One of the most powerful ways to attract great workers is to provide them an affordable place to live. These 10 states certainly have that going for them. The Cost of Living category in our annual America's Top States for Business study measures all 50 states on an index of prices for basic items. The category is worth a possible 50 out of our 2,500 total. Looking to save some money? Check out these 10 cheapest states, along with average prices for some basic items in their most expensive metro areas.
Price data based on the 2016 Annual Average Cost of Living Index by the Council for Community and Economic Research, C2ER.
Time to live it up! Add a beer chaser to your Kentucky bourbon and you've got a classic boilermaker. A six-pack of imported beer will run you around $9 in Bowling Green. But the real bargain in Kentucky comes in the morning. The ibuprofen you'll need to nurse your hangover will cost just $6.56 for a bottle of 100 200-mg tablets. That's roughly half the cost of the same bottle in Minneapolis.
2017 Cost of Living score: 41 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Bowling Green
Average home price: $271,778
Half gallon of milk: $1.81
T-bone steak: $12.38
Monthly energy bill: $168.98
Doctor visit: $77.67
The rapid change in the Texas economy following the recent collapse of oil prices has been difficult for the Lone Star State, but the silver lining appears to be a substantial drop in the cost of living — merchants simply can't charge as much these days. In last year's study, Texas was only the 21st cheapest state to live in. This year it joins the top 10. Speaking of silver linings, if you have a men's suit with one — or any color, really — it will cost you only about 8 bucks to get it dry-cleaned, even in the affluent northern suburbs of Dallas. That's just over half of what it would cost in New York City.
2017 Cost of Living score: 42 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Plano-Allen
Average home price: $337,651
Half gallon of milk: $1.63
T-bone steak: $10.26
Monthly energy bill: $160.65
Doctor visit: $120.28
This is another state where a changing economy appears to have had a profound impact on consumer prices. The Sunflower State was only the 16th cheapest state a year ago. What happened? A bold — and many would say failed — experiment in tax reform has led to a host of state budget problems without the economic growth that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback predicted. A key feature of his plan was to pay for business tax cuts by sharply raising sales taxes. Because our data source excludes sales taxes in computing prices for many goods and services, it is possible that merchants have been forced to hold the line on prices somewhat in order to keep items affordable. But we don't know that for sure yet. So for now, Kansas is a bit of a moving target.
2017 Cost of Living score: 43 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Dodge City
Average home price: $303,778
Half gallon of milk: $1.01
T-bone steak: $10.86
Monthly energy bill: $143.29
Doctor visit: $97.89
Tennessee gets its nickname, the Volunteer State, from its long tradition of military service. But historians disagree on which war made the nickname stick — the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War 34 years later or something else. They do agree the nickname does not come from the health-care professionals, even though some providers work really cheap. But they are not volunteers. It will cost just under $100 to get your eyes examined in Chattanooga. That is less than half of what the same service would cost in Fairbanks, Alaska. A strong economy has pushed prices up a bit in the past year, but you can still volunteer to pick up the check at dinner. A 12-inch cheese pizza at Pizza Hut, for example, is less than $9.
2017 Cost of Living score: 44 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Chattanooga
Average home price: $314,197
Half gallon of milk: $1.99
T-bone steak: $11.26
Monthly energy bill: $148.10
Doctor visit: $127.67
A 5-pound sack of this state's most famous product will cost you just $1.40 in Boise. The same potatoes — considerably more traveled — will cost you nearly four times that in Sarasota, Florida. Okay, you are thinking: But I bet I can get orange juice a lot cheaper in Sarasota. And you are wrong. Juice prices in Idaho are roughly the same as in Florida, maybe a little lower. Want a steak with your potatoes? You can pick up a nice T-bone for under $10. It would cost you one and a half times that in New York City. And a nice bottle of wine can be had in Idaho for around $5. In some places you'll be lucky if that buys you a fairly awful glass.
