Where should I live?
February 8, 2016 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone offer some helpful advice about good places to live in the United States that currently have a low cost of living? I expect to be placed on a fixed income soon of about $1300 per month, so I'd like to live somewhere where I could make that work.

My main concern is the cost of housing and I'd like to cap that at about $500 per month if possible. I would prefer living alone, but could see myself living with roommates if I had to. Also, I prefer to live in politically liberal cities with universities and public transportation available as I have no car. I would also need regular access to a therapist and p-doc. I'm a single, 34 year old male. I have family in NYC and was originally from Portland, Oregon so I'm partial to those areas, but they may be too expensive for my budget.

I'm not in a hurry to move as I currently have a place to stay with family, but I'd like to move out on my own again at some point in the near future.

Thanks in advance for your ideas and advice.
posted by Gosha_Dog to Work & Money (22 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Philly people tell me that you can get a place around that much, but that's second-hand info so I can't back it up.
posted by greta simone at 8:53 PM on February 8, 2016

Olympic Peninsula?
posted by My Dad at 8:58 PM on February 8, 2016

Utah has really low cost of living. I live in a relatively large town and pay $650 for 2 bedrooms, which is pretty high for here, but it's a sweet victorian and I like the balconies.
posted by Marinara at 8:58 PM on February 8, 2016

Olympic Peninsula would not be my first choice for someone relying on public transit.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:16 PM on February 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Ogden, Utah. Has all those things, great transit, a university, cheap rent. Nice outdoor spaces. Rated a great place to retire, some liberal stuff here. Nice art community, good medical. Easy train to Salt Lake City.
posted by Oyéah at 9:23 PM on February 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I also came to suggest Salt Lake or its rail-accessible suburbs. The city is fun and pretty liberal as long as you don't pay attention to the rest of the state. Four real seasons, the University of Utah is huge and in the middle of the city, pretty decent public transit since all the light rail came in.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:34 PM on February 8, 2016

Lexington, Kentucky
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:44 PM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

You want Urbana, Illinois. Top university town, low-cost housing, politically and socially liberal, home to the big Carle medical system, and with an award-winning public transit network. The state's going through a mess at the moment with our lousy governor, and that's affecting everyone, but C-U's still got everything you're wanting in a small city.

(To address your specific request: I live in a large 1BR beside a park in walking distance of downtown & college for $500 a month. You can definitely keep costs under control here.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:54 PM on February 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

Dayton, Ohio has one of the lowest housing costs in the country, and a low cost of living overall. I've been really impressed with the amount of public infrastructure and support for the arts and culture for a city of its size and affordability.
posted by Pwoink at 10:39 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to say Champaign-Urbana, too.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:01 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Milwaukee has relatively affordable rent. I can't imagine $500 is going to get you a particularly nice place anywhere (but maybe I'm wrong), but you can get a non-shithole studio in Milwaukee in a nice area for around $500. Milwaukee of course has good public transportation, liberal city, and two universities in the area.
posted by Dalby at 4:37 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wisconsin has Scott Walker, too.
posted by H21 at 5:18 AM on February 9, 2016

Atlanta might work for you.

I know that $500 apartments exist, they may not be showplaces, but they're in decent neighborhoods. My thoughts are specifically a ton of apartments along Buford Highway in Brookhaven. It's a huge corridor with lots of shopping. In addition to city busses and MARTA, there are little private bus companies that go up and down the road.

I like Atlanta a lot. It's a liberal, multi-cultural city with lots to do. We have world-class hospitals. We have transit (it's not perfect, but it exists.) Sports, college and professional. More theater than you can shake a stick at, and it's affordable!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:58 AM on February 9, 2016

Columbus, OH Below average cost of living. TONS of universities, including the biggest. Fairly liberal (and your vote is in a swing state). Public transportation isn't the absolute best, but it's getting better, and if you chose your neighborhood carefully, it's very do-able.

