Money

Top 5 US cities where you can live comfortably on $55,000 a year

The Fargo Theatre is an art deco movie theatre in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. It was built in 1926. It was restored in 1999 to its historic appearance and now is a center for the arts in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 Davoud Davies / Getty Images
The Fargo Theatre is an art deco movie theatre in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. It was built in 1926. It was restored in 1999 to its historic appearance and now is a center for the arts in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In expensive U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco, you may need to make well above the national median income in order to afford to live comfortably. But in other places, like Fargo, North Dakota, for example, the average American family can thrive on a lot less.

That's according to personal-finance website SmartAsset, which conducted a study to find the best cities in which you can live well on $55,000 a year. Researchers used nine metrics to assemble the ranking, including average commute time, median housing costs, median household income and the overall unemployment rate.

The city with the best average ranking in each category received an overall score of 100 and the city with the worst ranking received a 0. Capital cities are a good bet, the site concludes, and California is not.

Here are the five best U.S. cities to live on $55,000 a year:

Fargo, North Dakota

Average travel-to-work time (in minutes): 14.9
Housing cost (as percent of $55,000 annual income): 18.8
Median household income: $59,542
Unemployment rate: 2.9
Overall score: 100

Billings, Montana

Average travel-to-work time (in minutes): 15.2
Housing cost (as percent of $55,000 annual income): 20.8
Median household income: $57,527
Unemployment rate: 3.3
Overall score: 96.1

Appleton, Wisconsin

Average travel-to-work time (in minutes): 18.6
Housing cost (as percent of $55,000 annual income): 19.8
Median household income: $58,374
Unemployment rate: 3.1
Overall score: 93.79

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Average travel-to-work time (in minutes): 18.7
Housing cost (as percent of $55,000 annual income): 22.4
Median household income: $57,022
Unemployment rate: 4.9
Overall score: 88.67

Lincoln, Nebraska

Average travel-to-work time (in minutes): 19
Housing cost (as percent of $55,000 annual income): 20.2
Median household income: $56,160
Unemployment rate: 3.9
Overall score: 84.65

These cities "offer long-term financial stability by allowing average households to work and save for their future," says SmartAsset. Lincoln and Fargo also hold the distinction of being named among the best cities to start a career and to find a job.

SmartAsset: Top U.S. cities to live on $55,000 a year

Housing prices and the cost of living can vary widely no matter where you live. Whether you're in a big city or a small town, much of the way you save and spend is up to you.

Looking to save? Living within your means and employing common-sense budgeting tactics can help.

Start by re-evaluating how you spend and by putting away small amounts of money with each paycheck. If you set realistic goals and are proactive about reaching it, you're more likely to succeed in the long run.

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