2017 Cost of Living score: 45 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Boise
Average home price: $267,833
Half gallon of milk: $1.53
T-bone steak: $9.96
Monthly energy bill: $133.56
Doctor visit: $125.34
They say that in the Sooner State the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain. Make that wheat into a loaf of bread and it's still sweet when it costs you less than $3. You know you belong to the land, and the land you belong to is grand. Put a 2,400-square-foot house on it and it's only around 300 grand. And that? Well, that is okay!
2017 Cost of Living score: 46 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Edmond
Average home price: $310,821
Half gallon of milk: $2.01
T-bone steak: $10.77
Monthly energy bill: $149.46
Doctor visit: $99.25
This is the home of Wal-Mart, which built its reputation on low prices. That has rubbed off on the rest of the Natural State. Speaking of natural, whether you heat your home with natural gas, wood or something else, you will pay roughly half the monthly energy bill you pay in Boston. Maybe you would rather rent. Apartments go for around $700 a month. Because you know what they say: "Always low prices, always Arkansas."
2017 Cost of Living score: 47 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Little Rock–North Little Rock
Average home price: $301,128
Half gallon of milk: $2.02
T-bone steak: $11.28
Monthly energy bill: $145.79
Doctor visit: $110.39
They say that in the Great Lakes State, you are never more than 6 miles from a natural body of water. That's not always walking distance, however. Fortunately, you're in the home of the American auto industry. The cost to run your vehicle here is appropriately cheap. Last year, when gasoline prices were hitting $3 a gallon in some parts of the country, the average in and around Detroit was around $2.04. Michigan's economy has been going through a complex transformation. The auto industry rebounded and is now leveling off, Detroit is on the comeback trail after its historic bankruptcy, high-tech jobs are supplanting manufacturing, and health care is booming. While it all shakes out, the state, on average, is enjoying some of the most affordable real estate prices in the country.
2017 Cost of Living score: 48 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Detroit-Dearborn-Livonia-Troy
Average home price: $274,355
Half gallon of milk: $1.76
T-bone steak: $13.37
Monthly energy bill: $175.87
Doctor visit: $97.06
Hit the McDonald's drive-through here at the Crossroads of America, in the state that's famous for the Indianapolis 500, and your Quarter Pounder with Cheese will cost you just $3.93 plus tax. That's compared to more than $5 in Hilo, Hawaii. While you are out and about, maybe you want to run a few errands: A haircut will run you around $12 if you are a man; a trip to the salon for a woman is also a bargain, at around $32. At the grocery store a head of lettuce costs just $1.04, while a pound of coffee will set you back just $4.43. And ground beef? At $3.74 a pound, you could make four of your own burgers for nearly the same price as one McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
2017 Cost of Living score: 49 out of 50 points
Most expensive area: Elkhart-Goshen
Average home price: $270,204
Half gallon of milk: $1.74
T-bone steak: $13.28
Monthly energy bill: $144.39
Doctor visit: $105.83
Coca-Cola may have been invented a couple of states over in Georgia, but they first bottled it where? In Mississippi, of course, in 1894. Little did Joseph Biedenharn know when he was filling up bottles of the famous soft drink behind his Vicksburg soda fountain that about 120 years later you would be able to buy 2-liter bottles of the stuff in Mississippi for $1.48. Also, little did he know they would sell Coca-Cola by the liter. Not only is Coca-Cola inexpensive in Mississippi, pretty much everything is. But that is not necessarily a good thing. The Magnolia State has had a run of economic hard luck, including high unemployment, loss of population and serious state fiscal woes. It also has among the lowest personal income in the nation. In short, Mississippi is such a cheap state to live in because that is what its citizens can afford.
2017 Cost of Living score: 50 out of 50
Most expensive area: Gulfport-Biloxi
Average home price: $199,028
Half gallon of milk: $2.02
T-bone steak: $10.57
Monthly energy bill: $128.68
Doctor visit: $82.37