Especially these days, we’re all trying to find cheaper alternatives for everything in our lives. That may mean spending less on going out to eat or delaying buying a new car. But for many, finding the cheapest rent in the U.S. is not only frugal but necessary.
READ ALSO: 10 cheapest places to live in Arizona
With so many people working from home, being tied to living in a particular city isn’t as much of a concern anymore. There is greater ease of picking up stakes and moving to a cheaper city and working from anywhere. So if that’s you searching for somewhere where rents are more affordable, where should you be looking? What cities have the cheapest rent in the U.S.?
Finding the cheapest rent in the U.S.
So where is the cheapest rent in the U.S.? Much of it is found, unsurprisingly, in the Midwest and the South. To determine where to find the cheapest apartments, we studied the average January 2021 rental rates for every city with a population of over 50,000 and sufficient inventory for all unit types (studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom).
Among the Arizona cities to be ranked in the Top 50 for cheapest rent in the U.S., Tucson ranked No. 3, Mesa ranked No. 16, Tempe ranked No. 20, and Phoenix ranked No. 30.
From this list of 109 cities, we rated and ranked rents for all unit types. These rankings were then totaled together for a combined score that determined the cities with the cheapest rent in the U.S.
10. Omaha, NE
For nearly 20 years, Omaha invaded living rooms via the mouth of quarterback Peyton Manning shouting out his favorite audible under center each Sunday. Omaha — the actual city — is a Great Plains locale best known for great steaks, college baseball and Warren Buffett. And it’s even invaded kitchens as the birthplace of Raisin Bran, Duncan Hines, Reuben sandwiches and Swanson TV dinners.
But 21st century Omaha is a modern, lively city. The city of just under a half-million residents is a diverse community springing with culture, education, upscale shopping and trendy dining.
Both the University of Nebraska Omaha and Creighton University engender a thriving youth culture. The Omaha Community Playhouse is the largest community theater in the nation. The annual College World Series has called Omaha home since 1950. And Old Market offers numerous restaurants, art galleries and chic retail shopping among brick streets and horse-drawn carriages.
Both studio and one-bedroom apartments are under $1,000 a month on average. However, its two-bedroom units average $1,236 monthly, the highest among our top 10.
If you have heard of Bentonville, Arkansas, it is probably for one reason and one reason only. The small northwestern Arkansas town is the birthplace of the world’s largest retail chain Walmart — the world’s largest company — and Alice, Jim and Rob Walton, the owners and the world’s 16th, 17th and 18th richest humans. It also has the 9th cheapest rent in the U.S. and comes in as the second smallest city in our top 10.
Not surprisingly, the rise of Walmart coincides with the rise in Bentonville’s population. The company saw a major national expansion in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and, in turn, the town’s population has risen by 500 percent in the last four decades. Numerous Walmart vendors, third-party partners and satellite offices opened in Bentonville, spurring growth.
But a city can’t survive on one company alone. That’s good for Bentonvillians who have seen a decrease in manufacturing in the city in the last decade. Conversely, the economy has grown on the backs of outdoor entertainment and nature tourism. This has led to this small corner of Northwest Arkansas ranking as one of the 15th fastest-growing metro areas in the nation.
Bentonville’s near $1,000 a month rent for an average studio apartment is the priciest on the top 10. But just an additional $74 a month will upgrade you to an average two-bedroom.
Like many up-and-coming cities in America, Des Moines has diversified its economy over the years. Sure agriculture and corn are still very important, as is its long history as an insurance hub. But the Iowa state capital has become a 21st-century hub for tech, a haven for start-ups, venture capitalists and idea incubators.
All this new blood in Central Iowa has grown Des Moines into a millennial destination. Ranked one of the top “Up-and-Coming Downtowns,” it gained a bevy of street cred.
The growing city now counts three James Beard award semi-finalist restaurants, a grand Riverwalk along the Des Moines River and the walkable Western Gateway Park, which includes the quirky Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden and the Des Moines Arts and 80/35 Music Festivals. As well, Drake University is just two miles from the action downtown.
There are two things residents of Des Moines want you to know. First, don’t pronounce either “s” in the city name. Second, it’s super affordable to upgrade your rental. In fact, an average two-bedroom unit is just a hundred bucks more a month than a studio apartment.
For what it’s worth, most people are aware of Albuquerque from “Breaking Bad,” where the show filmed (as was “In Plain Sight”). Or maybe it’s its funny name or where Bugs Bunny shoulda took a left turn. But the largest city in New Mexico (and in our top 10) is a thriving tech hub and start-up mecca. It offers high livability with a low cost of living, a celebrated craft beer culture, proximity to winter sports and a world-famous balloon festival.
