In some cities, a $100,000-a-year salary effectively makes you rich. In some cases, even half that amount gives you lots of choices. But if you live in San Francisco, New York, or other super-expensive cities, you might struggle to make ends meet even if you earn a six-figure income.
That makes it tempting for people to move to places that offer a lower cost of living. The challenge, of course, is finding a city that's affordable where you can also make a decent living.
Because a lot of people face choices about where they should live, Move.org looked at 75 popular U.S. cities and ranked them based on affordability. Of course, just because a city is cheap to live in does not mean you should move there. You have to factor in the job market or whether you can work from home in your current position, too.
These U.S. cities have the lowest cost of living
The Move.org study determined that "cost of living" includes rent (in this case a one-bedroom apartment), utilities (electricity, water, etc.), internet, gasoline, and food (groceries plus occasional restaurant meals). The study did not factor in things like healthcare, taxes, public transportation or how a city's schools rate.
"Of course, a lot of factors can affect your cost of living. If you ride public transportation every day and cook all of your meals at home, your cost of living likely will be much lower than your SUV-driving, pizza-ordering neighbor's," wrote Joe Roberts in a web post sharing the results. "Our numbers don't account for differences in lifestyle, so consider them guidelines, not predictions."
With those caveats, here are the Top 10 cities in the survey for the lowest monthly cost of living:
10. Mesa, Arizona: $1,501.29
9. Albuquerque, New Mexico: $1,500.26
8. Lexington, Kentucky: $1,480.49
7. Memphis, Tennessee: $1,476.18
6. Tulsa, Oklahoma: $1,450.67
5. Louisville, Kentucky: $1441.22
4. Wichita, Kansas: $1,433.37
3. Toledo, Ohio: $1,322.93
2. Lincoln, Nebraska: $1,219.50
1. El Paso, Texas: $1,182.96
Thinking of making a move? Consider all the factors
Many people don't consider the cost of living when they consider a job. San Francisco, for example, offers all sorts of lucrative opportunities in the technology space. The problem — and it's a big one — is that the city comes also has a $4,210.60 per month cost of living, according to Move.org. San Francisco was the most expensive of the 75 cities analyzed.
But, before you pack up for El Paso, Lincoln, or one of the other cities on this list, spend some time thinking about the full picture. Even if you have a portable job or can land a position in one of those markets, what happens if your work situation changes? Are there other employers in the area that might hire you?
A job that pays half as much in a far cheaper city to live in might actually put you in a position to save money, while a higher-paying gig in a pricey market could leave you struggling. It's important to consider what your experience would be like living in a particular city because it may not match what's typical.
It's also generally easier to move for a job when you're younger and don't have a spouse or children to factor into your calculations. Moving someplace where you can save a lot of money makes a lot of sense, even if it means having to move again down the line.
What's clear is that the cost of living should be a major consideration when evaluating jobs. Don't get seduced by living in a major city — you might be happier (and wealthier) picking someplace a little (or a lot) less expensive.
The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,728 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.