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Columbus, Ohio, USA skyline on the Scioto River.
Photograph: Shutterstock Columbus, Ohio, USA skyline on the Scioto River.

The cheapest places to live in the US

We should all be looking for the ultimate work-life balance, and these are the cheapest places to live in the US in 2022

Written by
Alexa Harrison
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The pandemic spurred many Americans to take stock in what matters most to them: a work-life balance, ample outdoor space after being confined indoors during quarantine, a community – the list goes on. A recent report shares the cheapest places to live in as of 2021. Unsurprisingly, they’re all cities away from the coasts, but what they do have in common are incredible art scenes, good nightlife, a variety of ways to enjoy the outdoors, and high quality of life. At least five also happen to have the cheapest drinks in the country. Bonus! When considering the next place to move to, these cities will be waiting to welcome you. 

Cheapest places to live in the US

Wichita, KS
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Wichita, KS

At $500 median rent per month and a median home price of $147,700, Wichita is the cheapest place to live in America. The denizens here breathe easier just by living here. The air pollution here is 95% better than the rest of the country, hence its “Air Capital of the World” moniker. There are several ways to get active or enjoy the outdoors, including biking one of the more than 100 paths, visiting one of the almost 200 parks, or even stopping by the vibrant food truck scene for cheap eats.

Speaking of food, Wichita gifted the world with White Castle and Pizza Hut, and the latter is immortalized with a free museum. Head over to Wichita State University, and you will find the original hut filled with memorabilia from the brand’s early days. The Keeper of the Plains is one of Wichita's best features, loved by locals and visitors alike, a 44-foot tall steel sculpture of an American Indigenous man situated where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers converge downtown. Created by Wichitan and Native American artist Blackbear Bosin, this artwork is free to enjoy, and several come every evening for when a ring of fire surrounds the statue for 15 mins.

Columbus, OH
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Columbus, OH

In case you missed it, word got out how cool Ohio is. At a median studio rent of $650 per month, you’ll have some extra cash to explore what Columbus has to offer. For starters, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has the biggest private collection of Chihuly glass in a botanical garden. From January to October, Chihuly Nights takes over. This after-dark programming is included in the $19 admission and allows guests to wander through the gardens to view the glass lit up among the Conservatory’s biomes and plant collection.

Topiary Park is a quirky outdoor downtown excursion that blends art and nature, where you can feel like you’re picnicking in a painting – specifically within Georges Seurat’s iconic A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Be sure to stop by the popular German Village, a historic neighborhood that dates back to the 1800s when German immigrants settled here. There are several German restaurants to check out and follow that up by grabbing a scoop at Jeni’s Ice Cream, a Columbus original.

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Albuquerque is enchanting and stunning. One of the best things about New Mexico is the sunsets, and this city is no exception. Residents enjoy around 300 days of sunshine and blue skies every year, and the Sandias Mountains to the east turn watermelon pink at dusk. The city sits 5,000 feet above sea level, and one of the best ways to take in the scenery is via the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. Round trip adult tickets are $29 for the  15-minute journey as riders ascend to the mountains’ 10,378-foot crest, and five dormant volcanoes on the west side round out the magical nature. Albuquerque’s near-perfect weather conditions make it a prime location for hot air ballooning, and it even holds an international festival each year.

As for free and cheap things to do closer to the ground, the KiMo Theatre has a rich history, with architecture steeped in Pueblo Deco styling, and the programming includes everything from ballets and movie screenings to artist discussions and concerts. Historic Route 66 is also nearby, and on a particular stretch of the old highway, the road sings. Referred to as The Musical Highway and installed in 2014 as part of a partnership between the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the National Geographic Channel, it encourages drivers to go the speed limit. 

Along with its neighbor Wichita to the north, Oklahoma City has been popular with young folks escaping larger cities for its high wages and low cost of living. Commuting around the city is a breeze, with most commutes only lasting 20 minutes. Low property taxes affords Oklahoma City its low cost of living, and in a rare instance, it may be cheaper to buy: a one-bedroom home can cost as low as $77,000. Get to know the city by learning about its proud cowboy history, starting with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. What started life as a cowboy hall of fame expanded into a renowned museum highlighting the history, culture, and art. At the Historic Stockyards City lies the Rodeo Opry, where you can take in a show.

There are several other unique museums to explore, including The American Pigeon Museum, 99s Museum of Women Pilots, and the American Banjo Museum. OKC is home to three major arts festivals, with the unique collaborative Factory Obscura creating immersive experiences. Finally, the Mix-Tape Experience is a 6,000 square foot installation exploring the emotions felt when receiving a mixtape. Get ready for a nostalgia overload at that one.

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Like many cities on this list, Milwaukee has a great work-life balance, ample access to nature, and great food. Nicknamed “Brew City”, you can count on good beer, those famous Wisconsin cheese curds, and festivals. The world’s largest selection of Wisconsin cheese awaits at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. While the Milwaukee Art Museum has impressive works to gaze upon, the architecture itself is a work of art. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, famous for the Oculus in New York and City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, built the Quadracci Pavilion on site that includes a pedestrian suspension bridge, a 90-foot-high vaulted ceiling, and a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily.

Another architectural must-visit is the Pabst Museum. The former home of the Pabst Brewery founder Captain Frederick Pabst was completed in 1892 and is a great example of Gilded Age construction. Milwaukee is also known as the city of festivals. The world’s largest musical festival, Summerfest, takes place over two weeks in September. 

