but it’s more than that. It’s the starting point for the annual Great Reno Balloon Race, which draws an average of 120,000 spectators each September. Admission to the race is free.

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14. Columbia, South Carolina — 29204

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,173
  • Median rent: $831
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $230
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $41

ZIP code 29204 holds the Waverly Historic District, which was one of Columbia’s first suburbs before being annexed by the city in 1913. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 1900s, it was home to the area’s Black professional, business, spiritual and academic leaders, and with two colleges in the district — Allen University and Benedict College — it remains a vibrant community a century later.

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13. Colorado Springs, Colorado — 80903

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,380
  • Median rent: $835
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $194
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $63

Colorado Springs sits adjacent to the Rocky Mountains, not far from 14,115-foot Pike’s Peak. As such, it offers plenty of outdoor activities. The second-largest city in Colorado is famous for its Garden of the Gods Park, which is a registered National Natural Landmark. Colorado Springs is also the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The downtown attractions can be relatively affordable, except for the high cost of transportation, which is the highest on the list.

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12. Bradenton, Florida — 34205

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,166
  • Median rent: $993
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $212
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $40

Bradenton, Florida, is located on the Manatee River between St. Petersburg and Sarasota. The 34205 downtown ZIP code is home to the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, which highlights Florida’s history from prehistoric times to the present. You’ll also find the Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile park covering the breadth of Bradenton with features ranging from a skate park and a family fun zone to beach volleyball, a fishing pier and vast green spaces.

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11. Huntsville, Alabama — 35801

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,487
  • Median rent: $861
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $201
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $38

Huntsville, Alabama, is known as “Rocket City” for its past and present as a centerpiece of the U.S. space program. The former home of Wernher von Braun and his team of German rocket scientists, Huntsville is now the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which monitors all of the science on board the International Space Station and is developing the next-generation Space Launch System. Downtown Huntsville offers a host of amenities, from shady sidewalks and a historic square to urban hiking and biking opportunities. The city ranks as the second-most expensive for homeowners on the list.

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10. Little Rock, Arkansas — 72202

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,193
  • Median rent: $839
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $218
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $36

Little Rock, Arkansas, is the home to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, just one ZIP code over from the state’s affordable 72202 ZIP code. Just outside the city, Pinnacle Mountain State Park offers hiking and other activities for the outdoor enthusiast. Numerous parks are located within the confines of the 72202 ZIP code itself.

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9. Bismarck, North Dakota — 58501

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,453
  • Median rent: $820
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $210
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $30

North Dakota has a rich history that dates back 10,000 years as a region for big-game hunting, and it later became an outpost for fur trading, but it was the development of the railroad in the late 1800s that drove its growth.

The Camp Hancock Historic Site, located in ZIP code 58501, pays tribute to that past. It preserves a portion of the military installation built in 1872 that provided shelter for the work crews building the Northern Pacific Railroad.

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8. Sioux Falls, South Dakota — 57104

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $990
  • Median rent: $680
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $248
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $31

The more affordable of the two Sioux Falls ZIP codes, residents of the 57104 ZIP code are lucky to share their location with the No. 1 attraction in the city, Falls Park. The park contains numerous waterfalls, including the city’s namesake falls, spread out over the park’s 123 acres. You also can visit the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History within the confines of the 57104 ZIP code.

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7. Durham, North Carolina — 27701

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,466
  • Median rent: $855
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $190
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $36

Durham was immortalized in the minor-league baseball movie “Bull Durham,” but the larger city is also home to one of the most famous basketball universities in the country, Duke. The city’s roots in the tobacco industry have transformed into a bustling, 1 million-square-foot entertainment district on the former site of the Lucky Strike cigarette factory. A thriving artistic and cultural scene now exists alongside historic Civil War sites.

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6. Louisville, Kentucky — 40202

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,771
  • Median rent: $339
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $200
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $50

Nothing is more synonymous with Louisville than the Louisville Slugger, the famed baseball bat that a small woodworking shop first created in the 1880s. The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a popular attraction, located at 800 W Main St. in the heart of the 40202 ZIP code.

