As modern urban amenities and luxury high-rise apartment complexes pop up in sprawling urban jungles, young twenty-somethings are flocking to the ‘big cities’ with new diplomas in hand. But what awaits them is not necessarily the Carrie Bradshaw version of Manhattan. The largest cities in the United Statesare among the most expensive real estate markets in the entire world. Sure, you can spend half of your monthly income to live in a studio apartment in the worst neighborhoods of these cities. But there are other ‘big city’ options where a suitable and -gasp!- enjoyable lifestyle won’t cost an arm and a leg. We’ve researched ten cities where your paycheck goes the furthest, and ranked them based on the difference between the average income and average cost of living. For reference, in the two most expensive cities in the U.S., the average income to cost of living differentials are $21,180 (New York) and $18,201 (San Francisco). The cities on our list boast differentials of $50k or more! (Data points are from USA Today.) These are the ten U.S. cities with the lowest rents and highest incomes!
- Raleigh, NC
Since such large corporations as IBM, Cisco, Wells Fargo and SAS have made homebase offices in Raleigh, this North Carolina city has blossomed. Jobs are being created faster than they’re being filled and thus, the supply and demand of talent is in the talent’s favor. Forbes listed Raleigh #3 in Best Places for Business and Careers in 2019 and Livability.com ranked Raleigh #2 on their list of best cities to live in in the United States. A two-bedroom apartment in Raleigh only costs an average of $1200 per month! And with an average earning potential of around $92k, Raleigh comes in at number one on our list!
|Average Income: $92,275||Cost of Living: $23,331||Difference: $68,944|
- Charlotte, NC
Sitting just two and a half hours southwest of Raleigh is Charlotte, North Carolina. What’s unique about Charlotte is the relatively affordable homes and mortgage rates, making it one of the most favorable cities to buy in. Charlotte is also home to a whopping nine Fortune 500 companies! Charlotte is the most populous city in the state of North Carolina, and in terms of financial business, is second only to New York City. Bank of America, Truist Financial, and Wells Fargo all hold headquarters in Charlotte. Forbes listed Charlotte #7 on its list of Best Places for Business and Careers in 2019.
|Average Income: $86,922||Cost of Living: $23,249||Difference: $63,673|
- Lexington, KY
Boasting one of the nation’s most stable economies, Lexington offers the third largest differential between average income and cost of living. Fortune 500 companies that have footholds here are Xerox, Lexmark, Lockheed-Martin and IBM,andcollectively they employ over 10,000 people. The University of Kentucky is the city’s largest employer and ranks as the 9th-largest economic entity in the entire state of Kentucky, with a yearly budget of $1.4 billion. Livability.com ranked Lexington #36 on their list of 100 best places to live. Lexington has been lauded for its low unemployment rate and is known as the horse capital of the world and sits in the heart of Kentucky’s historic bluegrass region.
|Average Income: $77,827||Cost of Living: $20,535||Difference: $57,292|
- Tampa, FL
Although the average income in Tampa, Florida is rather high, its cost of living only makes for a differential of $57k. Tampa certainly provides one of the most sought-after weather environments in the country, and boasts one of the fastest-growing economies. There is also no income tax in the state of Florida, meaning you keep most of what you earn. Livability.com ranked Tampa #12 on its list of 100 best places to live in 2019. Tampa also boasts four pro sports teams, providing economic revenue, as well as a slew of breweries and nightlife.
|Average Income: $80,121||Cost of Living: $23,035||Difference: $57,086|
- Bakersfield, CA
While California is one of the most expensive and unaffordable states in the country, Bakersfield offers a pretty high differential between income and cost of living! Located just two hours north of Los Angeles, Bakersfield is a top producer in agriculture and energy resources. Due to its proximity to major ports like Los Angeles and Oakland, and relatively low land costs, several Fortune500 companies have begun to move large operations to the area, including CVS, Halliburton, and Target.
|Average Income: $76,673||Cost of Living: $22,632||Difference: $54,041|
- Houston, TX
Ringing in with around the same differential as Bakersfield is Houston, Texas. Houston is the most populous city in the state of Texas and is recognized worldwide for its energy industry, biomedical research and aeronautics. However, with renewable energy sources gaining financial traction in recent years, the city’s economy is booming with job growth. Houston is a designated ‘global city,’ defined as a significant production point of specialized financial and producer services that make the globalized economy run. Houston is also quite diverse; around 20% of its residents were born outside of the United States. Remarkably, Houston manages to maintain a low cost of living at 4% below the national average.
|Average Income: $77,312||Cost of Living: $23,296||Difference: $54,016|
- Dallas, TX
Another Texas city, Dallas, comes in at number 7 on our list with a differential not much lower than Houston’s. With job growth at 3.3% over the last year, this city was listed at #2 on Forbes best places for business and careers in 2019. It has become a major inland port due to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and boasts numerous colleges, medical schools and other institutions of higher education.
|Average Income: $76,726||Cost of Living: $23,057||Difference: $53,669|
- Omaha, NE
According to USA Today, Omaha ranks eighth in both per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. Berkshire Hathaway, Kiewit Corporation, Mutual of Omaha, and Union Pacific Corporation all hold headquarters in Omaha. Livability.com ranked Omaha #20 on its list of 100 best places to live in 2019. Warren Buffet even makes his home here, so you know Omaha is a good choice for frugality!
|Average Income: $74,125||Cost of Living: $21,779||Difference: $52,346|
- Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix is projected to see a job market increase of 48.2% over the next ten years due to its strong manufacturing base in aerospace and electronics. While it’s not the cheapest city in Arizona, it’s differential rings in at a cozy $51k, and due to these job projections, this differential is likely to increase. Phoenix boasts a gorgeous average temperature of 75 degrees and gets more sunlight than any other metro area in the nation! Phoenix’s average rent is around $1,032 making it exceptionally affordable.
|Average Income: $73,135||Cost of Living: $21,412||Difference: $51,723|
- Kansas City, MO
Shoutout to the Superbowl LIV champs! Kansas City is on its way up in more ways than one.It has become a mecca for millennials due to its low cost of living and rapidly growing job market. Although its differential is the lowest on our list, the job market in Kansas City is expected to grow 18% before 2026 due to their strong production, trade, transportation and service industries. Livability.com ranked Kansas City #49 on its 100 best places to live in 2019 list. Kansas City is also one of the most walkable and bikeable cities in the U.S.
|Average Income: $69,301||Cost of Living: $19,756||Difference: $49,545|