City Guide

The Great Cost of Living Swap: Where to Find the Affordable City of Your Dreams

By Cassandra Brooklyn | Nov 3, 2022
Skyline of Chicago, Illinois, which is an affordable alternative to New York City.

While we’re all looking for the city of our dreams, sometimes those big-city dreams are just a bit beyond our budget. Typically, the largest cities in the U.S. (usually found along the east and west coasts) also tend to be the most expensive, so if you’re looking to relocate to more affordable cities, you’ll probably be looking somewhere further inland that still satisfies all of your needs for fun things to do in and around your new home.

The U.S. is just about bursting with enticing and exciting cities that will draw you in without breaking the bank. Here are some affordable alternatives to the most popular (and price-gouging!) cities across the country:

1. Love Los Angeles? Move to Austin.

Downtown Austin Skyline From Underneath Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge - Lady Bird Lake - Austin Texas

The City of Angels may attract tourists for its glitz and glamor, but for Angelinos who live there, it’s all about fantastic food, warm weather, and exciting entertainment. But given you need to work for nearly $7,000 a month to comfortably live in Los Angeles, Austin makes for an excellent alternative (at about $5,700 a month).

If you’re moving to Austin, you might already know that residents have coined the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” in reference to the city’s quirky reputation. What you may not know is that Austin is known for many things, including being the live music capital of the world and hosting major music festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits.

While Austin may not have an ocean, it is surrounded by water, with a strong lake culture, many refreshing swimming holes, and the Colorado River flowing right through town. No need to ditch your swimsuit during your move!

2. Love New York City? Move to Chicago.

Rainy evening in Chicago. Chicago, Illinois, USA.

There really is nowhere exactly like New York City, so it would be dishonest to tell you the Big Apple has an uber-affordable twin hidden somewhere in the Midwest. That said, Chicago comes pretty dang close! Not only does the Windy City have a major metropolitan feel, with iconic theaters, luxury shopping, and world-class dining, but it also offers residents top-notch public transportation that’s almost as good as New York’s.

You don’t have to take the metro around, however, as Chicago is a superb cycling city. It earned the title of Best Bike City in America from Bicycling Magazine in 2016 and has the country’s second-highest percentage of city-dwellers cycling to work every day.

Consumer prices (including rent) are a whopping 53% higher in New York City, where you’d need around $9,360 a month to live, compared to the $6,100 a month you could get by with in Chicago. So, whether you land in the fun and fresh West Town neighborhood or prefer the Magnificent Mile downtown, expect to find your income stretching a bit further when you move to Chicago.

3. Love Chicago? Move to Milwaukee.

The Riverwalk in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Chicago is an amazing city, but if you’re looking for something even more affordable, it’s worth setting your sights on Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee is often considered to be a smaller version of Chicago, since the city’s geography, culture, architecture, and vibe are so similar. Plus, by basing yourself just 90 minutes north, you’ll save over 1,500 a month in living expenses.

In both cases, you have the glorious Lake Michigan lapping along the eastern border and rivers flowing throughout the city that host kayak and boat tours (not to mention Milwaukee’s charming Riverwalk). Both cities are dotted with loads of fun neighborhoods full of fab food, and in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Public Market is where to find a bit of everything to eat.

While you’ll find lower costs in rent the further out you go, you can still afford to be near the action if you aim for the Bay View, Downtown, East Side, and up-and-coming Bronzeville areas. For art, culture, and history, head to the city’s iconic Milwaukee Art Museum (which was designed by the same architect that envisioned New York’s famed Oculus) and America’s Black Holocaust Museum, which was founded by the only known survivor of a lynching.

4. Love Denver? Move to Boise.

Spring snow on the foothills above downtown Boise, Idaho

The Mile-High City of Denver also has sky-high rent these days, so if you’re in the market for an outdoorsy city near the mountains, look no further than Boise, Idaho. Here, rent is 20% cheaper and consumer prices are 15% lower. Boise has ample opportunities for cycling, kayaking, and even mountain biking right within town, in addition to many options for camping, skiing, stargazing, and hot springs jumping nearby.

The spud state is also known for having some of the best whitewater rafting in the country (yes, even better than Colorado), including the Lochsa, Salmon, Snake, and Selway, which run through forests and vast wilderness areas across the state.

Boise’s food scene surprises many new residents who don’t expect it to be as rich and diverse as it is. As the city has strong programs to welcome and support refugees and immigrants, you’ll be able to find incredible and authentic Ethiopian, Cuban, Iraqi, and Russian cuisine in town. Be sure to spend some time around the Basque Block, where you’ll find a cultural center, a Basque museum, and a collection of eateries and markets specializing in Spanish wine and tapas.

5. Love Phoenix? Move to Albuquerque.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA downtown cityscape at twilight.

If hot weather, desert fun, and loads of outdoor activities are what you’re after, you can bypass Phoenix and head straight to Albuquerque, where you’ll save about $800 a month without sacrificing fun and sun. While you’ll enjoy the warmer southern climate, you’ll still get to savor the seasons as they change, as fall foliage turns to crisp, cool temperatures that lead into snowy winter wonderlands.

Get in a desert hike right within town at Petroglyph National Monument, bike along the Paseo del Bosque trail (especially stunning in the fall!), then stuff your face with green chile masterpieces at Sawmill Market, the city’s first food hall. As Albuquerque has a rich and extensive Pueblo Indian history, you’ll definitely want to visit the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center, which explores the culture and contributions of the tribes that have occupied the region for generations. You’ll also find some of the best hot springs in the country, whether you’re looking for nearby rustic hot springs that require a hike through the forest, or Jemez Hot Springs, where you can just drive up and soak in health-boosting waters.

6. Love Asheville? Move to Winston-Salem.

Downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina NC Skyline Panorama.

