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Spend Less, Live Better: Escape Inflation in These Five Affordable Cities

Looking to protect yourself from rising costs? These five cities might just do the trick. 

By Lindsay Hiatt on April 21, 2023

Charlotte, NC, is one of the best cities to beat inflation.
Charlotte / iStock

With prices on the rise and the economy in flux, inflation is becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the United States. High demand, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are driving up prices in some cities. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, are vulnerable to inflation due to high levels of student loan debt, making it difficult to save for major life milestones like buying a home or starting a family. Inflation may also worsen social inequalities, as those with fewer resources may struggle to cope with rising costs. 

Each year, the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) publishes a Cost of Living Index that ranks the most and least expensive urban areas in the U.S. This composite index centers around six categories — housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services — and some of the cities on their list may surprise you. Of course, it’s true that no city is immune to inflation, but there are a few U.S. cities that have weathered the storm better than others. Read on to discover a few cities where residents may avoid rising prices and enjoy a higher standard of living.

Harlingen, Texas

Harlingen, TX, a city of about 65,000 in the southernmost part of Texas and near the border of Mexico, is top of the list of least expensive urban areas. Known for its subtropical climate, the city has hot summers and mild winters, making it an ideal location for outdoor recreational activities. In addition to the local beaches and nature preserves in Harlingen, the cost of living is a whopping 23% lower than the national average. Healthcare, retail and tourism drive Harlingen’s economy, and the city offers a variety of job opportunities, creating a robust economy. Property taxes in Harlingen are relatively low, and there’s no state income tax in Texas, which lowers residents’ overall costs. The best part is this city’s residents don’t have to break the bank for bananas (literally!) — groceries in Harlingen are a bargain, about 20% cheaper than the rest of the country.

Springfield IL
Springfield / iStock/pabradyphoto

Springfield, Illinois

Speaking of groceries, some joke that you need a second mortgage to buy eggs in the U.S. right now. But would you believe you can get a dozen eggs for $1.64 in Springfield, IL? That’s a steal compared to the nearly $5 per dozen folks in Honolulu are shelling out! One reason for this could be Springfield’s strategic location in the central part of the country. The city is close to major agricultural areas, allowing for lower prices. Springfield is also an excellent destination for those looking to stretch their entertainment budget. The city offers a variety of free or affordable entertainment options, such as parks, museums and historical sites, making it an ideal choice for budget-conscious stay-cationers.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Kalamazoo, a charming city in Michigan’s southwestern region, is the second least expensive urban area according to the Cost of Living Index. Known for its vibrant arts scene and diverse economy, Kalamazoo is thriving. The city has relatively low property taxes compared to other cities, making it an attractive option for those looking to buy a home. Additionally, Michigan’s flat income tax rate of 4.25% is much lower than many other states, which helps keep overall costs down. Looking to boost your education without breaking the bank? The Kalamazoo Promise program covers up to 100% of college tuition and fees for Kalamazoo Public School graduates. This helps local families afford college and helps prevent local GenZers from incurring student loan debt. 

Aerial shot of downtown Florence, Alabama, on a sunny day. Shops line the streets and residents can live the good life as Florence is one of the cities least impacted by inflation.
Cliff Billingsley/@billingsley_photography

Florence, Alabama

Finding an affordable place to live is crucial for many young Americans starting out. If you’re on the hunt, consider Florence, AL. Nestled in the picturesque Tennessee River Valley and surrounded by hills and forests, this city boasts plenty of parks and nature preserves to explore. Even better, it offers some of the cheapest apartment rents in the U.S., with an average two-bedroom rent of just $633/month (unfurnished, excluding all utilities except water). Even better? Housing costs in Florence are a whopping 36% below the national average. Healthcare is also relatively inexpensive, with costs around 20% below the national average. Florence has hospitals and medical centers that provide high-quality care at affordable prices, and the city has a range of health clinics and community health centers that offer low-cost or free services to those in need.

Charlotte NC

Charlotte, North Carolina

All this inflation talk giving you a headache? Charlotte has you covered with the cheapest ibuprofen in the country (no, really, they track this!), where a 100-tablet, name-brand bottle will run you a little over $7, nearly half what it costs in some other more expensive cities. Charlotte also boasts utilities that are priced 7.8% lower than the national average — a significant factor in the city’s affordability ranking. The city’s moderate climate may help keep heating and cooling costs low, but its investment in utility infrastructure is likely the key contributor to its low energy costs. In addition, Charlotte’s use of smart grid technology enables more efficient electricity management, resulting in savings that are passed on to consumers. The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) provides commuters and residents with affordable public transportation options. The city also has an extensive network of bike lanes and greenways, making cycling a viable option for getting around the city.

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