Rising gas, food, and health-care costs have some Americans wondering where their dollars can do more. Price data collected over the last year by the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER)—a group in Arlington, Va., that tracks housing, transport, health-care, grocery, and other costs in more than 340 urban areas around the country—shows that Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are home to many of the least-expensive places in the U.S. For example, in the McAllen, Tex., metro area, one of the country's cheapest, a loaf of bread costs about 86¢ vs. $3.35 in Honolulu, one of America's most expensive areas, according to survey data. Cost differences among regions can result from issues of supply and demand, economic and physical infrastructure, and what a local market's income levels can bear, says Dean Frutiger, project manager at C2ER. Low costs do not necessarily mean that more area residents can afford a high quality of living: A number of places on this list also feature low incomes, high poverty rates, and above-average joblessness. Still, middle-income earners can achieve a higher standard of living in these places at a much lower cost than they could obtain in most in the U.S.
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Rising gas, food, and health-care costs have some Americans wondering where their dollars can do more. Price data collected over the last year by the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER)—a group in Arlington, Va., that tracks housing, transport, health-care, grocery, and other costs in more than 340 urban areas around the country—shows that Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are home to many of the least-expensive places in the U.S. For example, in the McAllen, Tex., metro area, one of the country's cheapest, a loaf of bread costs about 86¢ vs. $3.35 in Honolulu, one of America's most expensive areas, according to survey data. Cost differences among regions can result from issues of supply and demand, economic and physical infrastructure, and what a local market's income levels can bear, says Dean Frutiger, project manager at C2ER. Low costs do not necessarily mean that more area residents can afford a high quality of living: A number of places on this list also feature low incomes, high poverty rates, and above-average joblessness. Still, middle-income earners can achieve a higher standard of living in these places at a much lower cost than they could obtain in most in the U.S.
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The 25 Cheapest Cities in the U.S.

Where a Dollar Goes Farther
Where a Dollar Goes Farther
Rising gas, food, and health-care costs have some Americans wondering where their dollars can do more. Price data collected over the last year by the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER)—a group in Arlington, Va., that tracks housing, transport, health-care, grocery, and other costs in more than 340 urban areas around the country—shows that Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are home to many of the least-expensive places in the U.S. For example, in the McAllen, Tex., metro area, one of the country's cheapest, a loaf of bread costs about 86¢ vs. $3.35 in Honolulu, one of America's most expensive areas, according to survey data. Cost differences among regions can result from issues of supply and demand, economic and physical infrastructure, and what a local market's income levels can bear, says Dean Frutiger, project manager at C2ER. Low costs do not necessarily mean that more area residents can afford a high quality of living: A number of places on this list also feature low incomes, high poverty rates, and above-average joblessness. Still, middle-income earners can achieve a higher standard of living in these places at a much lower cost than they could obtain in most in the U.S.
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No. 25 Cheapest Place to Live: Americus, Ga., area
No. 25 Cheapest Place to Live: Americus, Ga., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $547*
Monthly house payment: $840*
Gallon gas: $2.764*
Hamburger: $1.99*
Half-gallon milk: $2.85*

The Americus micropolitan area is home to Habitat for Humanity, the Plains, Ga., hometown of President Jimmy Carter, and the site of Charles A. Lindbergh's first solo flight. The cost of living is about 11.8 percent below the U.S. average. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income is $33,144 and 24.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to respective national rates of $51,425 and 13.5 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates unemployment in the area at about 12 percent.

*Note: All price data refer to annual averages from Q1 2010 to Q1 2011. The average price listed for gasoline may appear low, compared to prices at the time of publication, because retail prices increased dramatically over the 12-month period. As of June 13, 2011, the week of publication, the average price for gas in the U.S. was about $3.713 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Source: Price data on all slides from the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER)
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No. 24 Cheapest Place to Live: Murfreesboro-Smyrna, Tenn., area
No. 24 Cheapest Place to Live: Murfreesboro-Smyrna, Tenn., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $791
Monthly house payment: $830
Gallon gas: $2.646
Hamburger: $2.89
Half-gallon milk: $1.67

Murfreesboro and Smyrna are fast growing parts of Rutherford County in the Nashville metro area. Murfreesboro's population grew by 58 percent from 2000 to 2010, and Smyrna's gained about 44 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Costs for homeowners in the area are low, compared to many other places in the U.S. Monthly house payments are about $830, compared to a U.S. median of $1,031, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER).
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No. 23 Cheapest Place to Live: Cedar City, Utah, area
No. 23 Cheapest Place to Live: Cedar City, Utah, area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $527
Monthly house payment: $873
Gallon gas: $2.800
Hamburger: $3.39
Half-gallon milk: $1.61

