If you're struggling to make ends meet, it might have something to do with where you live. It can be tough to stretch even a big paycheck far enough to pay for necessities and have money left over for savings — and a little fun — if you're in a place where the cost of living is high. So, it might be time to move to a place that's more affordable.
In order to help you pinpoint the cheapest places to live, GOBankingRates compared living expenses in 270 of the largest U.S. cities to find out where you could get by on the average annual wage of $49,630 — or less. To calculate the income needed to live comfortably in each city, we used the 50-30-20 budgeting rule, in which 50 percent of income covers necessities, 30 percent covers discretionary items and 20 percent is for savings. For necessities, we used the cost of rent, groceries, utilities, transportation and healthcare. Then we added 30 percent of that amount for discretionary costs and 20 percent for savings to get the income needed to live comfortably.
Thanks to a low cost of living, find out in which places you're least likely to live paycheck to paycheck.
31. Marietta, Ga.
- Total needed: $49,597
It costs less than $50,000 to live comfortably in this suburb of Atlanta. But some residents still may find themselves living paycheck to paycheck because the median household income of $44,953 is less than the $49,597 needed to cover necessities, savings and discretionary spending in Marietta. Plus, Marietta has the third-highest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in our rankings — $895 per month.
However, this small city offers many free and low-cost things to do — from festivals and a summer concert series to parks with bike trails and sports fields. Plus, history buffs will enjoy the city’s heritage and cultural museums and Civil War sites.
Still Struggling? Follow These Survival Tips for Living Paycheck to Paycheck
30. Oklahoma City
- Total needed: $49,594
Oklahoma City offers plenty of big-city amenities without big-city costs. Oklahoma City boasts a diverse economy and easy commutes — an average of just 20 minutes. The city has the eighth-lowest yearly transportation costs of all the places surveyed, coming in at $5,705 a year.
The city hosts three major arts festivals annually, has a major art museum and 50 independent galleries, a concert hall that’s home to the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra and Oklahoma City Ballet, as well as a 17-acre park in the middle of downtown. It even has its own NBA team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
29. Mesa, Ariz.
- Total needed: $49,494
The low cost of living in this Phoenix suburb makes it possible to cover the cost of necessities, savings and discretionary spending on an income of $49,494. The average monthly cost of basic utilities is especially low here — the third lowest in our rankings. And Mesa has the lowest transportation costs alongside Marietta, Ga.
There’s no shortage of things to do in this Sonoran Desert city. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike along miles of trails, or boat, fish or kayak in one of the four nearby lakes or the Salt River. The Mesa Arts Center is the largest arts and entertainment complex in the Southwest. Plus, the city is home to the Polytechnic campus of Arizona State University.
28. St. Louis
- Total needed: $49,034
You can get by on less than $50,000 a year in this city on the banks of the Mississippi River thanks to its affordable cost of living. The median monthly rent is just $795, basic monthly utilities cost $146 and the average monthly cost of groceries is $323.
The city’s economy is diverse and has been growing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. And it’s expected to continue to see job growth as Boeing and other major companies expand their operations in St. Louis, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
27. Louisville, Ky.
- Total needed: $48,989
Although Louisville is Kentucky’s largest city, you still can live comfortably here for less than $50,000 a year. However, the median monthly rent of $816 is the sixth-highest of cities in our rankings. Louisville is also one of 10 cities where the cost of living is rising quickly, a separate GOBankingRates survey found.
Still, this affordable city has plenty to offer. This regional economic hub is home to Fortune 500 companies, 30 regional colleges and universities, 38 museums and galleries, and the fastest two minutes in sports — the Kentucky Derby. Plus, Louisville was the first city in the South to pass a fairness ordinance to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.
26. Las Vegas
- Total needed: $48,748
Although the city’s median monthly rent of $903 is the highest in our rankings, Las Vegas still is one of the most affordable places to live. The cost of healthcare, utilities and groceries are cheaper here than in most cities on our list.
