The pandemic-driven shift to remote work freed millions of Americans to move wherever they wanted, but soon after, soaring inflation put the brakes on many of those dreams. So what’s left out there for people who are ready to pull up stakes but have been priced out of their new location of choice?
GOBankingRates spoke to real estate professionals and other cost-of-living experts in different locations across the country, from big cities to small towns and everything in between. The following is a list of locations where inflation remains a step behind the cost of living if you’re looking for somewhere to live well on the cheap.
According to the most recent census, Tennessee has seen its population explode in recent years as people flock to the state for low costs and nice weather.
“Tennessee, even with the sudden influx of people, still has an excellent cost of living,” said Erik Wright, owner of NewHorizon Home Buyers. “The median house still costs only $231,600. In addition, Tennessee had the largest growth of six-figure jobs, which indicates a large pool of disposable income, which can help grow businesses that continue the income growth.”
One location in the Volunteer State stands out as an especially ripe bargain.
“Despite the rising inflation, Johnson City is one of the places where you will have to pay approximately half the cost of living as compared to Houston,” said Erick Nilsson, a housing professional and founder of Rentola. “Even the doctor visits in the state are 60% less costly than other states. The cost-of-living score of the area is 65 out of 75 points.”
If you cross Tennessee’s southern border, you’ll enter one of the best states to live in on a budget.
“One of the most affordable states in America is Alabama,” said George Beatty, founder of Problem Property Pals. “Even with regard to rising inflation, the state can prove to be a cheap stay for families. For example, let’s suppose your home is roughly over 2,000 square feet and has four bedrooms, along with two baths on a decent-sized lot in the city of Auburn. You can expect to pay approximately 33% of what you would pay for a similar home in California. The cost of living score in Alabama is 68 out of 75 points, which is considered an excellent score in terms of affordable living. Furthermore, the average price of a home in Auburn is around $310,000. This is $60,000 less than the mean price of homes in the whole country.”
If you’re looking for a high quality of life on a budget, you’ll be hard-pressed to get more for less than what you’ll find in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“The metro population in Fayetteville is around 85,000, which isn’t all that congested given the real estate market in the city,” said Kurt Walker, CEO of Cream City Home Buyers. “The median home price in Fayetteville is approximately $200,000, which is significantly less than the average price of the U.S. The average annual salary is around $47,600. It is one of the cheapest places to live in the U.S., making the standard of living of the locals quite high.”
If the Austin lifestyle is what you crave, but without Austin price tags, consider a nearby gem.
“Cedar Park, Texas, offers an affordable standard of living because of its close proximity to Austin,” said Ahern Tille, the founder and supervising attorney at Bankruptcy Law Center.
“With an average household income of $80,954, the approximate cost of living totals to a decent average amount of $58,497. According to the Cost of Living Index, it ranks at 92.8 with a number of employment opportunities in the fields of engineering and architecture. It is safe and secure for families with a number of outdoor activities and options for entertainment, including restaurants and public parks.”
Deborah Ann Spence, a real estate broker and owner of Fierce Realty, recommends bargain hunting in small-town America, like her locale in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
“It is a small town about 45 miles from the center of Philadelphia, and located on the corner edge of Montgomery County, Pa.,” Spence said. “You can purchase a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house for $150,000 or a two-unit duplex for $150,000. Home prices have not seen the inflation and seller’s market in our small, beautiful community, like in outer communities such as Brookhaven, Pa.”
Mid-Size Cities Like Buffalo, New York
If something like Pottstown is too small, there’s plenty of middle ground between that and America’s major metros.
“There are many mid-sized cities in America that are still affordable despite rising inflation,” said Dr. Tenpao Lee, professor emeritus of economics at Niagara University. “For example, Buffalo, N.Y., where the median sale price of a house was $196,000 in December 2021. Overall, if we include other factors to consider, such as family income, property tax, cost of living, natural environment, and public education systems, Buffalo certainly provides higher value for young professionals looking to raise their families.”
Cities with attractive costs of living can be much smaller than Buffalo — and much warmer.
“Savannah, Ga., is one city where the cost of living has held up pretty well to inflation,” said Cristina Ortega, owner of Mrs. Property Solutions. “The city’s overall cost of living runs an astonishing 13.3% below the national average. Even though Savannah’s healthcare is over 10% more than the U.S. average, it is made up for by the relatively cheaper utilities, grocery, and transportation costs. Furthermore, its housing costs are 36% less than what the typical American pays.”
According to Bill Samuel, a full-time residential real estate developer and founder of Blue Ladder Development, there are many suburbs of Chicago that offer great schools and a very low cost of living.
“For example, Tinley Park, Ill., is only a 30-minute car ride to downtown Chicago, has tons of local restaurants, access to public transportation, and has a median home value of $283,000,” Samuel said. “The national average home value is $320,000, so this is 13% less than the national average.”
Greenville, South Carolina
Heading back to the South, one small city stands out as especially affordable, despite its high-quality living standards.
“Greenville, S.C., has withstood the economic damage caused by the COVID pandemic better than many other U.S. communities,” said Reid Hogan of HouseCashin. “From November of 2020 to November of 2021, the unemployment rate in Greenville has been reduced almost by half. The Greenville economy is bolstered by a diverse range of employers. More than 40 Fortune 500 companies have a presence there, as well as more than 225 international companies. Even with the impacts of inflation, the overall cost of living in Greenville is 12% lower than the national average. The median price of a home in Greenville is $234,600, which is more than 2.25 times lower than the median price in other desirable markets such as Austin and Denver.”
Fort Wayne, Indiana
When many people think of the Midwest, they think of nice lifestyles and low costs of living — and in at least one city in Indiana, they’d be right.
“The Fort Wayne metro area offers an enviable combination of affordability and amenities,” said Olivia Tan, a Florida-based personal finance coach and co-founder of CocoFax. “Not only does this Northeast Indiana city host a collection of pleasant and quiet neighborhoods, but it also boasts a thriving arts scene with year-round festivals and events. As is usually the case, affordable housing is the main driver of the metro area’s comparatively low cost of living. Residents spend 34% less on housing costs — including mortgages, rents, and related expenses — than what the typical American pays to keep a roof over his or her head. Grocery items and utilities are also notably cheaper compared against national averages, helping to secure Fort Wayne’s spot among the cheapest U.S. cities to live in.”
Finally, one mid-size city in Ohio stands out as having weathered the inflation storm better than the state’s bigger and more famous urban centers.
“I have found Dayton to have, so far to date, remained an affordable place to live,” said Steven J. Spence, real estate investor and author of “Money Plain and Simple: What the Institutions and the Elite Don’t Want You To Know.” “Like most places in the U.S., house prices have risen as well as the rents, but the Dayton area has risen to levels that are well below the national average prices. The reason why the Dayton area remained affordable is that many home prices recovered at a slower rate when compared to the rest of the nation after the 2008 financial crisis.”
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