Mar 23 2014

Stretching your money: The best cities for high pay and low expenses

It's great to get a good-paying job. It's even better when you live in a city where that good-paying job buys more. After all, $60,000 goes a lot further in Boise, Idaho, than Boston. Wallethub has looked at average incomes across the country.The most compelling information—for us at Top/Best/Most—is the list of cities with the highest annual incomes when adjusted for cost of living. One hint: they're all in the middle of the country, and none gives you an ocean view, though one comes close.

 No. 5: Colorado Springs, Colo.

The home of the Air Force Academy is also a hub for defense-related firms, and there are more than a few ice skaters here beneath Pikes Peak aspiring to become Olympians. The average annual income is $69,844 based on the 2012 census numbers, and the cost of living index is 92.8. (The lower an index score is below 100, the better.) When adjusted for that cheaper-than-average cost of living, it's actually like making $75,263, according to WalletHub.  But while all those Air Force types may be flying high in Colorado Springs, not everyone else is. Unlike Denver, here in Colorado’s second-largest city, the sale of recreational pot is banned despite a new state law legalizing marijuana.

No. 4: Houston

Here's the one city in the top five where you will get an occasional ocean breeze … or just a lot of humidity. Houston makes the list because America's in the middle of an energy boom. Oil, natural gas, wind, you name it, the boom is powering up average incomes to $69,421, with a cost of living index number of 92.2. Adjusted for cost of living, that's like making $75,303 per year. Even though Houston incomes are slightly lower than the average in Colorado Springs, there are no state income taxes in Texas, helping Houstonians take home more cash.

No. 3: Austin, Texas

See above for an explanation of tax breaks stretching dollars in Texas. Austin makes the list because incomes are going higher as the state capital becomes a hub for tech and music and all things hipster-y. Austin is headquarters for Whole Foods, adding to the whole quinoa-eating, fedora-wearing, cage-free celebrating vibe. The city is also home to the nation's largest urban bat population, and we all know how hip the whole vampire thing is. The cost of living index in Austin is 95.4, but the average income is $74,860, which can buy you a lot of organic gluten-free veggies. (I keep making fun of Austin because I’m jealous.)

No. 2: Atlanta

Hotlanta! This town is a peach of a place to live! Atlanta is headquarters to a wide range of successful empires like Coke, Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and Nene Leakes.

The cost of living index number is 95.5, the highest on the Wallet Hub list. But how affordable is housing? The average income in Atlanta is $78,505. The usual rule of thumb in determining home affordability is to multiply one’s annual income by 2.5. That would mean the average home price should be $196,000. Good news! It’s only $144,000, leaving Atlantans with more money to afford a high-end lifestyle worthy of a “Real Housewife.”

No. 1: Charlotte, N.C.

WHAT?? WHERE?? WHO??? Charlotte is the best city in America for good salaries and low cost of living. Turns out this town is a banking powerhouse, the second-largest financial center in the country behind New York, and New York is not affordable. Not at all.

Charlotte is headquarters for institutions like Bank of America, and is a major center for Wells Fargo, but Chiquita International also calls the city home, because Charlotte is so … wait for it … a-peeling. And why not? The cost of living index number is 93.2, the average annual income is $76,914 (which might feel more like $82,526 based on cost of living), unemployment is 6.6 percent and the so-called Queen City has even designated a local Dairy Queen a historic site. How cool is that?

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Source: WalletHub