The Cedar City area is known for its many festivals, including the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Utah Summer Games. Southern Utah University and the Iron County School District are among the metro's largest employers, according to cedarcity.org. The U.S. Census Bureau finds that 19.7 percent of inhabitants live below the poverty line and median household income is $41,707. Still, the BLS estimates the jobless rate in the micropolitan area at only about 8.6 percent in April.
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No. 22 Cheapest Place to Live: Memphis, Tenn., area
No. 22 Cheapest Place to Live: Memphis, Tenn., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $730
Monthly house payment: $838
Gallon gas: $2.657
Hamburger: $3.18
Half-gallon milk: $1.94

Living in this famous home of blues and barbeque costs about 12 percent less than the U.S. average, according to C2ER. The metro area may be cheap, but its economy could use a boost: Memphis's unemployment rate is about 10 percent, according to the BLS, and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 18.4 percent of area residents live under the poverty line.
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No. 21 Cheapest Place to Live: Springfield, Mo., area
No. 21 Cheapest Place to Live: Springfield, Mo., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $629
Monthly house payment: $886
Gallon gas: $2.641
Hamburger: $3.22
Half-gallon milk: $1.95

Springfield, Mo., is known as the birthplace of Route 66 and as a gateway to the Ozarks. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates median household income at $41,632. A majority of homeowners pay less than 20 percent of income to housing costs; the rate for renters is about 26 percent. Major employers include St. John's Health System, CoxHealth Systems, and Wal-Mart (WMT), according to the Springfield Business Development Corp.
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No. 20 Cheapest Place to Live: Paducah, Ky., area
No. 20 Cheapest Place to Live: Paducah, Ky., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $570
Monthly house payment: $920
Gallon gas: $2.702
Hamburger: $2.99
Half-gallon milk: $2.05

The Paducah micro area includes Ballard, Livingston, McCracken, and Massac counties and is known for its art and historic districts. It is also called the Four Rivers Area due to the proximity of the Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi rivers, according to the city of Paducah. About 15 percent of people in the area live below the poverty level, estimates the U.S. Census Bureau, and unemployment was about 8.7 percent in April, according to the BLS.
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No. 19 Cheapest Place to Live: Ardmore, Okla., area
No. 19 Cheapest Place to Live: Ardmore, Okla., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $551
Monthly house payment: $941
Gallon gas: $2.715
Hamburger: $3.19
Half-gallon milk: $1.97

Major employers in the Ardmore area, located between Dallas and Oklahoma City, include Michelin (ML:FP), Mercy Memorial Health Center, and Dollar General (DG), according to the Ardmore Development Authority. Additionally, many of the people in the region work as drillers or support staff in the oil and gas industry. The unemployment rate in the area was a low 4.1 percent in April, estimates the BLS. Still, median household income was $38,605 and the poverty rate was 15.9 percent, show U.S. Census Bureau data.
AP
No. 18 Cheapest Place to Live: Salina, Kan., area
No. 18 Cheapest Place to Live: Salina, Kan., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $499
Monthly house payment: $942
Gallon gas: $2.717
Hamburger: $3.12
Half-gallon milk: $1.96

Salina is a regional retail, medical, and hospitality hub in central Kansas, with companies such as Schwan Food Company and aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft. Unlike many of the inexpensive cities on this list, the poverty rate in the Salina metro area is lower than average, at 11.6 percent of individuals, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The unemployment rate was also a low 5.8 percent in April, estimates the BLS. Businessweek.com named the city of Salina one of the best places to raise kids in 2010.
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No. 17 Cheapest Place to Live: Wichita Falls, Tex., area
No. 17 Cheapest Place to Live: Wichita Falls, Tex., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $591
Monthly house payment: $1,031
Gallon gas: $2.648
Hamburger: $2.87
Half-gallon milk: $2.34

In north Texas, the greater Wichita Falls area is home to Sheppard Air Force Base and more than 180 manufacturers for the automotive, oil-and-gas production, construction, aircraft, and food-service industries, according to the city. Data from the Wichita Falls Board of Commerce & Industry show that major employers include the Air Force base, public schools, and North Texas State Hospital. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates median household income in the area at $44,027.
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No. 16 Cheapest Place to Live: Indianapolis area
No. 16 Cheapest Place to Live: Indianapolis area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $793
Monthly house payment: $781
Gallon gas: $2.971
Hamburger: $3.22
Half-gallon milk: $1.77

