What are the most affordable cities to live in? The answer depends on how you define "affordable" and how you define "city." For example, a city can be defined by its formal boundaries or by the broader metropolitan statistical area that the U.S. Census Bureau considers it to be a part of. Using a variety of metrics, here is a look at some of the places in the United States where your money will go the furthest. (If you are looking for a good deal and have time to wait, a short-sale house may be for you. Check out Purchasing A Short-Sale Property.)

All About Inflation

Youngstown-Warren-Boardman and Niagra Falls: Lowest Home Prices
According to National Association of Realtors data, the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area of Ohio and Pennsylvania, situated roughly halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and a little over an hour's drive from each, had the lowest median sales price for existing single-family homes in the first quarter of 2011. The Lansing, Mich., area was a close second. Forty-three of the 50 areas with the least expensive single-family homes are located in the Midwest or the South.

Coldwell Banker issues a similar report, but its rankings are based on the average listing prices of four-bedroom, two-bathroom homes rather than on median home prices. By Coldwell Banker's methodology, Niagra Falls, N.Y., was the country's least expensive real estate market in its 2011 Home Listing Report with an average list price of $60,820. Detroit comes in at No. 5, with an average home price of $73,363. Of the 50 least expensive cities in the report, the majority are in the Midwest or the South.

Memphis: Big City, Low Cost Of Living
For many people, an area needs to have a large population to really feel like a city. Kiplinger's May 2010 "How Does Your City Stack Up?" report makes it easy to see which big cities (defined as having a population of more than 1 million) have the lowest cost of living.

The cost of living ranges from 86% to 89% of the national average in six major metropolitan areas. This cost takes into account both housing costs and other common household expenses such as food, utilities and transportation. Also included below are Coldwell Banker's average listing prices for these cities.

Memphis - $127,024

St. Louis - $192,306

Nashville - $193,895

Oklahoma City - $157,131

Houston - $187,211

Cincinnati - $186,937

Even though housing expenses are the largest monthly expense for most people, cities can have significantly different housing costs and still have low overall costs of living. We'll see further proof of this fact in the next section.

Harlingen, Texas: Lowest Cost Of Living - Period
The Council for Community and Economic Research's quarterly ACCRA Cost of Living Index ranks more than 300 urban areas from most expensive to least expensive. The index is based on the costs of housing, utilities, grocery items, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services. In the first quarter of 2011, an ACCRA press release named the following 10 cities (five of which are in Texas) as having the lowest cost of living:

Harlingen, TX - $152,245

Fort Smith, AR - NI*

Pueblo, CO - $141,160

Cookeville, TN - NI

Temple, TX - $168,653

Muskogee, OK - $149,654

Martinsville-Henry County, VA - NI

Round Rock, TX - $201,150

Sherman-Denison, TX - $168,847

Brownsville, TX - $124,523

*NI indicates that the average listing price for this city is not included in the Coldwell Banker report.

Best Places To Live
Just because a city has low housing costs or a low cost of living doesn't necessarily make it a desirable place to live.

Data analyst Bert Sperling's well-known "Find Your Best Place" quiz helps people figure out where in the United States they might enjoy living based on factors such as climate, taxes, employment and job growth, utility costs, air and water quality, violent and property crime rates, recreational activities and commute time. Sense of community, proximity to family and employment opportunities in one's field are also common deciding factors when people are choosing where to live.

In April 2008, for example, CNN's Les Christie reported that Youngstown's population was less than half of what it was 40 years ago. A thriving steel mill business once helped the town reach a population of 165,000. One consequence of the massive decline is a great deal of vacant real estate - hence, the low property values.

The Bottom Line
People are willing to pay median sales price ranging from $439,300 to $579,300 to live in places like New York, California and Hawaii because these places offer cultural amenities, job opportunities, climate and natural beauty that are harder to find or nonexistent in many places that have low housing costs. That's why media outlets like CNNMoney publish reports like "Best Places to Live: Money's List of America's Best Small Cities" that consider factors such as an area's major employees, residents' health and school quality in its highly researched analyses and screen out areas with significant job losses, poor education scores and unappealing crime statistics. However, if affordability is your overriding concern, locations like Youngstown and Harlingen are worth consideration. (Find out what to consider before investing in a leased-land property. See Should You Buy Property On Leased Land?)

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Budgeting Tips: Living in Costa Rica on $1,000 a Month

    Explore the cost of living in Costa Rica, and learn how you could sustain a nice middle-class lifestyle for yourself on about $1,000 a month.
  2. Budgeting

    Cheap Currencies for Travel in 2016

    Discover three destinations with cheap currencies for travel in 2016, including one European country you can visit without paying the standard European price.
  3. Retirement

    Elizabeth Warren's Solution to No COLA Increase in 2016

    Look at Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan for a 3.9% increase in Social Security benefits in place of a COLA in 2016, and how she proposes to pay for it.
  4. Retirement

    Retirees! Mexico Is Not as Dangerous as You Think

    Learn about four safe retirement destinations in Mexico and the current economic and political status of Mexico that supports a foreign retiree population.
  5. Budgeting

    Traveling to Houston on a Budget

    Discover why Houston is such an underappreciated vacation destination, and learn how you can enjoy a trip to Houston even on a tight budget.
  6. Retirement

    Elizabeth Warren: Increase 2016 COLA – Here's How

    True, there's no inflation according to certain price indexes. But is the government using the wrong formula for seniors on Social Security?
  7. Wealth Management

    Blue Collar Vs. White Collar: Different Social Classes?

    Learn about the implications of the words "blue collar" and "white collar" and the connotation each carries for social class and the type of labor performed.
  8. Budgeting

    Preventing Medical Bankruptcy

    If you’re worried medical expenses could overwhelm you, there are some thing you can do to ease your concerns.
  9. Retirement

    No COLA Reduces Buying Power of Retirees

    The lack of a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment next year will result in higher costs for retirees, with some affected more than others.
  10. Retirement

    The Cheapest Places to Retire in India

    Outside the major metroplexes of Mumbai and Delhi are many quieter locations ideal for retirees – and they offer less expensive living costs as well.
  1. How does a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) affect my salary?

    Some companies build salary adjustments into their compensation structures to offset the effects of inflation on their employees. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Is Social Security inflation-protected?

    Social Security benefits are inflation-protected. Social Security was created in 1935, and taxes were collected for the first ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Why isn't the cost-of-living adjustment mandatory?

    A cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is a purchasing power protection mechanism provided to all monthly Social Security ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Are Social Security benefits adjusted for inflation?

    Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation. This adjustment is known as the cost of living adjustment (COLA). For ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Which states are the most expensive for high-income earners?

    The most expensive states for high-income earners are California, Hawaii and New York. The tax rates assessed by these states ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How can you calculate your cash budget in Excel?

    Calculating a cash budget in Excel is best completed by dividing your budget into inflows and outflows. Excel makes it extremely ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center