2016 Best Affordable Places to Live
Let’s get one thing clear from the outset: These are not the least expensive places to live in America. There are places where you can buy a home for pocket change, and whole towns that cost less than a home in Palo Alto, Calif. But if you ask the question “Would you want to live there?”, the answer is likely “No.” Instead, this is a list of affordable cities you’d actually want to live in.
By affordable, we also don’t mean merely cheap. We take earning potential into account as well. So how do we choose the Top 10 Best Affordable Places to Live? We start with data. For this list we look at cost of living and how that compares to national averages for key components of the budget like housing, transportation, food and utilities. As you can imagine, we look for cheap places. But we also look for places with high incomes to make those cheap costs go even further. We look for places with high livability, as determined by our LivScore, and low income inequality.
Finally, once we have a short list in place, our editors factor in their own knowledge of these cities and look for a good balance of sizes, geographies and types of cities. How’d we do?
While residents in both cities spend nearly the same amount on things like gas, groceries and utilities, people in Bloomington don’t use as much of their salaries on housing. And while the median annual household income in Bloomington is $10,000 higher than Normal, the city also has greater income equality. Oh, and one more thing that makes Bloomington stand out: It’s where Beer Nuts are made.
But in all honesty, Bloomington and Normal play well together. They’ve joined forces to promote economic development across both cities, along with transportation options, and most residents cross borders on a daily basis. Located in one of the most productive agricultural areas in the country, Bloomington-Normal’s economy includes State Farm Insurance, BroMenn Medical Center and AFNI as top employers, along with Illinois State University, Country Financial and Mitsubishi. Most newcomers have been able to find jobs, and the unemployment rate remains low.
More than 40 parks in Bloomington provide residents with many opportunities to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Venues like the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, US Cellular Coliseum and Redbird Arena host concerts, musicals and sporting events. The Coliseum hosts an indoor farmers market during winter months, which includes performances by local musicians. Restaurants in Bloomington include gastropubs, open-air grills and cafes. Among the low-cost options for family outings in Bloomington are trips to Grady’s Family Fun Park, which includes miniature golf, batting cages and go-karts; the Pepsi Ice Center, an indoor ice rink; Miller Park Zoo; and Upper Limits, an indoor rock climbing gym. The Children's Discovery Museum in Normal draws more than 40,000 visitors each year. Golf courses in Bloomington deliver exceptional value and variety to those who enjoy hitting the fairways.
The average price of a home in Bloomington and Normal is just under $150,000, a great value considering the attractions, quality of life and assortment of restaurants and recreation you’ll find here. Hospitals in Bloomington-Normal rank high in service and care, yet remain among the most affordable in the country.