The Cheapest Places to Live in the US [New for 2021]

Here are the 15 cheapest places to live in the U.S., according to data gathered on specific categories, such as groceries, gas, food, internet, and more.
Last updated Nov 15, 2021 | By Ben Walker | Edited By Rebecca McCracken
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When it comes to the cheapest places to live in the U.S., you’ve likely seen all the same lists that use median income or general living expenses. But if you have specific costs in mind, such as internet prices or paying for private school, you might still be wondering which cities nationwide might provide the best bang for your buck.

We’ve compiled the data in over a dozen common expense categories to help give you ideas on cheap cities to live in. So whether you’re looking for legit ways to help pay rent or you simply want to know the best city for inexpensive beer, here are the 15 cheapest places to live in the U.S.

Cheapest city for groceries: Glendale, Arizona

Glendale, Arizona takes the top spot for the cheapest city for groceries according to how much a family might need to spend on grocery essentials each week (more on this below). This suburb of Phoenix can help keep your grocery costs down, but it’s also a prime spot for sports fans and outdoor enthusiasts.

The nearby State Farm Stadium is home to the Arizona Cardinals NFL team, and you can also catch MLB spring training games from four different teams at the Peoria Sports Complex and Camelback Ranch. And for fun in the sun, this area of the Grand Canyon State offers access to tens of thousands of acres of regional parkland.

To save on groceries anywhere, be sure to use one of the best credit cards for groceries.

Most expensive city for groceries: Honolulu, Hawaii

We calculated a “weekly basket of essentials” to contain:

  • One gallon of milk
  • One loaf of bread
  • 12 eggs
  • Two pounds of chicken
  • Two pounds of beef
  • One pound of apples
  • One pound of bananas
  • Two pounds of potatoes
  • Two pounds of rice
  • One head of lettuce

The costs for these groceries was then multiplied by four to account for how much a family might spend in a week. Glendale’s weekly cost was $85.48, while Honolulu’s was $266.60.

Cheapest city for beer: Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska and also the cheapest U.S. city for beer. At an average cost of $1.21 for a 0.5-liter bottle of domestic beer at a store, Lincoln easily beats out Plano, Texas — which has an average cost of $4.52 per 0.5-liter bottle of domestic beer.

Lincoln has multiple attractions you might expect for a large city, including the Lincoln Children’s Zoo and Lincoln Children’s Museum. For good food, shopping, and entertainment, check out the Historic Haymarket District.

Most expensive city for beer: Plano, Texas

Cheapest city for food: Gilbert, Arizona

If you’re interested in having an inexpensive meal out, check out Gilbert, Arizona. For a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant, you’re likely to pay about $32 in this Phoenix suburb. Compare this to about $100 in New York, New York, and you’re looking to save some serious cash.

Located southeast of Phoenix, Gilbert is a mix of modern and historic, especially in the Gilbert Heritage District — where you can find buildings over 100 years old that now serve as a hub of entertainment and eating. If you’re into the arts, visit the Hale Center Theatre, the longest continuously running, privately-owned theater company in the U.S.

Most expensive city for food: New York, New York

Cheapest city for public transportation: Chandler, Arizona

The third suburb of Phoenix on our list, Chandler takes top marks for being the cheapest city for public transportation. The cost for a monthly transportation pass in Chandler is estimated to be about $25. Your estimated cost is about $150 for a monthly transportation pass for the most expensive city, Santa Clarita, California.

Chandler is located east of Gilbert and southeast of Glendale. This city has something for just about everyone, including over 60 recreational parks, a train museum, premium outlets, breweries, and loads of restaurants.

Most expensive city for public transportation: Santa Clarita, California

Cheapest city for gas: Garland, Texas

If you want to save money at the gas station, Garland is the place to be. Our research indicates a gallon of gas costs about $1.88 in this Dallas suburb. On the other hand, San Francisco, California is a city to avoid for gas prices, where it’s about $4.12 per gallon.

Garland is an ideal location for spending time outside. The city is located next to Lake Ray Hubbard, which spans over 21,000 acres and provides access to fishing, boating, sailing, windsurfing, and more.

To save on gas anywhere, be sure to use one of the best credit cards for gas.

Most expensive city for gas: San Francisco, California

Cheapest city for buying a car: Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky is the cheapest city for buying a new car. On average, a Toyota Corolla Sedan or equivalent vehicle will run you about $19,500. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, you’re looking at $32,921 for the same type of car.

Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World because of its hundreds of horse farms and multiple racetracks. The city also has a fair bit of historical tourism, including opportunities to visit the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland, the Clay Henry Estate.

Most expensive city for buying a car: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Cheapest city for utilities: Jersey City, New Jersey

For basic utilities — which includes electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage for a 915 sq. ft. apartment — Jersey City, New Jersey leads the way at $88.70 per month. Interestingly, another New Jersey city, Newark, is the most expensive at $326.25 per month for utilities.

Jersey City sits across the Hudson River from New York, which means it’s a melting pot of cultures. You get to choose from Korean, Filipino, Indian, and Cuban foods, as well as quick access to ferries traveling to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

See tips on how to save on utilities.

