20 Best Cities to Live in for under $2,600: Retirement, Minimum Wage, and Better Budgeting

Trevor Wheelwright
Researcher & Writer
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Published on May 11, 2021
3 min read

Where can you live on retirement income or minimum wage? With the recent executive order to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour (for federal contractors only), we wanted to find the most affordable cities and metro areas in the US.

How much can you afford with less than $3,000 a month?

Common budgeting advice usually says rent should be 30–35% of your income while spending another 10–15% of your monthly budget on groceries. With a $15 per hour minimum wage as a baseline, living on $31,200 per year means $2,600 per month in gross pay.

It’s even less for retirees relying on social security who receive a $1,514 average monthly benefit.1 About 21% of married couples and about 45% of unmarried people rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.

To find the best cities for budget-friendly living, we selected a diverse array of metros around the country. We ranked on the following criteria:

  • Median gross rent (35%)2
  • Monthly food cost (35%)3
  • Violent crime per 100,000 people (15%)4
  • Property crime per 100,000 people (15%)4

In the event of multiple metros in one state, we prioritized higher population areas because there’s likely more entertainment, activities, and potential friends nearby. When you’re saving on basic living expenses, you can do more of what you want to do (even if that’s just staying home).

Our report doesn’t account for taxes, debts, child support, or other extra expenses, so you’ll need to make sure your budget works with the estimates provided. For more info jump to our full methodology.

Best cities to live in for under $2,600

A little over half of America (27 states) has metros that met our criteria for affordable housing and food prices, and low crime rates. Across these metros, the average gross rent as a percentage of income is 28.2%,5 which fits under the 30–35% rent-budgeting model.

Map of the best cities to live in for under $2,600

The median rent in the best affordable cities is $814, whereas the US median gross rent is $1,097, according to the U.S Census Bureau. You could save about $283 per month in rent alone by moving to one of these metros.

Best cities to live in for under $2,600 at a glance

  • Average price of rent: $809 per month
  • Average price of groceries: $257 per month
  • Average population: 477,8006
  • Average violent crime rate: 314.6 per 100,000 people
  • Average property crime rate: 2,100 per 100,000 people

Cumberland, Maryland, had the lowest rent at $628 per month and scored the highest overall as the best city for affordable living in our ranking.

California and New York may seem like expensive states, but you can avoid big-city prices if you don’t need to be in the big city. El Centro, California, is about two hours from San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico. But if you have Big Apple dreams, the Buffalo-Cheektowaga metro is a lot closer to Toronto than New York City.

Are you looking for low-cost living in Texas? You can pay only $763 in rent and $201 in groceries per month in McAllen-Edinburg-Mission. However, this metro area is about a three- to five-hour drive from major cities like San Antonio, Houston, and Austin (but only over an hour from the Gulf of Mexico).

For all you Cheeseheads out there: Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the perfect place to pack up your pennies with a low rent of $788 and average grocery price of $248 per month.

Feeling high-rent stress in Salt Lake City, Utah, and don’t need to be close to downtown? You should check out Logan, Utah. The median rent in Logan is $763 per month, and groceries are about $247 per month. You’ll live close to beautiful mountains and less than an hour from Bear Lake.

If your primary concern is safety, Bangor, Maine, had an exceptionally low violent crime rate of 44.3 per 100,000 people compared to the average 314.6 per 100,000 people. (Funny enough, famous horror-writer Stephen King also lives in Bangor, Maine).

For those looking to move across the country, you can find affordable places to live in almost every US region, but you may have to make some compromises on living in your dream city (for now!).

The best cities to live in for under $2,600

Metro Area
State
Population
Violent Crime per 100k
Property Crime per 100k
Median gross rent estimate
Monthly cost of food
Rank
CumberlandMaryland*97,2842751,820$628$2661
McAllen-Edinburg-MissionTexas868,7072692,212$763$2012
Green BayWisconsin322,9062261,098$788$2483
LoganUtah*141,760128921$836$2474
Idaho FallsIdaho151,5162051,089$798$2555
PeoriaIllinois400,9124521,935$732$2476
Fort WayneIndiana413,2633052,114$780$2397
El CentroCalifornia181,2153391,997$810$2308
YumaArizona213,7872781,731$829$2359
BangorMaine152,148441,557$809$28510
Las CrucesNew Mexico218,1955572,314$752$25011
DuluthMinnesota289,3832092,665$768$26912
Sebring-Avon ParkFlorida106,2212652,218$807$25813
CincinnatiOhio*2,219,7502371,977$854$25114
FargoNorth Dakota*246,1452972,339$815$26115
Buffalo-CheektowagaNew York1,127,9833541,868$828$26116
Sioux CityIowa*144,6703162,802$830$24517
YakimaWashington250,8732802,599$839$25418
RoanokeVirginia312,7962392,391$835$27119
LincolnNebraska336,5413472,497$856$25220
KnoxvilleTennessee869,5253542,127$872$27321
Sioux FallsSouth Dakota268,8333882,427$851$27622
LafayetteLouisiana489,2074672,883$818$27423
Greensboro-High PointNorth Carolina771,8515302,696$863$25224
Louisville/Jefferson CountyKentucky*1,266,3894372,864$880$25125
Oklahoma CityOklahoma1,408,9504613,070$876$25726
PittsfieldMassachusetts124,9443811,387$864$31927

*These metros are spread across multiple states.


Methodology

We ranked each metro area on the weighted factors below:

  • Median gross rent (35%) sourced from the US Census Bureau. A lower value positively impacts the score.
  • Monthly food cost (35%) sourced from the Economic Policy Institute, filtered using one adult and no children selected. A lower value positively impacts the score.
  • Violent crime per 100,000 people (15%) sourced from the FBI. A lower value positively impacts the score.
  • Property crime per 100,000 people (15%) sourced from the FBI. A lower value positively impacts the score.

We normalized each measurement on a 0–1 one scale, with 1 corresponding to the measurement that would most positively affect the final score and 0 corresponding to the measurement that would most negatively affect the final score. These adjusted measurements were added together with the weights mentioned above to get a ranking score out of 100.

We omitted cities with a median monthly rent over $886 and any metro areas with missing crime data. FBI crime data included 290 cities.

In states with multiple metros that qualified, we prioritized the metro with the highest population.

Sources

  1. Social Security Administration, “Fact Sheet: Social Security,” Accessed Friday, April 30, 2021.
  2. U.S Census Bureau, “Median Gross Rent (Dollars),” Accessed Friday, April 30, 2021.
  3. Economic Policy Institute, “Basic Family Budget Calculator,” Accessed Friday, April 30, 2021.
  4. FBI, “Crime in the US 2019,” Accessed Friday, April 30, 2021.
  5. US Census Bureau, “Median Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income,” Accessed Friday, April 30, 2021.
  6. US Census Bureau, “Total Population,” Accessed Friday, April 30, 2021.
Trevor Wheelwright
Written by
Trevor Wheelwright
Trevor has experience writing about and reviewing a multitude of subjects and products. Influenced by art and philosophy, he views everything as part of a story and an expression of our transcendent experience.