The Best U.S. Cities to Start Over in 2023

FinanceBuzz evaluated some of the biggest cities in the U.S. to find the best ones for people looking for a fresh start.

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Updated May 13, 2024
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Whether it’s the start of the new year or due to a big life event, sometimes you just need a fresh start. And while many people have big city dreams, some locations are better than others for “starting over.”

To discover some of the best cities in the U.S. to start over, FinanceBuzz collected data from 50 of the largest U.S. cities and scored them according to peer population, employment, social scene, and living costs.

In this article

Key findings

  • St Louis, Missouri is the top-rated city in the U.S. for people looking to start over.
  • New York City is the most difficult city to move to for a fresh start.
  • Hartford, Connecticut has the best social scene score.
  • Birmingham, Alabama has the best cost of living score compared to other cities we studied.

How we chose these metrics

To create our rankings we identified metrics that would make a city more or less appealing to someone looking for a fresh start. These metrics cover economic factors, as well as the socialization and dating prospects in each city.

We weighted multiple data points by overall importance, then added them together to create an overall score for each metric. We then added the metric scores together to create a final score for each city on a 0-100 scale.

The best cities in the U.S. to start over

A map of the 10 best cities in the U.S. for starting over.

Rank City Starting over score
1 St. Louis, MO 71.4
2 Buffalo, NY 68.9
3 Hartford, CT 68.6
4 Providence, RI 67.0
5 Orlando, FL 65.9
6 Pittsburgh, PA 65.6
7 Cincinnati, OH 65.5
8 Minneapolis, MN 64.4
9 Atlanta, GA 64.2
10 Salt Lake City, UT 60.5

1. St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis takes the cake as the best city in the country for young people looking to start over, thanks to a combination of affordability and social opportunities. St. Louis has the lowest monthly rent costs for a downtown apartment of any city in the country ($1,151.11), and the fourth-lowest overall cost of living.

The city also ranks in the top five for the number of bars (241.5), nightlife establishments (262.2), gyms/fitness centers (381.3), community centers (45.0), and sport/social clubs (61.4) for every 100,000 residents.

2. Buffalo, New York

If you’re looking for dating prospects, Buffalo is the city for you. 56% of the city is single — the third highest of any city in our evaluation. Buffalo’s affordable housing is another reason for the city’s second-place finish, as the average monthly rent for a downtown apartment ($1,388.33) and an apartment on the outskirts of the city ($1,008.33) are both among the 10 most affordable in the country.

3. Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford features one of the best social scenes in the country. Hartford has many opportunities to get out, have fun, and meet people, as the city ranks in the top three for number of restaurants (2,348.4), nightlife opportunities (228.5), community centers (65.3), and sport/social clubs (115.9) per 100,000 people.

4. Providence, Rhode Island

Providence features a robust social scene similar to Hartford’s. Another key to Providence’s top-five status is that 32.5% of the population is currently enrolled in college — one of the five highest percentages of any city.

Nearly one out of every three people in Providence are early in their adult lives, making it a good city for young people starting over.

5. Orlando, Florida

The home of Mickey Mouse and Disney World features plenty of social opportunities for young people, with a vibrant social scene and many education opportunities

There are 7.7 colleges and universities per 100,000 people in or near Orlando — the fifth-highest rate in the country. That means someone looking for a career or life change could choose from a huge number of schools and jobs in Orlando.

6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is one of the more affordable cities to live in for someone on a budget. It has one of the 10 lowest average rent costs for an apartment outside the city center ($1,002). Even beyond housing, Pittsburgh is generally affordable, as the city’s cost of living is 8.1% lower than the national average.

7. Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati’s low cost of living makes the Queen City one of the best places for a reset. With apartment rent costs 13.2% lower than the national average, Cincinnati is one of the ten most-affordable cities in this evaluation.

8. Minneapolis, Minnesota

If you’re looking for a career change, it’s hard to find a better place than Minneapolis. The city’s unemployment rate is just 1.7% — the lowest in the country. The city also features a top-10 median income for full-time workers ($64,732).

9. Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta excels in a number of different areas, making it a strong option for people who want a fresh start. The city is in the top 10 for the number of colleges and universities per 100,000 people (6.6). It’s also in the top five for job growth in the last year (5.4%), and it’s first overall in the number of restaurants per 100,000 people (2,575.8).

10. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City rounds out the top 10, thanks to the number of young people already living there. 23.1% of the population is between the ages of 19 and 34 — the second highest percentage in the country.

Low unemployment is another point in SLC’s favor. Its 2.1% unemployment rate is the second-lowest in the country, trailing only Minneapolis.

The worst cities in the U.S. to start over

A map of the 10 worst cities in the U.S. for starting over.

Rank City Starting over score
50 New York, NY 36.6
49 Phoenix, AZ 39.6
48 Los Angeles, CA 41.1
47 Charlotte, NC 41.8
46 Chicago, IL 44.9
45 San Jose, CA 45.0
44 Houston, TX 45.6
43 Oklahoma City, OK 46.1
42 San Diego, CA 46.5
41 Dallas, TX 46.7

50. New York, New York

Starting out in New York City can be prohibitively difficult, especially for a young person. Cost of living is a key reason for that.

The cost of living in New York is 68.6% higher than the national average, and the city has the nation’s highest average rent cost for a downtown apartment — a mind-boggling $3,812.30 per month.

That total is over $500 per month higher than the next most-expensive city (San Francisco’s $3,294.26).

49. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix is the second-worst city to start over in, thanks to the city’s low scores for social scene and peer population. Phoenix has a bottom-five ranking for the number of colleges and universities per 100,000 people (1.6), and it has a bottom-20 ranking for percentage of the population that is single (51.3%).

48. Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles earns a bottom-three ranking thanks to the same reason New York City finished last on this list — how expensive it is to live there. While apartments are more affordable in LA than in NYC, they are still some of the most expensive in the country. And the overall cost of living in LA is even higher — 76.2% above the national average.

47. Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte has the lowest peer population score of any city in the country. The city has one of the 15-lowest percentages of single people in the country (50.7%), as well as young people (19.7%). Charlotte also has a bottom-five percentage of people that are currently enrolled in college (22.4%).

46. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago ranks poorly for starting over across a number of metrics. The Windy City’s unemployment rate (4.3%) is one of the five highest in the country, and Chicago ranks in the bottom five for the number of gyms and fitness centers per 100,000 people (31.5).

45. San Jose, California

San Jose is another expensive place to live. The city has the second-highest cost of living of any city in the country — a remarkable 115% higher than the national average.

Beyond how much it costs to live there, San Jose also has one of the worst social scenes in America, with bottom-three rankings when it comes to the number of restaurants (278.4), bars (28.6), and nightlife establishments (32.7) per 100,000 people.

44. Houston, Texas

Houston lands in the bottom 10 due to poor rankings for peer population. Houston has the fifth-lowest percentage of the population that is currently enrolled in college (22.5%), and it has one of the 10-lowest percentages of the population that are currently single (49.4%).

43. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

OKC’s poor employment prospects are the main reason for its ranking here, as Oklahoma City ranks among the 20 worst cities for job growth (3.3%). Additionally, OKC has one of the five-lowest median annual salaries for full-time workers in the country ($47,546).

42. San Diego, California

San Diego’s cost of living makes it difficult for someone to start fresh there. The average cost for an apartment downtown ($2,598.10) as well as on the outskirts of the city ($2,063.46) are among the five highest in the country. And San Diego’s overall cost of living is the sixth highest across the nation — 60.4% higher than average.

41. Dallas, Texas

Dallas’s low social scene and peer population scores got it here, as the Big D is among the bottom-five cities for the percentage of the population that is single (48.7%). Dallas is also in the bottom 10 for the percentage of people currently enrolled in college (22.9%).

Cities with the highest and lowest cost of living

Two lists of five cities with the highest and lowest costs of living in the country.

