Midwest is Best: How Lower Cost of Living Can Change Your Whole Life

By Ashley Eising • Feb 5, 2024
Panorama of a wheat field in Kansas

At a time when East Coast grads and L.A. darlings are either living with their parents or splurging on studio apartments while subsisting on Ramen (no, not the good kind), twenty-something’s in America’s Heartland are already on their way to living their fullest lives. Any given Sunday, you can find them wandering the aisles of Home Depot, pricing lawn mowers and figuring out what size furnace filter they need. 16x25x4 Allergen Defense filter in hand, they return home to tackle chores, then kick back in their own backyard, frosty beverage bidding them “congratulations.”

So, how do they do it? How have Middle America’s young people put themselves on the path to happiness and homeownership when the rest of the country is struggling to pay for restaurant ramen? One huge factor separating these hustlers from the herd is the Midwest’s lower cost of living (LCOL). But what does that actually mean?

LCOL refers to geographic areas that have a lower cost of living than the national average, allowing folks to stretch a dollar further than in other parts of the country. Cost of food, housing, utilities, and other essential items are considered when determining LCOL, and while these same areas might also have lower average income levels, the difference does not erase the impact of reduced overall expenses.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Kentucky currently ranks #3 in overall lowest cost of living while Kansas ranks 12th in the nation. Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin also find themselves in the more affordable half of the country’s lowest cost states. But does that really make a move to America’s belly button worth it? We’re here to find out by exploring how a relocation to the Midwest might shift a whole lot more than just geography.

Lower Cost of Living Can Reduce Stress

According to the American Psychological Association, a study conducted in 2017 reported that money is the number one cause of stress for Americans – and costs have certainly not gone down since then. Consequently, one of the most straightforward ways to then reduce stress is to reduce the impact that money holds over one’s daily life.

Committing to a state or community where prices are less than the national average helps residents step out from under the constant financial pressure of higher priced areas. It is pretty simple: when people have access to rent, mortgage, and utility payments within their means, less financial stress exists and the weight of daily life feels just a little more manageable. Existing on the edge of one’s financial capacity creates constant anxiety over having to trade one essential item for another. Moving to the Midwest where necessities are overall more affordable helps relieve this burden.

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Broaden Your Real Estate Options

Say good-bye to the days of a walk-up studio in some crumble-down building that, let’s be honest, you still can’t afford. Head to the Midwest and your real estate options feel as wide open as those rolling plains. Lower cost of living throughout Middle America equates to more accessible homeownership and financial independence at younger ages. The flyover states allow homebuyers the opportunity to obtain that dream home earlier than most other regions. While the average age of first-time buyers jumped from 33 to 36 over the last few years, purchasers in the middle states often beat this national average.

Kentucky boasts the 6th lowest average home prices at $117 per square foot, while Nebraska and Ohio follow closely behind. Compare that to $287 per square foot in New Jersey, and you begin to see how quickly this difference adds up. Look just a little further down the list and find Indiana and Michigan, ranking 12th and 14th respectively, where the average selling price of homes sits in the low $200,000’s. When one-bedroom condos on the coasts are hovering around a million, the opportunity to get your hands on a set of house keys is far more likely in the country’s center.

Expand Your Space, Expand Your Family

And expanding your real estate footprint makes it much easier to expand your family. Whether you are looking to get married, adopt a pet, or have a couple kids, owning a home allows you the space to create the family photo you have always imagined. Do not let your present geography and the corresponding real estate market dictate how large your life can be. Three or four-bedroom homes in the big cities lining our country’s coasts have become a luxury item these days, but finding a spacious place with room to grow is not reserved for the rich when you call the Midwest home. And with each new member of the family comes additional food, medical costs, and utility expenses, so landing in a location with LCOL makes the journey from single lady to mom of three a lot smoother.

Delight in Your Social Circle…Or Maybe Just Some Sunshine

As superficial as it sounds, the larger your bank account, the easier it is to enjoy (and grow) your social circle. No, we aren’t suggesting you lure people in with bank statements, but we do know that sometimes it takes a little money to have a little fun. Coffee date? Night on the town? Joining a dodgeball league? It’s all going to cost you, and folks strapped for cash due to exorbitant rent and expenses can struggle finding the disposable income to burn on a whim or weekend away.

Maybe you are more of an introvert. We see you, too (but don’t worry, we aren’t looking directly at you). Regardless of the size of your social circle, you still deserve to let loose sometimes. Yoga retreats, candlelight concerts, and aerial silks are solitary ways to have a good time. Like most things in life, though, they surely aren’t free, but they do tend to cost less in the Midwest.

Yes, there may come a day when the ache of escape might have you scanning sites looking for a cheap ticket someplace else. Good news – your Midwest budget can actually afford to take a vacation! Everybody deserves some sunshine and an umbrella drink, or maybe just a visit back to your current high-priced hometown. Once you’ve settled in to the Heartland way of life, you might miss that costly city scene you’ve grown accustomed to. Then again…maybe not.

And Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life

Lower cost of living adds dollars to your pocket, and with increased wealth comes increased health. Access to proper medical care, nutritious food, adequate shelter, mental health services, and decreased stress all correlate to greater overall wellness. Relocating to an area more within your means not only improves your bank account, it puts you in the position to take better care of yourself. That adorable pup you adopted is going to need to be walked, and that spare room looks like the perfect place to set up a home gym. Not the treadmill type? You don’t have to be if you live in Middle America where public parks and green spaces abound.

With decreased stress, improved mental and physical health, a larger social network, and some time to relax, statistics suggest you might just have a few extra years to enjoy all those beautiful things you found hiding in Middle America. The correlation between the quality of life and the length of it is real, and for people who call the Heartland home, we’re a relatively delightful bunch. Midwesterners might take some flack for our eternal optimism and inability to promptly end a conversation, but who wouldn’t be happy to be out from under the financial pressures lining our country’s coasts? With lower cost of living just a road trip away, it might be time you explore how much more you can get from your life when you pay a little less.

About MakeMyMove

Remote work has freed millions of Americans to live where they want, and many are making the move to places that better match their lifestyle. In turn, cities and towns across the country are offering incentives like cash, perks and programming to remote workers who move and work from their communities. At MakeMyMove, you can explore all the places, get personalized help to find the one that’s right for you, connect with locals, and access support to make your move a piece of cake.