By Brad Tuttle
Which American cities are best for folks who prefer to keep tight hold of their money? Don’t go looking anywhere along the coasts.
Kiplinger.com recently named its list of the “10 Best Cities for Cheapskates” using some criteria that seems obvious—low cost of living, above-average incomes—and a few quirky frugal factors as well, including the relative abundance of free activities like public concerts and lectures and the number of Dollar General stores in proximity to the city. Inclusion on the list was greeted as a compliment (mostly) in places such as St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and Omaha, which was named the nation’s top city overall for cheapskates.
While all such “best’ cities lists tend to be oversimplified and problematic—please don’t pick a place to retire based on any such roundup—a few observations can be made based on the findings of Kiplinger’s and similar frugal-living lists:
Coastal cities are not cheap. No city in Kiplinger’s top 10 is located on the coast, or anywhere particularly close to the ocean. This isn’t all that surprising given how real estate gets pricier the closer you get to the beach. Raleigh, N.C., which is roughly a two-hour drive from the Atlantic, boasts the shortest distance to a coastal beach of the cities on Kiplinger’s list.
Big cities in general: also not cheap. The Kiplinger roundup is dominated by mid-size cities in the range of 100,000 to 500,000 people, with a few outliers closer to 1 million, including Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio. The nation’s truly big cities didn’t make the cut. Interestingly, in a study about released last year by the coupon siteShopAtHome.com, big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia had among the lowest rates of online coupon usage.
College towns are good for cheapskates. Several of the cities already mentioned are home to large universities—and large poor student populations. Such spots have plenty of cheap or free entertainment, plus tons of businesses that cater to customers who are low on disposable income.
Iowa and Utah seem to be pretty cheap. Both states had two cities in Kiplinger’s top ten for cheapskates—Des Moine and Cedar Rapids, and Ogden and Salt Lake City, respectively. Utah’s prominence on the list was greeted with particular pride. “Ogden’s population of 537,603 has a median household income of $62,340 — well above the U.S. median of $52,762 and higher than other cities on the list,” a Salt Lake Tribune article stated. “The cost of living in Ogden is 10 percent below the national average. There are 66 public libraries and museums in and around the city. And health care costs are the most affordable, at 8.8 percent below average.”
Ohio is probably cheapest of all. The Buckeye State is the third state to boast two cities on Kiplinger’s top cheapskate towns: Columbus and Cincinnati. What’s more, a Coupons.com study found that 11 of the top 25 cities for coupon usage last year were in the Midwest, with Ohio being crowned “the country’s most frugal state.”
If that’s not enough proof of Ohio’s supreme cheaposity, take it from Jeff Yeager, the self-proclaimed Ultimate Cheapskate and author of four cheap-living books, including the recently released How to Retire the Cheapskate Way. Based on various data points and personal observations ranging from the cost of living index to the prevalence of thrift stores and yard sales, Yeager says he is confident enough to declare: “My native Midwest—and specifically, the state of Ohio—is the cradle of cheapskate civilization.”