Want to move to a big city? Here are the cheapest places to live (2024)

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As the cost of living continues to rise, Americans are looking for ways to save money and live comfortably. A survey by Northwestern Mutual revealed that a third of American adults don’t feel financially secure — the highest amount recorded in the study’s 12-year history. For many, it’s time to make a change.

With a new city comes new opportunities, and moving is an option for anyone trying to make the most of their paychecks. Finding the right moving company is one thing, but determining where to move can be a real challenge with so many options.

The research team at ConsumerAffairs analyzed data from the 100 most populous U.S. cities to determine the most affordable cities in 2024. We pulled data from multiple sources on different factors — including cost of living, income and taxes — to rank the top 10 cheapest cities in the country and help potential movers find the right fit.

Key insights

Knoxville, Tennessee, is the cheapest city to live in, with Chattanooga close behind. Tennessee cities are more common in our top 10 list than cities in any other state.

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New York City is the most expensive city to live in, mainly due to sky-high housing costs and expensive taxes. Housing costs in New York City are 222.5% higher than in the average U.S. city.

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Most of the cheapest cities to live in are in the South. Of the top 10 cheapest cities featured on this list, eight are located in Southern states.

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Detroit, Michigan, has the highest unemployment rate on our list. The unemployment rate in Detroit sits at 12.4%, well above the national average of 4.3%. The lowest rate belongs to Boise, Idaho, at 1.9%.

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Understanding the score factors

ConsumerAffairs weighed four factors to determine the cheapest cities to live in in 2024. These include a cost of living index, state and local tax burden per capita, median income and unemployment rate.

The Council for Community and Economic Research’s (C2ER) Cost of Living Index uses six different factors: the cost of groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services. The index’s baseline is 100, meaning scores above or below 100 are more or less expensive to live in compared with the national average.

We added separate scores for each of the four factors to get an overall affordability score and rank 100 of the most populous U.S. cities. The index was weighed twice as much as each of the other three factors.

Top 10 cheapest major cities to live in 2024

1.  Knoxville, Tennessee

Knoxville’s highest affordability score makes it the cheapest city to live in. Its best score is for unemployment, which is about half of the national average. Housing costs in Knoxville are around 73% of the U.S. average, and taxes are low.

Knoxville’s affordability score: 38.0

  • Cost of Living Index: 86.5
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,036
  • Unemployment rate: 2.3%
  • Median household income: $52,826

2. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is ranked close behind Knoxville, finishing as the second-cheapest city on our list. Chattanooga’s higher median household income makes up for its comparatively pricer housing costs. With a population of 184,017, it’s the smallest city in our top 10 list.

Chattanooga’s affordability score: 37.6

  • Cost of Living Index: 92.5
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,036
  • Unemployment rate: 2.7%
  • Median household income: $64,340

3. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, earned the third spot on our list thanks in large part to its low unemployment rate. It also has low housing and transportation costs. However, its health care costs are above the national average.

Sioux Falls’ affordability score: 37.52

  • Cost of Living Index: 91.4
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $5,196
  • Unemployment rate: 2.4%
  • Median household income: $71,246

4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has the best Cost of Living Index on our top 10 list, which includes housing costs that are about 33% below the national average. It also has a below-average per capita tax burden and unemployment rate — though median income is on the lower end.

Oklahoma City’s affordability score: 37.20

  • Cost of Living Index: 84.6
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,527
  • Unemployment rate: 4.1%
  • Median household income: $63,713

5. Austin, Texas

Texas’ capital is the largest on our top 10 list in terms of population size (975,335) and has the highest median household income: $89,415. But it also has the highest housing costs, at 15.2% above the national average.

Austin’s affordability score: 37.08

  • Cost of Living Index: 101.2
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,994
  • Unemployment rate: 3%
  • Median household income: $89,415

6. Amarillo, Texas

Amarillo, Texas, has the cheapest health care costs (14.6% below the national average) and the second-most affordable housing out of the cities on our top 10 list. However, a lower median household income means this second Lone Star State city ranks below Austin.