It’s widely known that Kansas City, Missouri has some of the best barbecue in the country (there are more than 100 barbecue restaurants to choose from) and several great craft breweries, but the midwestern town also has great art. Sometimes referred to as KCMO or KC, Kansas City is home to the world-renowned Nelson Atkins Museum. The almost 90-year-old institution houses 35,000 works, all available to the public for free viewing. Its front and back lawns also happen to be adorned with the world’s largest shuttlecocks. Designed and created by Swedish-born artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen, the aluminum and fiberglass pieces were installed in 1994.

Head north to the free Hallmark Visitors Center to see interactive displays and exhibits celebrating the greeting card company’s more than 100 years of history. Keep an eye out for designs on display by Spanish artist Salvador Dalí from a collaboration in the late 1940s and 1950s. Check back in Spring of 2022 when the center’s renovation will be complete and reopened to the public. 

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El Paso is a top three cheap city to live in and is one of the safest and sunniest in the US. Maybe that's because of all the ghosts? El Paso is also reportedly haunted, which isn't too shocking for a city founded in 1680. Concordia Cemetery holds 60,000 people, and within it lies the Buffalo Soldier Memorial, where at least 40 African-American soldiers from the late 1800s were laid to rest having fought on the frontier. Make a day of it and try the 9-mile Historic Mission Trail named for three missions – Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission, and San Elizario Chapel – that date back to the 1600s.

El Paso also has an up-and-coming culinary scene, with a fabulous vineyard at its heart. Zin Valle Vineyards opened in the early aughts, 500 years after the first Spanish missionaries established the first vineyard in North America nearby. At the winery, guests can expect three complimentary tastings, $6 glasses of wine, and $25 charcuterie boards. 

8. Arlington, TX

This Texas city sits between Dallas and Fort Worth and has a population of about 400,000. Arlington is quite a bit more affordable than its neighbors, but its location makes it prime to save money and still enjoy all the things its larger neighbors have to offer. There are, however, plenty of fun things to do in this relatively-youthful town (Arlington's average age is 32). Love bowling and history? Then a stop by the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame is a must, where visitors can learn about 5,000 years of bowling history spanning back to its origins in ancient Egypt. There is even a nifty 20-foot tall metal bowling pin sculpture to greet visitors at the entrance. Nearby is the first-ever Six Flags, which opened in 1961.

A newer addition to the city is Symphony Arlington. Individual tickets start as low as $15, and a season pass is available starting at $90. You cannot go to Texas and not eat Tex-Mex, so head to Mariano’s Hacienda and gorge on queso, stuffed jalapeños, tortilla soup, and several options of quesadilla, flautas y más for $20-25.

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While Denver seems to get most of the limelight, Colorado Springs is quietly winning. While its median studio rental is at $875, this place has plenty going for it: a strong sense of community, it’s pet-friendly, and staying fit is a priority for many. With endless trails, falls, and near-perfect weather year-round, it’s easy to do. Pikes Peak is the most famous landmark in the area, with the option to summit the 14,000 feet by car and make a day of it or take the Broadmoor’s Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway for a slower ride through nature. The only downside is that you only get 40 minutes at the summit before returning to the bottom. A man-made marvel is the Royal Gorge Bridge Park featuring the country’s highest suspension bridge, constructed in 1929. Access to the park is $25, and getting across the bridge can take 5-15 minutes if walking without stopping. Keep your sneakers on and head west of the city to Manitou Cliff Dwellings, comprising ancestral Puebloan ruins dating back to 800 to 1000 years old that first opened to the public in 1907. Guests can explore the ruins for $12 per adult. The museums contain pottery, jewelry, tools, weapons, and other ancient artifacts.

Afterward, while walking around Manitou Springs, taste the water the city is named after. The Native Americans that settled this area believed the healing spirit, Manitou, was in the springs. Today, public water fountains tap into all eight natural springs. Last year, free music returned to the region in the form of Classic Tuesdays with music by members of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, the First & Main Concert Series, Jazz in the Garden, Pikes Peak Jazz, and Swing Society’s Jazz in the parks. 

Everyone knows about the Kentucky Derby, Mint Juleps, and bourbon, but Louisville also has a low cost of living and pretty awesome nightlife. Before going out, make sure to line your stomach with Louisville’s culinary claim to fame, The Hot Brown. Invented at the landmark The Brown Hotel in the 1920s, The Hot Brown is an open-face roasted turkey sandwich on toasted points with bacon and a Mornay sauce. It’ll run you $25 to get it straight from the source. Cocktails are about $8 on average across the city, and there are tons of great bars. Try Garage Bar, a curious bar built into an old service station. There are several distilleries to visit for the full bourbon experience, including Bulleit, Evan Williams, and Buffalo Trace.

Pay your respects to Colonel Sanders, the legendary founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, interred at Cave Hill Cemetery. It has even become customary to leave ketchup packets on his grave, so make of that what you will. For baseball fans or just folks curious how things work, visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory for $18.

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Extreme weather is impacting parts of the country (and world) like never before, but new homeowners in Tucson, Arizona can rest easy: the city is virtually free of natural disasters. And to top it off, there are fewer bugs in Tucson, which is always a good thing. Add the mountains, near-zero humidity levels, and friendly people, and it’s beginning to sound like paradise. Tucson is home to the iconic saguaro cactus, and a visit to the Saguaro National Park is a must. All the flora and fauna in the park are protected so no touching is allowed; don’t even think about taking a rock out of the park. Not to worry, because the Tucson Mineral and Gem World has more than 100,000 minerals to admire in its rock shop and museum. Millennials and Gen X folks of a certain age will want to drop by the Lisa Frank Factory on Lisa Frank Avenue. There’s no entrance available, but the building exterior is a proper stunner of a building.

Tucson has also become home to many artists creating work at break-neck speed. Check out the Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio, Southern Arizona’s only all-glass gallery showcasing the work of Tucson artist Tom Philabaum and other notable glassblowers. 

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