Places to live alone on low income
October 24, 2014 11:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm bored (and miserable) where I'm currently living and interested in moving on again, but don't want to fall into the same trap of barely surviving from one paycheck to the next, if even that. Looking for personal recommendations on where a single person might afford to live alone at minimum wage without subsisting on ramen and hot dogs. Is it even possible?

Specifics: I'm 100% city girl, my preferred entertainments include live bands, dancing (booze optional, loud music required), air conditioned venues... Theater, opera, and access to the conveniences of being able to drive 10-15 min to anything interesting.

I'm also looking at better job opportunities, but currently work at walmart and will be trying to transfer through that company to a new location (before looking for better once I'm settled in). On the off chance that its difficult to find a good job right away, I'd like to plan to need to survive on a low income.

Single female, no kids (2 tiny yappy pups, so pet friendly housing is required). I'm not considered broke enough to qualify for food stamps or any form of assistance, and I'm okay with trying to make it without that kind of help.

I've tried looking up cost of living calculators and sites but I'm math phobic and don't really understand what they're trying to tell me. I understand better when speaking directly to someone who has personal experience, so if you know of a place where it could be viable to live alone without subsisting purely on ramen and hot dogs... I'd love to hear about it.

(Yeah, roommates are an option, but I prefer living alone if at all possible without having to live away from city entertainment and convenience).
posted by myShanon to Travel & Transportation (37 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Meant to include in the bit about wanting to be in a major city... my vehicle is near implosion, so I also need access to regular and reliable (preferable 24 hour) public transport since I don't have to worry about getting to work when that happens. I'm not much of a party animal, I just prefer having access to a nightlife and such in case I want to go out :)
posted by myShanon at 11:36 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to confirm - is this the US?
posted by Ashlyth at 12:01 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

As far as I know, only NYC has 24hr. public transit in the US, so you're likely going to need to be flexible on that.
posted by paulcole at 12:29 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you work at Wal-Mart retail or corporate? Target corporate is in Minneapolis, fwiw.
posted by rhizome at 12:32 AM on October 25, 2014

Midwestern college towns with top-ranked state universities can have the high culture you want, the super-affordable housing, nightlife and music (and not just for the students either), and often pretty good public transportation, especially given the size of the town. Champaign-Urbana IL, where I live, hits a lot of your criteria despite not being a "big city." (If you need it, Chicago is a couple hours away on the train.) Madison WI and Bloomington IN are also supposed to be good. [[PM me if you want more detailed info on living cheaply and well in C-U, a subject I've had to become experienced with.]]
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:11 AM on October 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

I was thinking Midwestern college town, too. And maybe CU or Madison or perhaps Ann Arbor or Iowa City. Both of the former have culture and good public transit. Especially CU with goof public transit.

Also, maybe smaller larger cities in the middle of the country--places like Omaha or Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a great city. I really like it. maxsparber is in Omaha. You might MeMail him.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:18 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by pearlybob at 4:08 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

One situation where having roommates might be advisable would be a college town where a professional couple with no kids, or a retired couple, have a room for rent. I knew people in my college town (not recommending it to you because it's DC area, and everything DC area is barely affordable) who would rent a single room and the couple was never home - one had a job whose traveling took them all over the country, the other worked long hours, etc. So they practically had the house to themselves. And when they didn't, it was with a mature couple and not loud college kids. That was usually why they felt OK getting the extra money from renting out a room - they knew they wouldn't be crossing paths with their tenant a lot. And vice versa. The fact that you have dogs may narrow the search down quite a bit since you'd need someone who wouldn't mind the pups, but it's something to consider in your search if living alone just doesn't seem affordable enough. Or find someone who is leaving the country long term and needs a house sitter for 6 months to a year, while you figure things out? (, etc) Even Air BNB could come in handy here.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:22 AM on October 25, 2014

Buffalo. Dirt cheap; I know lots of people who live alone and make very little money (mostly adjunct professors, guaranteed they make less than you). The only thing it doesn't match on your list is 24 hour public transportation.
posted by tippy at 5:23 AM on October 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I live in Atlanta, and while our public transportation system isn't world-class, it's pretty darn good. We have plenty of Wal-Marts and in decent locations.

