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Discover the Most Affordable Big Cities

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Big cities provide a lifestyle many small towns can't. Residents have thousands of restaurants to choose from, eclectic neighborhoods to live in, and plenty of job opportunities. You've probably heard of the city mouse and the country mouse. Well, much of our population is split into city people and country people. City dwellers would get bored in a quiet small town. And country people would feel a loss of space in the concrete jungle. But that may be changing.

The year 2020 brought challenges to us all. Yet, during these past months, we've also had a chance to stop and think. Many of us took stock in our lives, where and how we live, and what our ideal life could be. Telecommuting has become the norm for many of us instead of something only a few employees could take advantage of. Because of that, many didn't need to be pinned to a specific location. And although city people still love the hustle and bustle, many chose to get out of the biggest cities like NYC and LA. Americans all over the country are ready for a change.

Let's explore some of the top big cities that are affordable and have a high livability rating. In January 2021, the median home price across the U.S. was $340,000. The six cities we chose had a median home price of under $320,000 with a high livability rating based on 150 Best Places to Live in the U.S.

How big is a big city?

Some define a big city with a population of 250,000 or more. Whereas others say, a big city needs to be 500,000. The top ten most populated cities in 2021 by the World Population Review were

  • New York City, NY: Population of 8,622,357
  • Los Angeles, CA: Population of 4,085,014
  • Chicago, IL: Population of 2,670,406
  • Houston, TX: Population of 2,378,146
  • Phoenix, AZ: Population of 1,743,469
  • Philadelphia, PA: Population of 1,590,402
  • San Antonio, TX: Population of 1,579,504
  • San Diego, CA: Population of 1,469,490
  • Dallas, TX: Population of 1,400,337
  • San Jose, CA: Population of 1,036,242

These big cities are expensive to live in, especially NYC, LA, and San Jose. None of the locations we selected were on this top ten list. But several were on the list of The 200 Largest Cities in the United States by Population 2021. Let's see what they are.

6 Highly Livable & Most Affordable Cities in the US

  • Madison, Wisconsin: #86 on the list of largest cities with a population of 263,332. The median home price as of January 2021 is $306,072. 
  • Des Moines, Iowa: #114 on the list of largest cities with a population of 210,723. The median home price as of January 2021 is $170,500. 
  • Rochester, New York: #119 on the list of largest cities with a population of 205,077. The median home price as of January 2021 is $130,500. 
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan: #122 on the list of largest cities with a population of 202,767. The median home price as of January 2021 is $199,900.
  • Hartford, Connecticut: Although not on the list of the biggest cities with a population of 122,587, the metro area's population tops a million at 1,211,324. The median home price is $219,900.
  • Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Also not on the list of the biggest cities with a population of 58,981, but the metro area's population as of 2020 was 505,000. The median home price is $245,000.

What's to love about these most affordable cities?

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison tops our list as one of the best affordable cities in the US. The median home price is $259,500. This low cost of living contributes to the laid-back atmosphere. As Wisconsin's State Capital, there are plenty of job opportunities in both government and private sectors. Residents enjoy an abundance of outdoor recreation, with four large lakes surrounding the city. Beautiful Lake Mendota is the largest lake situated in the middle of the city. Next to the popular Henry Vilas Zoo sits Lake Monona. And if you'd like a staycation — check out Lake Waubesa. Lake Kegonsa is part of a state park that includes camping and a wetlands wildlife area.

Residents of all ages enjoy Madison's vibrant cultural activities, including incredible food, beer, music, and art. There are outdoor festivals with local artists, chefs, and locally grown food during the nice weather. Whether you're biking to work, taking a stroll in a local park, or spending a day at the zoo, you'll enjoy the fresh air and friendly people.

Des Moines, Iowa

The median home price in Des Moines is a low $170,500, making this an excellent area to raise a family and retire. If you want to live where you can experience all four seasons, Des Moines is the city for you. Residents enjoy various festivals, including the National Balloon Festival, the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival, and the annual Iowa State Fair. As a state rich in farming, you'll meet and come to love farming families and have plenty of farmer's markets to visit. If you're moving from other areas where gardening can be challenging, you'll appreciate the softer soil.