Manufacturing, education, and health care remain major employers in the Indianapolis metro area, with employers such as Eli Lilly (LLY), Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and St. Vincent Health. The Indianapolis area's economy performed better than many on this list: BLS estimates that the jobless rate was 7.6 percent in April. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income is $53,059 and the poverty rate stands at 11.7 percent.
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No. 15 Cheapest Place to Live: Johnson City, Tenn., area
No. 15 Cheapest Place to Live: Johnson City, Tenn., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $644
Monthly house payment: $864
Gallon gas: $2.820
Hamburger: $2.92
Half-gallon milk: $2.10

The cost of living in the Johnson City metropolitan statistical area, which includes Carter, Unicoi, and Washington counties, is about 13 percent lower than the national average, C2ER's index shows. Major employers in this urban area in eastern Tennessee include the Mountain States Health Alliance and East Tennessee State University, according to the area economic development board. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates median household income in the area at $38,054.
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No. 14 Cheapest Place to Live: Conway, Ark.
No. 14 Cheapest Place to Live: Conway, Ark.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $525
Monthly house payment: $971
Gallon gas: $2.701
Hamburger: $2.22
Half-gallon milk: $1.98

Education, health, and manufacturing are major industries in the city of Conway, part of the Little Rock metro area. Large employers include Acxiom (ACXM), University of Central Arkansas, and Conway Regional Medical Center, according to the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates median household income at $41,966 and the poverty rate at 19.9 percent. The jobless rate in Conway was 5.9 percent in April, according to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.
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No. 13 Cheapest Place to Live: Temple, Tex.
No. 13 Cheapest Place to Live: Temple, Tex.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $596
Monthly house payment: $831
Gallon gas: $2.708
Hamburger: $3.09
Half-gallon milk: $2.26

This central Texas city, part of the Killeen–Temple–Fort Hood metro area, is a manufacturing and distribution hub and a center for medicine, research, and education, according to the Temple Chamber of Commerce. The health-care industry has been the single largest catalyst for economic growth in the city, which also hosts emerging bioscience and technology industries. Median household income in Temple is $45,048.
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No. 12 Cheapest Place to Live: Martinsville-Henry County, Va.
No. 12 Cheapest Place to Live: Martinsville-Henry County, Va.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $551
Monthly house payment: $923
Gallon gas: $2.666
Hamburger: $3.22
Half-gallon milk: $2.19

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Henry County is home to plastics-and-polymer processors, logistics-and-distribution companies, and food processors. Major employers include textile home furnishings company Springs Global (SGPS3:BZ ), Henry County Public Schools, and Memorial Hospital of Martinsville, according to the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. While costs may be low, the area is not wealthy: Median household income is $34,437 and the county's poverty rate is 17.5 percent of individuals, estimates the U.S. Census Bureau.
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No. 11 Cheapest Place to Live: Sherman-Denison, Tex., area
No. 11 Cheapest Place to Live: Sherman-Denison, Tex., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $595
Monthly house payment: $836
Gallon gas: $2.683
Hamburger: $3.16
Half-gallon milk: $1.74

The Sherman-Denison metro area in north Texas, roughly 60 miles north of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and just south of Oklahoma, is home to Lake Texoma, one of the country's largest man-made lakes. Major employers in the area include Tyson Fresh Meats (TSN), Texoma Health Care System, and Wilson N. Jones Hospital, according to the Denison Development Alliance. Median household income in the metro area is $45,171, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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No. 10 Cheapest Place to Live: Springfield, Ill., area
No. 10 Cheapest Place to Live: Springfield, Ill., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $556
Monthly house payment: $834
Gallon gas: $2.875
Hamburger: $3.46
Half-gallon milk: $1.86

The cost of living in the Springfield metro area is about 14 percent below the U.S. average, according to C2ER. The region is home to the city of Springfield, Illinois state capital and once home to President Abraham Lincoln. Major area employers include the government, Memorial Health System, and St. John's Hospital, according to the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. Median household income, $51,001, is higher than many places on this list, based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
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No. 9 Cheapest Place to Live: Muskogee, Okla., area
No. 9 Cheapest Place to Live: Muskogee, Okla., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $527
Monthly house payment: $801
Gallon gas: $2.673
Hamburger: $2.97
Half-gallon milk: $2.08

An economic hub in north-central Oklahoma, the Muskogee area is home to such employers as Georgia Pacific, Muskogee Regional Medical Center, and the U.S. Veterans Hospital and U.S. Veterans Administration, according to the Port of Muskogee Business Development. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates area household income at $35,169 and its poverty rate to be 19.1 percent.
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No. 8 Cheapest Place to Live: Fort Smith, Ark., area
No. 8 Cheapest Place to Live: Fort Smith, Ark., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $456
Monthly house payment: $926
Gallon gas: $2.697
Hamburger: $3.13
Half-gallon milk: $1.97