Chamblee has a huge Wal-Mart, right on Peachtree, so you can get there by bus. There is TONS of affordable, safe housing on Buford Highway about three miles away. The buildings are a bit run-down, but they're cheap, and Buford has buses and jitneys running up and down it all the time. We also have Uber and local cabs like Taxi Hispanicos, in case you need to get someplace. (That area has a lot of immigrants from Mexico, so knowing Spanish won't hurt anything.)

Atlanta has world-class health care (we actually cure Ebola here without infecting ourselves) and lots of great opportunities for jobs.

Our Ikea is offering $12 per hour starting in January, so there's something to think about.

Our climate is temperate, with only the rare snowstorm shutting us down.

It's worth thinking about.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:26 AM on October 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Looking for personal recommendations on where a single person might afford to live alone at minimum wage without subsisting on ramen and hot dogs. Is it even possible?

I don't mean to be the Debbie Downer here, but you really can't afford the opera and other such activities if you are making minimum wage. This site has a great visualization, but I get what you're saying about the cost of living calculators, how much do you put in for each amount, right? Its hard to be exact, but maybe some estimates and resources might help you figure things out:

I picked Pennsylvania - minimum wage is $7.25
Rent - $500 (Craigslist has a site for most major cities, so visit their rentals and see what the going rate is for the state/city you are interested in)
Utilities & services (electric, gas, water, trash, etc) - $175 ($70 data phone plan is included in this, If you want cable tv/internet, add another $100)
Transportation (Septa monthly pass) - $91
Health Insurance (Here is an ACA Calculator to give you an estimate) for the purposes of this, I'll say $50
Food (USDA Food Plans -PDF) - $190
Household essentials (toilet paper, cleaning products, shampoo, makeup, etc) YMMV, but I'm going with a conservative $50
Other expenses - alcohol, entertainment, movies, clothing, gifts & presents, memberships, credit card debit, prescriptions --- lets pretend you don't have any of those costs and you only go to one movie a month at $15, and $25/month for clothing - total $40/mo

Just based on those very basic items, you will be $142 in debt per year.

!!! Yikes!

My best advice to you is to make a budget. If you have an idea going into this of how much everything will cost, it will allow you to adjust as necessary. If you got a roommate, your rent might be half of $750 or $375 a month, now run the budget with those numbers. If you really understand the money coming in and going out, you will be able to make the best informed decision for you, whatever great area other Mefites suggest for you. Best of luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 5:38 AM on October 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Minneapolis might work. Most people I know working low-paying jobs live in shared houses, though (but I also know a lot of the sort of people who would choose to live in shared houses, regardless of income). I'm not sure what a studio in an okay neighborhood goes for these days. Public transport runs 21+ hours a day. (I just checked--the trains stop for 45 minutes at like 3.30am; buses tend to stop between 1 something and 4 something in the morning.) There are two Wal-Marts accessible by public transit. (If you go for Minneapolis and they give you a choice of location, pick Midway in St Paul. Getting to the Bloomington store on the bus sucks, both in terms of distance and the fact the 5 is the most disliked bus in town.)

Coincidentally, working 40 hours a week for minimum wage in Minneapolis (which is $8/hour) is like $300/month below the cutoff for SNAP for a one person household. (There's no asset limit if you've received a leaflet about domestic violence that you can download.) It's below the income limit for Medical Assistance as well, but I don't know as much about that. Wherever you end up, you should not assume you won't qualify for some form of public assistance.
posted by hoyland at 5:40 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh wow, shame on me, I got so into the other numbers, I forgot you said you have two dogs. You're going to have to add that - according to this site, that's almost $500 per dog/per year (without pet insurance), so add $1000 a year for the pups.

Adding that in, you will be $842 in debt after one year.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:43 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention, we have an awesome non-profit vet. Wellpet Humane. Our kitties go there and after bitching and moaning all the way in the car, once there, they get pretty happy about being there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman, living alone, and I make $25,000 a year. I live by myself in a new five appliance top floor unit in Halifax, 5-20 minutes WALKING distance to everything (including the downtown core). I know you are currently in America but perhaps you have the option of coming to Canada?