Most expensive city for utilities: Newark, New Jersey

Cheapest city for internet: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina is the cheapest around for internet, costing on average about $41.88 per month for at least 60 Mbps or more of unlimited data. In comparison, Anchorage, Alaska has prices of about $123.35 per month.

Winston-Salem is northeast of Charlotte and offers plenty of year-round activities, whether visiting nearby Salem Lake or enjoying one of the annual festivals, such as the Carolina Classic Fair. This 10-day fair has carnival rides and food, and averages over 325,000 visitors each year.

Most expensive city for internet: Anchorage, Alaska

Cheapest city for gym memberships: Mesa, Arizona

There seems to be a theme with Phoenix suburbs on this list. Mesa, Arizona is the cheapest city for gym memberships, with the average monthly fee only reaching about $19.62. If you want to get in some exercise in The Big Apple (New York), you’d have to pay around $108.17 per month.

Mesa, located next to Gilbert and Chandler, offers three lakes and two rivers for boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding fun. You can also travel to the nearby Tonto National Forest for more outdoor activities. If you’re a foodie, check out the Fresh Foodie Trail, a collection of food-driven experiences from neighboring farms and agritourism attractions.

Most expensive city for gym memberships: New York, New York

Cheapest city for childcare: Laredo, Texas

Laredo, Texas comes in as the number one city for inexpensive child care, costing about $470 a month for private, full-day care for one child in the preschool or kindergarten age range. The most expensive city is New York, which costs about $2,621.91 per month.

Laredo sits on the border of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo. This makes Laredo a diverse city with both Mexican and American influences, which you can see in all aspects of daily life, including the cuisine and the local sports scene.

Most expensive city for childcare: New York, New York

Cheapest city for rental housing: Toledo, Ohio

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the cheapest median monthly rent is in Toledo, Ohio, at $760 per month. The highest monthly rent is $2,374 in San Jose, California.

Toledo sits on the Maumee River and a corner of Lake Erie, between Detroit and Chicago. The Glass City has loads of attractions, including the Toledo Museum of Art and Toledo Zoo & Aquarium. Check out the nearby Cedar Point amusement park for some family fun.

Most expensive city for rental housing: San Jose, California

Cheapest city for buying a house: Detroit, Michigan

If you want to buy a home for under $100,000, check out what’s available in Detroit. According to recent data on Zillow, the average home value in Detroit is $58,213. To compare, the average home value in San Francisco is $1,504,311.

Detroit is home to the Motown Museum and four major sports teams, including the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions, Detroit Red Wings, and Detroit Pistons.

Most expensive city for buying a house: San Francisco, California

Cheapest city for car insurance: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Winston-Salem makes the list for a second time, but this time for cheap car insurance prices. The average annual cost of car insurance here is $847. In Detroit, it’s $6,280.

Put that saved money toward some fun activities in this city, from doing a “craft draft crawl” between nine local breweries or booking a luxurious stay at the historic Graylyn Estate.

Most expensive city for car insurance: Detroit, Michigan

Cheapest city for sales tax: Honolulu, Hawaii

Apart from any city located in a state with no sales tax — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon — Honolulu, Hawaii is the best city for low sales tax. The sales tax in Honolulu is 4.5%, while it’s 10.25% in cities like Chicago and Seattle.

Honolulu is the busy capital city of Hawaii and a gateway to the island paradise of the main Hawaiian Islands. Pearl Harbor and Waikiki Beach are two of the area’s most popular attractions.

Most expensive cities for sales tax: Chicago; Seattle; Long Beach, California; Oakland, California; Fremont, California

Cheapest city for private school costs: Omaha, Nebraska

According to available data from Private School Review, the cheapest city for private school costs is Omaha, Nebraska. The average annual cost in Omaha is $4,532, while it’s $35,158 in New York.

Omaha is home to multiple entertaining neighborhoods, including The Old Market and the Blackstone District. The Old Market is a happening place for shopping and dining, though you’ll find the home of the classic Reuben sandwich in the Blackstone District.

Most expensive city for private school costs: New York, New York

How to save money where you are right now

Learn how to save money right now with these important tips:

  • Start a budget: Use budgeting methods that align with your situation to save for your financial goals.
  • Earn rewards: Earn valuable points and miles on everyday purchases with the best rewards credit cards.
  • Track your spending: Budgeting apps can help you track your spending and stay on top of your goals.
  • Improve your credit score: A good credit score can open up opportunities to save money on interest.
  • Compare car insurance prices: Save on auto insurance by comparing rates from the best car insurance companies.

Bottom line

Moving to another city could help you save money in different ways, from paying less for groceries to spending less on rent. But whether you’re moving or not, you can examine your expenses and find ways to lower your monthly costs. For more details, learn how to manage your money.

Methodology

We looked at the 100 most populated U.S. cities (according to 2020 U.S. Census data). We then used multiple data sources — including Private School Review, Tax Foundation, Zillow, The Zebra, and Numbeo — to define the “cheapest city” and “most expensive city” categories.

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Author Details

Ben Walker Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others achieve their travel goals through financially-sound decisions. For nearly a decade, he has been using credit card points and miles for the sole purpose of traveling the world. Ben has been featured in The Washington Post, MSN, Debt.com, and Finder.com.