Many factors influence where we choose to live. While our home's proximity to friends and family is a crucial deciding factor, ultimately where we decide to live is influenced by our finances. The two major factors influencing where we live are the cost of living and the income potential in a given region. The problem with looking at these two factors individually, however, is that they often are highly influenced by one another and have a strong positive correlation. Fat paychecks in New York City and San Francisco translate into $20 salads, exorbitant rents and surge-priced Uber rides.
When we dissect the data, it’s apparent that the most affordable cities to live in while earning an excellent living are in the middle of the country, rather than along the expensive coasts. We’ve compiled a list of the best cities in the U.S. that combine a low cost of living with relatively high per capita income compared with the rest of the nation.
The city of Houston benefits from a high domestic migration rate and a high economic growth rate. According to the Census Bureau’s 2015 population estimates, Texas saw the biggest increase in population. The suburb of Harris Country in Houston grew more than any other in the country, increasing by 89,000 people, as opposed to the more than 500,000 people that fled New York City during the same period. According to the Department of Numbers, Houston’s median household nominal income was $60,072 last year and real income was $65,910. Houston residents' income levels typically outpace the cost of living, with a fabulous transportation system, relatively affordable housing and low prices of common consumer goods.
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
The Dallas-Forth Worth hub also lies in the Sunbelt. The city benefits from high net domestic migration and a nonexistent state income tax. According to Numbeo’s cost of living comparison between Dallas and Los Angeles, “you would need around $5,066.81 in Los Angeles, CA to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with $4,200 in Dallas, TX.” When the numbers are scaled out, the differences are drastic. The most significant differences between the two cities are rent prices, which are 55.58% lower in Dallas than in Los Angeles.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina may seem off the beaten path to some, but to North Carolinians and southerners who’ve grown up loving the city, the move seems like a no-brainer. Charlotte is home to many big companies and is the headquarters of Bank of America. The city also now boasts its own football team, the Carolina Panthers. According to the Charlotte Chamber, earning an after-tax income of $100,000 in Manhattan, New York is equivalent to the after-tax income of $43,224.93 in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, workers in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill Metropolitan Statistical Area had an average hourly wage of 2% above the national average ($23.22 in May of 2014). Although this may seem small, the difference is amplified by the low cost of living.
Denver, Colorado is a gorgeous, relatively quiet city situated in the mountains. Downtown is a short half hour drive to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Many beautiful, smaller towns are in the region, where people can hike with their dogs and families free of charge. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, typical annual salaries in Denver for management jobs are $103,690, whereas business and financial operations typically earn a salary of $67,170. The calculated “living wage” that individuals must earn to support themselves working full time was $10.79 as opposed to $14.37 in San Francisco. In addition to high wages and low costs, Colorado offers a high quality of life which continues to attract lovers of nature and adventure.
Dubbed “The Live Music Capital of the World” and the capital of the Lone Star State, Austin has a population growth of about 3%-4%, which is the highest growth rate of metropolitan areas with a population over one million. The knowledge hub of Austin is home to a new wave of workers who vary from “hippy types” to tech-savvy Millennials and corporate employees. The influence of the University of Texas has turned the city into a tech hub with a lively downtown full of theaters, art galleries, and restaurants. According to PayScale, a software engineer in Austin will earn a median salary of $76,998, and a senior software engineer will earn $106,434.
The Bottom Line
Career mobility rises due to the advent of technology, transportation and communication systems, allowing the U.S. population to move from city to city quite easily. Often, high salaries coincide with a relatively high cost of living. This list of cities highlights a few of the outliers. Cities in the middle of the country, particularly in Texas, place workers in an optimal financial situation. This is due to the net migration, economic boom, and high salary growth rates in these particular hubs. These cities offer a high quality of life due to low prices and decreased financial stresses while providing an opportunity to find a lucrative career.