As of January 2022, the Social Security Administration reported that the average retirement benefit was just $1,657. Although the program was never meant to be a retiree’s sole source of support, for about one-quarter of American retirees, this small benefit makes up at least 90% of their total income. If you find yourself in this situation, it only makes sense to find a city with a low cost of living so you can make your benefits stretch as far as possible.
To this end, GOBankingRates conducted a survey to find cities with populations of at least 250,000 that had average one-bedroom rents of less than $1,000. Assessing the total cost of living in these cities, GOBankingRates then ranked the cities based on their overall affordability. The result is this list of the 12 best big cities to live in on just a Social Security check — with cities ranked in reverse order with the most affordable coming last.
12. Wichita, Kansas
- Cost of living index: 82.1
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $723
Wichita has most of the cultural charms of a larger city but maintains its small-town orientation toward family, community-building and safety. Both home prices and rents are well below the national average, making it a good place to start if you’re looking to stretch your Social Security dollars.
11. Oklahoma City
- Cost of living index: 85.4
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $934
Oklahoma City is one among many towns in the Midwest that boast a low cost of living and many cultural amenities. But OKC in particular scored in the top 10 on CNBC’s list of “US cities with high-paying jobs and a low cost of living,” and OpenTable even ranked it No. 1 on its 2017 list of “Most Romantic Cities in America.”
10. Omaha, Nebraska
- Cost of living index: 89.8
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $908
Omaha is the home of billionaire Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha,” and it’s also the home of the College World Series. But the small-town city is also the home of famous steaks and burgers, craft beer and numerous cultural events. In 2017, National Geographic named the city one of the 10 Best American Cities.
- Cost of living index: 87.5
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $972
Pittsburgh is the Easternmost city on the list, but it doesn’t share the high cost of living of the pricey Eastern seaboard, offering some retirees the best of both worlds. Winters can be rough, but it’s a great haven for sports fans and has experienced something of a cultural renaissance that has moved it away from its reputation as a steel town.
8. Columbus, Ohio
- Cost of living index: 85.5
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $913
Columbus is the first of three Ohio cities on the list, meaning the state as a whole is likely to be an attractive option if you’re looking to live off your Social Security check. But Columbus offers its own unique charms, including all of the cultural amenities you might expect in the second-largest city in the Midwest. College football fans will love living in the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, while the thriving food scene and majestic shopping centers will appeal to others. All of these benefits and more come in a city with a below-average cost of living.
- Cost of living index: 84.6
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $773
Cincinnati boasts a wide variety of neighborhoods for any type of lifestyle, all while remaining well below the national average in terms of costs. Offering everything from outdoor space to historical buildings to the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, the city can be a good, low-cost option for those looking to retire.
- Cost of living index: 72.6
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $638
The fact that the cost of living is so low in Cleveland is somewhat surprising, given the size of the city and its many incredible attractions. In addition to housing the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland is home to the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is consistently ranked as one of the very top museums in all of America. Sports fans will love having access to legendary teams like the Cleveland Browns (NFL), the Cleveland Guardians (MLB) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA).
5. Lexington, Kentucky
- Cost of living index: 89.1
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $915
If you’re a fan of retiring in Lexington, Kentucky, you’re not alone. The bucolic Bluegrass State offers a wide range of fascinating options for your free time, from bourbon tastings to horse racing to historic homes. Add in a below-average cost of living and it’s a great place to spend your Social Security check.
4. Lubbock, Texas
- Cost of living index: 79.9
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $747
Lubbock is the first of two entrants from the state of Texas, where residents enjoy having no state income tax. This is a big boost that can help your Social Security benefits stretch further. Lubbock also boasts good public schools and parks and is mainly populated by a diverse collection of families and young professionals.
3. El Paso, Texas
- Cost of living index: 81.4
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $898
In addition to having one of the lowest costs of living in the country, El Paso also boasts a rich cultural heritage and 297 sunny days per year, well above the national average of 203. If you plan on staying active during your retirement, El Paso is a great choice, with plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, camping and even river rafting.
2. Lincoln, Nebraska
- Cost of living index: 89.8
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $851
Forever known as the home of the Cornhuskers, Lincoln is also a refuge for those seeking a low cost of living. The median home price is still fairly low, at about $250,000, according to Realtor.com, while the area boasts the amenities of a big city while still existing in a rural setting.
1. Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Cost of living index: 78.9
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $779
Topping out the list of best big cities to live in with just a Social Security check is Fort Wayne, Indiana. With a median home price of about $185,000, according to Realtor.com, Fort Wayne is one of the few big cities that remains affordable for new homeowners. Commutes are typically under 20 minutes in the city, which boasts a family-friendly vibe full of well-maintained parks.
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Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the best big cities to live on only a Social Security check based on the (1) average monthly benefit for retired workers, $1,615.81, sourced from Social Security Administration; (2) the overall cost of living in each city, sourced from Sperling’s Best Places; (3) average 2022 rent for a one bedroom apartment as sourced from ApartmentList,; and (4) Livability scores sourced from areavibes. Factors (2) through (4) were scored and combined with the lowest score being best. Factor (4) was weighted double in final calculations. For a city to be considered it had to have a population above 250,000 and a 2022 average rent below $1,000. All data was collected and is up to date as of March 30, 2022.