America’s Least Expensive Cities, 2012
Several times a year, the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) gathers data from 309 urban areas to rank them in their Cost of Living Index (COLI).
The team looks at pricing data covering 60 consumer goods and services that represent a larger cluster of goods and services — especially within the groceries category, which lists staples including bread, coffee, sugar, ground beef and potatoes. The other categories are housing, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services.
The average cost of these goods is then compared to the average annual income for professional and managerial households in the top fifth income level.
The resulting standard of living in the most expensive urban area, Manhattan, was more than twice the national average at 223.9 percent, whereas the cost of living in the least expensive urban area is 20 percent below the national average.
Dean Frutiger of C2ER emphasizes these are not absolute values and the rankings are all relative to the total submitted data. The data are collected by volunteers, and they couldn’t get the information for every city.
With that in mind, let’s count down the top 5 least-expensive cities, as culled from the latest available version of the COLI from the third quarter of 2011.
5) Waco, TX
|Photo: Walter Bibikow | Getty Images|
Waco is midway between Dallas and Austin and is the birthplace of Dr Pepper. While Waco is also at the midway point on this list, it dominates the list in terms of low prices in many categories.
Waco has the cheapest average prices for:
4) McAllen, TX
|Photo: Creative Commons|
McAllen is in the lower extremity of Texas, abutting Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley. The average cost of a house is $206,600 and the cost of living is 84.5 percent of the national average.
McAllen has the cheapest average prices for:
Boys’ jeans $11.99
3) Ardmore, OK
|Photo: Matthew Rutledge | Flickr|
Ardmore has the cheapest average prices for:
Apartment rental $500
2) Memphis, TN
|Photo: Scott Olson | Getty Images|
Memphis has a rich musical heritage and is the city Elvis Presley called home. But you don’t have to be rich to live there — the average cost to buy your own Graceland (albeit a more modest one and probably with less carpeting on the walls) is the lowest of all these top 5 urban areas.
Memphis has the cheapest average prices for:
Harlingen is designated a Certified Retirement Community and is a year-round destination for birders. It’s in the southernmost part of Texas (not far from the no. 3 least-expensive urban area, McAllen). It’s also the southern-most urban area in the country’s cost of living ranking, with the standard being 81.7 percent of the national average.
Harlingen has the cheapest average prices in this top 5 for:
2-pc chicken $1.98
Tire balance $7.50
Sweet Peas 0.67