Several times a year, the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) gathers data from 309 urban areas to rank them in their Cost of Living Index (COLI).
The team looks at pricing data covering 60 consumer goods and services that represent a larger cluster of goods and services — especially within the groceries category, which lists staples including bread, coffee, sugar, ground beef and potatoes. The other categories are housing, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services.
The average cost of these goods is then compared to the average annual income for professional and managerial households in the top fifth income level.
The resulting standard of living in the most expensive urban area, Manhattan, was more than twice the national average at 223.9 percent, whereas the cost of living in the least expensive urban area is 20 percent below the national average.
Dean Frutiger of C2ER emphasizes these are not absolute values and the rankings are all relative to the total submitted data. The data are collected by volunteers, and they couldn’t get the information for every city.
With that in mind, let’s count down the top 10 least-expensive cities, as culled from the latest available version of the COLI from the third quarter of 2011.
By Colleen KanePosted 13 January 2012
Temple is a central Texas city originally formed as a railroad junction and which still serves as a freight hub. The cost of living in Temple comes in at 86.1 percent of the national average.
Temple has the cheapest average prices in this top 10 for the following goods and services:
Margarine (tie) 78 cents a pound
Bread 92 cents
Shampoo 77 cents
Cookeville is a manufacturing city about midway between Knoxville and Nashville and is a hub for surrounding smaller towns. Russell Stover Candies was a significant employer until its manufacturing plant was closed in 2006.
Cookeville has the cheapest average prices in this top 10 for:
Dozen eggs 98 cents
Bananas 43 cents a pound
Washer repair $25.66
Newspaper $7.67 a week
Fayetteville, Arkansas’ third-largest city, is in the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas. It is the college town for the University of Arkansas and has ties with Wal-Mart, which is headquartered in nearby Bentonville.
Among Fayetteville's cheapest goods and services are:
Canola oil $2.83
Richmond, a two-time recipient of the All-America City Award, is a former manufacturing city in east-central Indiana near the Ohio border. The cost of living in Richmond comes in at 85.8 percent of the national average.
Richmond has the cheapest average prices for:
T-Bone steak $8.20
Ground beef $2.15
Chicken 92 cents
Half-gallon milk 1.85
Lettuce 77 cents
Frozen corn 88 cents
Beauty salon $20.63
Men’s shirt $11.99
Women’s slacks $15.49
Tucked up in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, Pryor Creek is four miles north of the largest industrial park in rural America, and it’s the home to the annual music festivals Country Fever and Rocklahoma.
Pryor Creek has the cheapest average prices for:
Dental service $60.50
Vet services $25.00
Waco is midway between Dallas and Austin and is the birthplace of Dr Pepper. While Waco is also at the midway point on this list, it dominates the list in terms of low prices in many categories.
Waco has the cheapest average prices for:
Frozen meal $1.76
McAllen is in the lower extremity of Texas, abutting Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley. The average cost of a house is $206,600 and the cost of living is 84.5 percent of the national average.
McAllen has the cheapest average prices for:
Boys’ jeans $11.99
Ardmore is midway between Oklahoma City and Dallas. The standard of living is 84.1 percent of the national average and the average cost of a home is $223,500.
Ardmore has the cheapest average prices for:
Apartment rental $500
Dry cleaning $7.85
Memphis has a rich musical heritage and is the city Elvis Presley called home. But you don’t have to be rich to live there — the average cost to buy your own Graceland (albeit a more modest one and probably with less carpeting on the walls) is the lowest of all these top 10 urban areas.
Memphis has the cheapest average prices for:
Six pack of beer $7.94
Harlingen is designated a Certified Retirement Community and is a year-round destination for birders. It’s in the southernmost part of Texas (not far from the no. 3 least-expensive urban area, McAllen). It’s also the southern-most urban area in the country’s cost of living ranking, with the standard being 81.7 percent of the national average.
Harlingen has the cheapest average prices in this top 10 for:
2-pc chicken $1.98
Tire balance $7.50
Sweet Peas 0.67