In addition to a low cost of living, Las Vegas offers an abundance of things to do — from festivals and entertainment to outdoor activities and sporting events. Of course, there are plenty of gambling opportunities, too.
25. Newport News, Va.
- Total needed: $48,726
This affordable city is located in southeastern Virginia where the James River meets the Chesapeake Bay. As home to a joint U.S. Army and Air Force installation, Newport News has an economy that is closely tied to the military. Shipbuilding is also a major industry here.
With a median monthly rent of $800 and other necessary expenses that are affordable, it takes an annual income of just $48,726 to live in Newport News. Residents can take advantage of the city’s 36 natural parks, free events and festivals, historical attractions and museums, galleries, a fine arts center and a local theater.
24. Tulsa, Okla.
- Total needed: $48,515
Low housing costs are a big reason Tulsa is one of the cheapest places to live. Its median monthly rent of just $622 is the fifth lowest in our rankings. However, monthly health insurance premiums are tied with Oklahoma City for the highest of all the cities in this ranking.
As Oklahoma’s second-largest city, Tulsa offers many big-city amenities — museums, performing arts venues, concerts by top artists, and professional baseball, hockey and soccer teams. Plus, the city’s economy has become more diverse and no longer is so dependent on the oil industry — which makes it a good place for business and careers, according to Forbes.
23. San Antonio, Texas
- Total needed: $48,288
Although the median monthly rent in San Antonio is the second highest in our rankings, it’s still one of the best places to live if you’re trying to save money. It has the second-lowest monthly grocery costs — just $246. The cost of basic utilities are also lower here than many of the other cheapest places to live. When you add in the cost of other necessities, discretional spending and savings, you need just $48,288 to live in the second-largest city in Texas.
You don’t need to spend a lot to have fun in San Antonio, either. With 300 days of sunshine and an average temperature of 70 degrees, you can enjoy the outdoors in the city’s 186 parks or along its 52.6 miles of greenway trails. Or you could soak up the city’s sites, sounds and culture for free by strolling along its famous Riverwalk.
22. Little Rock, Ark.
- Total needed: $48,117
The cost of living is low in this city known for its history and hospitality. Even though Little Rock is both the capital and largest city of Arkansas, it takes an income of just $48,117 to live comfortably here. Health insurance premiums are especially low here – the seventh-lowest on our list.
Little Rock has a diverse economy and is home to the headquarters of several large companies. Plus, it offers something for everyone. Little Rock has a zoo, history museums, symphony orchestra, repertory theater, annual literary festival, annual visual and performing arts celebration, 24 miles of riverside trails and one of the largest municipal parks in the nation.
21. Columbus, Ohio
- Total needed: $47,768
Ohio’s largest city and capital doesn’t come with a big-city cost of living. Although Columbus is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the Midwest, according to the city’s chamber of commerce, it requires an annual income of just $47,768 to live comfortably here. Plus, the city has the second-lowest monthly health insurance premium on our list — $226.
Columbus has a workforce that’s younger and better educated than the national average, according to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Its diverse economy offers a variety of career options. Plus, there’s an array of arts, entertainment, sports, nightlife and shopping options residents can enjoy.
20. Boise, Idaho
- Total needed: $47,432
This city in southwestern Idaho is the state capital. It’s also Idaho’s biggest city, but it has a small-town cost of living. Not only is it one of the cheapest cities to live in, but Boise is also a great place to retire where rent is under $1,000 a month. In fact, with a median monthly rent of $782, annual housing costs are less than $10,000.
The city’s low cost of living leaves more room in your budget to enjoy all that Boise has to offer — dining and nightlife, breweries and wineries, a regional music scene and a thriving arts scene. If you wanted to get outdoors, you could explore the Boise Foothills and hike miles of trails for free.
