Affordable Places to Live and How to Move There Cheap

Stephen Sheehan
Jul 08, 2022

With real estate prices through the roof, inflation rates at their highest in four decades, and remote work becoming the new norm, many people have embraced the idea of relocating to more affordable places to live. However, the state of the housing market hasn’t exactly made it easy to lower cost of living.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t save money and maintain a high quality of life in the process. Whether you like the hustle and bustle of a big city or the cozy, friendly feel of a small town, there are ample options that won’t eat up a significant portion of your income.

If you’re ready for new beginnings and a better financial situation, start your journey by learning more about the most affordable places to live in the U.S. so you can move on a budget—and stick to it.

The Top 10 Most Affordable Places to Live in the US

Finding affordable living arrangements can be a challenge, especially with the average rent and housing prices rising significantly across the country. However, there are still plenty of affordable cities that have a low cost of living index that falls well below the national average.

So which U.S. cities provide the best bang for your buck? Based on the median gross rent and annual housing costs for homeowners of each metro area, the 10 most affordable places to live, according to US News are:

10. Youngstown, Ohio

9. Peoria, Illinois

8. Fayetteville, Arkansas

7. Beaumont, Texas

6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

5. Fort Wayne, Indiana

4. Quad Cities, Iowa - Illinois

3. Huntsville, Alabama

2. Green Bay, Wisconsin

1. Hickory, North Carolina 

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What Makes a Place Affordable?

So, how did Hickory earn the top spot on the cheapest places list? Interestingly, the criteria for the rankings goes much deeper than you may expect. Sure, the median home price matters. But other factors go into determining the best value.

Quality of life, which includes metrics like crime rate, quality, availability of health care, and quality of education, was utilized as part of the rankings. Plus, the Value Index (also called the Housing Affordability Index) is used to determine how comfortably the average resident of each metro area can afford to live within their means.

Obviously, finding a cheaper place to live can be a great way to improve your financial health. But if a potential location scores low on the Job Market Index (which factors in the unemployment rate and the average salary), are you willing to take that risk? Or is it not a factor because you work in an industry that lends itself well to remove work?

If you love being within driving distance of the ocean, are you willing to trade outdoor activities on the water in Florida for cold winters in Kansas just to have a lower cost of living? Are you willing to give up the warmer weather in California for the cooler weather on the Oregon coast? Many times, finding affordable places to live involves a trade-off of some kind.

How to Move on a Budget

Whether you’re set on a southern state like Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, or Tennessee or you’re ready for a big city in Texas like Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, or Houston, finding affordable housing is just one step of the moving process. Next, you need to set a budget that will allow you to get everything accomplished without draining your bank account.

Ready to pull off a successful relocation? Use these money-saving strategies to help you move on a budget:

1. Find free moving boxes

Why pay for moving boxes when you can get them for free? Check with stores in your area to see if they have any to spare. You can also check Facebook Marketplace or contact a local “Buy Nothing” or Freecycle group for boxes and packing material that won’t cost you a penny.

2. Drive your own moving truck

One of the best ways to move on a budget? Instead of hiring professional movers, rent and drive a truck yourself. Sure, going from New York to Florida will be a lengthy trip, but you could save thousands of dollars by getting behind the wheel yourself. When it comes to the movers, you can find affordable help by the hour via apps like Task Rabbit to load and unload your truck. 

3. Be flexible with your moving date

While summer is peak moving season, you may be able to save a few bucks by remaining flexible with your moving date. Since weekends are typically more expensive, being open to a weekday move could be beneficial for your wallet.

4. Use your own packing materials

There’s no need to spend a chunk of your moving budget on packing materials. After all, you can repurpose plenty of everyday items to keep everything safe. Old towels, rags, and clothes work well as an alternative to bubble wrap (which can get expensive).

Meanwhile, newspapers can be used for wrapping and/or filling empty space in boxes. Additionally, if you know you’re moving soon, start saving up the packing materials from shipments you receive.