The economy in The ABQ is also booming. Albuquerque is a hub for the science, medicine, tech and Southwestern tourism industries. Both Kirkland Air Force Base, Sandia National Labs and the University of New Mexico live here. And it’s the heart of the New Mexico Technology Corridor which includes facilities of Intel, Facebook, Netflix and Microsoft.
Albuquerque is one of America’s most livable cities, ranked among everything from “Best Up-and-Coming Towns for College Grads” to “Best Cities for Staying Healthy.” Maybe that’s why it’s home to Homer Simpson’s favorite baseball team, the Isotopes, moved here from Springfield. Despite its high ranking, the city was much more expensive 12 months ago.
While you can get a studio for just $739, that represents a 13.7 percent increase year to year, the biggest in the top ten and the 12th steepest in the nation. And the numbers for one-bedroom (also up 13.7 percent) and two-bedroom units (up 10.6 percent) are also among the highest in the U.S. Guess the secret of Albuquerque’s charm is out.
6. Mobile, AL
Known as the “Place That Was Born To Celebrate,” Mobile is a unique city on the bay on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the third-largest city in Alabama, but more New Orleans than Birmingham and more Panhandle than Huntsville. There are tunnels and bridges and causeways. The original Mardi Gras celebration started here, it’s the 70-plus year home of the Senior Bowl and can rightly claim to be one of the oldest cities in the nation.
Before the Louisiana Purchase, Mobile was the first capital of the French colony of La Louisiane or Louisiana. Mobile was a key port both militarily and economically. Today, the Port is still the heart of Mobile. From here, there is direct access to 1,500 miles of inland waterways serving all the way to the Great Lakes. Not only is it an important shipbuilding, timber and coal terminal, but it also supports cruise ship departures.
The Port of Mobile sits just a couple of blocks from downtown Mobile. This district is alive with shopping, cafes, outdoor dining and dance clubs popular among spring breakers and Mardi Gras Carnival revelers. Carnival celebrated since 1703 features mystic society masquerades balls and float parades lighting up downtown.
Sounds like a paradise. The stunning northern Gulf Coast. A spot halfway between New Orleans and Panama City, halfway between Biloxi and Pensacola. Gorgeous bays and sunny beaches. Spring Breakers, golfers and sunseekers. Now imagine all that, and only paying $820 a month for an average studio or $1,074 for a two-bedroom. That’s Mobile.
About 90 miles up the Red River from Fargo (see below), Grand Forks is the second smallest city in the top ten with just 55,800 residents. Just across the river from Minnesota, Grand Forks sits a mere hour and change from the Manitoba border.
Temperatures are low up here (January averages bottom out below zero), but so are the rent prices. An average one-bedroom apartment is under $800. But while two-bedroom units are just $1,039, that’s much more expensive than this time last year. Those rates are up 11.6 percent, the 25th steepest increase in the nation for the type.
Arts, entertainment and sports diversions are diverse in Grand Forks, a significant portion surrounding the University of North Dakota community. But much of modern-day Grand Forks was shaped by the Great Flood of 1997. The Red River Flood damaged much of downtown, including 11 buildings destroyed in a resulting fire. Much of the district ended up demolished.
In its wake, brand new neighborhoods grew, including rental properties and apartment complexes. It also led to the creation of the Greater Grand Forks Greenway. Twice the size of Central Park, the 2,200-acre Greenway lies in the area devastated by flooding where houses and businesses once stood. A dike system now protects the area that is home to parks, golf courses, a disc golf course, festival grounds, athletic fields, gardens, wildlife preserve and hiking, biking and ski trails.
3 (tie). Tucson, AZ
Tucson lies in Arizona, the fastest-growing state in the nation. Retirees and snowbirds who aren’t the Florida types. Latinx immigrants finding a new home just 70 miles from the Mexican border. Millennials and young professionals flocking in for tech jobs. Good thing for all those new and old Arizonans, rents in the state’s second-largest city are the most affordable in the West. From just $648 for an average studio to $1,044 for a two-bedroom, these are among the cheapest rents in the U.S. There is much to do and see in America’s Biggest Small Town.
Sure, it’s home to the University of Arizona, which allows Tucson to offer the cultural and nightlife scene of a college town as well as top-level Wildcat Athletics. But those in the know recognize that it’s the food that stands out here.
