The 5 Least and Most Affordable Cities in the U.S.

This is the time of year when thousands of college graduates across the country are figuring out not only what they want to do with their lives, but also where they want to do it. For those who don’t have a job or an internship lined up already, deciding on a location (other than their parents’ basement) can be a tall order. While a host of factors can influence how good or bad a city is for someone who’s just starting out in the world, affordability is obviously paramount.

By combining affordability indexes from Moneycrashers.com and the US Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, which include factors such as median listing prices for homes in the area, commuting costs and household income, we’ve compiled a list of the five least and most affordable cities in the US. If you’re a Millennial entering the real world for the first time, this is one list you won’t want to miss.

Least Affordable Cities

  • San Francisco, CA. The Golden State may have a reputation for breathtaking scenery, but its high cost of living will leave you gasping for air. California is home to four of the five least affordable cities in the US, with San Francisco coming in at the top of the list. With 85.5 percent of average monthly income spent on housing, utilities and commuting, San Francisco’s high cost of living will leave college grads with no extra cash to have any semblance of a social life – let alone a savings account. Oh, and the median listing price for homes? Only about $1.19 million. As the tech capital of the world, however, there are plenty of jobs to go around.
  • Los Angeles, CA. Coming in right behind San Francisco is its smoggy Southern California cousin, Los Angeles. While this sprawling home to the film industry may have tons of jobs, you’ll end up spending tons of money on housing, utilities and commuting: roughly 75 percent of your monthly income. The median listing price for a home is $580,000 (roughly half of San Francisco’s), which is way out of reach for any Millennial with an average entry-level salary.
  • Miami, FL. Don’t let the beautiful beaches and casual culture fool you: The high cost of living in Miami doesn’t exactly promote relaxation. With high rents, high crime and little in the way of white-collar jobs, Miami won’t provide many graduates with a soft landing. Residents can expect to spend nearly 70 percent of their monthly income on housing, utilities and commuting, which means there won’t be much left for groceries, entertainment or savings.
  • 4. San Diego, CA. San Diego may have a reputation for its natural beauty and near-perfect climate, but it all comes at a very high cost. Approximately 65 percent of your monthly income will go to housing, utilities and commute, while the median listing price for a home is $579,000 – hardly manageable for any Millennial looking to get their bearings. While the city boasts the highest military concentration in the world, non-military job opportunities are few and far between.
  • San Jose, CA. If you were thinking this unassuming burg on the outskirts of San Francisco would be a more affordable option than the City by the Bay, think again. While the median household income is less than $45,000, the median listing price for a home is a staggering $838,000. As a Silicon Valley outpost, there are plenty of tech job opportunities – but the competition is tight, and you’ll have to spend more than 60 percent of your monthly income on housing, utilities and commuting costs. Like the three other California locations on our Least Affordable list, San Jose offers little in the way of livability to recent college graduates.

Most Affordable Cities

  • Memphis, TN. With a median home listing price of $89,000 and no sales taxes to speak of, Memphis has been consistently ranked as the country’s top destination for Millennials looking for a more livable alternative to expensive coastal hubs like San Francisco, Boston or New York. While the city’s low cost of living is related to a soft local economy, there are still plenty of job prospects and a rich culture highlighted by the Delta Blues, barbecue and historical contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Indianapolis, IN. Another great city for post-grads looking to get their footing in the real world, Indianapolis has a median home listing price of $112,000. As one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Midwest, the city offers plenty of entry-level jobs and encompasses a stunning variety of urban, suburban and semi-rural neighborhoods – including a beautiful chain of parks along the zig-zagging White River – that appeal to pretty much every taste. Despite its magnitude, Indianapolis’s well-maintained highway system keeps commute times manageable. And if you’re into motor racing, the Indy 500 turns the city into a Mecca for race fans every summer.
  • Omaha, NE. If you think Nebraska is all wheat and corn, think again. Omaha’s unemployment rate is far below the national average, and the insurance companies, energy firms and logistics businesses that comprise the local economy provide a steady source of entry-level jobs for white-collar workers. Meanwhile, an explosion of loft conversions and condo construction along the Missouri River waterfront provides plenty of housing options ideally suited for Millennial renters and buyers. The median listing price for a home is $143,000, while average gas and medical costs are among the lowest in the country. Bonus for foodies: The city’s rich agricultural heritage makes for a thriving farm-to-table scene.
  • Columbus, OH. As the seat of Ohio State University and the state’s emerging knowledge economy, Columbus is one of the choicest locations in the country for ambitious Millennials looking to jumpstart their post-grad careers. Real estate values are legendary: $105,000 is the median listing price for a three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre of land. Gas and medical costs are also low, while state taxes are just 5.2 percent. World-class cultural institutions like the Columbus Museum of Art and the sprawling Franklin Park Conservatory only sweeten the deal.
  • Las Vegas, NV. Las Vegas may be associated with “lost wages” thanks to its thriving casino industry, but this desert oasis is actually one of the most affordable big cities in the Pacific Time Zone. Low land and labor costs combined with international traffic have transformed the city into one of the country’s newest tech hubs, which translates into plenty of jobs for Millennials. And with average home sale prices far below the national median and steady appreciation expected for the foreseeable future, buying a house in Vegas is definitely a safe bet. If gaming isn’t your thing, the city is surrounded by one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the country: the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

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