19. Missoula, Mont.
- Total needed: $47,221
This western Montana city in the Northern Rockies is surrounded by natural beauty — but what makes it even better is its low cost of living. The average cost of basic utilities here — just $91 a month — are lower than any other city on our list. An annual income of just $47,221 covers this and other necessary costs, plus discretionary expenses and savings.
Known as the Garden City, Missoula offers an abundance of outdoor activities — including hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, skiing and ice skating — or you can soak up the city’s arts and culture offerings and enjoy the nightlife. Missoula also is home to the University of Montana.
- Total needed: $47,155
Although it’s the capital and largest city of Indiana, Indianapolis is one of the cheapest places to live. The median monthly rent is just $756. And the average monthly health insurance premium of $229 is among the lowest on our list.
Indianapolis is home to the Indianapolis 500 open-wheel car race, the Indianapolis Colts NFL team, the Indiana Pacers NBA team, the Indiana Fever WNBA team, a minor-league baseball team and minor-league hockey team. But it’s more than a sports mecca. The city has 210 parks, 135 miles of trails, 13 public golf courses, art museums and galleries, a zoo and the world’s largest children’s museum.
Houses Are Affordable in Indiana, Too: The Price Per Square Foot Is the Lowest in the Country
17. Gainesville, Fla.
- Total needed: $47,122
You can live on less than $50,000 a year in Gainesville thanks to low housing costs and other necessary expenses. The median monthly rent here is just $710, which means the annual cost of rent falls below $9,000.
This employment and retail hub for north-central Florida is home to the University of Florida. As a result, it’s Florida’s youngest and most educated metro area, according to the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s more than an affordable college town, though — Gainesville also offers plenty of outdoor activities, museums, theaters, historic sites and art galleries.
16. Rochester, N.Y.
- Total needed: $46,964
Located on the shore of Lake Ontario, Rochester is New York’s third-largest city. The cost of living here is much lower than in the state’s biggest city — New York. You need just $46,964 to cover necessities, savings and discretionary expenses compared to $86,446 to live comfortably in New York City.
In addition to a low cost of living, Rochester has a diverse economy with growing technology, biotechnology, manufacturing and food and beverage industries. It’s home to the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology, plus Rochester also offers a variety of cultural and entertainment options, music and arts festivals and minor league sports events.
15. Tyler, Texas
- Total needed: $46,881
This economic hub in northeast Texas is one of the most affordable places to live thanks to the affordable cost of necessities here. Transportation and grocery costs, as well as health insurance premiums, are lower in Tyler than in many of the other cities on our list.
Although it has a friendly, small-town community feel, Tyler has some bigger city amenities — such as an orchestra, performing arts center and museum of art. The city is surrounded by 25 lakes, has 25 parks and is home to University of Texas at Tyler and Texas College.
14. Lexington, Ky.
- Total needed: $46,623
Although Louisville is known for the Kentucky Derby, Lexington calls itself the Horse Capital of the World for its concentration of Thoroughbred horse farms. And the city takes pride in its hospitality, beautiful countryside and thriving economy, according to the mayor’s office. Lexington also can take pride in its low cost of living, which makes it one of the most affordable cities in the U.S.
With a median monthly rent of $725, housing costs are less than $9,000 a year. Combined with other necessities, discretionary expenses and savings, it would take an income of just $46,623 to live comfortably in Lexington. Not only is it affordable, but thanks to its low unemployment rate and healthy economy with diverse industries, Lexington is a city on the rise.
13. Billings, Mont.
- Total needed: $46,524
Although Billings is Montana’s largest city, you can live comfortably here for less than in smaller Missoula. The difference is due largely to the lower median monthly rent in Billings, which is just $650.
In addition to a low cost of living, Billings has a diverse economy that is driven by the healthcare, agriculture, tourism and natural resources industries. Scenic bluffs surround the city, the Yellowstone River cuts through it — and Yellowstone National Park is nearby.
