Since the coronavirus crisis ramped up in March, we've all seen the changes and fluctuations in the economy, whether it be differences in healthcare rates, rent freezes and eviction moratoriums, job changes and layoffs or even just the cost of going to the grocery store. But there are places in the U.S. where it's gotten more expensive to live over those several months and places where it's become cheaper.
So, out of the 250 or so largest cities and metro areas in the U.S., which have become even cheaper places to live? Which have seen their cost of living expenses drop the most from the first quarter of 2020 to the third?
From Florida to California, these are the top 10 metro areas where the cost of living has decreased by the highest percentage since before the pandemic.
The three largest cities in Alabama — Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham — are roughly the same size. But it's Montgomery, the state's capital and one of the nation's cheapest places to live, that's weathered cost of living changes during the coronavirus pandemic. Down 2.9 percent since the pandemic took hold in March, the third quarter cost of living in Montgomery is nearly 12 points below median at 88.2, by far the lowest of our top 10.
With a deep history as the first capital of the South and an epicenter in the Civil Rights movement, the city remains a diverse and important institute of Black culture. Built on the backs of the cotton industry, Montgomery's economy is steeped in agriculture and crop farming, but modern-day industries including healthcare, government and 21st-century manufacturing.
And with one of the premier mid-sized arts hubs in the nation, a walkable downtown development district, 1,600 acres of parkland and a thriving music scene, Montgomery also features a robust tourism industry.
Halfway between San Jose and San Diego and lacking the cache of its California neighbors L.A. and San Francisco, Bakersfield remains the largest state's ninth-largest city. Garnering kind of a square and mundane reputation compared to the coastal cities, Bakersfield is the family-friendly side of the Golden State, a steady and reliable energy production hub with a low cost of living (for California, at least.)
Located in the Central Valley at the southern end of San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield may not be flashy, but key mountain passes to the coast, such as Tejon Pass along Interstate 5, make this oil and natural gas community an important transportation hub. But Bakersfield is surprisingly an important music city, as well, the origin of the “Bakersfield sound," the first country music genre influenced by the electric guitars, pedal steels and strong backbeats of then-nascent rock and roll.
While above the national median, a cost of living of 106.6 may not sound low, but it sure is for California. And that's a figure that has decreased 2.9 percent from the first quarter of 2020 to the third which leans on a more than 7 percent reduction in the cost of goods and services.
Halfway between the Bay Area and Yosemite, Stockton — in the heart of California's Central Valley — is a comeback kid. The city had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation during the 2007 mortgage crisis pushing Stockton to become the largest city in the U.S. to ever declare bankruptcy.
Today, Stockton is now five years emerged from bankruptcy protection and growing into a trendy west coast destination. The city boasts a century-old symphony, a number of museums and theaters, dozens of annual festivals, the main campus of the University of the Pacific and a gorgeous downtown inland waterfront on McLeod Lake. A city for everyone, Stockton was even ranked “America's Most Diverse City" by U.S. News.
The home of Michael Tubbs, the nation's youngest big city mayor, Stockton — still a desirable California town — is not a cheap place to live, with a cost of living index at 118. However, that represents a 3 percent drop from March, including an 11 percent decrease in the cost of groceries.
Texas has 254 counties. Georgia has 159. Delaware has 3. One is outside Philadelphia, one is where the capital is and one is essentially Maryland extended. Sussex is Delaware's southernmost county, home to Lewes, Seaford and Milford, Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany Beaches and Cape Henlopen. Sussex is in the Salisbury, MD sphere of influence, just seven miles from the state border.
Halfway down the Delmarva Peninsula, Sussex, with Georgetown as its county seat, is a laid-back Eastern Shore region, much more Southern than the rest of Delaware. The county is mostly rural and agricultural in its economy. In fact, Sussex raises more poultry than any other county in the nation. But the Delaware Beaches are among the most popular in the Northeast, a destination for vacationers from New York to D.C.
