What are the most affordable cities to live in? The answer depends on how MOST AFFORDABLE PLACES TO you define "affordable" and how you define "city." For example, a city can be defined by its formal boundaries or by the broader metropolitan statistical area that the U.S. Census Bureau considers it to be a part of.
Using a variety of metrics, here is a look at some of the places in the United States where your money will go the furthest.
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman and Niagara Falls: Lowest Home Prices
According to National Association of Realtors data, the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area of Ohio and Pennsylvania, situated roughly halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and a little over an hour's drive from each, had the lowest median sales price for existing single-family homes in the first quarter of 2011. The Lansing, Mich., area was a close second. Forty-three of the 50 areas with the least expensive single-family homes are located in the Midwest or the South.
Coldwell Banker issues a similar report, but its rankings are based on the average listing prices of four-bedroom, two-bathroom homes rather than on median home prices. By Coldwell Banker's methodology, Niagara Falls, N.Y., was the country's least expensive real estate market in its 2011 Home Listing Report with an average list price of $60,820. Detroit comes in at No. 5, with an average home price of $73,363. Of the 50 least expensive cities in the report, the majority are in the Midwest or the South.
Memphis: Big City, Low Cost Of Living
For many people, an area needs to have a large population to really feel like a city. Kiplinger's May 2010 "How Does Your City Stack Up?" report makes it easy to see which big cities (defined as having a population of more than 1 million) have the lowest cost of living.
The cost of living ranges from 86% to 89% of the national average in six major metropolitan areas. This cost takes into account both housing costs and other common household expenses such as food, utilities and transportation.
Here are Coldwell Banker's average listing prices for these cities.
Memphis - $127,024
St. Louis - $192,306
Nashville - $193,895
Oklahoma City - $157,131
Houston - $187,211
Cincinnati - $186,937
Even though housing expenses are the largest monthly expense for most people, cities can have significantly different housing costs and still have low overall costs of living. We'll see further proof of this fact in the next section.
Harlingen, Texas: Lowest Cost Of Living - Period
The Council for Community and Economic Research's quarterly ACCRA Cost of Living Index ranks more than 300 urban areas from most expensive to least expensive. The index is based on the costs of housing, utilities, grocery items, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services. In the first quarter of 2011, an ACCRA press release named the following 10 cities (five of which are in Texas) as having the lowest cost of living:
Harlingen, TX - $152,245
Fort Smith, AR - NI*
Pueblo, CO - $141,160
Cookeville, TN - NI
Temple, TX - $168,653
Muskogee, OK - $149,654
Martinsville-Henry County, VA - NI
Round Rock, TX - $201,150
Sherman-Denison, TX - $168,847
Brownsville, TX - $124,523
*NI indicates that the average listing price for this city is not included in the Coldwell Banker report.