Halifax is awesome for people on their own, possibly due to the enormous transient student population. There are dozens of live music events happening every night (free to $10 admission), and if you buy seasonal fare at the farmer's market food is quite cheap. The quality of food is exceptional I can't think of anywhere else I can buy amazingly fresh and tasty organic produce at lower prices than the supermarket junk.

If you are vegan or vegetarian and like dining out there are plenty of spots where you can get delicious entrees instead of making do with cobbled together appetizers. Lots of options for meatatarians too. I find the restaurant food here superior in taste and far lower in price than comparable dining establishments in larger cities like New York, Vancouver, Sydney or Toronto.

There are also plenty of festivals, author readings and interesting / quirky fairs with cheap or free admission. Ones that stand out to me from recent months would be the tattoo show, Gothic valentines craft show, the psychic show, the vegetarian show, and the animal fashion show. Pride week was done very well here with great programing. Always a ton of cheap things for a single person to do and meet others!

The nicest part about this is I could never afford such a lifestyle in any other similar or larger Canadian major city. As I mentioned above, Halifax is incredibly walkable and even cab rides within the downtown area (if you don't feel like walking) have never cost me more than $15. Admittedly the buses are horrendous but you can walk everywhere. As well, people are incredibly friendly, so you can't ever get very lonely. Others strike up conversations with me on the bus, on the streets, in restaurants. True some are creepy with their pick up attempts but I find that far rarer than in other cities. If I need more human interaction I can go to a live show and several times the group sitting next to me would include me in their festivities.

The importance of looking glamorous is low. There is far less pressure to be out and about in heels all the time, to wear makeup, to have the latest name brands, or carry designer purses, than in comparable major cities, so you can save a TON of money by not having to dress to a certain standard. I don't have to pay the "beauty and fashion" tax as I think of it, which makes up for the high government tax.

The job situation is weird here though. I moved here from out of province as it was the only place I could find office work that paid more than my existing Ontario job. However, most of the under 30s crowd that work seem to leave Nova Scotia for better paying opportunities in Ontario and Alberta. The difference may be they had trades backgrounds or practical degrees while I did not. Or possibly they knew people in the industry? I'm not sure. Someone more knowledgeable about the economy in Eastern Canada can contribute, in my experience I was able to find office type jobs quite easily (though the wages were pretty low) due to a lack of viable candidates in province. I was offered several minimum wage and contract positions at very reputable companies even though I was applying out of province.

Mind you, my paycheck is low, and I do technically live paycheck to paycheck. Rent and basic utilities take about 75% of my salary. I make too little to have the luxury of any real savings. But I'm also able to live a "normal" and fun filled life, filled with inexpensive cultural activities, without feeling deprived - which I definitely couldn't do elsewhere.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 6:50 AM on October 25, 2014 [18 favorites]

I no longer live anywhere near there, but I would suggest taking a look at Louisville, Kentucky. Not the best public transport, but it's improving from what I hear, and the cool and affordable neighborhoods are all centrally located anyway. In particular, look into Old Louisville and Germantown/Paristown/Scnitzelburg.

Knoxville TN is also a good place. Bigger city feel than it should have, pretty affordable, and a giant new Wal Mart right in the heart of things by the UTK campus. No idea about the transport situation there, but my gut says it's workable because of the large student population.

I'll also second the recommendation that you look at Midwestern college towns. Not sure how the rents are, but Bloomington, IN has always been a pretty nice place. Not exactly bustling urban metropolis, but enough going on to feel a bit bigger than it is. I would say the same for Danville, KY (where Centre College is), but it's not there yet (feels very nice, but isolated).
posted by still bill at 7:21 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chicago can be surprisingly affordable, if you know where to look. You'll need to avoid the overpriced enclaves on the north side, for starters. The southwest side has some neighborhoods (McKinley Park, Brighton Park) with very cheap housing, while still being reasonably safe. The trade off is they can be pretty boring places to live; on the other hand, a 20-minute train ride gets you downtown, and buses can get you anywhere in the city, with some 24-hour routes.

