As the saying goes, there’s no place like home. But the place you call home might not be the best place for you, financially.
Throughout the past year, GOBankingRates has conducted several studies to identify the best cities and states for a variety of budgets and lifestyles. To make it easy for you find the best place for your financial situation, we’ve highlighted some of the top picks from each for this roundup.
Whether you’re living on a limited income, living large or trying to stop living paycheck to paycheck, click through to find the best places for your budget.
If You’re Living on a Fixed Income
If you’re on a fixed income such as Social Security benefits or a pension, it helps to be in a place where there’s not a lot of volatility in the housing market or other major living expenses. Opting to live in a city with a stable economy can help you avoid shocks to your budget.
To pinpoint the best places to live on a fixed income, GOBankingRates conducted a state-by-state cost-of-living comparison study — with the exception of Maine and South Dakota, which had insufficient data. These three cities all are in the South and offer a low cost of living and stable, affordable housing costs.
Panama City, Fla.
Many Florida cities often rank among the best places to retire. But Panama City provides a good climate for residents on a fixed income.
Housing prices in many Florida cities are back on the rise after the bursting of the bubble, but Panama City’s market is comparatively calmer. Although its median home value has risen more than 8 percent year over year, Panama City’s rent prices only increased by 1 percent and are cheaper than the median rent for Florida overall.
South Carolina doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, and the average effective property tax rate is only 0.55 percent, one of the lowest in the country, according to Tax Foundation.
Seneca’s cost of living is cheaper than the national average, especially its housing expenses. And where the state’s median home value grew by almost 10 percent year over year, the median home value in Seneca rose less than 3 percent. Meanwhile, rents became more affordable as the median rent dropped close to 6 percent since last year, to $1,018.
Johnson City, Tenn.
People living on fixed incomes can benefit from low volatility and steady growth of home values in Johnson City. The metro area’s median home value rose 1.7 percent year over year.
Another money-saver for fixed-income residents are rent costs. The median rent in Johnson City has stabilized since 2014, increasing year over year from 2016, but still below $1,000. In addition, Johnson City’s average living costs are markedly lower than the national average.
If You’re Living Only on Social Security
The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit is just $1,369, according to the Social Security Administration. That’s not a lot — especially if it’s your sole source of retirement income. But it is possible to live only on Social Security if you choose the right place to live.
Looking at rent, grocery and other living expenses in cities across the U.S., GOBankingRates identified the best places to live only on a Social Security check. Three of the best are in different parts of the country, so you won’t be limited to one geographic region.
When you’re trying to make the most of your Social Security check, look no further than Athens. The city of some 200,000 residents has a cost of living that is 6.2 percent below that of the national average, according to Forbes. Your cost to rent in Athens is less than one-quarter than what you would pay in New York and, when you factor in groceries, transportation, restaurants and other day-to-day expenses, you’ll live in Athens for just 43.88 percent of what you’d pay in the Big Apple.
Since the town is the home turf of the University of Georgia, you’ll find lots of low-cost eateries as well as cultural activities. The art and music venues are impressive. Athens is also known for its annual bicycle races called the Twilight Series.
So, how much does a one-bedroom apartment cost in Athens? Count on paying a little over $700 for a downtown apartment and around $600 elsewhere. Considering the average monthly Social Security retirement check in Georgia is $1,304.44, you’ll have plenty of cash left over after bills.
Billed as “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno living comes with a lot of perks, most notably a cost of living that’s less than 50 percent of New York City. Rent alone is just 31.04 percent the cost of New York dwellings. Surprisingly, it’s more expensive living outside of the downtown area. You’ll pay around $750 for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center, but closer to $813 outside of it.
Reno’s average Social Security check is $1,313.43, and you’ll have plenty to do with your leftover money. Truckee River provides access to rafting, kayaking and fishing. There are also lots of festivals happening in Reno at any point in time, like the Reno River Festival and Artown Festival.
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Fort Wayne, Ind.
