By Erica Sweeney
Median home sale price: $135,000
The catchphrase “Will it play in Peoria?” has been around since Groucho Marx, and for good reason: This Midwestern city is the very model of mainstream America. As such, this river city has been used as a test market for everything from presidential campaigns to Metallica tours.
So if you’re proud to be an American, this is your place! It’s also a bustling manufacturing hub, serving as headquarters for equipment giant Caterpillar /zigman2/quotes/203434128/composite CAT +0.39% and Japanese equipment manufacturer Komatsu /zigman2/quotes/204002437/delayed JP:6301 -1.10% . The city boasts a higher employment-to-population ratio than most Northeastern, Western or Sun Belt states — and a cost of living 20% below the national average.
And if you happen to be handy with a little construction yourself, Peoria is a prime place to snag run-down fixer-uppers for under $50,000, or even less. Don’t believe us? In the neighborhood of Averyville, the median listing price hovers around $30,000, and bargains like this three-bedroom home can be had for a mere $12,500. There’s nowhere to go but up — particularly since Komatsu has announced plans to raze run-down buildings along the river in this area to make way for a new park with dramatic river views.
5. Indianapolis, Ind.
Average salary: $49,380
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 22.3%
Median home sale price: $209,109
The hit HGTV show “Good Bones” is set in Indianapolis, and for good reason: The city is filled with gorgeous old homes that just need a little TLC — which makes ’em prime digs for FIRE enthusiasts who want to roll up their sleeves.
And those who settle here have a lot more than a nice house to look forward to. “Crossroads of America” is the official motto of this state capital, one of the busiest transportation hubs in the U.S. As such, many large employers like Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.78% , Rolls-Royce /zigman2/quotes/203646520/delayed UK:RR -0.20% , and Eli Lilly and Co. /zigman2/quotes/200106384/composite LLY +0.03% have offices here, while a budding tech scene reels in younger entrepreneurs.
Yet home prices still hover 20% below the national average, according to Josh Latham, director of sales at Re/Max Advanced Realty in Indianapolis. As such, he says, “FIRE could easily be a growing theme for the city of Indianapolis and surrounding burbs.”
As for which neighborhoods are up-and-coming but easy on the wallet, he points to Franklin Township, with its newly revitalized downtown and bountiful affordable housing options, including this adorable 1,632-square-foot, three bedroom for $175,000 .
6. Beaumont, Texas
Average salary: $49,150
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 16.5%
Median home sale price: $163,125
In 1901, a well under a Beaumont oil field called Spindletop struck black gold — and gushed over 100,000 barrels a day for nine days, ushering in America’s oil age. Today, Beaumont (along with nearby Gulf cities Port Arthur and Orange) makes up a major industrial area known as the Golden Triangle, where lucrative jobs from Exxon Mobil Corp. /zigman2/quotes/204455864/composite XOM -0.46% , Total Petrochemicals /zigman2/quotes/201824152/composite TOT -0.94% and other heavyweights are flowing.
As if that weren’t enough to fuel your fantasies of retiring early, get this: Texas has no income tax, which means more of your paycheck can be funneled toward your yonder years. Furthermore, unlike its larger (and pricier) sister cities Dallas, Houston, and Austin, Beaumont is still a bargain where you can score deals on oil boom–era mansions just begging for a makeover. For instance, this 2,452-square-foot, four-bedroom Colonial in the Oaks Historic District needs a little love, but at $119,000, it’s a great investment, for residents or aspiring real estate investors alike.
7. Winston-Salem, N.C.
Average salary: $45,850
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 19.0%
Median home sale price: $178,000
Let’s start with the important stuff: Winston-Salem is home of the first Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, opened in 1937. Are we done here? No? Well, even if you’re more interested in a lean, thrifty lifestyle than one filled with glazed crullers, this city has a whole lot going for it.
For one, Winston-Salem’s downtown has received nearly $2 billion in business investments over the past several years, including the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter — a hub for research, biomedical science education and businesses, technology, digital media, and more. This joins many other large companies in the area, including the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (recognized for its cancer research), Hanesbrands /zigman2/quotes/200637580/composite HBI +5.40% , R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and BB&T Bank .
All in all, this has turned this charming Southern city into one of the fastest-growing in the country. With a median home price of $178,000, you can get a lot of real estate for your money here—particularly in the neighborhood of Konnoak, where the median list price comes in just shy of $100,000 and you can buy this three-bedroom brick house for a mere $132,000.
Average salary: $50,070
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 23.2%
Median home sale price: $175,900
Once famed for its steel mills that eventually shuttered their doors, Pittsburgh is a whole different place today, with tech heavyweights like Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +1.19% , Uber /zigman2/quotes/211348248/composite UBER -5.21% and Alphabet’s /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.44% Google moving in, and wages rising.
“We attract a lot of the younger demographic because of the technology,” says Brian Teyssier, a local real-estate agent with Re/Max Advanced Realtors.
Plus, the city has sprouted a plethora of biking/walking paths that appeal to younger home buyers who are into the outdoors, as well as saving money on gas and auto bills.
Meanwhile home prices range from $160,000 to $180,000, Teyssier says. One neighborhood that’s experiencing a renaissance is Brighton Heights and Brentwood, where this newly remodeled gem is listed for an affordable $139,500 just 15 minutes away from the city.
9. Palm Bay, Fla.
Average salary: $48,940
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 23.2%
Median home sale price: $220,000
Palm Bay was recently ranked in the top 10 “best places to buy a house” by Niche. The city, located on the state’s western coast, has many affordable homes with a suburban feel. And of course, the lack of state income tax doesn’t hurt when it comes to savings.
Some of the top jobs here are in the health care, defense, and technology sectors with employers like John F. Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Oh yeah, Orlando and Disney World are just 50 miles away, if that’s your thing.
For well below the $220,000 median home price, home buyers should check out the Bridgewater gated community in Bayside Lakes, where this 1,873-square-foot three-bedroom home is going for $195,000 .
10. Colorado Springs, Colo.
Average salary: $51,430
Percentage of high-paying jobs: 22.5%
Median home sale price: $315,000
Love winter sports, but hate the high cost of living in ski towns like Aspen, Colo., or Park City, Utah? Then head to Colorado Springs, with a host of primo, lower-key ski slopes nearby, like Monarch Mountain. The city also recently ranked No. 3 in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Places to Live list due to its low cost of living and unemployment rate, making it a perfect spot for FIRE fanatics.
This healthy job market mostly centers on the military and defense sectors, with plenty of tech and aerospace gigs available. Colorado Springs is home to Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Knob Hill, northeast of downtown Colorado Springs, is a great option for young professionals with its arts district, breweries, restaurants, and other attractions. In the Knob Hill area, this ranch-style home is well below the median home price at $274,999. For well-established neighborhoods, check out Cimarron and Briargate, which is near the Air Force Academy.
This nifty tool from our partners at MarketWatch can help you figure out the best places to retire based on your personal priorities.
* Data is from CoreLogic sales records, Consumer Price Index, The Tax Foundation, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Census Bureau. (Highest salaries were determined by taking the top five highest-paying job categories nationally and determining what percentage of those jobs were available in that metro.)
** Median home sale prices are from May.
Erica Sweeney is a writer and editor in Little Rock, Arkansas