(I've since bought a house in this area, but my last rental, ~ 6 years ago, was about $650 a month for a large 2-bedroom. Just sayin'...)

I've got no idea about the job situation, but Walmart has been opening stores in the city. (The city actually forced them to pay a higher starting wage before allowing them in.)
posted by Bron at 8:18 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I live in the Buffalo area, but really any rust belt city will be cheap as dirt. The problem in Buffalo (or Cleveland or Dayton or anywhere else in the rust belt) will be finding a job. Checking out the job and rent sections on rust-belt craigslists should give you a decent idea of both sides.

I know you are currently in America but perhaps you have the option of coming to Canada?

Only if she's a Canadian citizen, is about to marry one, or has close Canadian relatives. Career-based immigration is not realistic for low-wage jobs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:33 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree about Chicago. I rent a two bed for 750 washer and drier included. You have to know where to look. Sometimes you have to be able to tolerate quirks of old apartments built in the early 1900's. If you can do that you can get by. I got a two bed for 550 when I was living on about 13000 a year. It was full of code violations but it was warm and a roof and I lived there for 5 years until I finished college and got an actual job. A studio can be around 500 or 600 occasionally I see them for 450. You do need to know your tolerance of crime and what neighborhoods you are comfortable with.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:39 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Many people in Chicago choose the roommate option to live in nicer (read: northside) neighborhoods. For someone from the southern united states I feel it's is surprisingly common for people in their late 20's early 30's to have roommates.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:43 AM on October 25, 2014

Madison WI's rental costs are ridiculously high: $650 for efficiencies half-mile from bus routes on the edge of town. Years wait list for subsidized housing.

Issue with any northern city is the "winter tax." You have to maintain a second, warm wardrobe, plus warm footwear; the utility bills are significant (yes AC in the south but it's not life-or-death for most folks). Unless you find your bliss walking in -10° F on icy pathways, you need to budget for treating and preventing cabin fever from mid-January to mid-April (more music, movies, stimulants, &c).

Once you have two or three places you want to research, there's an excellent "where to move" forum at City-Data, which lets you search for cost of living by location. For example, Q&A for Louisville KY.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

My experience is almost totally limited to the northeast, but IMO Philly combines all of the amenities of a big city with very low cost of living (at least for cities in the region). Bonus points, winters in Philly aren't anywhere near as nasty as they are in, say, NY, and the city has a very good public transit system with bus options almost 24/7.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the right answer is, but Milwaukee (mentioned above) is the wrong answer. You maybe could technically live on minimum wage, but it would SUCK, and you certainly would not be going to the opera or saving any money. You seem... pretty naive on that score.

You are almost definitely looking at living with roommates. I doubt anyone will rent a decent apartment to someone living on minimum wage unless you can pay a good chunk of rent upfront or have a cosigner. I was required to have an income at least 3x my rent. I pay $600 for a one bedroom in a safe but not awesome neighborhood. It is definitely not walking distance to anything cool.

Minimum wage is $7.25, so at 40 hrs a week, you're looking at about $1000/month after taxes. Sub-400 apartments are going to be really shitty and in bad neighborhoods, but let's go with $400 if you can find a roommate.

You can get pretty cheap healthcare plans through the ACA, but the deductibles are really high ($6000+) so if you go in to urgent care, etc you'll be paying for that out of pocket. Let's use Nora Charles number of $50.

Internet + cell phone is going to be about $100/mo. No cable TV for you.

Food - you are not going out to eat, ever. $200/mo in groceries. Don't forget pet food. I don't know how much yappy dogs eat but I pay about $40/mo to feed two cats.

Utilities & services (electric, gas, etc - water/trash/heat are usually paid by landlord here) - I pay $40 and I think my use is average.

Transportation - $64 (monthly bus pass. Transport is decidedly not 24 hours/day.)

Laundry - about $2/load, I do about 8 loads/month, so $16... but remember, you either have to have a washer/dryer in your building, or you will have to lug that on the bus. You will not be able to afford an apartment with a washer/dryer in the unit.

