The Most Affordable Mid-Sized Cities in the U.S.

When a big city can feel too crowded and a small town too simplistic, a mid-sized city can provide you with comfort and the amenities of a largely populated metro without the pressures and hectic pace. The Simple Dollar has conducted research and analysis on over 150 mid-sized U.S. cities to determine which are the most affordable ones to live in.

Here are the top 10 most affordable mid-sized cities:

  1. Syracuse, NY
  2. Grand Rapids, MI
  3. Harlingen, TX
  4. Chattanooga, TN
  5. Eau Claire, WI
  6. Port Saint Lucie, FL
  7. Knoxville, TN
  8. Greenville, SC
  9. Tuscaloosa, AL
  10. Asheville, NC

Rating Methodology

In order to determine the most affordable mid-sized cities, a number of factors were considered from a variety of reputable sources. Here is the process that was used to select the top 10 most affordable mid-sized cities in the United States:

  1. Compiled a list of over 150 cities that have a population between 50,000 and 150,000 people and that have been rated and reviewed by Forbes, U.S. News and World Report,Huffington Post, Kiplinger, and other sources.
  2. Measured affordability of the top mid-sized cities by looking at median house prices, average rent of a one-bedroom apartment, median household income, and a cost of living index, which considers housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, and healthcare.
  3. Considered climate, employment opportunities, access to cultural activities and amenities, and natural resources and landscape.

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse, NY
Named by Sperling’s Best Places as one of the “Most Secure Places to Live”, by Forbes as one of the “21 Most Affordable Cities to Live in America” and by CNNMoney as one of the “10 Most Affordable Cities for Homebuying,” Syracuse is a safe, popular, and affordable Upstate New York destination. The median house price in Syracuse is $77,200 and the average rental price of a one-bedroom apartment is $642. The cost-of-living index score is 11 points below the national average.

Home to Syracuse University (and, more importantly, the Syracuse Orange football team) and a number of other smaller schools, Syracuse is buzzing with collegiate excitement. Syracuse is also home to several cultural events and festivals, including two prominent outdoor jazz festivals, as well as myriad art galleries and museums. Moreover, Syracuse upholds the upstate NY reputation for having ample outdoor recreation, with hiking trails, golf courses, zoos and over 150 parks!

Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids is economically diverse, yet overall affordable. The median house price in the city is $103,500 and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $622 a month, with a cost-of-living index score that is 11 points below the national average.

Earlier this year, Lonely Planet selected Grand Rapids for the No. 1 spot on their list of “Top 10 U.S. travel destinations for 2014,” citing the region’s 300 miles of beaches, their “Beer City, U.S.A” title, and the rich cultural scene that Western Michigan has to offer. Other accolades include being named the No. 1 “Best City for Raising a Family” and fourth on the list of “Best Cities for Finding Employment” by Forbes. Points of interest for visitors and locals alike include attending one of the myriad festivals held in Vandenberg Plaza, John Ball Park, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, Van Andel Museum Center, and Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium (among many others!).

Harlingen, TX

Harlingen, TX
Data collected by the Council of Community Economic Research, a nonprofit organization that provides information on local economic trends, ranked Harlingen as the cheapest place to reside in the U.S. for the fourth year in a row. The median house price in Harlingen is only $75,000, and the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment is $551 monthly. The cost of living in Harlingen is a whopping 25 points below the national average, with gas prices and healthcare costs lower than that of any other major U.S. metro.

Harlingen is an ideal affordable option for lovers of the outdoors, with great fishing and hunting, as well as many trails for hiking and biking. The city is home to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which has more species of birds than any other in the U.S., making the city an international birding destination. Those seeking creative outlets will also enjoy the Harlingen Performing Arts Theater, the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum, and the Harlingen Art Forum, which provides classes and a gallery space for local artists.

Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga has recently been picking up media attention, and for good reason.Southern LivingWall Street Journal, Chattanooga has one of the nation’s strongest local economies, a growing housing market, and major job creation as well!

Named a “regional gem” by CNN Money, Chattanooga is not without its ample charm. The city is incredibly scenic, with plenty outdoor recreational opportunities, and it home to UT Chattanooga, an outstanding public college that has been ranked as number 14 on list of best college values.

