Can you afford to start a new company? The answer may depend on where you're located. In San Francisco, arguably the hottest startup town in the U.S.--but far and away the costliest--it takes income of just under $120,000 a year for a single person to live a reasonably comfortable life, according to research compiled by the personal finance site GOBankingRates. GOBankingRates reviewed the cost of living at the 50 largest U.S. cities, taking into account average prices for rent, groceries, utilities, transportation, and health care. Then they doubled that number, following the 50-30-20 budgeting rule of 50 percent for necessities, 30 percent for discretionary items and 20 percent for savings. 

Here are the 10 most affordable of those cities. (You can see the full list here.) Rather than chase the startup scene in this country's most expensive towns, consider living a better life in one of these locales:

1. Tucson

According to GOBankingRates research, it costs $39,966 per year to live comfortably in Tucson, making it the most affordable large city in the U.S., and the only one where you can survive nicely on less than $40k per year.

The 33rd of the 50 most populous cities, but the most affordable, Tucson has a lot to recommend it. "Snowbirds" regularly purchase second homes here, attracted by the pleasant winter weather. The city's long history as a military center have led to the development of a local high-tech industry, and biotech, especially when it comes to optics. In fact, the area has been nicknamed "Optics Valley."

2. El Paso

Elsewhere in the Sun Belt, El Paso, Texas has only slightly higher comfortable living costs than Tucson, at a modest $40,227. El Paso's diverse economy is driven by international trade, civil service, health care, tourism, and especially the oil and gas industry. The current low price of oil may account in part for its affordability. And if that isn't enough to entice you, consider the fact that Texas has no income tax.

3. Wichita

The Midwest is a famously affordable place to live. At $40,616 to live comfortably for a year, Wichita, Kansas is the most affordable of Midwestern cities. This town's economy is driven by aircraft manufacturing, healthcare, and oil. This may make it particularly vulnerable to an economic downturn that could both lower the cost of oil and slow manufacturing, which accounts for more than one fifth of local employment.

4. Fresno

Fresno is the 34th largest city in the U.S., and the largest inland city in California. It's the economic capital of the San Joaquin Valley, which has been called "the food basket of the world." With drought devastating the Valley and water tables fast disappearing, the future of the area looks somewhat uncertain, which partly explains why it costs only $42,496 cost to live comfortably for a year. Healthcare and electronics make the city's economy somewhat diverse. Unfortunately, Fresno is also listed by the American Lung Association as the most polluted city in the nation for particle pollution. 

5. Cleveland

Cleveland is the 48th largest city in the U.S., and you can live comfortably there for $42,589 a year. The city is located at the juncture of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga river, boasts beautiful architecture, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, referred to by locals as the "Rock Hall." The city has traditionally been a manufacturing center, but in recent years the local government and industry have worked to make the city a tech center, for instance by adding a high-speed fiber-optic network. Cleveland is also a center for biotech, and the Cleveland Clinic is rated as one of the best hospitals in the country.

6. Mesa

Mesa, Arizona is the 38th largest city in the United States. Local industry has traditionally centered around agriculture and aerospace, but the city also functions more and more as a suburb of sprawling Phoenix. And no wonder: It costs $48,876 to live comfortably for a year in Phoenix, but only $42,654 to do so in Mesa.

7. Milwaukee

With a cost to live comfortably of $43,281 per year, Milwaukee is another appealing and affordable Midwestern city. Particularly if you like beer: Milwaukee has been famous as a brewing center since 1850. Both Miller and Coors are brewed there, as well as many microbrews. The city is also a center for manufacturing and financial services.

8. Bakersfield

Bakersfield is another highly affordable California city, with a cost of living comfortably of $43,425 per year. The local economy thrives on both agriculture and the oil industry. It's located in Kern County, the most oil-producing county in the nation, which accounts for 10 percent of domestic oil production. Bakersfield is also growing as a manufacturing and distribution center. But all this growth comes at a quality-of-life costs: The American Lung Association ranked Bakersfield as having the second worse particle air pollution, after Fresno.

9. Albuquerque

It only costs $43,895 a year to live in this rapidly growing tech center. Both private companies such as Northrop Grumman and Intel, and government and military operations contribute to a vibrant economy and have unleashed growth that the city is working to manage. 

10. Memphis/Oklahoma City

Memphis and Oklahoma City tie for tenth most affordable city: It costs $44,180 to live comfortably in either one for a year. The two cities are very different, though. Memphis is a manufacturing and distribution center, in part because of its location at the confluence of major railroad lines and highways, and the Mississippi River. It's also a music center, known as the birthplace for many types of music. Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash--among many others--got their start in Memphis.

Oklahoma City's economy depends on the oil and gas industry, although in recent years it has also expanded into high-tech and health services. It also has one of the biggest livestock markets in the world. Situated in "Tornado Alley," the city has been struck by 13 strong tornadoes since weather record-keeping began.

Published on: Jun 14, 2016
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