If you’re looking for authentic Southwest cuisine, look no further than Tucson, a UNESCO “World City of Gastronomy”, the first in North America to receive the distinguished designation. From tacos to tamales and especially to locally-perfected carne asada, authentic is the game in Tucson. But don’t call the menu Mexican. Locals will correctly tell you their cuisine is “Sonoran.”
3 (tie). Greensboro, NC
While Greensboro is the largest of North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad, it’s also the cheapest city for renters on the entire Eastern seaboard. Making up the other corner of the Triad with Winston-Salem and High Point, Greensboro is also the third-largest city in the state.
The economy of Greensboro has always revolved around the textile and tobacco industries. ITG, makers of Kool, Winston and Salem cigarettes, and Kontoor Brands, producers of Lee, Wrangler and the VF outlets are both headquartered here. The city is also the headquarters of the Atlantic Coast Conference, even though the local school, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is not a member of the conference.
There is also much to do in Greensboro, aside from the ACC Hall of Champions. Cultural arts abound at sites like the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro Science Center, International Civil Rights Museum and Greensboro Arboretum. A bustling commercial and entertainment hub is downtown, and elsewhere in the city are the Four Seasons Town Centre and Friendly Center retail districts.
The most affordable rental option in Greensboro is its one-bedroom units. At just $839 a month on average, single-bedroom apartments in this Tobacco Road city are down 18 percent from twelve months ago, the 15th steepest drop in the nation.
2. Fargo, ND
If you think you know Fargo because of the movie “Fargo,” you probably don’t. The film, in fact, takes place almost entirely in Minnesota. Fargo is only seen briefly at the beginning. The real Fargo is the largest city in the state, just across the Red River from Minnesota and a couple of hours from the Canadian border.
Much of the acclaim comes from the strong job market, start-up scene and economy in Fargo. It’s been named everything from a “Top Ten City to Start Your Career” to one of the “Best Small Cities for Business and Careers.” In fact, ZipRecruiter named it the No. 1 “Hottest Job Market” in America.
But Fargo isn’t all work all the time. The city has a surprisingly hip downtown scene full of trendy eateries and gastropubs along with an unexpected abundance of public art, a renowned gallery and museum and a world-class film festival. Intermixed with a swath of quiet neighborhoods and extensive farmland, there is something for everyone. From catching a Bison football game or a touring rodeo, there is year-round entertainment at the Fargodome.
Average studio rents are the lowest in the entire nation at just $604 a month. And that comes as a result of a 14.6 percent drop in prices year-to-year, the 21st steepest drop in America. Bigger needs? Two-bedroom units are the second-lowest in the top 10 at a mere $851 monthly on average.
No matter what kind of apartment you are looking for, you cannot go wrong with affordability in Springfield.
One-bedroom units here rent for just $626 monthly on average, the lowest rate in the nation. That’s a drop in price of 26.3 percent from last year, the seventh biggest in America. Average two bedrooms are just as affordable at $826 a month, also the cheapest rent in the U.S. The rate decrease from last year, a hefty 23 percent, is the ninth-largest drop overall. Even studio apartments, at an average of $615 a month, are the second most inexpensive in the entire country. All told, that’s one cheap Springfield.
It may be the Midwest now, but in the 19th century, Springfield was pure old West. In fact, in 1865, Dave Tutt and Wild Bill Hickok held a duel in the town square (known as the first quick-draw pistol showdown). Hickok won the shootout and a legend was born. Today, that site is Park Central Square in downtown Springfield. Within gunfire echo earshot, you can now find a bevy of restaurants, cafes, bars and the History Museum on the Square.
Of the 24 Springfields that dot the United States, this Missouri one is the biggest. With over 150,000 residents, it is the third-largest city in the state behind St. Louis and Kansas City. Two significant universities, Missouri State University and Drury University, are located in Springfield. It is the site of the World’s Largest Fork, which sits at 35 feet tall and weighs 11 tons, and is the Birthplace of Route 66. And, it is also the gateway to country music tourist destination Branson, with the largest nearby airport.
The 50 cheapest places to rent in America
The top ten is a solid list of cheap spots around the South and the Midwest where rents for all apartment types dip below a grand a month. But where else can you find the cheapest rents in the U.S.A?
The top 50 cheapest cities still mostly sit in those same regions. But the geography begins to expand. Surprisingly, the top 30 features metropolises like Houston (28) and Phoenix (30). Even Dallas checks in at No. 49. Florida finally appears with Tampa at No. 28, and the Mid Atlantic/Northeast register with No. 37 Norfolk in addition to Allentown and Hartford. But you won’t find a West Coast city until Vancouver, Washington at the end of the list.