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San Francisco has some great things going for it. There’s a mild climate, plenty of high-paying tech jobs coming out of Silicon Valley and the basketball team is pretty good, among many other cool things about the city.

One thing that’s not cool about San Francisco? The housing prices are higher than the Golden Gate Bridge. According to Zillow, the average price of a home in the area exceeds $910,000 – if you live in the city itself, the current home value is nearing $1.3 million.

While you might be able to afford that if you’re the star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo, or you’re a member of Train, not everyone has access to that kind of green.

Today, we thought we’d take a look at some cities where the cost of living is a little more affordable. After all, with prudent budgeting, there’s no reason you should have to save up for 15 years just for a down payment on the home you’re looking to buy.

Judging Affordability

In order to determine the affordability in any given city, a set of criteria is important. In compiling data for this story, we looked at roundups from Student Loan Hero and Business Insider with some Zillow housing data mixed in.

The three reports use slightly different criteria. The Business Insider article is essentially looking at the best cities where you can live comfortably by the 50/30/20 rule. The idea of this rule is that you put 50% of your income toward necessities, 30% toward discretionary spending and 20% to saving for the future Still, among the common factors being used are income, housing, healthcare, utilities and groceries.

With that, let’s look at some of the top affordable cities by region.


The South is often recognized as one of the nation’s biggest regions in terms of housing construction, so it’s a good place to start.

Memphis, Tennessee

A city that’s home to good blues and barbecue, Memphis has a pretty low cost of living; the median home listing price within the city itself is $82,000. This represents just 39.7% of the national average ($206,300, according to Zillow).

Beyond the housing part, Memphis gets high marks from Student Loan Hero for having transportation and healthcare costs more than 13% below the national average. It’s also 8% below the national average from a grocery standpoint. Finally, the unemployment rate sits at 3.9%, below the national average of 4.1% as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Knoxville, Tennessee

While not as big of a bargain as the homes of its Tennessee cousin Memphis, homes in Knoxville go for a median of $136,000, or 65.9% of the national average. While the median household income is a little low at just $34,556, the cost of living is 17.8% below the national average, and it boasts the lowest unemployment rate of any city on the Student Loan Hero list at 3.1%.

Also on the plus side is a grocery cost that’s 13.2% below the national average and transportation costs at 15.3% below average. Healthcare and utilities are also very affordable in comparison to most areas of the country.

El Paso, Texas

Right along the U.S. border with Mexico, El Paso gets a lot of sunny weather. It’s the most affordable city in the Business Insider report. Home prices are just 55.9% of the national average at $115,400. El Paso has the lowest necessary income needed to cover necessities with just 50% of their budget, leading to an annual salary of $40,204.

It has canyons, cliffs and caverns to explore as well as several nearby state and national parks.


Several cities in the Midwest offer very affordable home prices. Let’s run through a few of them.

Springfield, Missouri

The list price for homes in Springfield is just 57.3% of the national average at $118,400. In the data sourced by Business Insider, it also has the lowest median monthly rent of any of the cities on the list (in case you’re not quite ready to buy yet).

Springfield is also near the Ozarks, which means there’s likely some good hiking in the area for enthusiasts, and it’s home to several universities, including Missouri State. Go Bears!

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit fell on some hard times for a while, but it’s a city on the rise. There’s quite a population of young people moving downtown and getting in on the ground floor of something special. Residents of the Motor City put the world on wheels and still do, but there’s also a growing number of high-tech companies looking to meet the needs of a 21st-century society.

Housing prices in the city right now average just 21.5% of the national average at $44,400. Thousands of new jobs have been created in the past year, and we have a brand-new sports and entertainment district downtown that’s second to none.

As a lifelong resident of the area, I might be a little biased, but there’s no city more passionate about its sports teams, either.

Another Michigan city made the Student Loan Hero list – Kalamazoo. According to the data gathered in the article, Kalamazoo’s cost of living is 19.5% below the national average by double digits in terms of grocery cost, utilities and healthcare.

Wichita, Kansas

Wichita has quite the presence from aircraft manufacturers that have flocked to the city. Its rent is just 63.2% of the national average. You need just $44,776 in annual income to live comfortably here under the 50/30/20 rule.

The area also has 33 museums, 28 art galleries and more than 80 miles of walking areas in the city parks. The Shockers of Wichita State are also a perennial pick to go far in the NCAA basketball tournament each year.


The West has some of the fastest rising home values, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some areas that are affordable.

Fresno, California

Fresno has a minimum take-home pay needed of $44,838 annually. It’s got some great local attractions, including being close to three national parks.

Although home prices are slightly above the national average, sellers are slightly higher than some of the other cities on the list in order to make up the difference.

Reno, Nevada

Median property value in Reno is more than $334,000. However, according to Forbes, the average household income is $57,613 and its unemployment levels are below the national average. According to the calculation of the Business Insider, it would only cost $46,269 a year to live there.

Healthcare and technology have joined gaming and entertainment over the last several years in order to become major parts of the local economy. Reno is also near the Sierra Nevada Mountains which could offer great opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Northeast – Or At Least Rochester, New York

The one region that doesn’t get a lot of love on any of the lists we looked at is the Northeast. However, Rochester gets points for a lower cost of living. It costs $46,964 to live comfortably there, as opposed to $86,446 in the Big Apple.

Many industries have made their presence felt in the city, from tech and biotech to manufacturing and food industries. There are also two different universities in the area and many entertainment, music, art and sports options for everyone.

If you’re interested in getting a home in these cities or any others, you can get a preapproval online through Rocket Mortgage® by Quicken Loans. If you’d rather get started over the phone, one of our Home Loan Experts would be happy to chat at (800) 785-4788.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I retired from the phone company (GTE) in 1996 and moved my family from So Cal to Reno. I had already lined up a job to come to and a place to rent. We bought our home in 1997. We consider ourselves blessed to be in a city that has decent job opportunities, although housing can be pricey depending on location. Reno also has an excellent VA hospital here, which matters to me, a disabled Vietnam veteran. Having Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake Park nearby is gravy on the baked chicken. We are retired now and our grown children live in Reno too. We have good schools and low crime rate. We also have clean air and plenty of water (Truckee River supplied by Lake Tahoe).

    1. Thank you so much for your service, Chris! You somehow managed to make Reno sound absolutely lovely and have my mouth watering over baked chicken and gravy at the same time. That’s an impressive feat and I think I want to eat at your house. Have a wonderful day and keep enjoying Reno!

  2. Why no Southwest in the ” Affordable Places” to live? Jusy moved from 20 years in Phoenix to a flx/flip in Wa state, burr, back down to Northwest Az. I find it extremely affordable. Towns like Kingman, St George, Vegas… Guess you have to like the desert and/or heat. Thanks, Klaudia

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