Companies seeking to attract the most qualified workers like to be able to offer them a nice, inexpensive place to live. Our Cost of Living category is worth 75 out of a possible 2,500 total points. The lower the cost of living, the higher the score. You can read about our methodology and see our full rankings here. Click ahead to see America's least expensive states to live in as ranked by CNBC, along with prices for some basic items in the most expensive areas of the state.
(Average price data based on Council for Community and Economic Research C2ER Cost of Living Index for the first quarter of 2015.)
—By CNBC's Scott Cohn
Posted 24 June 2015
Shucks, places don't get a whole lot more affordable than the Cornhusker State, where low cost is key to Nebraska's overall competitiveness year after year. Not that you'll be eating a lot of frozen corn with the fresh stuff growing all around you, but a 12-ounce bag will cost you about $1.12, or about 20 percent below the national average.
The official nickname for Kansas is the Sunflower State, but the state has also referred to itself as the Wheat State. Which begs the question: How much is a loaf of bread? Glad you asked. At $1.15 in Manhattan (Manhattan, Kansas, to be clear), you're paying about 35 percent below the national average. But stay tuned. At this writing, Kansas is grappling with a serious budget crisis. Proposed sales tax increases could change the cost-of-living landscape.
If you need to get your heart checked in the Heart of Dixie, you can get in to see a doctor in Dothan for around $70, one of the lowest fees in the country. And if everything checks out okay and you want to reward yourself with a hamburger, you'll pay just $3.39 on average. The same burger in our most expensive state, Hawaii, would cost you a heart-stopping $5.02. Oh, and your Lipitor is about 40 percent cheaper here than in the rest of the country.
The Wolverine State is the birthplace of the modern auto industry, and it turns out to be a pretty inexpensive place to gas up. Gasoline was selling for well under $2 a gallon in the first quarter of 2015, well below the national average. Need to get the tires balanced on your car? That'll cost you around $50, which is actually more than the U.S. average. The real bargain is in home prices. In Kalamazoo (yes, there really is a Kalamazoo), you can get a 2,400 square foot home, new construction, for under $200,000. And you'll have plenty left over to buy a hot, new American-made car.
The Kentucky Derby, held the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, claims to be the oldest continuously run horse race in the U.S. And one of the oldest of the many traditions surrounding the Run for the Roses is to drink a cold mint julep, served in an elegant silver or pewter cup. For the classic mint julep, you'll need ice, mint, a generous amount of Kentucky bourbon, and a spoonful of sugar. The sugar in Kentucky is a bargain—just $1.99 on average for a 5-pound bag. That's a lot of juleps.
Oklahoma is one of nine states with more cattle than people (the others are South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, Idaho and Iowa). But even though the cattle have you outnumbered in the Sooner State, you can get a very affordable steak—about 25 percent cheaper that the national average for a nice T-bone. If your tastes run toward hamburger, you can score one for just $3.99. And that, as they say, is OK.
The Hoosier State is also known as the Crossroads of the World, and with good reason. Lewis and Clark set out from Fort Vincennes on their long journey to explore the Northwest Territory. The Brickyard in Indianapolis is home to one of the most celebrated events in auto racing, the Indy 500. And no fewer than five Interstate highways will take you straight to the Indianapolis Beltway. Stop for some fried chicken along the way, and a drumstick and a thigh won't cost you an arm and a leg—more like $1.99 in South Bend, some of the cheapest chicken in the nation.
Idaho's most famous export—the potato—is a bargain here, at about $2.46 for a 5-pound bag. Sure, you might have expected that. But how about 96 cents for a 1-pound stick of margarine? Enjoy your baked potato with margarine in one of the most inexpensive kitchens in the country. A two-bedroom, 2,400 square-foot new home in Idaho Falls goes for the lowest average price in the nation, at just $175,000.
Tennessee is the Volunteer State, as in doing stuff for free. Living here is not free, but it sure is cheap. Pick up a six-pack of imported beer for under 8 bucks, or a chicken to barbecue in Knoxville for just 98 cents a pound. Life is good.
Mississippi is known as the Hospitality State, and it is awfully nice of them to offer prices like these. If famous Mississippi native Elvis Presley were still alive, he'd be able to pick up some bananas for one of his famous peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwiches for just 56 cents a pound. A loaf of bread for $1.18 is 20 percent below the national average. OK, Elvis wouldn't go pick up the fixin's himself. He'd send somebody. But you get the idea. Mississippi has a lot of things working against it in our overall Top States for Business rankings. But if low cost of living is a priority, this is the place to be.