5 Best Cities for Cheapskates

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- If you're looking for a cheap U.S. city to live in, take Horace Greeley's advice and go west, young man (or woman).

That's because Texas and Oklahoma host four of the five communities with America's lowest living expenses, according to the sixth-annual Cost of Living Index, released recently by the Council for Community and Economic Research outside Washington, D.C.

"If I had my Washington salary in Austin or San Antonio, I'd be living large," CCER economist Dean Frutiger says.

Frutiger's group compiled its index by comparing average 2012 prices in more than 300 U.S. communities for everything from T-bone steaks to mortgages on four-bedroom houses. In all, the group looked at a basket of 56 goods and services weighted to represent what a typical white-collar household spends its money on during a given year.

Frutiger says America's cheapest locales generally have bargain-basement mortgage or rental costs, as housing accounts for 27% of the group's weighted index.

Still, he recommends consumers debating where to live look at not just at cost of living, but also at such things as local atmosphere and job opportunities.

"Lots of people choose to live in super-expensive Manhattan, and no one calls me up to complain about the cost of living there," the expert says. (For a look at the list of worst places to live for cheapskates, which is indeed led by Manhattan, look here.)

Below are the five cities that the CCER found offer America's lowest costs of living among 307 communities studied.

Price figures refer to each community's average living expenses during 2012, while estimated home values refer to the median as of March 13 for all local houses, condos and co-ops (including those not for sale).

Fifth-cheapest U.S. city: Memphis, Tenn.
Cost of living: 14% below U.S. average

Memphis is the most-populous community ever to make CCER's list of the top-five cheapest U.S. locales.

The River City, which has placed fifth in CCER's study for two years in a row, scores well mostly because its 627,000 residents pay just 71.8% of the U.S. average for housing expenses.

Real-estate tracker Zillow ( Z) estimates that the median Memphis home costs just $61,000, up only 1.7% over the past year. (Zillow.com lists some 15,900 Memphis-area properties for sale.)

Residents also pay 16.1% below-average prices for utilities, 9.1% less for transportation, 6.7% less for groceries and 2.1% under what the typical U.S. household spends on health care.

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