The Fort Smith area, on the banks of the Arkansas River, is the state's third-largest metropolitan statistical area, after the Little Rock and Fayetteville MSAs. The top occupational areas, by number of jobs, are management-and-professional, production, transportation, and sales-and-office, according to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Leading employers include poultry producer O.K. Industries, Whirlpool (WHR), and Baldor Electric.
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No. 7 Cheapest Place to Live: Brownsville, Tex.
No. 7 Cheapest Place to Live: Brownsville, Tex.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $591
Monthly house payment: $827
Gallon gas: $2.670
Hamburger: $2.75
Half-gallon milk: $2.21

The city of Brownsville, part of the Brownsville-Harlingen metropolitan statistical area, is located on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Gulf of Mexico. While the cost of living is about 14.1 percent lower than the national average, the area has a high poverty rate—37 percent of individuals—according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and median household income is only $28,929. The city's unemployment rate has exceeded 12 percent each month this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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No. 6 Cheapest Place to Live: Commerce-Hunt County, Tex.
No. 6 Cheapest Place to Live: Commerce-Hunt County, Tex.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $782
Monthly house payment: $840
Gallon gas: $2.719
Hamburger: $3.19
Half-gallon milk: $2.49

Hunt County, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, is home to Texas A&M University–Commerce. Education, manufacturing, and agribusiness are key industries in the area, according to the Texas State Historical Assn. The BLS estimates that unemployment in the county was 8.3 percent in April. Median household income is about $42,894, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
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No. 5 Cheapest Place to Live: Cookeville, Tenn., area
No. 5 Cheapest Place to Live: Cookeville, Tenn., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: NA
Monthly house payment: $842
Gallon gas: $2.650
Hamburger: $2.87
Half-gallon milk: $1.69

The Cookeville micropolitan area includes Jackson, Putnam, and Overton counties. Major employers include Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville Regional Medical Center, and Perdue Farms, according to the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce. Like many other cities on the list, Cookeville has low income and high poverty: Median household income is $33,649, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and about 21.4 percent of people live below the poverty line.
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No. 4 Cheapest Place to Live: McAllen, Tex., area
No. 4 Cheapest Place to Live: McAllen, Tex., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $819
Monthly house payment: $829
Gallon gas: $2.695
Hamburger: $3.48
Half-gallon milk: $2.15

Near the Brownsville-Harlingen area (No. 7 and No. 1 on this list) in the southern tip of Texas, the McAllen metro area shares many of its problems: low income, high poverty, and high unemployment. The jobless rate was about 11.4 percent in April, according to BLS data. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 36 percent of residents live below the poverty line and puts median household income at $30,076. With earnings low, housing consumes more than 35 percent of income for nearly half of renter households, show U.S. Census Bureau data.
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No. 3 Cheapest Place to Live: Pryor Creek, Okla.
No. 3 Cheapest Place to Live: Pryor Creek, Okla.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $603
Monthly house payment: $841
Gallon gas: $2.630
Hamburger: $2.99
Half-gallon milk: $2.03

This small city of 9,539 people, about 50 miles northeast of Tulsa, has one of the lowest costs of living in the U.S., nearly 15 percent below the national average. Pryor Creek is home to the 9,000-acre MidAmerica Industrial Park, one of the largest rural industrial parks, with more than 70 businesses. Median household income is $38,977, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
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No. 2 Cheapest Place to Live: Pueblo, Colo., area
No. 2 Cheapest Place to Live: Pueblo, Colo., area
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $723
Monthly house payment: $783
Gallon gas: $2.658
Hamburger: $3.20
Half-gallon milk: $1.84

The Pueblo metropolitan statistical area in southeastern Colorado is a regional transportation and retail center. Major employers include the Parkview Medical Center, public schools, and county government, according to the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. The cost of living in the area is the second lowest in the U.S., mostly due to low housing costs, which C2ER estimates are nearly 30 percent lower than the national average. Median household income in the area is $40,805, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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No. 1 Cheapest Place to Live: Harlingen, Tex.
No. 1 Cheapest Place to Live: Harlingen, Tex.
Monthly rent for 2-br apartment: $659
Monthly house payment: $847
Gallon gas: $2.650
Hamburger: $3.31
Half-gallon milk: $1.99

The cost of living in Harlingen, the southern Texas city in the Brownsville-Harlingen metro area, is about 18 percent below the U.S. average—the lowest in the country, according to the Council for Community & Economic Research. Major employers in this developing city, which was once mainly agricultural, include the school district, Valley Baptist Medical Center, and Advanced Call Center Technologies, according to the Harlingen Economic Development Corp. Like many other cities on the list, costs are exceptionally low—a loaf of bread costs about 90¢. So are earnings: Household income is $31,797 and 30.4 percent of residents live below the poverty level, estimates the U.S. Census Bureau.
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