12. Tucson, Ariz.
- Total needed: $46,310
Low housing, grocery and utility costs make Tucson one the cheapest places to live. The median monthly rent in this city just 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border is only $628 — the seventh lowest on our list. That’s a key reason why you can live in Tucson for less than $50,000 a year, and why it’s the city in Arizona where your paycheck stretches furthest.
Located in the Sonoran Desert and surrounded by five mountain ranges, Tucson is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. If you tire of hiking, you can head to Tuscon’s bustling downtown, visit its galleries and museums or listen to live music. The city also is home to the University of Arizona, and its economy has been driven by growth in the space exploration, aerospace, defense and biotechnology industries.
11. Reno, Nev.
- Total needed: $46,269
Las Vegas may be the better-known city in Nevada, but Reno is more affordable. It takes about $2,500 less to live comfortably in Reno than in Vegas. That’s because the cost of rent, groceries and health insurance are all lower in Reno.
This city on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains offers easy access to skiing and other outdoor recreation. Reno’s economy has been rebounding since the Great Recession and is no longer as reliant on gaming and entertainment, according to the City of Reno. Industries such as healthcare and technology are helping the city’s economy diversify.
- Total needed: $45,702
This city on the Ohio River is a regional commercial, transportation and cultural hub. Cincinnati is home to nine Fortune 500 companies and has a diverse economy with industries ranging from anywhere from advanced manufacturing, to consumer products, even to financial services.
Its health insurance costs are among the lowest on our list, and other affordable necessities make it possible to live here on an income of $45,702. In addition to a low cost of living, Cincinnati offers an abundance of cultural amenities, including an opera, ballet and several orchestras and theaters. Plus, it has the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals, the MLB's Cincinnati Reds, and minor league hockey and soccer teams.
9. Bloomington, Ind.
- Total needed: $45,663
Home to Indiana University, this college town is a cheap place to live thanks to low housing, utilities, transportation and health insurance costs. In fact, Bloomington’s average health insurance premium of $229 is tied for fifth lowest on our list.
This progressive city offers something for everyone — arts and culture, nightlife and entertainment, outdoor recreation on its urban trails and at nearby Monroe Lake and family-friendly events. Plus, there are plenty of college sports to watch.
8. Fresno, Calif.
- Total needed: $44,838
Unlike other large California cities where you need to earn a lot to live comfortably, Fresno is much more affordable. In fact, it takes an income of just $44,838 to cover the cost of necessities, savings and discretionary expenses in this central California city.
Fresno is known as the Agricultural Capital of the World, so it’s not one of the best cities to score your dream job if you’re not interested in a career in agriculture. There are other industries, but Fresno has a high 8.4 percent unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One of the big benefits of living in Fresno, though, is its close proximity to three national parks — Sequoia, Yosemite and Kings Canyon.
7. Wichita, Kan.
- Total needed: $44,776
Wichita may be the biggest city in Kansas, but it doesn’t take big bucks to live here. It takes only $44,776 to cover the cost of necessities, savings and discretionary spending here thanks, in large part, to a low median monthly rent of $625 — the sixth lowest on our list.
Once called known for its cattle trade, Wichita now is home to a variety of big-name businesses such as Cessna Aircraft, Boeing Defense, Koch Industries, Coleman and Cox Communications. It also offers many of the amenities of a big city: opera, ballet, symphony orchestra, 15,000-seat arena for concerts, 33 museums, more than 28 art galleries and more than 80 miles of paved paths in the city’s more than 125 parks.
6. Spokane, Wash.
- Total needed: $44,342
You can live comfortably on $44,342 in this city in eastern Washington. Spokane’s median monthly rent is just $650. And it has the fourth-lowest basic monthly utilities cost on our list.
Spokane’s economy has been growing and is expected to continue adding jobs, according to the Journal of Business. In addition to career opportunities and a low cost of living, Spokane offers ample outdoor recreation — from hiking to skiing to whitewater rafting. The city also has breweries, wineries, live music, Broadway shows, art galleries, museums and festivals.