Eau Claire, WI

Eau Claire, WI
Eau Claire is notably considered one of the greenest cities in the U.S. Those looking to save some greenbacks, however, will be pleased to know that Eau Claire has also been rated by Forbes as one of the “Best Cities for Cheapskates”. The city has a median house price of $137,700, with an average apartment rental cost of $591, and an overall cost-of-living index score that is 9 points below the national average.

Eau Claire is home to an impressive landscape and a growing culture scene. The city hosts a number of festivals and events, including the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, Country Fest, Festival in the Pines, and the U.S. Open Chainsaw event (check it out). Other points of interest include Owen Park and the Sarge Boyd Bandshell, the Chippewa River State Trail, and the State Theater.

Port St. Lucie, FL

Port Saint Lucie, FL
A recent list released by ranked Port St. Lucie as No. 1 on a list of the top 10 best places to live in Florida, based on factors including the city’s low cost of living, housing prices, low crime rate, and its coastal climate. The median price of owning a home in Port St. Lucie is $123,800, and renting an apartment costs about $805 a month. The overall cost-of-living index score in Port St. Lucie is 7 points below the national average (practically unheard of for Florida!).

The city has also been heralded as one of the “Best Places to Retire in 2014” and one of the “Best Cities for Business and Careers” by Forbes. Port St. Lucie is home to the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and the PGA Hall of Fame, as well as the Navy SEAL Museum at Fort Pierce, the Hallstrom Planetarium, the St. Lucie County Aquarium, and the Heathcote Botanical Gardens.

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN
Consistently rated one of the most affordable states in the U.S., it’s no surprise that two Tennessee cities made this list! About an hour away from Chattanooga is Knoxville, which has received several accolades and acknowledgments of its own–the city was ranked in the top 5 “Most Affordable U.S. Cities” by Forbes, one of the “Top 10 Best Places to Retire” by, and one of the “South’s Best College Towns” by Southern Living.

Knoxville has a median house price of $109,200 and an average one-bedroom rental cost of $675, which is significantly lower than the surrounding area and the U.S. as a whole. The cost-of-living index score in Knoxville is about 19 points below the national average. Knoxville has plenty to do for people in nearly all walks of life. The city is home to various music and food festivals throughout the year, as well as to the University of Tennessee, which provides opportunities for residents to engage in the cultural and educational opportunities the school as to offer (the UT Division 1 football team is a serious bonus). Knoxville is also located in very close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains, making it a haven for lovers of the outdoors as well!

Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC
Formerly known for its textile manufacturing, Greenville has evolved into an “international powerhouse, hosting companies from all parts of the globe,” according to CNN Money. The city boasts a large number of corporations, including 3M, BMW, Honeywell, and Michelin, which help create ample job opportunities and drive business in the area. Living in one of the most entrepreneur-friendly cities in the country is also affordable. The median house in Greenville is $122,400 and an average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $630. Overall, the cost of living in Greenville is 7 points below the national average.

In addition to business and industry, Greenville is also home to several higher learning institutions, including Furman University, Bob Jones University, and the Clemson MBA program. The city hosts many annual events and festivals, including Euphoria Greenville, Slow Food Upstate Earth Market, and Fall for Greenville, as well as various cultural attractions, including the Greenville County Museum of Art, the Roper Mountain Science Center, the Peace Center, and the Carolina Ballet Theater.

Tuscaloosa, AL

Tuscaloosa, AL
Tuscaloosa is an ideal southern city for those seeking a lively college town experience with plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities without breaking the bank. The median house price in Tuscaloosa is $137,000, and the average rental cost of a one-bedroom apartment is $654, with a cost-of-living index score that is 5 points below the national average.

Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, the leading public university in the state (along with a leading college football team). Points of interest include a thriving downtown (particularly University Boulevard), which has several restaurants, bars, breweries, and is the center of student nightlife. In addition, the city has multiple parks and trails, including A.L. Freeman Park, Annette N. Shelby Park, as well as Moundville Archaeological Park and the cliffs at Lake Tuscaloosa.