Just 90 minutes to Baltimore and Washington, two hours from Philly and right on the ocean, Sussex is in the middle of everything, but its ruralness keeps things affordable. Its cost of living index is more than the median at 103.1, which is both significantly lower than much of the Northeast and down 3 percent from the start of the coronavirus crisis.
During the long days of the coronavirus crisis, many Americans pined for a move to Canada. Well, that's a non-starter for most Americans, but for residents of Minot, the border between North Dakota and Manitoba is under an hour's drive away. This tiny city in north-central North Dakota may be small, but it's booming. While the population is just more than 47,000, that marks a 16 percent increase from a decade ago and a nearly 30 percent rise since 2000.
But don't let the Cowtown address fool you. Despite its isolation, downtown Minot and the greater Souris (or Mouse) River Valley around it have a number of destinations including museums, theaters and music venues, retail and vintage shopping, western wear stores, sports and wine bars, cafés and restaurants. The region continues to grow with the addition of loft apartments, commercial arts, new parks and office space created under a downtown redevelopment project in the wake of the devastating 2011 flood.
Home to both the North Dakota State Fairgrounds and actor Josh Duhamel, Minot is a small city as big as the northern prairies, with an affordable cost of living. That figure has decreased a full 3 percent since March to a near-median index of 99.8.
Just 30 miles from Chicago, Joliet, in Will County, IL, has transformed itself over the last couple of decades. Coming of age as an important Great Lakes industrial city thick with manufacturing and factories, its convenient location along a number of highways, including Interstates 80, 55 and 355, transformed it into one of the fastest-growing southwestern Chicago commuter suburbs.
But as more folks settle Joliet as a bedroom community, the city continues to maintain a distinct cultural independence from Chicago. Its downtown inside the US 30 loop is booming, with new businesses, museums and retail spots covering the blocks on the eastern shore of the Des Plaines River, highlighted by the minor league baseball stadium, music venues, the Rialto Square Theatre and one of Joliet's two casinos. On the outskirts of town is Chicagoland Motor Speedway just off historic Route 66, which runs through Will County.
Maybe best known as home to “Joliet Jake" Blues from “Blues Brothers" or as the site of the original Dairy Queen, Joliet has seen a drop of 3 percent in cost of living between the first and third quarters of 2020, down to an index of 95.7 points.
In a small corner of western Wyoming is the city that shares its name with nearby Casper Mountain. Though inhabited by just 55,000, Casper is still the second-largest city in the least populated state. The North Platte River town is rich in a history of oil and cowboys.
Casper is a family-friendly western town, named for the son of the original fort's commander (Lt. Caspar Collins — a long-ago typo changed the town's spelling). It's rich with outdoor recreation mostly tied to the north end of the Laramie Mountains that lead into the city, a hub for trails, hiking, picnicking, camping, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. The economy of the city relies on its banking and commerce industries, as well as a pivot from oil to clean energy initiatives.
Named by Forbes as one of the “Best Small Cities to Raise a Family," Casper continues to be affordable, with a 3 percent decrease in cost of living expenses since March, down to a cost index of just 95.5.
At the dawn of the Space Race at the end of World War II, Huntsville transformed itself from a sleepy Alabama textile town into the center of the space industry, the Rocket City home of the U.S. space program at the Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal.
Today, Huntsville is a rocket-engine hot New South town, an industrial city and a modern town with a ton to do. The city expanded deep into the automotive manufacturing and biotechnology industries, in addition to existing space and defense sectors. Museums dot downtown and outdoor recreation is everywhere featuring several parks, trails and nature preserves along with the surrounding mountains.
Large community music and food festivals cover nearly every month of the calendar, the Huntsville Craft Beer Trail offers eight local craft breweries and four craft beer stores and, of course — being an important government town — finding a spot to hit the links is easy at any of six golf courses and country clubs.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to also see that this Northern Alabama Appalachian city is also easy on the wallet. With help from the nation's third-steepest drop in healthcare prices, the cost of living has fallen 3.1 percent since the first quarter, indexing at 91 points.
