7 U.S. Cities with the Biggest Bang for Your Buck
Business + Economy

7 U.S. Cities with the Biggest Bang for Your Buck


“Go where the jobs are” may be considered sound business and financial advice in the current economy, but what if “where those jobs are” costs more than twice the national average to live? In the New York City area, the average pay for full-time civilian workers is 28.51/hour, nearly $6/hour above the national average of $22.71. That might sound nice, but when you take into account that the cost of living in Manhattan is more than twice the national average (216 percent), things aren’t looking so pretty. On the flip side, Indianapolis has a cost of living that’s much lower than the national average (87 percent), but the average wage is equally low at $19.80/hour, meaning you’re only spending less because you’re making less.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see the 7 cities

So where are the best places to live where you can actually spend less and make more? We set out to find the cities across the country where the math adds up—and discovered that plenty do exist. Here are seven U.S. cities where your hard-earned dollars go the furthest.

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NOTE: Cost of living figures are from the Census Bureau’s 2010 Cost of Living Index, the most recent data available. Wage info is from the National Compensation Survey, the most recent data available, and includes full-time civilian (or non-military) wages only (wage statistics are hourly, but the survey includes salaried employees, whose rates are converted to hourly for consistency). 

1. Omaha, Nebraska
It’s no surprise that Omaha is consistently ranked a top place to live in publications like Parenting magazine and CNN.com, because this Midwestern city is actually incredibly easy on your wallet. The cost of living is 12 percent below the national average, with housing expenses 21 percent lower. According to Rent.com, average studio apartments cost just $440 per month, while a one-bedroom goes for about $515. To top it off, the average wage for full-time civilians in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area is $24.75 an hour—$2 more than national rates.

2. St. Louis, Missouri
Seems like the classic Judy Garland film, Meet Me in St. Louis, was onto something. This port city on the border of Missouri and Illinois sports a cost of living that’s a full ten percentage points below the national average. Rent is the main steal here--the cost of housing is 22 percent below the nation’s average (that means you can look out for a median rent of just $535 a month, according to Rent.com). The best part? This manufacturing hub brings the city high wages, with the average full-time worker earning $22.63/hour, and those in manufacturing and construction faring even better—earning an average of $24.23/hour.

3. Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas
They say that everything’s bigger in Texas, and in this aviation hub, your wallet could be too. That’s because these Texas cities combine wages that are on-par with the national average ($22.52/hour for full-time civilians), but cost of living rates that are much lower—about 8 percent below the national average in Dallas. The state is also lucrative for union members, who make about $25.17/hour.

4. Columbus, Ohio
This Ohio city was named the best place in the nation to raise a family by Businessweek in 2009 and it’s not hard to see why. The state capitol has a cost of living that’s 8 percent below the national average, and it’s also about 14 percent below the average for housing (one-bedroom apartments go for about $650-850, according to Rent.com). Full-time civilian wages in the Columbus-Marion-Chillicothe area come out at $22.31/hour, just under the national mean.

5. Houston, Texas
Another Texas city with big hair and big wages. Full-time civilian workers can expect to make $25.14 in the Houston-Baytown-Huntsville area, and in manufacturing and construction jobs the rate is much higher, at $29.12/hour. It doesn’t hurt that the cost of living is 7.8 percent below the national average, with groceries especially cheap at 15 percent below. That means you can snag a dozen eggs for just $1.52, according to BankRate.com (the average price of eggs in May 2012 was $1.69, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

6. Tucson, Arizona
While water may be scarce in this desert town, money isn’t. Full-time civilian workers make an average of $23/hour, and the cost of living stays low at 3.5 percent below the national average, housing at 8 percent below and utility prices at 13.3 percent below the average.

7. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
The famed research triangle has a lot more going for it than just basketball rivalries. In the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area, full-time civilian workers make $24.56, nearly $2 above the national average. The total cost of living is 2 percent below the national average in Raleigh and more than 3 below in Durham, but housing costs are especially enticing. They’re 11.2 percent lower than average in Raleigh and 13.4 percent lower in Durham, where the cost for a two-bedroom apartm