All of the above is $910, so you have $90 left for absolutely everything else. Clothes, cleaning supplies, vet appointments, medical costs for you, opera tickets, etc. If you have any student loans or credit card debt, then you're just going to dig yourself in further. If you don't work a solid 40 hrs/week, this plan completely goes down the drain. Basically, make more money or eat less food.

Milwaukee's generally regarded as having a low cost of living, so I don't know how other cities will realistically be much better.
posted by desjardins at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I see you mention the car in the more inside. If you're wanting to live in a city, getting rid of the car will help make any city much more affordable. Besides the cost of gas and repairs, if your car is old, the insurance will be higher. If you're moving to a place with good public transit, make that your daily way to work rather than your back-up if something goes wrong with the car.

I also jumped to Buffalo, fwiw. In general, I think you want small cities. (say half a million people) They're cities so they'll have transit, and city amenities and events, but they're small enough to be walkable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:45 AM on October 25, 2014

Looking for personal recommendations on where a single person might afford to live alone at minimum wage without subsisting on ramen and hot dogs. Is it even possible?

The question that springs to mind is are you actually talking about literal minimum wage, like $7.25 per hour? Or do you mean something more general like "under $25,000"?

Because the actual minimum wage can vary from state to state (Wikipedia link on U.S. minimum wage, which has a table noting the wage in each state), and even a couple of bucks an hour can make the difference between "tough but do-able" and "impossible".

I've tried looking up cost of living calculators and sites but I'm math phobic and don't really understand what they're trying to tell me.

Try this living wage estimate calculator from MIT. I think the numbers might be slightly outdated (they're using 2010 data), but it does a lot of the math for you to give you a general sense of "what you can afford" in various towns & cities.

For example, referring back to my above question, if you look at the calculator results for where I live (Cleveland, Ohio, a Rust Belt city generally considered dirt-cheap) - link here, hopefully - you'll see that it counts the minimum wage at $7.30, but figures that you would need to be making at least $8.27 per hour to be able to live alone as a single person. Which would be under $18,000 per year if you were working 40 hours/week. And I, personally, have managed to live alone in Cleveland while making less than $20,000 per year, totally possible, although I didn't live in the best neighborhood.

So you might get some clearer answers here, or at least be able to think more clearly about the issues yourself, if you had a more definite income in mind.

access to the conveniences of being able to drive 10-15 min to anything interesting.
I also need access to regular and reliable (preferable 24 hour) public transport

The "drive 10-15 min" and "24 hour public transport" are things that . . . . mmmmmm . . . might not be stumbling blocks, exactly, but that you might have to adjust your expectations of.

Like, I'll nth the idea of looking at Midwestern cities (esp. Rust Belt) and college towns (I've traveled to quite a few of both) as being high on your list of affordable places, but:

The smaller cities and college towns seem to tend to have most of the cool stuff concentrated in one or two areas, and fairly close to housing, so the short drive is likely possible, but I've no idea what the public transportation situation is, and places like this might not get or have as much "first-class" stuff as you would like (bands or Broadway shows on tour, for example).

On the other hand, larger cities will generally have more things to do & more city conveniences, but in the Midwest cities tend to sprawl, so you'll have various pockets of cool stuff that can be separated by some distance. Which means getting from Point A to Point B can easily take more than 15 minutes, and even with some level of 24-hour public transportation, you can't necessarily get from Point A to Point B anytime in those 24 hours. And using public transportation can easily double your travel time in some of these cities.

TL;DR - Really, there are lots of places in the U.S. that could be viable options for you - kinda almost anywhere that isn't a major coastal city. Maybe it would help if you thought about the job prospects first; find where the available jobs are that fit whatever your skills and experience may be, then do some research (including posting more questions here) that would help you get a "feel" for some of the places you're considering.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2014

I lived in Milwaukee, which is an outrageously cheap city, I made minimum wage, and even then I had to live with roommates. And we didn't have a dog. I agree, you seem pretty... naive about the real costs of living. It's unfortunate you are math-phobic, because if you are poor, living alone in a new environment (and away from family or safety nets), understanding a budget is vital.