When someone is looking for a fresh start in life, money is a big factor.

For overall affordability, Cleveland, Ohio has the lowest total cost of living, followed by Birmingham, Alabama.

St. Louis, our top-ranked city for starting over, also makes the top five here with a cost-of-living index score of 82.7, which is 17.3% lower than the national average.

On the flip side, two different California cities feature cost of living scores more than double the national average (100). San Francisco’s score (244) and San Jose’s score (215) are the two highest in the country.

Los Angeles is the third most expensive place to live in the country. But LA’s cost-of-living score (176.2) is lower than the two Bay Area cities, making Los Angeles “only” 76.2% more expensive than average.

Cities with the best and worst nightlife

Two lists of five cities with the best and worst nightlife options in the U.S.

Adventuring out and experiencing a city’s nightlife is a great way to meet new people, so we looked at how many different “nightlife” establishments such as bars, restaurants, and clubs each city has to offer, relative to its population.

St. Louis offers the widest range of nightlife activities of any city, with 262.2 nightlife locations for every 100,000 people. Two other cities, Pittsburgh and Hartford, also boast at least 225 nightlife establishments per 100,000 people.

While Los Angeles has many popular nightlife locations, the number of those kinds of places compared to the population is actually the lowest in the country — just 23.1 per 100,000. New York also has a low number of nightlife establishments relative to its total population.

Of course, there are plenty of places for people to go out and have fun at night in LA and NYC, but they may be a little more crowded than some other parts of the country.

Money moves to make when starting over

If you’re considering a move to one of the best cities to start over, here are some helpful tips for smart financial decisions:

  • Save up for your move. Learn how to save money so a big move doesn’t derail your personal finances.
  • Maximize your savings rate. When saving money, open one of the best savings accounts to make sure you’re getting a good rate.
  • Use a personal loan to cover costs. Apply for one of the best personal loans to consolidate debt or access funds for your move.
  • Use a credit card for purchases. Use one of the best credit cards for young professionals to earn rewards while you pay for moving essentials.


FinanceBuzz collected data across 50 of America’s biggest cities.

Data for four major categories related to starting over were collected for each city. Those categories were:

  1. Peer population
  2. Employment
  3. Social scene
  4. Living cost

Each category was created using individual data points, listed below. Each data point was indexed using a 0-5 scale. The scores were then weighted and added together to create a score of 0-25 for each category, then those scores were added together to give each city an overall score on a 0-100 scale.

For individual data points, a weight of 1.00 is standard, with weight above 1.00 having a larger impact on the city’s overall score. The weights and sources for each category were as follows:

1. Peer Population

Category Source Weight
The percentage of single people in each city U.S. Census Bureau 1.25
The percentage of the population that is between the ages of 19 and 34 in each city U.S. Census Bureau 1.25
The percentage of people currently enrolled in college (undergrad or grad school) in each city U.S. Census Bureau 1.25
The number of colleges and universities per 100,000 people National Center for Education Statistics 1.25

2. Employment

Category Source Weight
Unemployment rate in each city U.S. Census Bureau 1.67
Median income for full-time, year-round workers in each city U.S. Census Bureau 1.67
Year-over-year change in overall employment (October 2021 to October 2022) in each city U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 1.67

3. Social Scene

Category Source Weight
The number of bars per 100,000 people 1.00
The number of nightlife spots (e.g., clubs, lounges) per 100,000 people 1.00
The number of restaurants per 100,000 people Liang, X., & Andris, C. Measuring McCities: Landscapes of Chain and Independent Restaurants in the United States 0.75
The number of gyms and fitness centers per 100,000 people 0.75
The number of community centers per 100,000 people 0.75
The number of sport and social clubs per 100,000 people 0.75

4. Living Costs

Category Source Weight
The cost of living in a city Sperling’s Best Places 1.67
The average monthly cost for a one-bedroom apartment near city center Numbeo 1.67
The average monthly cost for a one-bedroom apartment outside of city center Numbeo 1.67

In all cases where population was used to create a “per 100,000 people” calculation, population data came from the United States Census Bureau.

