The United States of America is a vast country and the cost of living varies enormously between different states. In this post we’ll look at some of the best and cheapest cities to live in the US. There are five options listed below that try to find a balance between affordability and a high quality of life.
We also have a table featuring the estimated cost of living in different American cities including all of the country’s major metropolitan areas. These figures were last updated in May 2023 to account for recent rises in the cost of living.
5 of the Best Cities to Live in the USA that are more affordable
Austin is the most liveable city in Texas and is particularly popular with young people and anyone who likes an alternative scene which isn’t always easy to find away from the major American cities on the coasts.
The city is the self-proclaimed music capital of the world and has undergone quite a transformation over the past few decades. While it is the state capital, Austin was for long periods a relatively sleepy college town with less life than you could find in the larger Texan cities of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. However it seems to get more vibrant with each passing year and people from all over the US and beyond continue to move to Austin with its warm climate and welcoming reputation other major draws.
Texas is also one of the cheapest states to live in the USA. The cost of living in Austin is increasing but remains more or less on a par with that of Dallas and is considerably cheaper than many major US cities in other parts of the country.
Cost of Living Index – $2600/month
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is perhaps best known for its party culture and famous Mardi Gras celebrations. Like most US cities, it also has a darker side but if you research the city properly, it can be a great place to live as well as visit.
There are many things that set New Orleans apart from other American cities and give it a really distinctive feel and local culture. From the sound of jazz music to its French influences and world famous food and cocktails, the city swings to a different beat. Even the homes are often in a distinctive style, many boasting an old world charm in a city that recently celebrated its 300th birthday.
Given all that New Orleans has going on, it is surprisingly good value to live in. However if you are a digital nomad or remote worker looking to spend a few weeks or month in the city around Mardi Gras, you can expect to pay a bit more as short-term accommodation costs do rise considerably during this period.
Cost of Living Index – $2300/month
Denver falls more into the mid-range category in terms of the overall cost of living in the US. However you can still potentially save around $1000 each month by living here as opposed to New York or San Francisco which is a huge difference.
It’s a great option for anyone who wants the benefits of living in a city but also wants easy access to the great outdoors with the city lying just east of the stunning Rocky Mountains, home to a range of hiking, skiing and snowboarding options. It’s another city that is developing quickly with increasingly more people picking it as their new home.
It is worth noting that accommodation prices are rising in Denver and that is a large percentage of the cost of living for anyone in the United States. You’ll almost certainly need to be sharing a property to keep your costs at $2500 but if you don’t mind living well away from downtown, you should be able to find a reasonable deal.
The climate is also quite unique in Colorado. Despite a relatively southerly location, Denver ranks as one of the coldest cities in the US when it comes to average temperature, largely due to high night-time drops as a result of its altitude but summer days can still be very hot.
Cost of Living Index – $2500/month
Philadelphia is another city that may only be regarded as “cheap” by American standards but in relative terms it is considerably more affordable than the other major cities in the Northwest and ranks among the cheapest places to live in the US for young adults in that part of the country.
According to resident data, you could save around $500 per month by living in Philly rather than Boston or Washington DC and well over $1000 per month when compared to New York. If you’re only planning to live in the USA for a year or less, basing yourself in Philadelphia will enable you to easily visit those destinations but avoid the high cost of living that comes with them (we have a separate post on the cost of travel in the USA with more details on typical travel expenses across the country).
As the largest city in Pennsylvania and sixth-largest in the USA, you’ll need to be somebody who enjoys living in a major metropolitan area. It’s certainly true that Philly can be a bit rough around the edges with very high crime rates in some areas. You’ll really need to do your research in terms of choosing the right neighbourhood but despite its size, some of the most popular areas are very walkable and it is also one of the USA’s most bicycle friendly cities.
Cost of Living Index – $2400/month
Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas is one of the most famous travel destinations in the USA, if not the world. Given that you may be surprised by just how affordable a city it is to live in, provided you don’t have a gambling problem and manage to stay away from the Strip and its many tourist traps.
Living in Las Vegas is a slightly surreal experience as it’s not like anywhere else on earth. It’s a truly 24-hour place, even away from the very heart of the city and while you’ll soon grow used and perhaps bored of the wild antics of its rowdy visitors, those mundane Monday and Tuesday nights where you used to live will soon seem like a thing of the past.
Other positives to living in Las Vegas include mild winters and very little rainfall while there are a huge range of activities that you can do in the Las Vegas Valley from mountain biking and trekking to kayaking and horseback riding. Las Vegas is also home to a growing economy and there are plenty of job opportunities in the hospitality and service based industries.
Cost of Living Index – $2150/month
USA Cost of Living Calculation Explained
We’ve used numbeo’s cost calculator as a guide to help create an estimated cost of living index in American cities with figures updated in May 2023. It is very loosely based on what an individual person may spend in a typical month on all living costs including the cost of renting accommodation.
However clearly the exact figure will vary a lot between different people as everyone’s spending habits and idea of what a comfortable life entails is different. Therefore please only take the table below as a means of comparing costs in the different cities rather than an accurate estimation of what you would spend if you lived in these places.
If you’re sharing a house with several other people and are willing to live in a cheaper area, you may be able to get by on less than the figures quoted. That being said, it will be very easy to spend considerably more if you want your own home in a nice area whilst enjoying an active social life with lots of daytime activities and evenings out.
The cost of health insurance (which can be a lot in this country!) is not covered by any of these figures as it will vary considerably depending on age and other factors. Get a quote in less than a minute from SafetyWing for an idea of what the cost of travel medical insurance covering the US may be for you.
Cost of Living (2023) – What are the cheapest cities to live in the US?
|City||Cost of Living Index (Monthly in USD)|
The cities featured above include the ten largest in the USA plus ten others which tend to be viewed as more favourable places to visit or live as a foreigner.
You can clearly see what a wide range there is in terms of living costs in the USA. The cities of New York and San Francisco are way out in front and rank among the world’s most expensive cities. Anyone considering moving to either would be wise to have a well-paying job already lined up, significant funds or another significant source of income. The same goes for Boston and many of the best places in New England. The cost of living in NYC is roughly double what it is in somewhere like Memphis, the cheapest of the 20 we looked at.
There are even cheaper cities to live in the USA than the ones quoted above. If saving money and affordability is your number one factor, then consider one of the smaller towns or cities in one of the southern or central states such as Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee or Missouri.
Living costs in the USA are high compared to almost all other countries in the world. You’ll pay a lot more here than you would in even the best places to live in Mexico while a strong US dollar as of 2023, also makes living in Canada a bit more affordable by comparison in USD terms. The cheapest places to live in North America are all elsewhere on the continent.
This post on the best and cheapest cities to live in the US was last updated in May 2023.