Top 10 cities for living on a budget in 2024

Pittsburgh is the best budget city on our list. Find out the other 10.

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Beth Swanson

SEO Content Strategist

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Beth joined The Zebra in 2022 as an Associate Content Strategist. She is a licensed insurance agent whose goal is to make insurance content easy to r…

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Best cities for saving

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 third quarter of 2022. For reference, the national median sales price for this period was $398,500, according to the National Association of Realtors.[1]
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: The cost of car insurance varies dramatically by city. The Zebra’s data reveals the average annual price by city.
  • Average healthcare expenditures per capita by state: Data compiled from the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals how much private and public funding is spent on residents yearly. The country’s healthcare spending is among the highest in the world, making affordable programs extremely important.[2]
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: Social media marketplaces are convenient for buying, selling, and trading 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

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 $223,000. There’s also an active online “free stuff” community, which could help residents avoid additional spending. Car insurance costs are also relatively low compared to most other cities, although healthcare expenditures are higher than average in Pennsylvania.

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: Salt Lake City, UT

As a state, Utah has the lowest spending for healthcare — perhaps because of that fresh mountain air keeping residents healthy. Car insurance costs are also low in Salt Lake City compared to other cities in the U.S. at just over $1,500 per year. The city's largest Facebook Buy Nothing group has over 25,000 members to swap with. Housing costs are, however, on the rise with the median home sale reaching over $560,000 by the end of 2022.

Top free spot in the city:  Take a hike at Big Cottonwood Canyon, just 12 miles outside of Salt Lake City. The mountains and lake show off some of the region's most breathtaking natural scenes.

Salt Lake City stats

  • Median home price: $561,200
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $1,531
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $7,522
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 25,000

#3: Oklahoma City, OK (tied)

Oklahoma City has one of the lowest median home prices in the cities analyzed, averaging just over $235,000. Budget-minded residents can also join a Facebook “free stuff” group with over 19,000 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: $235,300
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $2,068
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $9,444
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 19,000

#3: San Antonio, TX (tied)

San Antonio snags third place in terms of lowest healthcare expenditures, which can help save a lot of money over the years. Housing is also affordable compared to other cities on our list, with the median sale price at about $342,000.

Top free spot in the city: The San Antonio River Walk takes you through a pedestrians-only stroll through the heart of downtown while enjoying the sights of the water.

San Antonio stats

  • Median home price: $342,700
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $2,071
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $8,406
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 18,000

#5: 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 are on the rise, but car insurance costs are below average. Healthcare expenses are above average in Ohio compared to other states. 

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: $227,700
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $1,522
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $10,478
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 21,000

#6: Austin, TX

Austin is not known for affordable housing, thanks to a median home price of over $540,000. But there are other areas where it's easy to save, including active Facebook freebie communities and lower spending on healthcare throughout Texas. 

Top free spot in the city: Explore Zilker Park and its Botanical Gardens, or take a dip at Barton Springs Pool.

 

Austin stats

  • Median home price: $541,600
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $1,966
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $8,406
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 56,000

#7: Dallas, TX

Dallas has extremely affordable housing, especially compared to its Texas-neighbor of Austin. There's also a large "free stuff" community to help lower spending. Car insurance, on the other hand, spikes to over $2,300 per year.

Top free spot in the city: Stroll through the downtown Arts District and check out the Crow Collection of Asian Art at the University of Texas Dallas. Admission is always free.

 

Dallas stats

  • Median home price: $390,100
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $2,340
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $8,406
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 53,000

#8: Charlotte, NC

Charlotte is one of the least expensive cities when it comes to car insurance. Healthcare costs are also low in North Carolina, with per capita expenses just over $8,900. Home prices are on the rise, however, and hit over $400,000 by the end of 2022.

Top free spot in the city: Take a walk or bike ride through the lovely grounds of Freedom Park.

 

Charlotte stats

  • Median home price: $400,600
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $1,318
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $8,917
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 13,000

#9: Birmingham, AL

You won't find a ton of activity on Facebook free groups, but housing and car insurance are both affordable in Birmingham. Plus, Alabama has competitive healthcare costs at less than $10,000 spent each year per capita. 

Top free spot in the city: Travel Birmingham's Civil Rights Trail at Kelly Ingram Park, which is home to powerful statues depicting the city's role in the civil rights movement.

 

Birmingham stats

  • Median home price: $308,000
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $1,648
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $9,280
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 4,700

#10: Columbus, OH

Columbus rounds out our list in 10th place, largely due to the city’s low car insurance premiums. The average policy costs about $1,350 per year. 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: $312,100
  • Average annual cost of car insurance: $1,350
  • Healthcare expenditure by state: $10,478
  • Online “free stuff” group membership: 15,000

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 or state data as necessary.

Sources
  1. Single-family home prices. National Association of Realtors

  2. Average health expenditure by state. Kaiser Family Foundation