One of the Tennessee/Virginia “Tri Cities" (along with Bristol and Kingsport), Johnson City is a key outdoor tourism and tech economy hub along Interstate 81. While certainly a northeastern Tennessee college town — with more than 17,000 attending East Tennessee State — economic growth can be pointed at Johnson City's "Med-Tech" corridor featuring a number of health centers, hospitals and medical education facilities.
But for nature tourists, Johnson City stands tall. It's the primary I-26 entry point into the massive Cherokee National Forest and sits day-trip distance from the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains. As well, NASCAR's Bristol Motor Speedway is right nearby with space for 162,000 fans, the seventh-largest sports venue in the world.
The birthplace of Mountain Dew 80 years ago, Johnson City is Forbes' "Best Small Places for Business and Careers" and Kiplinger's fifth “Least-Expensive Cities for Living." And that's only gotten more so since March, with a 3.3 percent fall in the cost of living, from nearly median to 96.6 points (including a steep 12.6 percent slashing of supermarket items).
Twenty years ago, the population of Palm Coast was just less than 33,000. A decade later, that figure had grown more than 125 percent. Today nearly 90,000 people populate the small northeastern Florida coastal town. This growth also matches the timeline of the city's incorporation in 1999.
In that time, numerous housing subdivisions and industrial parks were built to meet demand in Palm Coast and surrounding Flagler County, notably along the manmade channels and canals off the Matanzas River and the barrier lands between the Intracoastal and the Ocean. The literal coastal elites can enjoy many amenities in the region, including an Executive Airport and the Palm Harbor Golf Club.
But as both the South and Florida became hotspots during the pandemic — two lands Palm Coast straddles — the cost of living in Flagler County dropped. In fact, it dropped since March in this Daytona-area city more than anywhere in the U.S., down a full 3.4 percent to 91.4 points, helped by a 13.7 percent decrease in grocery prices, the steepest in the nation.
From Florida to Alaska, the top 25 metro areas where the cost of living is getting cheaper is a diverse collection of cities. Looking for cheap places to live? Check out the 25 cities that have seen the steepest drops since March.
|Rank||Urban Area||Overall Cost Change||Grocery Cost Change||Housing Cost Change||Utility Cost Change||Transportation Cost Change||Healthcare Cost Change||Misc Cost Change|
|1||Palm Coast-Flagler County FL||-3.4%||-13.7%||-2.2%||0.3%||0.3%||-1.3%||-1.7%|
|2||Johnson City TN||-3.3%||-12.6%||-3.1%||0.3%||-1.6%||-0.9%||-1.2%|
|5||Joliet-Will County IL||-3.0%||-7.7%||-4.5%||0.2%||1.0%||-0.1%||-2.3%|
|7||Sussex County DE||-3.0%||-9.4%||3.6%||0.3%||-1.2%||-1.6%||-6.1%|
|13||Baton Rouge LA||-2.4%||-3.3%||-4.0%||-1.8%||-9.4%||-4.9%||0.9%|
|16||Ponca City OK||-2.4%||0.0%||-1.3%||2.9%||-2.6%||-2.9%||-5.6%|
|22||Cedar Park TX||-2.1%||0.7%||-1.6%||0.4%||-4.0%||3.1%||-4.2%|
|23||South Bend IN||-2.1%||-3.3%||1.3%||-3.2%||0.3%||0.8%||-4.5%|
|25||St. George UT||-2.1%||-12.9%||5.2%||0.0%||1.7%||-1.5%||-4.6%|
The coronavirus economy has affected each region and each metro area in the U.S. differently. Both some already-pricey and cheap places to live have gotten even cheaper. Taking into account changes in categories like groceries, housing, utilities, healthcare and more, a change in your personal economy can be helped by a reduction in the cost of living where you choose to live.
To find the areas where it's getting less expensive to live, we looked at cost of living data from The Council for Community and Economic Research from Q1 2020 and compared it to data from Q3 2020, the most recent data available to us. We measured by the percentage change for the main cost of living index to determine the urban areas where it's getting cheaper overall.