Rent is low in Fort Wayne, about 22.73 percent of what you might pay in New York City. Retirees in this city can find a one-bedroom apartment for around $631, making it an affordable place to live. In fact, the cost of living in Indiana is an estimated 16 percent lower than the national average, according to data from AreaVibes. And Niche, which ranks and reviews neighborhoods, named Fort Wayne the cheapest city to live relative to income.
Average Social Security retirement benefits are $1,379.93. Once there, you’ll enjoy the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, historical museums and the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, among other attractions.
If You Earn $50,000 or Less
Most people in the U.S. aren’t pulling in six-figure incomes. In fact, the average annual wage is $49,630. Earning that much won’t necessarily let you live in the lap of luxury, but it can give you a comfortable life — if you live in a place where the cost of living is low.
To help you pinpoint the cheapest places, GOBankingRates compared living expenses in 270 of the largest U.S. cities to find 31 cities where you can afford to live off less than $50,000. 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.
Three of the most affordable cities happen to be in the Southwest and Midwest. Find out which are the best places to live on less than $50,000.
El Paso, Texas
You can live comfortably $40,204 in El Paso, which makes it the cheapest place to live among 270 largest U.S. cities. 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.
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, as well as four distinct seasons and plenty of cultural and outdoor activities.
You can easily live comfortably on $43,573 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.
If You’re Trying to Save Money
If you want to get ahead financially, consider living in a city where the cost of living is low but wages are high. Then you’ll have enough money left over each month to set aside in savings after covering your costs.
GOBankingRates found the 15 best and worst places to live to save money by looking at the 60 largest U.S. cities and ranking them based on seven factors that affect people’s finances the most: median household income, unemployment rate, median home list price, median rent price, average gas price, average monthly cost of groceries and sales tax. Find out which ones are the best of the best.
Virginia Beach, Va.
A high median income of $66,634 and a low cost of living make Virginia Beach the best place to live to save money. In fact, it has the highest median income of cheapest places to live. As a result, you’ll have more left over from your paycheck after covering costs to save money — as long as you don’t mindlessly burn through your paycheck.
San Antonio, Texas
The second-largest city in Texas is the second-best city in the U.S. to save money thanks to its low cost of living. In fact, San Antonio has the lowest average cost of groceries in our rankings — $238.94.
Although the median household income is just $46,744, San Antonio is still the city in Texas where your paycheck stretches the furthest because of low living expenses.
Although billionaire Warren Buffett lives here, the median income of $49,896 in Omaha is lower than the national median. However, paychecks stretch further here because of the city’s low cost of living. In fact, it’s the best city in Nebraska in which to buy a home, thanks to a median home list price of $214,000. And Omaha has the lowest unemployment rate — 3.4 percent — among the best places to save money.
If You Have a Middle-Class Budget
You can thrive on a middle-class budget in some states. To help you figure out the best place to live if your income is two-thirds to double the U.S. median household income — aka middle class — GOBankingRates looked at income trends, higher education trends and housing trends in each state.
Using those criteria, we found the best and worst states to live on a middle-class income. Three of the best are in the Midwest and South.
Iowa tops GOBankingRates’ list of the best states for the middle class, ranking high for almost all the metrics analyzed. It has a high median household income of middle-class families — $75,953 — and a relatively low 3.8 percent drop in median household income between 1999 and 2014. On the higher education front, Iowa has a 66.3 percent college graduation rate and low in-state tuition and fees of $8,270. It also has one of the lowest percentage increases in college tuition cost over the last five years.
The Midwest state boasts affordable housing, with a median home listing price of only $169,900. In addition, the state has a high homeownership rate of 69.9 percent.
South Dakota is one of only two states where the median household income of middle-class families increased between 1999 and 2014, and of those states it had the higher increase at 1.7 percent. It’s also one of four states where the proportion of middle-income households is increasing. Middle-income earners also make more in South Dakota than in most states — $77,176, which is fifth highest in the country.
The home ownership rate is 64.6 percent, and the monthly mortgage payment is an affordable $981.