Do you have marketable skills? Can you make more than minimum wage?
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, can you clarify what you mean by "minimum wage" - is it literally $7.25/hr? Are you guaranteed to get at least 40 hrs/week? Because $1500/month is a decent living here if you have zero debt and no car. The reason the living wage movement has been picking up steam is because the current minimum wage is not a decent living wage.

Your car is definitely going to have to go. I don't really understand how you are able to afford it now. Mine is paid off, it's 11 years old, and I estimate it costs me $270/mo to operate including gas, insurance, license & repairs. Granted, I have a nice car, so an econobox would be considerably less, but definitely not less than $150/mo (add more if you ever park on the street or in a paid lot).
posted by desjardins at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

currently work at walmart and will be trying to transfer through that company to a new location

Ooops, I seem to have missed this part of your question, but if that's your plan, then I think you really need to nail down - for yourself at least, even if you don't update here - a better idea of what you'll be paid per hour and how many hours/week you can expect. As best you can, anyway. Because I really suspect you are in a position where a difference of a couple of bucks per hour or 5-10 hours per week could be the deciding factors in whether you will be able to keep your head above water in any given city.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:14 AM on October 25, 2014

Most upstate NY cities would fit the bill, except for 24-hour public transportation, and in mine at least (Albany) it is viable to cheaply live within walking/ biking distance to entertainment. And there's a bus line going straight to the Glenmont Wal-Mart.
posted by metasarah at 11:26 AM on October 25, 2014

If you do wind up someplace with good public transportation, you should definitely think about ditching the car - keeping a car around and running can be pricey. I've heard the AAA estimate at eight grand a year for parking, gas, insurance, and repairs. That seems high, but either way the money you're putting in to a car can be the difference between barely making it and living pretty comfortably if you're in a position where you can get away with not having one.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:37 PM on October 25, 2014

Along the same lines as Atlanta, Memphis has a super low cost of living and all the cultural things you're looking for. A car is pretty much a must bc our pub.transportation sucks but it's easy to get around (+/- 15 mins to get anywhere if you live in the city and not the burbs). We've always been behind the curve--right now is an interesting time because there are a lot of "hip" things happening (I thint we've gotten like, 5 new breweries in the past couple years) but the housing prices haven't caught up. Lots of music and free (or very cheap) cultural events. MeMail me if you have questions!
posted by a.steele at 3:44 PM on October 25, 2014

I will Nth college towns, though not just in the Midwest. I have limited familiarity with Athens, Georgia and I lived in Manhattan, Kansas for a time (both are college towns). Big college campuses from more than 100 years ago tend to do a good job of being pedestrian-friendly and having decent public transit (for an American town -- not saying it would be great by European standards).

If you think Canada sounds good, go ahead and look into it. I used to second-hand know of someone who went there following the end of their abusive marriage. I don't think she was educated or had any special skills. I think she had some entry level job in Canada. I don't know what it takes to move to Canada, but if that sounds good, don't rule it out based on some one liner about how you can't do it unless x, y or z.

California is not cheap, but both the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego county have good public transit (again: for America -- we are not talking 24/7, but living without a car is more do-able than in a lot of places and the beautiful weather also helps with that angle). San Diego is substantially cheaper than San Francisco, in spite of having a higher population for the city in question. The county also shares a border with Mexico, so it enjoys something of an International/cosmopolitan flavor not found in too many American places.

For me, good climate is worth its weight in gold. I came back to California because it is good for my health and I have a very expensive medical condition. So, I have been better off here, in spite of the high cost of living, because I am healthier, so expenses are down and productivity is gradually going up. The future is looking sort of bright. And I toss that out there to suggest that "cost of living" based on some sort of aggregated figure of average food costs and what not for some typical population doesn't necessarily mean a hill of a beans for what is the cheap spot for YOU to live. For me, a good climate where I need less medical care is the cheap spot. This drives me somewhat crazy, because the housing prices are galling, though, on the other hand, there are a lot of foreclosures in some parts of San Diego county at the moment. I have fantasies of someday picking up a cheap foreclosure, and thereby having decent housing at a low price, in spite of it being California. If you have any savvy at all about real estate, or are willing and able to acquire some, that might be A Plan for you as well.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 3:45 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Those cost of living calculators are simpler than they sound. Basically, they tell you that if X represents the amount of stuff you can, on average, buy in the US with $1, how much does it cost in [city] to buy X.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a dollar's worth of stuff costs $0.848. There isn't a remotely similarly sized city in COLI's top 10.

I used to live in Memphis. A musician friend of mine once summed it up perfectly by saying, "It's a great town if you're not worried about trying to get ahead."

The bad: Memphis has a high amount of property crime in less affluent areas and a lot of violent crime (though localized in the poorest areas); it's de facto segregated; it has hilariously crooked and incompetent politicians; public transit is less and less useful as you leave the city center. There are a high amount of those kind of conservative Christians.

The good: there are cool neighborhoods, great stores, a terrific music scene, great food, super low key people. You can have a decent life for less money than in other places. They have a good theater scene, a symphony, and an opera. You can drive most places within 15 minutes and positively anywhere in half an hour. Midtown folks tend to be cool, progressive types.

Memphians positively love their booze. Wags will tell you the city motto is either, "We'll get it done tomorrow" or "We'll quit drinking next week."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:41 PM on October 25, 2014

City Data, referenced above, is a great site.

Seconding cities in upstate NY. Rochester has a ton of culture.

I also agree that something probably will have to give. Hopefully it's the minimum wage part.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:24 PM on October 25, 2014

Those cost of living calculators are simpler than they sound. ... In Memphis, Tennessee, a dollar's worth of stuff costs $0.848. There isn't a remotely similarly sized city in COLI's top 10.

I missed that myShanon had mentioned COL calculators -- I'd recommend just ignoring them as they're far more specialized tools than they seem at first glance, with lots of potentially dubious assumptions baked into them.

Biggest problem: almost all the ones I've seen are based on the one dirtyoldtown linked to, which is intended only for professionals and managers in the top 20% of income. And even then it's pretty fucked up -- it says that Buffalo of all places has higher than average housing costs (or at least did the last time I looked), and what they list as the average price would buy my four-bedroom suburban house, and our neighbor's house, and our other neighbor's house.

tl;dr -- they're not useful tools for anyone not making $100K minimum, and they seem pretty damn dodgy even for people who are well-off.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:10 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: One comment deleted. Suggestions for other moneysaving ideas/apps can be suggested to the OP via Mefi mail, but we need to stick to the main question here (cities where one can afford to live alone at minimum wage). Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:00 AM on October 27, 2014

Response by poster: Holy crap responses, I never got any email notifications so I completely forgot about this post. Looking through a lot of the comments and suggestions now, thank you!

As to the 24 hour public transport, I didn't mean literally round the clock. I've lived in cities that had a bus running from 5-6am to around 2-3am (especially in downtown/club areas) so its not as unrealistic as it sounds. I meant more that you could get around pretty much anywhere via bus. I've also lived a few places where there were huge gaps in space "oh, just walk three miles that direction and you'll find it" is a bit difficult for getting to work on time :)

I also didn't mean that I wanted to be going to the opera/etc all the time, I was just listing the types of activities that interest me. I'm currently living in an area where the only thing anyone I talk to is interested in doing is going hiking, camping, or other outdoor stuff that doesn't interest me in the slightest. I'd be happy catching an occasional cheaper matinee showing up in the nosebleed seats of a theatre a couple of times a year... or on a date if I meet someone who shares the interest in cultural activities :D

The pups are tiny and their expenses haven't been much so far, in the last year I've spent maybe $300 including updating vet/shots and standard food/treat/toys type stuff. Oh, and another $150 in boarding when I blew my tax return on a vacation because I'd never taken one before.

For the most part I stay home with the pups and netflix, or hang out with friends. My tastes aren't expensive, I just want to be close to options in case I have the opportunity and spare funds to go out now and then. Last time I lived in a rural area, I never went out because factoring in gas money and travel time it wasn't worthwhile.
posted by myShanon at 8:16 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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