Complete factor scores and overall rankings for all 50 cities

City Peer population score Employment score Social scene score Living costs score Overall city score

(Higher is better)

Atlanta, GA 13.9 16.7 23.3 10.3 64.2
Austin, TX 14.1 18.1 9.0 9.8 50.9
Baltimore, MD 13.2 14.0 15.0 15.2 57.4
Birmingham, AL 9.5 11.2 17.0 22.8 60.4
Boston, MA 17.0 19.0 16.4 4.7 57.1
Buffalo, NY 15.7 13.6 19.9 19.7 68.9
Charlotte, NC 5.9 14.3 9.2 12.4 41.8
Chicago, IL 10.1 13.2 10.8 10.8 44.9
Cincinnati, OH 12.8 10.7 23.5 18.6 65.5
Cleveland, OH 11.2 6.8 18.9 21.4 58.3
Columbus, OH 11.1 11.1 10.0 19.1 51.3
Dallas, TX 7.8 17.1 9.4 12.5 46.7
Denver, CO 10.9 17.3 17.4 9.0 54.6
Detroit, MI 8.1 12.6 14.7 21.8 57.3
Hartford, CT 17.6 13.6 24.8 12.6 68.6
Houston, TX 7.9 14.2 8.5 15.0 45.6
Indianapolis, IN 7.0 12.4 8.9 20.3 48.5
Jacksonville, FL 7.5 14.7 7.3 17.4 46.9
Kansas City, MO 8.0 12.1 14.5 20.5 55.1
Las Vegas, NV 12.8 7.9 15.9 13.0 49.7
Los Angeles, CA 15.2 14.5 7.0 4.5 41.1
Louisville, KY 8.5 12.0 9.1 21.5 51.1
Memphis, TN 13.5 6.7 7.9 21.4 49.5
Miami, FL 16.0 15.0 22.2 6.0 59.1
Milwaukee, WI 8.9 11.5 11.3 20.5 52.1
Minneapolis, MN 7.3 21.2 20.7 15.2 64.4
Nashville, TN 11.7 16.2 9.4 10.6 47.9
New Orleans, LA 13.5 13.0 16.3 15.0 57.8
New York, NY 9.7 17.2 6.8 3.0 36.6
Oklahoma City, OK 8.2 9.8 7.3 20.9 46.1
Orlando, FL 16.5 13.4 23.9 12.0 65.9
Philadelphia, PA 11.6 16.0 10.4 12.2 50.1
Phoenix, AZ 8.4 11.5 8.5 11.2 39.6
Pittsburgh, PA 12.6 12.0 22.2 18.8 65.6
Portland, OR 10.5 18.2 14.8 10.0 53.5
Providence, RI 16.9 13.5 24.3 12.3 67.0
Raleigh, NC 9.7 18.5 13.4 12.0 53.6
Richmond, VA 14.0 11.5 17.4 15.2 58.1
Riverside, CA 13.5 12.7 17.8 8.5 52.5
Sacramento, CA 12.9 15.8 11.8 9.0 49.5
Salt Lake City, UT 14.8 13.4 20.3 11.9 60.5
San Antonio, TX 10.6 12.3 6.9 18.0 47.8
San Diego, CA 16.6 14.9 10.7 4.3 46.5
San Francisco, CA 11.1 20.0 14.4 2.2 47.7
San Jose, CA 10.5 21.7 9.1 3.7 45.0
Seattle, WA 11.4 18.4 15.9 7.3 53.0
St. Louis, MO 11.9 12.5 24.5 22.6 71.4
Tampa, FL 14.3 15.0 19.8 10.0 59.1
Virginia Beach, VA 14.9 10.3 10.0 13.9 49.1
Washington, DC 11.4 15.1 16.7 7.7 50.9
Average 11.8 14.1 14.5 13.4 53.7

Author Details

Josh Koebert

Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.