February 24, 2014

Study: Best Cities for Frugal Living

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Living frugally is a trend for some people, and simply a necessary way of life for others. Whatever your reasons for trying to keep a level budget each month, your ability to pull it off can largely depend on where you live. We looked at the country’s 50 most populous metropolitan areas (MSA) and found the ones that are most conducive to frugal living.

Study Methodology

  1. Unemployment rate
  2. Median monthly housing costs
  3. Average annual cost of daycare
  4. Number of members on Freecycle.org
  5. Number of garden plots per 10,000 residents

We first looked at each area’s unemployment rate, because no matter how frugal you are, you – or at least your spouse – needs to be bringing in some money every week. Most of our top 10 cities came in well below the national average at 6.6%.

Next, we used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to find the median monthly housing costs for each MSA, since housing is generally one’s largest monthly expenditure. Similarly, we factored data from NACCRRA on the average annual cost of daycare to weed out cities with sky-high prices.

To help frugal folks cut down on discretionary spending, we also considered the number of local members on Freecycle.org, a website devoted to decreasing waste by connecting members who have to stuff to unload with those who can reuse it, at no cost. The more members in your area, the wider selection of goods you can browse to cut out extra expenses.

Finally, we looked at The Trust for Public Land for data on the number of city park garden plots per 10,000 residents. Gardening is a great way to grow your own fresh produce, which can save lots compared to buying everything at the grocery store or farmer’s market.

10 Best Cities for Frugal Living

10. Dallas, TX

Dallas, Texas
Dallas, Texas

  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,031
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $8,323
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 10,158
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0

With near-identical statistics to Houston, Dallas rounds out our top 10 cities for frugal living. This Texas city boasts low unemployment and daycare costs. Additionally, the locals are active on Freecycle, and you can also cut costs by enjoying one of Dallas’s many free attractions. The downtown Sculpture Garden features works by Rodin, and you can navigate most of the city on a free M-line trolley ride.

9. Houston, TX

Houston, Texas
Houston, Texas

  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,018
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $8,323
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 8,340
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0.4

Our last two slots are earned by two major Texas cities with almost identical statistics. The state’s largest city, Houston, barely beats out Dallas in our number nine slot. With just 5.6% unemployment, the city is full of energy corporations, banks, foreign consular offices, and more to support the local workforce. Frugal residents can also take advantage of the year-round warm weather by joining a community garden.

Related: See how Houston is the best city for young couples

8. Indianapolis, IN

Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Unemployment rate: 6.6%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $899
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $9,880
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 18,281
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 2.9

Not only does Indianapolis boast one of the lowest housing costs in the country, it also has one of the largest constituencies on Freecycle.org. Wondering what sort of treasures you might be able to score for free? A hot tub, incense, and kid’s toys have all been posted recently. Save some cash by taking advantage of free attractions in the city, including general admission at the Indianapolis Art Museum and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which is a mere 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.

7. Nashville, TN

Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee

  • Unemployment rate: 5.7%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $937
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $7,748
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 6,375
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0

The South is back again with Nashville coming in at number 7, largely due to Tennessee’s low daycare costs. Unemployment and housing expenditures are also relatively low, both ranking in the top 15. And if you love country music, there’s no better place to catch free shows of up-and-coming stars in one of the city’s many venues, like Bootleggers Inn or Paradise Park Trailer Resort.

6. Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida

  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,014
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $8,009
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 11,095
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0.1

If you prefer the sunny Florida beaches, Jacksonville is the frugal city for you. With over 11,000 Freecycle members, you’ll be sure to score some big savings in this town. Some noteworthy recent posts include color inkjet cartridges, furniture, and building materials like floor and roof tiles.

5. Orlando, FL

Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida

  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,049
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $8,009
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 9,258
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 2.3

Orlando is another warm option for frugal families as it ranks solidly across all our metrics. Florida’s average daycare costs are just over $8,000 a year, making this a great place for working parents. Do you have older kids who you want to learn the value of a dollar, or are you looking for part-time work? Consider becoming a Disney cast member and enjoy perks such as free park admissions and merchandise discounts.

4. San Antonio, TX

San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas

  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $898
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $8,323
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 6,966
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0.1

San Antonio has one of the lowest median housing costs on our list, making this southwest city a great place for frugal living. Other local economic drivers include several military bases and five Fortune 500 companies. This strong foundation likely contributes to the city’s low unemployment rate, which is a full percentage point below the nation’s. And with warm summers and mild winters, you’ll enjoy all that San Antonio has to offer the whole year-round.

3. Kansas City, MO

  • Unemployment rate: 5.3%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $956
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $8,580
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 6,844
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 3.8

Kansas City’s unemployment is well below the nation’s average, and it also has a decent community garden scene. Summer temperatures are generally in the 80s, so you’re able to freeze and can your home-grown produce to last you well into the winter months (which are generally below freezing). Housing costs also remain under a thousand dollars, so there’s lots of room to save in Kansas City.

2. Birmingham, AL

Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama

  • Unemployment rate: 4.9%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $813
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $5,356
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 4,540
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0

Residents of Birmingham enjoy some of the cheapest daycare in the nation, making it a great location for frugal families. Not only that, unemployment is also low, as is the cost of housing. Winters are mild in Alabama, so you can enjoy free outdoor amenities year-round, like hiking the Appalachian foothills or taking a more leisurely stroll through downtown’s Railroad Park.

1. Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Median monthly housing costs: $835
  • Average annual cost of daycare: $7,288
  • Local Freecycle.org members: 6,948
  • Garden plots per 10,000 residents: 0

Oklahoma City comes in first place on our list due to the city’s exceptionally low unemployment, housing costs, and daycare costs – all of which ranked in the top five of their category. Unemployment is nearly two percentage points below the national average; there are several large companies anchoring the local economy, including a large presence by Boeing and the headquarters of Chesapeake Energy. With the city’s downtown witnessing a recent revitalization, even more business is moving in, raising the potential for residents here to have a stabilized tax rate. Plus, you get access to free attractions such as a central park near the North Canadian River.

Related: See how Oklahoma City is the #2 best city for twentysomethings


Whether your major expenses are housing, food, daycare, or discretionary costs, these top 10 cities will help you cut your bottom line. Looking for more ways to cut costs? Check out our article on Cheap Family Activities for creative ideas on entertaining kids and adults alike.

Sources:

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Follow @CreditDonkey or write to Lauren Ward at lauren@creditdonkey.com
Lauren Ward is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped families make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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