Visitors taking a tour can watch a bat being made – then take a mini version home as a souvenir. It’s an expensive place for homeowners, however, with the monthly cost reaching $1,771, which is the highest on the list.

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5. Wichita Falls, Texas — 76301

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $898
  • Median rent: $663
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $203
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $45

Wichita Falls is the least-expensive landing spot on our list, with monthly homeowner costs just shy of $900. That leaves residents plenty of money to enjoy many of the downtown attractions in the 76301 ZIP code, which include the Backdoor Theatre, the Castaway Cove water park, the Kell House Museum, the Maniac Mansion arcade and cereal bar, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum and the Wee-Chi-Tah Wine Trail.

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4. Grand Junction, Colorado — 81501

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,153
  • Median rent: $822
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $164
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $52

Grand Junction is a remote outpost in western Colorado that gets its name from its position at the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. The city is within spitting distance of the Colorado National Monument, the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and the Grand Mesa National Forest.

Perhaps surprisingly for a town surrounded by ski resorts, Grand Junction also boasts more than 300 days of sunshine per year.

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3. Albuquerque, New Mexico — 87102

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $976
  • Median rent: $714
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $203
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $30

Albuquerque is a Southwestern gem nestled in the center of New Mexico. Just outside the limits of this affordable ZIP code lie the charms of Old Town Albuquerque, the ABQ BioPark Aquarium and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. Albuquerque is also the home of the world’s longest cable-car route, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, offering breathtaking views of the valley below from a height of 10,378 feet.

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2. Billings, Montana — 59101

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,321
  • Median rent: $768
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $177
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $28

Billings, Montana, often is looked at as a gateway to both the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Yellowstone Park. After being founded in 1882, the city acquired the nickname “Magic City” due to its incredible growth. For residents and visitors alike, the magic continues to the present day, with rustic charm, scenic beauty and plenty of outdoor activities.

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1. Winston-Salem, North Carolina — 27101

  • Selected monthly owner costs: $1,085
  • Median rent: $714
  • Monthly cost of utilities: $147
  • Monthly public transportation pass: $30

Winston-Salem ranks as No. 1 on the list of affordable downtowns. It was founded by Moravians in 1753 and, along with nearby Greensboro, is known as the furniture capital of the world, in addition to the host of the largest pottery community in the country.

The 27101 ZIP code in downtown Winston-Salem proper is the home of the Winston-Salem Downtown Arts District, a burgeoning regional culinary scene and charming cobblestone streets, and it offers the least-expensive utilities of any city on the list. Every spring, the city hosts the RiverRun International Film Festival.

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Downtown Living: Most Affordable Cities in the US

There are plenty of downtown ZIP codes in America where you can live on the cheap while still enjoying lots of amenities and attractions. One of the major factors in determining which city might be right for you is if you are planning to rent or buy a home.

The monthly costs of owning a home among the 15 cities on the list range from a high of $1,771 to a low of $898, while rents vary from $339 to $993. So, even on a list of the most affordable downtowns, there is plenty of variance in costs.

Although all of these cities are considered affordable, they each have their own distinct style and personality. While costs might be an important factor in helping you choose where to live, remember to evaluate the amenities and personality of a city before you take the next step.

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John Csiszar contributed to the reporting for this article. 

Methodology: GOBankingRates used Google Maps, individual city websites and websites devoted specifically to a city’s downtown to determine the area considered “downtown” in each city in this study. ZIP codes were used to approximate downtown areas. With downtown ZIP codes identified, the study analyzed 95 downtowns in terms of the following criteria: (1) median selected monthly owner costs for units with a mortgage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey 5-year estimates (data for ZCTAs used); (2) median gross rent according to the same source; (3) monthly cost of utilities, sourced from Numbeo; and (4) cost of a monthly public transportation pass, also sourced from Numbeo. Downtowns then were scored against each other on all four factors and ranked based on their combined score. All data was collected on and up to date as of May 4, 2021.

Photo Disclaimer: Please note photos are for representational purposes only. As a result, some of the photos might not reflect the exact ZIP codes or locations listed in this article.