The cost of living is a key factor when businesses decide where to set up shop. That's why Cost of Living is one of the categories we measure as we rank America's Top States for Business. The lower the cost of living, the higher the score.
Click to see America's least expensive states to live in, as ranked by CNBC, as well as a sampling of the prices you'll pay for some basics in the most expensive area of the state.
(Average price data based on Council for Community and Economic Research C2ER Cost of Living Index, 2013.)
—By Scott Cohn, senior correspondent & Betsy Cline, producer, CNBC
Posted 24 June 2014
Despite what you may have heard, South Carolina is the largest producer of peaches in the country. The 10th cheapest state to live in touts this distinction in the city of Gaffney with a 135-foot-tall water tower painted like a giant peach, aptly named the Peachoid. Buying the pitted fruit here won't break the bank, though—the cost of a can of peaches averages $2.50. Peachy keen.
If you love your whiskey, you're in good company in Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniel's Distillery. They've been making the charcoal-filtered brown liquor in the 9th cheapest state since 1866. Fancy another libation? The average cost of a six-pack of imported beer here is $8.40 and only $7.77 for a bottle of wine. At prices like these, how about another round?
In the South no feud is more intense than that between football teams, and in Alabama nothing tops the Iron Bowl, first played in 1893 and now an annual post-Thanksgiving matchup between Auburn and the University of Alabama. But before the battle on the gridiron, you're in for an affordable tailgate in the seventh cheapest state (tied with Indiana). You can be grilling a burger for an average of only $3.73, add chips for $3.92 and a six-pack of imported beer for $8.76, and you've got yourself the makings for a great Saturday afternoon, whether your team wins or loses.
The Indy 500 is a major sporting event in the seventh cheapest state (tied with Alabama). The open-wheel Indy car race has been run every Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis since 1911. And the champions have been drinking milk in the winner's circle since a three-time winner, who drank the stuff regularly, happened to drink some in Victory Lane. A milk executive saw a photo in the newspaper and vowed to make it a tradition. And so it was. You don't have to drive fast to toast with an affordable glass of milk in Indiana, where a half gallon will set you back an average of $2.14, 17 cents less than the national average.
The birthplace of Elvis reigns as the sixth cheapest state to live in, and if you want to eat like the King, you'll be able to find your ingredients on the cheap in Mississippi. To make his famous fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, you'll pay only 60 cents for a pound of bananas and $1.54 for a whole loaf of bread. In the words of his very first single, "That's all right."
West Virginia is home to many beautiful places, but perhaps the most famous is the Greenbrier. The fancy resort in the small town of White Sulphur Springs is named for its hot spring waters that locals have touted as having healing qualities. In case you want to go the more traditional route for medical care, you'll find it quite affordable in the fifth cheapest state: an average of $84.43 to see an optometrist, $90.33 to see a doctor and $72.04 to see a dentist. These are far less than the national averages of $94.89, $97.08, and $84.88, respectively.
Remember learning about the Louisiana Purchase in middle school? That referred to the United States' acquisition of the Louisiana territory in 1803, but in today's terms it could easily mean how far your bucks will go in the fourth cheapest state to live. Let's say you want to "Louisiana purchase" fixings for a shrimp boil, so you grab the sausage, potatoes and corn. You'll only shell out an average of $8 for all of that, leaving plenty left over for some prime Gulf seafood.
How about this Oklahoma claim to fame? The world's first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935. It was invented by Carl C. Magee, also of Oklahoma City. You may need coins for parking, but driving in the third cheapest state to live isn't all that expensive. You'll pay $17 on average for a tire balance and only $3.24 on average for gas.
Arkansas, the Natural State, is home to one of the largest producers of handmade dulcimers in the world. You'll be hearing those sweet dulcimer tones when you find out the cost of living in the second cheapest state in the country: Average-apartment renters pay only $755, and if you're considering buying, the average home price is $291,639.
Colonel Sanders would be so proud: Kentucky is the country's cheapest state to live in. Harland Sanders introduced what became his famous chicken recipe, with a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, while running a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, in the '30s. Today the KFC empire has more than 18,000 locations in 115 countries. If you want to buy fried chicken yourself, it'll cost only $3.36 for two pieces in Kentucky compared to an average of $3.71 nationally. With prices this low, you can afford the whole bucket.
The average cost of consumer staples in America: