10 Best Cities for High Salaries and Low Cost of Living in the South

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When it comes to high wages and low cost of living, the South can’t be beat. It combines above-average wages with a low cost of living, and to make it even better, many cities also have low unemployment.

Although there are great bargains all over the South, Texas is the clear leader. In this ranking of the top 10 most affordable cities in the South, Texas didn’t just have the number-one spot. It had the top four, and it claimed six spots overall. Below, you’ll see which cities from Texas and the rest of the region made the list.

Editor’s note: We’ve also included a list of professions that are overrepresented in these areas compared to other cities as well as unemployment figures — use these to get an idea of which types of jobs might be most available in each area and how the job market is currently performing. We’ve also pointed out the median property value in each city in case you’re thinking about moving there and need to plan your new mortgage.

The 10 best places to live in the South for high salaries and low cost of living

These 10 Southern cities have the best ratio of high salaries to low cost of living.

Affordability ranking

City

Estimated income-to-expense ratio

Cost of living estimate

Median household income

1

Midland, Texas

1.407

$58,750

$82,650

2

Cedar Park, Texas

1.393

$58,119

$80,954

3

Round Rock, Texas

1.379

$58,687

$80,954

4

San Marcos, Texas

1.336

$60,578

$80,954

5

Raleigh, North Carolina

1.307

$61,271

$80,096

6

Austin, Texas

1.255

$64,486

$80,954

7

Winchester, Virginia

1.247

$61,397

$76,583

8

Fort Worth, Texas

1.238

$58,371

$72,265

9

Baltimore, Maryland

1.229

$67,638

$83,160

10

Alexandria, Virginia

1.227

$86,107

$105,659

1. Midland, Texas

Midland, Texas at dusk from river.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.407
Cost of living index: 93.2
Cost of living estimate: $58,750
Median household income: $82,650
Median property value: $204,800
Population: 135,100 (169,800 in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 7.6%

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Midland combines a median income 20.3% above the national median with a cost of living index 2.1% below the national average. The only drawback is a high unemployment rate.

A higher-than-expected number of Midland residents work in construction and extraction; architecture and engineering; and installation, maintenance, and repair occupations.

2. Cedar Park, Texas

Suburban homes in Texas.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.393
Cost of living index: 92.2
Cost of living estimate: $58,119
Median household income: $80,954
Median property value: $279,900
Population: 72,415 (2.17 million in Austin-Round Rock metro area)
Unemployment rate: 4.7%

Cedar Park records a cost of living index that’s 7.8% below the national average. It has a median income 17.8% greater than the national median, as well as an unemployment rate about 2% better than the national average.

Compared to other areas, an unusually high number of residents work in occupations related to computers and mathematics, architecture and engineering, and business and financial operations.

3. Round Rock, Texas

Suburban homes in Texas.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.379
Cost of living index: 93.1
Cost of living estimate: $58,687
Median household income: $80,954
Median property value: $230,100
Population: 120,157 (2.17 million in Austin-Round Rock metro area)
Unemployment rate: 4.6%

The median income is an impressive 17.8% more than the national median in Round Rock, which also has a cost of living index that’s 6.9% below the national average. Round Rock also boasts a low unemployment rate.

The job market in Round Rock sees the following overrepresented fields: computer and mathematics positions, architecture and engineering, and jobs in business and financial operations.

4. San Marcos, Texas

Courthouse in San Marcos, Texas.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.336
Cost of living index: 96.1
Cost of living estimate: $60,578
Median household income: $80,954
Median property value: $163,500
Population: 61,800 (2.17 million in Austin-Round Rock metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.6%

In San Marcos, the cost of living index is 3.9% less than the national average, and the median income tops the national median by 17.8%. The unemployment rate is also better than the national average.

There are more San Marcos residents than average who work in food preparation and service, material moving, and sales.

5. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina, at dusk.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.307
Cost of living index: 97.2
Cost of living estimate: $61,271
Median household income: $80,096
Median property value: $268,900
Population: 470,500 (1.36 million in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 5.7%

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Raleigh is less expensive than the typical city, with a cost of living index 2.8% below the national average. There’s also a median income 16.6% higher than the national median and an unemployment rate around 1% lower than the average for the whole country.

As far as work is concerned, more Raleigh residents than expected are in legal occupations; computer and mathematical occupations; and life, physical, and social science occupations.

6. Austin, Texas

View of Austin, Texas, from river.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.255
Cost of living index: 102.3
Cost of living estimate: $64,486
Median household income: $80,954
Median property value: $365,500
Population: 964,200 (2.17 million in Austin-Round Rock metro area)
Unemployment rate: 4.9%

Austin is on the slightly more expensive side, as its cost of living index is 2.3% above the national average. That being said, the median income is 17.8% above the national median, and unemployment is reasonably low.

The number of Austin residents in computer and mathematical occupations is 2.1 times higher than expected. Other unusually popular jobs include legal occupations and architecture and engineering occupations.

7. Winchester, Virginia

City hall in Winchester, Virginia.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.247
Cost of living index: 97.4
Cost of living estimate: $61,397
Median household income: $76,583
Median property value: $236,800
Population: 27,800 (136,300 in metro area)
Unemployment rate: 4.0%

The median income in Winchester is 11.5% above the national median. Combined with a cost of living index that’s 2.6% below the national average, the city is the most affordable in its state. Another plus is that it has a low unemployment rate.

The Winchester workforce includes a greater-than-expected number of residents in arts, design, entertainment, sport, and media occupations; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations; and personal care and service occupations.

8. Fort Worth, Texas

Aerial view of Fort Worth, Texas.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.238
Cost of living index: 92.6
Cost of living estimate: $58,371
Median household income: $72,265
Median property value: $189,300
Population: 898,900 (7.54 million in Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area)
Unemployment rate: 7.0%

With a cost of living index that’s 7.4% below the national average, Fort Worth is one of the cheaper major cities in the country. Its median income is 5.2% above the national median. The one downside is an unemployment rate that’s slightly worse than the national average.

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Industries that are overrepresented in Fort Worth include material moving, construction and extraction, and transportation.

9. Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland, at dusk.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.229
Cost of living index: 107.3
Cost of living estimate: $67,638
Median household income: $83,160
Median property value: $167,800
Population: 602,500 (2.8 million in Baltimore-Columbia-Towson metro area)
Unemployment rate: 7.9%

While Baltimore’s cost of living index is 7.3% more than the national average, it balances that out with a median income that’s 21.0% above the national median. It does have an unemployment issue, though.

Baltimore has far more residents than average who work in life, physical, and social science occupations; legal occupations; and community and social service occupations.

10. Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria, Virginia, at dusk.

Image source: Getty Images.

Estimated income-to-expense ratio: 1.227
Cost of living index: 136.6
Cost of living estimate: $86,107
Median household income: $105,659
Median property value: $557,000
Population: 156,500 (6.25 million in Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area)
Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Alexandria is much more expensive than the rest of the cities on this list, as its cost of living index exceeds the national average by 36.6%. Despite that, it’s still affordable thanks to an impressive median income in the DC metro area that’s 53.8% above the national median. A low unemployment rate is another perk.

The number of residents working in legal occupations in Alexandria is 5.2 times higher than expected. In addition, there are unusually high numbers of residents with computer and mathematical occupations, as well as life, physical, and social science occupations.

Methodology

Each city’s cost of living index was taken from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Q4 2020 cost of living index report. To determine the estimated cost of living in each city, we transformed the cost of living index into a percentage and multiplied it by the average annual expenditure of all consumer units from the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

We divided the median annual household income (sourced from the 2019 American Community Survey) to determine the estimated income-to-expenses ratio.

Sources

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