Asheville, NC

asheville, nc
The final city on our list is somewhat unusual–with a cost of living that is 2 points above the national average, Asheville may not be considered the most affordable city at first glance. The median price of owning a home in Asheville is $175,600 and the average cost of renting an apartment is $618 (below average for the U.S.!). However, living in Asheville is well worth the price. Voted one of the 10 U.S. cities for amazing places to live if you love the outdoors by, one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live and Top 10 Foodie Cities of 2014 by, one of the top 50 U.S. cities as a best place for business and careers by Forbes, one of the 8 best beer towns in America by , and one of “5 of the Healthiest and Greenest Cities in America” by Greener Ideal (this year alone!), Asheville is undeniably a crowd pleaser.

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, Asheville has an incredible landscape and offers plenty by way of outdoor recreation, particularly whitewater kayaking. Live music and annual/seasonal festivals are a huge pull for the city as well, driving tourism to the area. Other highlights include a renowned culinary arts scene, several prominent breweries, and a lively downtown area. So even though Asheville comes at a slightly higher price tag than the other cities featured, we still consider it an affordable option for the high quality of life!

The Top 150

Below is the complete list of the 150 mid-sized cities we examined:

CityStateAverage Household IncomeMedian House PriceAverage Rent 1-BedroomCost-of-Living Index ScorePopulation
Fort SmithArkansas46,448235,00066013087,443
Little RockArkansas58,704127,19963088196,537
Palo AltoCalifornia164,8571,805,0001,31741566,363
Walnut CreekCalifornia115,616681,4001,26920565,695
Thousand OaksCalifornia115,782630,9001,136194128,412
Cathedral CityCalifornia48,10376,90065411152,655
Fort CollinsColorado76,341247,200758113148,612
Miami BeachFlorida54,155326,60092013490,588
Fort LauderdaleFlorida59,879240,5001,013118170,747
Cape CoralFlorida56,892149,70072496161,248
Port OrangeFlorida59,775149,5007569756,766
Fort MyersFlorida44,319143,1007249565,725
West Palm BeachFlorida52,573139,4001,00099101,903
Port Saint LucieFlorida53,379123,80080593168,716
Coconut CreekFlorida66,028112,4001,0139455,001
Palm BayFlorida50,82491,40073587104,124
Daytona BeachFlorida39,74286,7007568562,035
Idaho FallsIdaho55,462143,2005109257,899
South BendIndiana42,64785,30058083100,800
Iowa CityIowa73,739193,20067510570,133
Cedar RapidsIowa68,458119,30049489128,119
Overland ParkKansas94,008258,400788117178,919
Bowling GreenKentucky45,597134,8005128960,600
Ann ArborMichigan86,962229,900812111116,121
Grand RapidsMichigan47,415103,50062289190,411
St. CharlesMissouri68,811149,6007299466,463
NashuaNew Hampshire81,938208,60087811786,993
VinelandNew Jersey64,609129,1008839960,854
Santa FeNew Mexico63,550284,10080312069,204
Las CrucesNew Mexico49,690143,10062993101,047
AlbanyNew York57,222157,20078410297,904
SyracuseNew York38,56077,20064289144,170
Chapel HillNorth Carolina112,629311,30074212858,424
AshevilleNorth Carolina56,333175,60061810285,712
WilmingtonNorth Carolina57,805154,200712100109,922
FargoNorth Dakota69,401162,00054598113,658
CharlestonSouth Carolina71,129212,400811109125,583
ColumbiaSouth Carolina56,680162,30073999131,686
GreenvilleSouth Carolina59,285122,4006309360,709
Sioux FallsSouth Dakota67,237149,70060895159,908
Johnson CityTennessee56,279130,3005358764,528
Round RockTexas80,348186,90092899106,573
College StationTexas66,982157,2007349497,801
Santa FeTexas66,791128,4007648869,204
San AngeloTexas54,282102,6005538395,887
Wichita FallsTexas54,68293,10059276104,552
Port ArthurTexas40,55570,3006637854,010
Salt Lake CityUtah59,815263,100800115189,314
St. GeorgeUtah55,596196,70059010275,561
Newport NewsVirginia60,467159,00082096180,726
Henry CountyVirginia121,250$94,2005188052,969
Eau ClaireWisconsin65,328137,7005919166,966

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