Amarillo’s affordability score: 36.92

  • Cost of Living Index: 86.6
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,994
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%
  • Median household income: $62,260

7. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee, is the second state capital on our list and the city with the second-most affordable health care. It’s the perfect spot to live for fans of country and bluegrass music, and its low taxes make up for slightly pricier grocery and housing costs.

Nashville’s affordability score: 36.44

  • Cost of Living Index: 98.9
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,036
  • Unemployment rate: 3.4%
  • Median household income: $71,767

8. Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama, is known as “Rocket City” because of its association with the Saturn V rocket, and its U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the largest space museum on Earth. Huntsville’s best individual score is for its low tax burden. Health care costs there are the second lowest of any city in the top 10.

Huntsville’s affordability score: 36.11

  • Cost of Living Index: 91.6
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $4,585
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%
  • Median household income: $68,930

9. Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho, has the lowest unemployment rate (1.9%) of all 100 cities included in our analysis. The city is actively looking for more workers, especially those with trade experience in the construction industry, according to reporting from the Idaho Business Review. Boise has comparatively expensive housing costs and high transportation expenses, but it has low utility costs and the second-highest median household income in our top 10 list.

Boise’s affordability score: 35.94

  • Cost of Living Index: 106.1
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $5,402
  • Unemployment rate: 1.9%
  • Median household income: $81,425

10. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina, rounds out our list of the top 10 cheapest cities thanks to a median household income slightly higher than the national average and cheaper-than-average grocery and transportation costs. However, its health care cost index score, at 11.7% above the national average, keeps it from ranking any higher. The state’s capital city is part of an area known as the Research Triangle, which also includes Chapel Hill and Durham. The universities there — North Carolina State, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke — make it a hub for jobs in the technology industry.

Raleigh’s affordability score: 35.80

  • Cost of Living Index: 97.9
  • State-local tax burden per capita: $5,299
  • Unemployment rate: 3.2%
  • Median household income: $75,424

100 major cities ranked by affordability

The 100 cities featured in our analysis are ranked according to the ConsumerAffairs Research Team’s affordability score. The affordability score was calculated using the Cost of Living Index from C2ER, income and unemployment data from the U.S. Census Bureau and tax figures from the Tax Foundation.

Is moving to a more affordable city worth it?

The rising cost of living doesn’t show any signs of stopping. For Americans looking to save money and live a more affordable lifestyle, moving to a new city with a cheaper cost of living could provide some much-needed breathing room and financial flexibility. Whether you want to start a family or pay off student loans, saving every penny counts.

For those looking to move, the decision ultimately comes down to finding a healthy balance between a location you find appealing and the affordability to enjoy what your new city offers.

Methodology

To compile our list of cheapest cities to live in in 2024, the ConsumerAffairs Research Team ranked 100 of the largest U.S. cities by an affordability score, calculated using four metrics:

  • Cost of Living Index: The Cost of Living Index, published quarterly by The Council for Community and Economic Research, is based on six categories: food, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services. We used data from the first quarter of 2023.
  • Median household income: This 2022 data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
  • Unemployment rate: The unemployment rates used in our analysis are 2022 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
  • State-local tax burden per capita: The 2022 data is from the Tax Foundation. It defines tax burden as “state and local taxes paid by a state’s residents divided by that state’s share of net national product.”

Each city was scored on each metric based on a normalized scale from 0 to 10, with 10 assigned to the city with the best score. The Cost of Living Index was weighed twice as much as each of the other three metrics. We added the scores together for a final affordability score.

For questions about the data or if you'd like to set up an interview, please contact acurls@consumeraffairs.com.


Article sources

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:

  1. U.S. Census Bureau, “American Community Survey.” Accessed April 30, 2024.
  2. Tax Foundation, “Facts & Figures 2024: How Does Your State Compare?” Accessed April 30, 2024.
  3. The Council for Community and Economic Research, “C2ER Cost of Living Index.” Accessed April 30, 2024.
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