City Guide

The Top 10 Most Affordable Cities in the U.S.

By Cassandra Brooklyn | Jan 24, 2022
Downtown Indianapolis, one of the most affordable cities in the U.S.

Moving to a new city brings with it a new set of questions—which restaurant is going to become your local standby? What bar has the best live music? Where can you find the smoothest oat milk latte in town? But, the question, “Does this city fit within my budget?” is one of the first you should tackle before making a big move.

Nobody wants to blow their entire paycheck on rent or housing, because let’s be honest, there are a million other places your hard-earned income could go. The most affordable places in the U.S. blend excitement and accessibility, offering vibrant food and nightlife scenes, rich culture, and low-cost housing options so you don’t have to constantly stress about balancing paying your bills and living your life.

Also consider that an area’s affordability comprises more than just the median home value or the average cost of an apartment rental. Depending on what part of the country you live in, prices for basic necessities like food, gas, utilities, and public transportation can vary tremendously, so even if you score a cheap apartment, you’ll still wind up paying more for all your other out-of-pocket expenses.

Don’t worry, though—you can still find fun and fabulous places that are also low-cost. This way, you can spend your money on fantastic food and terrific travels instead of on housing. To give you some inspiration, here are 10 of the most affordable cities in the U.S., including:

  1. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  2. Fort Wayne, Indiana
  3. Birmingham, Alabama
  4. Indianapolis, Indiana
  5. Chicago, Illinois
  6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  7. Memphis, Tennessee
  8. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  9. Hartford, Connecticut
  10. Baltimore, Maryland

Let’s get started!

1. Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The Stollway Leading to Historic Old Salem, Winston Salem, NC

What’s not to love about Winston-Salem? Here, you’ll enjoy year-round warm temperatures as well as one of the buzziest art scenes North Carolina has to offer. Named the “City of Arts and Innovation” in 2014, Winston-Salem boasts something for every type of culture lover, including The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, the biannual National Black Theatre Festival, and the year-round RiverRun International Film Festival.

Winston-Salem recently ranked in the top 25 most affordable cities in the U.S.—beating out its neighbors in Raleigh and Charlotte—with rent for everything from studios to three-bedroom apartments usually maxing out around $1,000 a month.

Unlike pricier southern cities, you can also dig into more wallet-friendly food at restaurants like the barn-inspired Ryan’s Steak Chops & Seafood and at Sweet Potatoes. Pro tip: Order the fried green tomato and okra basket alongside sweet potato cornbread, biscuits and molasses, and Miss Ora’s fried chicken.

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Aerial View Over The Urban City Center Skyline in Fort Wayne Indiana

With housing expenses clocking in at 20% lower than the national average, Fort Wayne is an ideal place for people looking to pair affordable living with quintessential Midwest culture. The great thing about Fort Wayne is that you won’t be sacrificing a great place to live for affordability, so you’ll be able to take the money you saved and funnel it into fun (or savings, if you’re responsible like that).

Fort Wayne boasts one-of-a-kind museums like the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, which features over 5,000 works by American artists and an unparalleled collection of cut glass and Indiana Impressionist works. You’ll also have the natural world right at your fingertips, with the protected wetlands of the Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve and the nearby waterfalls and tropical gardens of the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.

And while you’ll certainly find Midwestern fare in this quintessentially Midwestern town, you’ll also find diverse, delectable, and international cuisine. Nosh on brews and bites at Conner’s Rooftop, dig into coffee-crusted New York strip steaks with caramelized shallot butter at The Gas House, or indulge in duck tamales and churros at Proximo.

3. Birmingham, Alabama

Signage for the city of Birmingham in front of Regions Field.

If you’re ready to make “Sweet Home Alabama” your reality, the Birmingham area delivers both affordability and natural beauty. While the city may be best known for once being a Southern industrial hub and a key spot for the civil rights movement, Birmingham is now a diverse and vibrant metropolis, with a great mix of outdoor spaces, museums, and tasty eateries. It also enjoys a 26% lower cost of living when compared to the rest of the country.

Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the city from the iconic observation tower in Vulcan Park, stroll through the 19-acre Railroad Park (known as “Birmingham’s Living Room”), or get your adrenaline pumping by zip lining through Red Mountain Park.

And since no time living in Birmingham would be complete without learning about the history that shaped not only present-day Birmingham, but also our entire country, spend some time walking around the Civil Rights District and exploring the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute National Monument.

4. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA skyline over Monument Circle at dusk.

While big, expensive places like New York and Los Angeles, may be your best shot at finding comedy clubs and restaurants open at 3 a.m., you are going to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege of having the entire city on demand 24 hours per day. Indianapolis, Indiana, on the other hand, offers residents plenty to do and see, with a far more affordable price tag.

This city boasts an extensive bike network and a well-maintained downtown Riverwalk where you can even take a Venetian-style gondola ride around the canals. The Indianapolis Museum of Art hosts world-class installations from around the world, while the Eiteljorg Museum has one of the most impressive collections of Native American and western art in the country.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly city, consider that the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is not just enormous and fully accessible, but it’s also the largest in the country. In terms of food and entertainment, your taste buds will be treated to eclectic food from around the world, many of which can be found at The Garage Food Hall. The space holds regular music and trivia events and you’ll also find several movie theaters, bars, billiards, and adult game rooms nearby.

Compared to nearby Chicago (which is three hours away), the average median income in Indianapolis is only $5,000 lower, but the median home price is a whopping $109,000 cheaper—meaning you could save for your dream home a lot faster.

5. Chicago, Illinois

Sightseeing cruise at Chicago river in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Speaking of Chicago, the largest city in the Midwest also deserves a slot on this list. Is Chicago the most affordable place to live in the country? No, it’s not. However, when compared to other big cities with similar offerings (we’re looking at you, New York City and San Francisco!), Chicago has much cheaper rent and lower living costs.