5. Detroit, Mich.
- Total needed: $44,080
Detroit is one of the cheapest places to live. However, it’s the poorest city in Michigan, so many residents don’t even earn enough to live comfortably. The median household income here is just $26,095, well below the $44,080 needed to cover the cost of necessities, savings and discretionary spending here.
Detroit is making a comeback, though. Thousands of new jobs have been created in the area over the past year, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. Plus, there are funds to help launch startups and grow businesses. Also, Detroit has a new streetcar that shuttles people to restaurants and shops, a bike-share program, a new 1.5-acre park and it's developing a sports and entertainment district that will span 50 blocks and link five neighborhoods, according to the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
4. Albuquerque, N.M.
- Total needed: $43,573
You can easily live comfortably for less than $50,000 in New Mexico’s largest city. Albuquerque’s average monthly health insurance premium of $224 is the lowest on our list. The median monthly rent is $699, and other necessary costs are low enough to get by on $43,573 — which includes saving 20 percent of your income and keeping 30 percent for discretionary expenses.
This culturally diverse city on the Rio Grande has a strong Spanish and Native American heritage combined with Southwestern hospitality. It’s home to several high-tech companies and research institutes, including Intel and Sandia National Laboratory. Plus, it offers a variety of cultural amenities and outdoor activities.
3. Lubbock, Texas
- Total needed: $43,201
The cost of living is low in this city in northwest Texas. Lubbock is tied with Detroit for third-lowest median monthly rent of $600. Low housing costs make it possible to live comfortably here with an income of $43,201.
The city’s economy is closely tied to the agriculture and manufacturing industries. It’s a regional hub for retail, healthcare, arts, culture and entertainment. And Lubbock is home to Texas Tech University.
2. Springfield, Mo.
- Total needed: $40,834
Springfield’s median monthly rent of $495 — the lowest on our list — makes it one of the most affordable places to live in the U.S. Other costs are low enough that you can live comfortably here on $40,834.
This city in southwest Missouri near the Ozark Mountains has a growing job market, a diverse mix of industries and is home to Missouri State University and three other higher education institutions. Springfield offers urban, suburban and rural living, has four distinct seasons and plenty of cultural and outdoor activities.
1. El Paso, Texas
- Total needed: $40,204
You can live comfortably for well below $50,000 — almost $10,000 less — in El Paso, which makes it the cheapest place to live on our list. It has the second-lowest median rent at $555, the third-lowest cost of groceries and sixth-lowest cost of utilities. In fact, El Paso is a city where rent prices have been falling.
Not only does this city on the U.S.-Mexico border offer a low cost of living, but it has the amenities of a major metropolitan area — including state-of-the art medical facilities, several higher education institutions and ample cultural and entertainment options. Its desert location makes it hot and dry, but it has more than 300 days of sunshine for exploring the nearby canyons, cliffs, caverns and state and national parks.
Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed monthly living expenses in the 270 most populous U.S. cities, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. This cost-of-living comparison included the following factors for a single person: 1) housing, using the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in each city, sourced from Zillow's June 2017 rental index; 2) groceries, using the recommended amount reported by cost-of-living database Numbeo.com for each city; 3) utilities for a 915-square-foot apartment in each city, according to cost estimates from Numbeo.com; 4) transportation costs according to the Economic Policy Institute's Family Budget Calculator for each city or its nearest metropolitan area; and 5) health insurance premiums as estimated at the state level for 2017 by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Monthly costs were totaled and multiplied by 12 to get the annual dollar cost of necessities in each city. This dollar amount for necessities was then doubled to find the actual annual income needed to live comfortably in the city, assuming a person is following the 50-30-20 budgeting guideline, which requires an income double the cost of necessities. The amount of money specified for savings is equal to 20 percent of the total income needed, and the amount specified for discretionary spending is equal to 30 percent of the total income needed.