New Study: This Is the No. 1 Most Affordable City in America
Forget the big cities on the coasts. The cheapest places to live are in the heart of America.
If daily Zillow browsing has left you with a serious case of sticker shock, you’re not alone. With sky-high inflation and average home prices higher than ever, it’s tough to determine the best place to live in the United States. That dream of a seaside cottage? Let’s just say even the most affordable beach towns are looking a little out of reach. That’s why so many of us are on the hunt for the cheapest places to live in America.
Thankfully, someone crunched the data to determine just that. In a recent report, financial services company Empower revealed the most affordable U.S. cities for working adults. If you’re looking for a great place to move without breaking the bank, read on for the cities you’ll want to call home.
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What factors determined the cheapest place to live?
To figure out the cheapest places to live in the United States, Empower analyzed 113 U.S. cities across multiple categories. The team took into consideration median rent and home prices, the average income of residents, cost of living and employment rates. After giving each city a score, the team ranked them from most to least affordable.
Unsurprisingly, some of the cheapest places to live are in the South and Midwest, while coastal cities—think New York and San Diego—remain on the pricier end of the scale.
What is the most affordable city for working adults?
After crunching the numbers, Empower determined that Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is the No. 1 most affordable U.S. city for working adults. According to Realtor.com (whose data Empower used in its study), the median home listing price in this city was $340,000 in September 2023. The cost of living here is below the national average, which means your dollar will go further in Sioux Falls than, say, San Francisco.
And if that’s not enough to lure you to South Dakota’s largest city, know that the Empower study also looked at the best places to retire and named Sioux Falls the third most affordable city for retirees.
What makes Sioux Falls so special?
“The quality of life we enjoy here in Sioux Falls feels unmatched to other communities I have lived in and visited,” says Maggie Miller, a realtor who has lived in the area since 2008. “We have a strong sense of community, excellent health-care facilities and a low cost of living overall. Our city parks and green spaces are amazing, including over 80 parks and 3,178 acres of public-use space, and a 29-mile paved recreational trail. The Big Sioux River runs right through the heart of downtown and provides a beautiful landscape for our growing city.”
Miller isn’t alone in recognizing the city’s charms. Sioux Falls has welcomed more than 6,000 new residents per year for the past two years, according to city data. But despite its growing popularity, this small city remains an affordable place to settle down.
“Overall, the cost of housing is staying in line with wages that South Dakota residents are earning, and housing demands are being met,” says Miller, who has witnessed a number of local real estate trends and cycles since becoming a realtor in 2009. “When I asked my out-of-state clients why they were moving here from other states, they told me they wanted to live somewhere where there is no state income tax, low property taxes, a lower cost of living and somewhere that felt more safe and secure for themselves and their families.”
While she’s quick to point out the benefits of living in South Dakota—especially for entrepreneurs—Miller acknowledges the biggest downside: The harsh winters can be brutal. But she still believes Sioux Falls is one of the best places to live, especially for working adults.
What other U.S. cities rank as the most affordable?
If Sioux Falls sounds too snowy for you, don’t worry: Empower drew up a list of the top 10 cheapest places to live, so you have options.
The most affordable cities for working adults are:
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Springfield, Illinois
- Wichita, Kansas
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Des Moines, Iowa
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Lincoln, Nebraska
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Omaha, Nebraska
- McAllen, Texas
What makes Springfield shine?
One of the reasons Springfield, Illinois, came in second in Empower’s study is that, as the state capital, it offers 17,000 state government jobs. And that’s in addition to an already robust job market.
Ryan McCrady, president and chief executive officer of the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance, reports more jobs than workers. Many government workers retired early during the pandemic, which has been a contributing factor. McCrady says that the average hourly wage in the Springfield metropolitan area is $30, up from $24.54 an hour in 2019.
According to Realtor.com, the median listing price for homes in Springfield is $149,900 as of September 2023. Considering the average salary in Springfield was $64,085 as of October 2023, you can see why this community is an excellent place for working adults.
Another thing that makes this Midwestern city a great place to move to is the vibrant arts and culture scene. The Hoogland Center for Arts is an 80,000-square-foot building that houses three theatrical spaces, a dance studio, an art gallery, a dining room and a banquet space. And the Springfield Art Association hosts two art galleries—both open to the public free of charge—plus an art school, a Lincoln-era history house museum and a calendar full of events for all ages.
Springfield is best known for being the home of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, and it’s also where former President Barack Obama started his political career. Though it’s a self-contained city, with an airport, Springfield is also in close range to bigger cities, such as St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis.
What makes Wichita worth a move?
Wichita came in third in Empower’s study, and despite rapid growth over the past few years, it has a lower cost of living than cities with similar amenities. “The live music, arts and entertainment is something that Wichita is known for and makes the city far from boring,” says Adam Block, a realtor with the Noffert Group. “Wichita also has many locally owned, locally sourced restaurants with amazing foods, flavors and specially crafted cocktails. Chefs from all over can be found here in Wichita, making the food and restaurant industry ever-changing and very diverse.”
The city has one of the top zoos and an abundance of local arts and entertainment options. “Wichita boasts a large variety of local music venues that have live music throughout the year,” Block says.
But perhaps the biggest draw for people looking for the cheapest places to live is the housing market. “Right now, our market is almost balanced,” Block says. “We still have more buyers than sellers, but not a whole lot, and our median housing prices are under $200,000. There are wonderful options for purchasing in the city, and the suburbs aren’t far away.” One of the things Block loves about Wichita is that you can get anywhere you want to go in 15 to 20 minutes.
Kansas itself is a good option for those on a budget. It’s one of the cheapest states to live in and is close to the middle of the country. Wichita residents have easy access to major interstates and roads that are generally in good repair.
But best of all? “The most incredible thing about our city is how welcoming and friendly everyone is,” he says.
Which cities are Americans’ dream locations?
The Empower team didn’t stop at determining the most affordable cities for working adults: They also asked 800 U.S. workers where they want to live and what criteria they look for when deciding where to move, getting a better picture of how Americans’ desires lined up with affordability.
The takeaway: Though cost of living was the highest priority for working Americans, their dream locations tended to be on the more expensive end. The most desirable cities—Denver topped the list—included notoriously expensive hot spots like San Diego, New York, Los Angeles and Austin.
As Empower notes, there’s no single element that determines where a person should live. Instead, choosing where to move is a matter of weighing everything from cost of living to culture, crime and closeness to family. Your best bet for happiness in your new home is to find the sweet spot for your life and your family.
About the experts
- Maggie Miller is a licensed realtor with Miller Team Real Estate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She has more than 13 years of experience in the real estate industry.
- Ryan McCrady is the president and chief executive officer of the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance in Springfield, Illinois.
- Adam Block is a realtor with The Noffert Group in Wichita, Kansas.