We're in a weird spot right now where buying is more affordable than renting in some areas, but I'd think looking in the areas that are the next big thing, like Old Town East and Franklinton would get you something in your budget. OSU campus area is also pretty feasible.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 6:23 AM on February 9, 2016

I know 'cheap' pretty much sums up your criteria, but you should also consider some long-term factors if you're intending on settling down. Such as:

Air Quality - has serious negative effects on health/wellness, which in turn affect quality of life and medical costs.
Water Quality - Ditto, especially in light of recent events. The USGS also provides a real-time water quality map.
Infrastructure Ratings - You'd be surprised how many 'nice' cities have crumbling infrastructure, which can translate to higher taxes, utilities and insurance over time.
City-Data - All the extra statistical bits that add up to a city: income/employment, taxes, crime, local hospitals/grocery stores/schools, climate data, etc. The most important bit is the section on local government finances; ideally, you don't want to move to a bankrupt municipality.
Cost of Living (Numbeo and Bankrate) - Numbeo is user-data generated, and Bankrate is barebones COLI (Cost of Living Index) data. Both will give you an idea of cost over time for utilities, groceries, transit, etc.

This is a tough descision, but some research should help you narrow down your options. Good luck!
posted by givennamesurname at 7:15 AM on February 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

You could make this work in Philly if you lived in a house with roommates (I have). Philly has a lot of the amenities you are looking for, although it probably wouldn't be as cheap as some smaller cities. You also should be eligible for Medicaid and possibly food stamps with that income.
posted by bearette at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2016

Louisville, KY would meet your needs.
posted by capricorn at 8:25 AM on February 9, 2016

Tucson, AZ: It's a politically liberal college town (unlike the rest of AZ, clearly) and cost of living is dirt cheap. The downtown area has recently been revitalized and feels very Portland-y to me (fantastic coffee, food, yoga studios, other amenities); admittedly it is really hard to get around the rest of the city without a car, but there are a growing number of of people living carless in the downtown/university area now, and my friends who do that say it is very functional as long as you don't have to commute out of that area for work (also most of them bike).
posted by Owl of Athena at 9:29 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest Champaign-Urbana, too. It is smaller than the other places mentioned but I think it ticks most of your boxes. And it has reasonably good transportation options to Chicago for more urban adventures. I lived there for years in graduate school and the only time I really needed a car was when I was leaving town. I got around quite easily by bus/foot/bike.
posted by percolatrix at 10:18 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll put in another plug for Tucson, AZ. I moved here for grad school, expecting to tolerate it at best, and ended up loving it.

Tucson is doable without a car--I've done it--but it is definitely helpful to have one. $500/month without roommates is absolutely possible, although you might be limited to a studio or quite small 1BR if you want to live near downtown--and being downtown would make the carless life much easier. The transit situation near the center of the city has recently gotten better with the addition of a streetcar line connecting downtown to the university campus. If you do ride a bike it's got decent (and improving) bike infrastructure, mostly flat terrain, a friendly climate (and good air quality), and a solid community of urban cyclists. Culturally, I think it's a good fit for what you're looking for. Lots of artists and hippies and other liberal types, and a solid intellectual culture since the flagship University of Arizona is a central presence.

You get used to the heat in the summer--I never believed everything they say about "dry heat" until I lived here, but it's true--and between mid-October and mid-March it's pretty much perfect. There are mountains surrounding the city, washes and dry riverbeds cutting through it in a couple of places, and all kinds of cactus everywhere. It's a beautiful place in a dry, dusty, desert kind of way.
posted by egregious theorem at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pittsburgh's cost of living is 8% less than the national average, and 20% less than NYC. Not super cheap, but maybe workable. It has universities, but a blue collar feeling left over from the now-departed steel industry.

People who live on blue collar neighborhoods have a greater tendency to barter labor and help each other out than do the more affluent. Whatever city, choose your neighborhood wisely.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2016

Get a map and spiral out from NYC and PDX 'til you hit a college town; look up its cost of living, walk/bike-ability, and public transportation rating. For PDX, that's pretty easy: Eugene, Corvallis. (Bend isn't a college town, but meets most of your criteria). Glancing at Eugene craigslist, keeping rent under $500 seems very doable.
posted by at at 3:25 PM on February 9, 2016

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