Research

Top 10 cities for living on a budget

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Frugal living can be a great way to manage and grow your money. No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s helpful to have a budget and stick to it each month. Some cities are better suited than others for keeping your spending in check. The Zebra looked at the 50 most-populated U.S. cities to find out where it’s easiest to live on a budget.

We looked at four separate data points to analyze the budget-friendliness of each city.

  • Median home price: With housing prices skyrocketing across the country, we looked at which cities had the lowest median sales price. Data was from Realtor.com’s second quarter of 2021. For reference, the national median sales price for this period was $374,900, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: The cost of car insurance also varies dramatically by city. The Zebra’s State of Insurance reveals the average monthly price by city. 
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: Data compiled from WalletHub ranks each state for the overall cost of healthcare. The country’s healthcare spending is among the highest in the world, making affordable programs extremely important. 
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: Social media marketplaces are a convenient place to buy, sell and trade just about anything. There are also plenty of “free stuff” and “buy nothing” groups to avoid heavy spending when you don’t want to. We ranked each city by the membership size of their largest Facebook group.

Why these four data points? We focused on some of the largest line items in most budgets: housing, insurance and healthcare costs while also taking into account “free stuff” that can lower personal spending.

#1: Pittsburgh, PA

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Pittsburgh earns the distinction as the top city for living on a budget. House prices are among the most affordable in the country with a median sales price of $227,000. There’s also an active online “free stuff” community, which could help residents avoid additional spending. Healthcare and car insurance costs are also relatively low compared to most other cities.

Top free spot in the city: Drive to the top of Mount Washington for panoramic city skyline views.

 

Pittsburgh stats

  • Median home price: $227,000
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $124
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 18
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 36,000

#2: Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis ranked solidly across all four categories. Home prices hover just above $225,000 which is still significantly below the national average. Monthly auto insurance premiums also average $107, so you won’t tie up too much of your budget on coverage.

Top free spot in the city: Tour the city’s oldest residential neighborhood in Lockerbie Square Historic District, featuring homes that date back as far as the mid-1800s.

Indianapolis stats

  • Median home price: $261,700
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $107
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 15
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 18,000

#3: Cleveland, OH

Cleveland has one of the least expensive real estate markets in the country, relieving some of the pressure of finding affordable housing. Facebook freebie groups aren’t quite as active as in other places, but both car insurance and healthcare costs are below average.

Top free spot in the city: The Cleveland Museum of Art is a world-class museum that offers free admission daily.

Cleveland stats

  • Median home price: $204,600
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $103
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 21
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 8,900

#4: Columbus, OH (tied)

Columbus ties for fourth place, partly due to the city’s low car insurance premiums. The average policy costs under $100 a month. Housing prices are ticking upwards, but still remain below the national average. Columbus is also one of the nation’s fastest growing metro areas, which could largely be due to its overall affordability.

Top free spot in the city: Take a stroll through the Park of Roses. It’s home to over 13 acres containing 12,000 rose plants, including a section devoted to heritage roses.

Columbus stats

  • Median home price: $282,400
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $98
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 21
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 13,000

#4: Virginia Beach, VA (tied)

Also tied for fourth place is Virginia Beach. This coastal metropolitan area has extremely low car insurance, averaging just $87 per month. Healthcare in Virginia is also ranked low compared to other states. And if you’re really interested in how to effectively manage your budget, the city offers a free, five-month financial education course called Bank On Virginia Beach.

Top free spot in the city: It goes without saying that the beach is the top free spot. The Atlantic coastline stretches several miles, most of which offers public access.

Virginia Beach stats

  • Median home price: $290,000
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $87
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 13
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 8,500

#6: Buffalo, NY

Buffalo’s home prices are among the lowest in the country at just over $206,000. Plus, the city has an active online community for free stuff with the largest group hosting over 26,000 members. These budget-friendly features can help offset some of the more expensive costs of healthcare and auto insurance.

Top free spot in the city: Wander through downtown Buffalo’s waterfront at Canalside. The area also hosts plenty of free concerts and events throughout the year.

 

Buffalo stats

  • Median home price: $206,100
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $142
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 29
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 26,000

#7: Minneapolis, MN

Minnesota ranks as having some of the lowest healthcare costs in the country. On top of that, Minneapolis residents are active when it comes to offering free stuff online. However, real estate prices are close to the national average, which could force you to spend more on housing.

Top free spot in the city: Take a musical history tour by finding the epic Bob Dylan wall mural on Hennepin and S. 5th Street and the Prince mural on Hennepin and 26th Street.

 

Minneapolis stats

  • Median home price: $361,600
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $138
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 2
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 26,000

#8: Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City has the lowest median home price in the cities analyzed, averaging less than $200,000. Budget-minded residents can also join a Facebook “free stuff” group with over 32,000 members. 

Top free spot in the city: Take a hike on a woodland trail at Martin Park Nature Center, then check out some live animals at the Visitor Center.

 

Oklahoma City stats

  • Median home price: $198,500
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $165
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 33
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 32,000

#9: Richmond, VA (tied)

Richmond’s ninth place finish is largely due to its ranking third for car insurance, which only average $90 a month. On top of that, Virginia has low healthcare costs, ranking seventh in the nation. The largest Facebook “free stuff” group has just over 5,000 members, but there are also multiple “buy nothing” groups divided up by neighborhood.

Top free spot in the city: Maymont Park’s grounds and gardens include 100 acres to explore. The park features Italian and Japanese gardens, plus multiple outdoor wildlife habitats with animals.

 

Richmond stats

  • Median home price: $345,000
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $90
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 7
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 5,200

#9: Louisville, KY (tied)

Louisville ties for ninth place thanks to its low housing costs, with the median home price coming in at just over $235,000. Kentucky is also competitive when it comes to healthcare costs. Car insurance, however, is costly, ranking 41st out of the cities we analyzed.

Top free spot in the city: Discover some distinguished gravesites at the historic Cave Hill Cemetery. It’s home to the final resting places of both world famous boxer Muhammad Ali and KFC founder Colonel Sanders.

 

Louisville stats

  • Median home price: $235,400
  • Average monthly cost of car insurance: $210
  • Healthcare cost ranking by state: 12
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 15,000

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Methodology

The Zebra pulled four data points to analyze the top 50 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. that make it easy to live on a budget.

MSA data was used where applicable, and we sometimes substituted city data as necessary.

 

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