The American West consists of 13 states that cover over half the land area of the country and almost a quarter of the population, from the mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific Coast. Western states include some of the country’s fastest-growing cities and most dynamic economies, along with rural areas, plains, and farmland. In this study, we examine the metropolitan areas in the West that offer the most affordable costs of living for residents.
While some cities in the West, such as San Francisco, have some of the highest costs of living in the United States, there are many highly affordable options available to residents of the West. We examined 111 metropolitan areas in the West from California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii based upon AdvisorSmith’s Cost of Living Index. This index measures the cost of living using the cost of food, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and consumer discretionary spending.
Using this index, we found the top 10 most affordable metros in the West by population, dividing the metropolitan areas into small (less than 150,000 residents), midsize (between 150,000 and 500,000 residents), and large metros (greater than 500,000 residents). Read on to discover the most affordable metros in the West.
Most Affordable Metros in the West by Size
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Among large metropolitan areas with over 500,000 residents, Albuquerque was the most affordable large city in the West. With a cost of living index of 94.5, Albuquerque’s cost of living was 5.5% below the national average. As the most populous city in the state of New Mexico, Albuquerque has a diversified economy that includes national scientific laboratories, high technology companies, and movie production. The city also hosts the University of New Mexico and highly regarded hospitals and medical facilities.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
The second-largest city in the state of New Mexico is Las Cruces, and it was the most affordable midsize city in the West. With a cost of living index of 90.6, Las Cruces has a cost of living that is 9.4% lower than the national average. Located in the southern part of the state near the city of El Paso, Las Cruces is also home to New Mexico State University. Las Cruces also plays host to the corporate offices of two space companies: Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic.
Alamogordo, New Mexico
Located northeast of Las Cruces, Alamogordo is the most affordable small city in the West. With a cost of living index of just 86.5, Alamogordo offers an affordable cost of living that is 13.5% below the national average. The economy in Alamogordo is driven by tourism and the Holloman Air Force Base, which provides a major economic benefit to the city. Additionally, many military retirees choose to make the city home. Tourists to the city are interested in visiting the White Sands National Park, which is about 15 miles outside of the city.
Most Affordable Metropolitan Areas in the West
In the table below, we provide a ranking of the most affordable metropolitan areas in the Western United States. We include each city’s cost of living and city size in addition to the city and state. The most affordable cities in the West tended to be small cities, with nine of the top 10 being small cities. Additionally, New Mexico had the top four most affordable cities in the West and six of the top ten. Idaho also had three of the top 10 cities on the list.
|Rank||Metro Area||State||City Size||Cost of Living Index|
|24||Lake Havasu City||AZ||Midsize||98.8|
|60||Salt Lake City||UT||Large||107.7|
|99||San Luis Obispo||CA||Midsize||138.7|
This study was based upon cost of living data from AdvisorSmith’s City Cost of Living Index. This index measures the cost of living in over 500 U.S. metropolitan areas based upon six major categories of household expenses. These expenses include food, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and consumer discretionary spending.
The cost of living in the various cities are indexed to 100, with a value of 100 indicating that the city’s cost of living is the same as the national average. For example, if a city has a cost of living of 150, that city’s cost of living will cost 150% of the national average.
To determine the most affordable cities in the West, we selected metropolitan areas in the following states, which we call “cities”: Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. We ranked the cities in these states based upon their cost of living index, with the cities having the lowest costs of living being ranked highest.
We then sorted cities from these states into three size categories. Large cities had metropolitan area populations above 500,000. Midsize cities had metropolitan area populations between 150,000 and 500,000 residents, and Small cities had metropolitan area populations below 150,000. We then ranked each of the cities within their size categories to determine the most affordable metros in the West.
1. AdvisorSmith City Cost of Living Index
2. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey