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Searching high and low for low cost of living

Finding an affordable city with all the amenities you’re looking for might seem like searching for a needle in a haystack — but fortunately, someone’s already done the legwork for you.

Kiplinger, a publisher of business forecasts, recently crunched the numbers based on research from The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) Cost of Living Index, along with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau. Using this information, the site has identified a number of cities with the lowest costs of living and a high quality of life.

“Just remember to weigh the pros and cons,” writes Dan Burrows, a senior investment writer who covers real estate, in an article for Kiplinger. “Cheap prices are attractive, but the allure can fade if jobs are hard to come by, paychecks are small or the area offers little to do.”

Here are five of those cities where job hunters will find it costs much less to live in than their comparable U.S. counterparts, but also come with job opportunities, the possibility for career advancement and a high quality of life — even on an $18-an-hour budget.

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Mobile, Alabama

Population: 430,714

Mobile has a rich history that combines French, Spanish, British, Creole, Greek and African influences. And speaking of riches, the cost of living is 15.7% below the national average. Mobile has a median household income of $49,691 and home value of $159,100: 40% less than what the average American pays for a house.

This under-the-radar Gulf Coast gem also boasts Antebellum homes and tree-lined boulevards to rival its celebrated neighbors, New Orleans and Savannah, Ga. Once referred to as the Paris of the South, this 300-year-old city is a cultural center filled with art and music that also offers easy access to sugar-white sand beaches.

And for job hunters, Mobile is home to major employers in health care, high tech, engineering and shipbuilding.

South Bend, Indiana

Population: 323,695

While South Bend is just a 90-minute drive from Chicago (and a quick trip to Lake Michigan’s beaches and sand dunes), its cost of living ranks 13.5% below the national average. Home to the University of Notre Dame, South Bend has a median household income of $59,416 and home value of $163,700.

As a university town with a laid-back lifestyle, it offers affordable housing in diverse neighborhoods.

The city also has a growing job market, including the university, Memorial Health System and Honeywell; it’s also a burgeoning tech hub. Transportation, health care and groceries also cost less than the national average, while short commute times and abundant parks make this an ideal live-work-play city.

In fact, the drive to Chicago can take less time than car trips within the Windy City itself.

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Knoxville, Tennessee

Population: 893,002

At the foot of the Smoky Mountains, artsy Knoxville is affordable across the board, from food to transport, with a cost of living 15.1% below the national average. With a median household income of $62,592 and home value of $232,100, Knoxville also boasts apartment rents about a third less expensive than what the average American pays.

With its historical homes, renovated downtown and noteworthy Southern cuisine, Knoxville boasts a mix of city and country living similar to its more expensive and increasingly overcrowded neighbor, Nashville.

Plus, it offers plenty of outdoor activities, many in the mountains just a short drive away.

Home to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville hosts major employers such as Alcoa, Covenant Health and the U.S. Department of Energy. And like the city itself, the job market is thriving.

St. Louis, Missouri

Population: 2,806,615

St. Louis boasts all the amenities of a big city, including major league sports teams, without the big-city prices — the cost of living here is 13.7% below the national average.

Just an hour by plane and four-plus hours by car from Chicago, St. Louis has a median household income of $70,189 and home value of $215,700. Plus, groceries, health care, utilities and transportation come in below the national average.

Referred to as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis is home to several corporate headquarters, seven Fortune 500 companies and three national research universities. Its fast-growing biotech sector also offers career advancement opportunities.

Another bonus? Many of the city’s attractions are free, from museums and the zoo to brewery tours.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Population: 681,438

Summers are warm and winters are mild in the City of Arts and Innovation — yet living costs come in at 15.9% below the national average. Winston-Salem’s median household income is $57,392 and home value is $193,100; in fact, the Thomasville-Lexington area has housing costs 39% lower than the national average.

The area also earns high marks for low crime, ranked number 12 among 182 U.S. cities, according to a study by WalletHub.

Goods and services are generally cheaper here; there’s also a vibrant arts, theater and culinary scene. And for outdoor buffs, Winston-Salem offers access to 75 recreational parks and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.

The biggest employment sectors here include hospitals and health care organizations — including biotech, life sciences and nanotech, with the Piedmont Triad Research Park hosting biomedical research facilities.


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About the Author

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach

Freelance Contributor

Vawn Himmelsbach is an experienced freelance writer and editor since 2001. She has contributed to various publications, such as The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, CBC, Moneywise, Zoomer, Wheels, CAA Magazine, Explore Magazine, Canadian Traveller, Travelweek, WestJet Magazine, Ottawa Life, Flare, and Consumer Reports. In addition to these, Vawn is a senior contributing editor of BOLD Magazine, a custom content writer, and copy editor. Moreover, she has previously worked as a freelance page designer for Metro News and is a co-founder of Chic Savvy Travels, a travel website for women.

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