With an average monthly payment of $1,618.29, according to the SSA, Social Security is not enough to get by in retirement for most people who have no other money coming in — unless they move to one of the most financially forgiving cities in the already-inexpensive Midwest.
To find out where those cities are, GOBankingRates used cost-of-living data from Sperling’s Best Places and rent data from ApartmentList to find the cities where daily life is cheap and the average one-bedroom apartment is affordable. Finally, the study used data from AreaVibes to isolate the low-rent, low-cost cities that also have comparably high livability scores, which are calculated based on quality-of-life factors such as crime and amenities.
If your retirement income consists of Social Security alone, your dollars will go further in the Midwest than in just about any other region of the country — and these 12 cities are the very best of them all.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $798
- Cost of living index: 78.5
- Livability score: 58
Evansville residents struggle with the second-highest rent of all of the cities profiled here and the second-lowest livability score — it’s one of only two places that are mired in the 50s. Its cost-of-living index is 21.5 percentage points below the national average — good in the country overall, but just OK in the Midwest.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $817
- Cost of living index: 72.6
- Livability score: 60
Cleveland’s livability score is tied for the third-worst spot on the list despite the fact that its average rent is the highest of the bunch. In fact, it’s the only city on the list where the average one-bedroom goes for more than $800. The silver lining is its low cost of living, which is on the cheaper half of the list.
South Bend, Indiana
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $736
- Cost of living index: 68.4
- Livability score: 57
South Bend holds the distinction of having the lowest livability score among all 12 cities. On the flip side of the coin, it boasts the lowest cost-of-living index, so day-to-day life is close to as cheap as it gets. In terms of rent, South Bend is smack in the middle of the pack.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $716
- Cost of living index: 82.1
- Livability score: 60
Wichita’s livability score is on the low side of the list and its cost of living is on the high side. One reason that you might consider living there on Social Security alone, however, is the city’s relatively low rent.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $704
- Cost of living index: 79
- Livability score: 61
About two hours northeast of Wichita is the capital city of Topeka, which also offers easy proximity to Kansas City, Mo. Topeka has a low cost of living — you can expect to pay 79 cents on the national average’s dollar — although compared to the other cities in this ranking, it’s right in the middle. In terms of housing, rent is lower there than in all but three other cities on the list.
Williston, North Dakota
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $740
- Cost of living index: 97.8
- Livability score: 72
One of just four cities to rank above 70, Williston’s livability score puts it in the top one-third of the Midwest rankings. Compared to the others, rent is high-ish, but not terribly high. The tradeoff is the cost of living. You’ll spend only 2.2 percentage points less in Williston than you would in the nation as a whole, which is the highest index you’ll find on this list.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $701
- Cost of living index: 72.7
- Livability score: 62
Toledo has plenty of low prices to brag about, even by the standards of the Midwest. Only two cities offer cheaper average rent, and just three have lower cost of living. Its middling livability score of 62, however, is just OK.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $694
- Cost of living index: 69.5
- Livability score: 62
One of a pair cities with a sub-70 cost-of-living index, day-to-day life is cheaper in Akron than in every city on this list except for South Bend. Likewise, the city is one of only two on the list with sub-$700 rent — a one-bedroom apartment is cheaper there, on average, than in every other city except the one that landed the first-place spot. Its livability score is below average nationally; but, in this ranking, it’s right in the middle.
Fargo, North Dakota
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $787
- Cost of living index: 91.9
- Livability score: 76
Rent in Fargo is more expensive than in all but two cities on this list, and it’s also one of only two cities with a cost-of-living index above 90. It appears high in the rankings, however, because of the high quality of life that retirees will find there — no other city can match its livability score.
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $733
- Cost of living index: 81.7
- Livability score: 69
Compared to the national average, the cost of living in Davenport is excellent, but compared to the inexpensive cities profiled here, it doesn’t even make it into the top half. Rent, too, is just average by the standards of the best cities in the Midwest for retirees who rely on Social Security — only its livability score breaches the top five.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $773.00
- Cost of living index: 78.9
- Livability score: 75
Fort Wayne has a cost of living that’s very low compared to the national average, but right in the middle of the cities on this list, and its rent is high compared to the others. What makes Fort Wayne a beacon, then? Only one other city in this ranking can top the quality of life found in Fort Wayne, as measured by its relatively high livability score.
Grand Forks, North Dakota
- 2022 average 1-bedroom rent: $685
- Cost of living index: 88.2
- Livability score: 74
With a rare sub-$700 monthly rent, no other city can boast lower housing costs than Grand Forks. Although its cost of living is on the high side, its super-low rent buys you the No. 3-highest qualify of life on this list.
More From GOBankingRates
- Here's How Much Cash You Need Stashed if a National Emergency Happens
- Women & Money: The Complete Guide
- 10 Dollar Store Items That Aren't Even Worth the Buck
- 7 Financial Habits That Improve Your Daily Life
Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the best places in the Midwest to live on only a Social Security check based on (1) the average monthly benefit for retired workers, $1,618.29, sourced from the Social Security Administration; (2) the overall cost of living in each city, sourced from Sperling’s Best Places; (3) the 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 the best. Factor (4) was weighted double in final calculations. All data was collected and is up to date as of April 26, 2022.