Des Moines allows one to live comfortably in one of the best affordable cities in the U.S. with low unemployment and a growing job market. One of the reasons is because the cost of doing business here is 15% lower than the national average. That's appealing to both small and large companies. If you enjoy the outdoors, there are plenty of gorgeous parks, walking trails, a botanical garden, and a zoo. Consider Des Moines if you'd like the big city but enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

Rochester, New York

Rochester is another one of the top affordable cities. The median home price in Rochester is amazingly low at $145,000 and climbing as of January 2021. The market is competitive, and buyers have to move quickly. If you love two-story traditional architecture with large porches, visit Rochester. Compared to city living, lots are larger, so you'll have plenty of room for kids, pets, a garden, and whatever else you're dreaming of.

If you want to live in an area with an abundance of jobs, check out Rochester. The top employers include Carestream Health, Bausch + Lomb, Rochester City School District, City of Rochester, Paychex, and Kodak. In addition to jobs, you'll find good schools and excellent higher education options, including the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology. This town is also known for fine dining, so you won't be disappointed if you're moving from NYC. 

Outdoor activities include sport fishing at Lake Ontario or bike riding along the Erie Canal Trail. Kids love the Seneca Park Zoo. And throughout the city, there are dozens of parks for taking a walk or having a picnic. And if you like boat charters, you'll have many choices, including yacht and fishing tours. Lastly, don't miss the world-class wine tours. As you can see, Rochester offers something for everyone, including affordable living.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The median home price in Grand Rapids as of January 2021 is extremely affordable at $199,900. And houses aren't anything like the cookie-cutter neighborhoods where every home looks the same. If you're moving to the area, you'll have various styles to choose from, including traditional two-story with covered or enclosed porches to trendy brick townhomes and ranch-style houses. Homeowners enjoy larger lots and more room. The job market is strong with top industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, insurance, and higher education.

Known as Beer City, USA, you can find an abundance of craft beers, brewing companies, and even a beer trolley. Next to Lake Michigan, there's plenty of water sports, including paddling tours. Outdoor lovers flock to the Mackinac Island State Park for bike rides, hiking, and picnicking. One of the favorite places for kids to visit is the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park. A culturally diverse city, residents can enjoy ballet, local concerts, art shows, museums, and the fifth largest community theater in the U.S.

If you love history, take a tour of downtown and enjoy the beautiful architecture. Make sure to visit the breathtaking Amway Grand Plaza hotel and view the lobby. Living in Grand Rapids gives you space and time to enjoy the simpler things in life without giving up on the excitement of a big city.

Hartford, Connecticut

The median home price in Hartford is $219,900. If you're looking for Victorian homes, you'll find them in Hartford. Many feature high ceilings, hardwood floors, fireplaces, formal dining rooms, and even butler pantries. Beautiful Hartford is the capital of Connecticut. Besides government jobs, there are insurance industry jobs with major companies like Aetna, The Hartford, and Travelers.

There's plenty of public transportation, including the transit bus system, the Hartford dash shuttle, and the rapid bus transit system. If you want to visit NYC or Boston, Amtrak or CTrail System is available. History lovers enjoy Mark Twain's House and Museum and the majestic Cathedral of St. Joseph.

Higher education includes the Universities of Hartford, Connecticut-Hartford, and the Connecticut School of Law. The oldest liberal arts school is also in Hartford at Trinity College. Hartford offers residents big city fun with small-town friendliness.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Known as Pennsylvania Dutch country, this is a beautiful area. The median home price in Lancaster is $245,000. As with other cities, we've talked about the homes having a character. Structures are mostly multi-story with brick, flagstone, or wood exteriors. Known for the local Amish Village, Lancaster is an interesting place to visit and a great place to raise a family. There are plenty of local restaurants, farm stores, eclectic shops, hip bars, and craft breweries. And if you want to visit other major cities in the North East, they're not too far. The largest employers include Lancaster Laboratories, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, Armstrong World Industries, and Armstrong Flooring.

Some of the favorite places to visit are the Lancaster Central Market, a bustling flea market, and The Amish Farm and House on 15 acres featuring friendly farm animals. Lancaster can provide a sense of community along with the open outdoors. And that could just be what big city dwellers are looking for.

If you are a big city lover or looking to make a change from country life, these cities are well worth checking out.

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