Asheville might have great food and fun vibes, but they are accompanied by increasingly rising rents and cost of living prices. Meanwhile, over in Winston-Salem, you can enjoy year-round warm temperatures, good old-fashioned comfort food, and some of the friendliest folk around.

Winston-Salem was recently ranked in the top 25 most affordable cities in the U.S., beating out its neighbors in Charlotte and Raleigh. But not only is the city more affordable, but it also has one of the best arts scenes in the state, earning the title of “City of Arts and Innovation” in 2014. From The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art to the biannual National Black Theatre Festival and the year-round RiverRun International Film Festival, the city truly has something for every kind of art lover.

For wallet-friendly food that will stick to your ribs but not break the bank, head to the barn-inspired Ryan’s Steak Chops & Seafood or to Sweet Potatoes, where the fried green tomato and okra basket, sweet potato cornbread, and fried chicken are the talk of the town.

7. Love Atlanta? Move to Memphis.

Beale street sign with blur background in Memphis.

There’s no denying Atlanta is an amazing city filled with fascinating history, great food, exciting nightlife, and incredible museums. However, if you want to save about $900 a month, Memphis is a great alternative if you want to save money on restaurants, groceries, entertainment, and rent without skimping on the fun and attractions.

The downtown area and nearby Beale Street have phenomenal blues and jazz houses that are bumping every day of the week, while the historic South Main Arts District is especially hot on Friday nights, when vendors stay open late as shoppers enjoy live music, food, and free trolley rides through the area. Memphis is also bursting with museums, including Graceland (Elvis’s home and museum) and the incredibly moving National Civil Rights Museum, which is located right inside the Lorainne Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. As this is a city famous for its music, you’ll also find the Blues Hall of Fame, the Museum of Rock & Soul, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

8. Love Boston? Move to Hartford.

Skyline of downtown Hartford, Connecticut from above Charter Oak Landing.

Boston is buzzing with all things fun but given the city’s popularity and the always-expanding universities in and around town, it’s not exactly the cheapest place to live. Hartford, Connecticut, on the other hand, costs about $700 less per month while offering much of the same New England charm. It’s also only a 2.5-hour drive to New York City (and a 3.5-hour ride on Amtrak), so it’s the perfect destination for Northeast lovers that want to enjoy the big city here and there without paying sky-high rents.

Right within Hartford, you’ll find a bit of everything, from sunset dinner cruises along the Connecticut River to historic homes like the Mark Twain House and Museum, which is the 25-room mansion where the author grew up. Art lovers will find plenty of options at The Bushnell performing arts center and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, which holds over 50,000 works of art. For culture and commentary, head to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center—named after the author of the famous anti-slavery book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”—which hosts book readings, lectures, and salon talks about race and justice.

9. Love Dallas? Move to Indianapolis.

Indianapolis skyline and the White River at sunset

One of the largest cities in the country, Dallas is an enormous spot with big-city amenities—and price tags. If you’re looking for something a bit smaller and more affordable, consider Midwest darling Indianapolis, which will save you about save you about $600 a month.

The city that brought us the Motor Speedway and is famous for the Indy 500 is becoming increasingly known as a bike-friendly city, with a charming downtown Riverwalk perfect for a bike ride or stroll. You can even take a Venetian-style gondola ride through the canals!

For food and entertainment, you’ll have loads of options, with one of the best being the eclectic Garage Food Hall, which also holds regular music and trivia events and is nearby movie theaters, bars, billiards, and game rooms that have adults-only hours. Keep the fun coming by heading to the Fowling Warehouse, where you can try your hand at this Indy-created game that somehow manages to combine football and bowling.

Art lovers will appreciate the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which hosts world-class installations from around the world, and the Eiteljorg Museum, home to one of the most impressive collections of Native American and western art in the country. Families will also appreciate that the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest in the country and is also fully accessible for children living with a variety of disabilities.

10. Love Washington, D.C.? Move to Baltimore.

Colorful row houses on Guilford Avenue, in Charles Village, Baltimore, Maryland.

Washington, D.C. attracts professionals, politicians, students, and travelers from all over the world who are seeking world-class museums, creative cuisine, and big-city living, so the housing market (and everything, really) costs a lot more than in most cities.

However, just an hour’s drive away (or 30 minutes by train), Baltimore is a more wallet-friendly location where you’ll save about $1,300 a month that you can spend on food and fun (or save for the future, if you’re feeling responsible). The city’s Water Taxi is a great way to hop around from neighborhood to neighborhood so you can get a feel for the city—and its food!—or just sit back and enjoy some nice views along the river.

Art lovers will appreciate that the free Baltimore Museum of Art holds the world’s largest collection of Henry Mattise artwork in the world. Meanwhile, the American Visionary Art Museum offers a unique take on art by featuring the work of self-taught artists like mathematicians, prison inmates, farmers, and people with mental illness. Perfectly blending kitsch, art, and history is the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, which explores African American history, culture, and contributions via its 150 lifelike, life-size wax figures.

Land somewhere more affordable with Landing

Landing’s network of furnished apartments across the country makes affordability that much more affordable with no application fees, security deposits, or additional rent upfront. This way, you can spend less time worrying about housing logistics and more time exploring your new digs. So, whether you’re looking for big-city bling and all the amenities or a laid-back vibe with southern charm, we’ve got you covered. Keep more cash in your pocket with Landing and browse our available apartments today!

Cassandra Brooklyn

Cassandra is a freelance travel writer based in New York City with work appearing in The New York Times, National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, Fodor's, USA Today, and The Daily Beast, among other publications. She specializes in sustainable travel, adventure travel, and all things outdoors - hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, camping, and scuba diving. She's also the owner of EscapingNY, a small tour company and she leads tours in Cuba, Mexico, Jordan, and beyond.