5. Sell what you don’t need

A fresh start means it’s time to leave any proverbial baggage and unnecessary items behind. Whether you hold a garage sale or go the online route, you can make some quick cash by getting rid of things you don’t need. For the items you do not sell that aren’t of much monetary or sentimental value, donate them to a local organization in need.

6. Take care of your utilities

An often-overlooked aspect of moving is handling business with utility companies. Not only do you need to establish an end service date with your current ones, but you must also ensure you set start dates with the companies in your new area. Being organized can help ensure you don’t get charged for too many days of service.

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Moving Cross Country for Cheap

Going from California to Virginia? Leaving Florida for the other side of the map?

If a cross-country move is in the cards, keep some cash in your pocket by following these cost-cutting tips:

1. Rent a portable moving container

Commonly referred to as “pods,” moving containers can be a great option for small- or medium-sized households. Most companies rent them out for a flat-rate fee, and they will schedule a pickup date to ship your containers to their final destination. With fuel costs rising, it can save quite a bit loading a pod and then packing only essentials in your usual vehicle and making the drive without a moving truck.

2. Take advantage of moving discounts

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for discounts with moving companies. For example, many give lower rates for military and AAA members. Shop around and inquire about any special offers that could reduce your moving expenses.

3. Consider a consolidated cross-country move

As long as you use a reputable moving company, you should feel comfortable with agreeing to a consolidated cross-country move. Essentially, this means your stuff will be put on the same moving truck as people with the same origin and destination, which helps everyone save money. Be sure to check reviews, and maybe keep things like family albums or jewelry with you on your move.

4. Pack efficiently

Nobody wants to pay for something they don’t need. So if you want to execute a cross-country move for cheap, do your best to pack as efficiently as possible. That includes securing valuable items so they don’t break, choosing the right-sized boxes, and filling them—completely.

5. Ship your items to your new residence

Don’t have much to move? Instead of paying for professional movers or a pod, simply ship your stuff wherever you’re going. This can lead to significant savings, especially if you’re able to find a cheap way to get to your final destination, such as last-minute airfare, or even taking the train.

Should You Move to a More Affordable Place to Live?

Moving isn’t something to take lightly. Although some people may have no problem with picking up and starting over, others may have close ties to their current place of residence. Ultimately, only you know whether moving this summer is the best choice for you—especially when kids are involved.

What are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether to move to a more affordable place? The appeal of cheaper housing can be incredibly enticing, but you must also consider the implications of relocating.

In addition to moving costs, you need to account for potential increases in childcare, access to quality healthcare, income tax rates, future job opportunities, and proximity to family and friends. After all, these factors—along with several others—all play into your quality of life and overall happiness.

There are also natural factors to consider. If you're coming from a mild climate, moving to one with harsh summers or winters will affect your utility bills. In addition, is the new area in a place prone to extreme weather, such as hurricanes or tornados? Is it an area that is in danger from things like earthquakes or volcanic activity? Insurance rates could be much higher to protect your home in those areas, and the risk of damage could be higher than where you currently live.

It may be useful to create a pros and cons list so you can get a visual representation of the benefits and drawbacks of relocating. In the end, you may realize that a lower cost of living may not outweigh being far away from loved ones or living in an area with a less-than-stellar education system. (Or if you're willing to trade earthquakes for tornados!)

The Bottom Line

While the thought of moving can be exciting, it’s important to be realistic about your expectations. Just because the job market may be more robust in Nashville doesn’t mean Memphis isn’t the more ideal destination.

Or just because the housing prices and cost of living in San Antonio are significantly lower than Austin doesn’t mean you should ignore other factors.

Like with any major financial decision, conduct thorough research, discuss your options with family and friends and then make the most responsible decision for your short- and long-term future.

Stephen Sheehan

Stephen Sheehan is an experienced writer and editor with a diverse portfolio. The two-time University of Florida graduate gained a deeper appreciation for his financial health while living abroad, and aims to help others become more financially independent. When he's not writing, Stephen enjoys playing rugby, strumming his guitar, working out, and cooking.

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