Not only does the Windy City have a major metropolitan feel to it and top-tier amenities (think famous theaters, luxury shopping, and award-winning restaurants), but it is also an extremely pet-friendly place and has what most other affordable cities don’t have: good public transportation. The Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) is an extensive, reliable above-ground train network that extends to far corners of the city, making it easier and cheaper to get around, either for work or for fun.

So, whether you land in the West Town neighborhood or find yourself near downtown’s Magnificent Mile, expect to find your income stretching further.

6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Downtown skyline with Buildings along the Milwaukee River, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Ninety minutes north of Chicago is the best-kept secret in the Midwest, a midsized city with 600,000 residents and a cost of living that’s 15% below the national average. While you’ll find lower median rents the further out you go in Milwaukee, it’s still affordable to be near the action, whether you want to live in the Bay View, Downtown, East Side, or up-and-coming Bronzeville areas.

The city’s charming Riverwalk is fun to explore any time of year (visitors often say it looks like a smaller version of Chicago!), but if you visit in the summer, you can also try your hand at paddle boarding or kayaking on the river. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is one of the city’s top attractions and was designed by the same architect that envisioned New York’s famed Oculus, or check out America’s Black Holocaust Museum, which was founded by the only known survivor of a lynching.

If you’re looking for a quick nature getaway, head to the Seven Bridges trail in South Milwaukee, which is only 15 minutes from downtown but feels like a secluded forest. For food, check out the Milwaukee Public Market.

7. Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee, USA at Hernando de Soto Bridge at dusk.

If you’re a fan of good food, great music, and good ol’ fashioned southern charm, Memphis may be calling your name as your new place to live. Unlike the Nashville-Davidson Metro Area, which has much higher living expenses and a median home price nearly three times as high, Memphis is a more affordable option.

Despite the lower price tag, you’ll still have plenty of access to entertainment, particularly in and around downtown and along Beale Street, which is lined with top-notch blues and jazz houses. The South Main Arts District is a historic neighborhood that heats up on Friday nights, when shops stay open late as shoppers enjoy live music, food, and free trolley rides through the area.

The most famous attractions in town are a tie between Elvis’ home, Graceland, and the deeply moving National Civil Rights Museum, which is located in the Lorainne Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Music lovers will also love the easy access to the Museum of Rock & Soul, which is about the birth of rock and soul music, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

8. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA downtown cityscape at twilight.

Cheap housing, great weather, and amazing food—that pretty much sums up Albuquerque! Not only do you get to live in a warmer southern climate, but you still get to savor the seasons as they change, as fall foliage turns to crisp, cool temperatures and winter wonderlands.

This midsize city and college town clocks in with a 9% lower cost of living than the national average without skimping on attractive amenities. Bike along the city’s Paseo del Bosque trail, tackle a desert hike at Petroglyph National Monument, and dig in at the city’s first food hall, Sawmill Market. As this is the hot air balloon capital of the country, consider riding high in the sky or at least popping into the Balloon Museum.

The Southwest in general and Albuquerque, specifically, is famous for the extensive and rich history of the Pueblo Indians that have lived in the region for generations. The city’s Pueblo Indian Cultural Center explores their culture and contributions and their on-site restaurant features local foods that have long been a part of Native American diets in the region.

9. Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford Downtown River Front Plaza and Buildings along the Riverfront Walk in Hartford, Connecticut

The New York Metro Area is one of the most expensive in the country, so big-city lovers that prefer cheaper rent and don’t mind a bit of a commute tend to populate surrounding states. Hartford, Connecticut is a great example. The Northeast has some of the highest median home values in the country, yet the median home price in Hartford hovers around only $129,000.

New York City is only a 2.5-hour drive (or a 3.5-hour ride on Amtrak), so many Harford residents commute to the Big Apple for work. That said, don’t think for a second you’ll have to leave town for fun. In Harford, you can float along the Connecticut River on a sunset dinner cruise or visit the Mark Twain House and Museum, the 25-room mansion that served as the author’s childhood home. At the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, you can learn about the author of the famous anti-slavery book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and attend book readings, lectures, and salon conversations about race and justice. To satisfy your art fix, head to The Bushnell performing arts center and to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, which holds over 50,000 works of art.

10. Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore Maryland MD Inner Harbor Skyline Aerial.

Yearning for East Coast flavor without East Coast median living costs? Then look no further than Baltimore, Maryland, where you’ll find lower median home prices, more affordable rental units, and cheap food and fun everywhere you look. The Baltimore Museum of Art holds the world’s largest collection of Henry Mattise artwork in the world and a visit is not just cheap—it’s completely free! For another unique take on art, head to the American Visionary Art Museum, which features the work of self-taught artists, from farmers and mathematicians to prison inmates and people with mental illness.

Jump on the Water Taxi to hop around from neighborhood to neighborhood or just enjoy the views from the river. If you’re a fan of both wax museums and history, you’ll love the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, which explores African American history, culture, and contributions with the help of 150 lifelike, life-size wax figures. As Baltimore is only an hour north of the DC Metro Area (which can easily be reached by bus or train), you can take all that money you’re saving on monthly rent and spend it on an indulgent weekend getaway.

Land somewhere affordable with Landing

What do the most affordable places to live in the U.S. have in common? They each offer a unique variety of cultural attractions, local eats, and budget-friendly housing costs.

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. You can spend less time worrying about housing logistics and more time exploring your new digs. So, whether you’re looking for a cozy one-bedroom near loads of outdoor activities or a high-rise that’s work-from-home friendly, we’ve got you. 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.