Oklahoma is one of only four states where the middle-income proportion of households has increased. Although the median household income of middle-class families in Oklahoma is a relatively low $72,249, home prices and in-state tuition are also low.
The estimated monthly mortgage payment is $825. And in-state tuition and fees are $8,030.
If Your Budget for Monthly Rent is $1,000 or Less
Rents have risen in 92 of the 100 largest cities over the past year, according to Apartment List, an apartment search website. So, if you’re thinking it’s time to move, GOBankingRates found the 20 cheapest places to rent.
To pinpoint the cities with the lowest rents, we looked at the median rent for one- and two-bedroom apartments and single-family residences in the 150 largest U.S. In these three cities in particular, you can rent an apartment or house for less than $1,000 a month.
Detroit has the cheapest median rent for two-bedroom apartments — $700 — and single-family homes — $750. And at $600, it has the second-lowest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment. If you’d rather own than rent, affording the median monthly mortgage on a home in Detroit requires the fewest hours of work of any of the 25 largest U.S. cities, a GOBankingRates study found. It takes only 20.82 hours of work per month to afford a home in Detroit.
The biggest city in Kansas is one of the cheapest places to rent an apartment or home. Wichita has the second-lowest median rent for a two-bedroom apartment — $725. And it has the fourth-lowest median rent for a one-bedroom apartment — $625 — and single-family residence — $895.
Affordable housing makes Wichita one of the cheapest places to live in the U.S. In fact, you’ll need an income of just $43,644 to live comfortably here.
At $749, Memphis has the third-lowest median rent for a two-bedroom apartment on the list. In fact, it’s cheaper to rent a two-bedroom apartment than a one-bedroom apartment in Tennessee’s second-largest city. The median one-bedroom rent is $792.50.
Cheap houses for rent also abound in Memphis, which has the third-lowest median rent for a single-family residence among the cities we analyzed: $850.
If You Have a Big Budget and Want to Live Among the Elite
Lucky you if your budget is big enough to live in one of America’s most expensive zip codes. If you want to know just how much it will cost, GOBankingRates did the research for you.
We surveyed median home values and mortgage payment data from Zillow, as well as cost of living components such as groceries, transportation, utilities and healthcare for ZIP codes in 48 states and the District of Columbia. (Maine and South Dakota were excluded from the study due to lack of data.) To calculate how much you’d need to earn, we used the 50-30-20 budget rule to determine the yearly income necessary to cover necessities (50 percent), discretionary income (30 percent) and savings (20 percent).
Not surprisingly, three of the most expensive are on the coasts. Find out where it costs the most to live.
Leave it to the Bay Area to host the most expensive ZIP code in the United States. Living expenses, such as the cost of groceries and healthcare, are above average, but it’s the cost of housing that raises the bar.
The median home value in ZIP code 94027 runs above $6 million. Not surprisingly, mortgage payments average close to $26,000 a month, which is the most expensive in the study. With total annual mortgage payments exceeding $310,000, you need to make $668,078 a year to cover living expenses and to have money left to spend and save.
Water Mill, N.Y.
The Hamptons are located on Long Island and are well-known for their wealthy residents and expensive homes. You’ll find ZIP code 11976 in Water Mill, a hamlet in the town of Southampton. It has a median home value close to $4 million and an average mortgage payment of $16,275 a month. Throw in pricey utilities, and you’ll need to make $438,510 a year to live comfortably.
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Alpine, N.J., has a median home value of over $2.6 million, by far the highest in New Jersey. The cost of living in the 07620 code is close to five times the U.S. average, while its average mortgage payment is almost $12,000 per month. You would need an annual income of $330,756 to have enough money to cover necessities, splurges and savings.
The Best Places to Live for You
Where you live clearly has a big impact on your finances. You might find that relocating will pay off in the form of lower rent, more cash in your budget for savings or even more home for your money. Moving to any of these cities or states might help you live the big life — or simply live a comfortable financial life.
About the Author
Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.
U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.
She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.