Americans thinking about having a family can expect to spend close to a quarter-million dollars to raise each child to the age of 18, according to a 2013 government estimate. If the total seems shocking, consider moving to a community where it's less costly to live. To give your search some direction, Cheapism.com compiled a list of 10 affordable cities in which to grow a family.
We began our research with the 52 mid-size U.S. cities -- those with populations between 300,000 and 1 million. Using data from Sperling's Best Places, we assessed four primary factors, assigning each equal weight: a cost of living index that accounts for the cost of housing, food, transportation, utilities, health care, and general expenses (e.g., entertainment and clothing), with 100 as the national average; per-student spending by the school district; violent crime (rates of murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault); and median household income. To a lesser degree, our methodology factored in city sales tax rates, unemployment, share of residents with a commute less than 15 minutes, share of married residents with children, and a comfort index that reflects afternoon summer temperatures and humidity.
10. Columbus, Ohio
Cost of living index: 87
School spending/student: $6,042
Median household income: $46,371
Columbus offers a low cost of living, allocates a good amount of money for each student, and maintains low violent-crime rates and unemployment. On the other hand, the median income is relatively low and about three-quarters of the city's residents commute more than 15 minutes each way.
9. Portland, Ore.
Cost of living index: 116
School spending/student: $5,493
Median household income: $47,540
Portland has the highest cost of living among the cities on our top 10 list, as well as a below-average median income. The city scores well for low crime and no sales tax and it rates as one of the more comfortable cities on our list weather-wise. Portland boasts four of the state's top 10 high schools, two of which are also on the top 750 list from U.S. News & World Report.
8. Albuquerque, N.M.
Cost of living index: 103
School spending/student: $4,497
Median household income: $48,255
Albuquerque encompasses one of the largest school districts in the country, offering public and charter schools, as well as accredited private schools. Three of the high schools are ranked top-five in the state by U.S. News & World Report and two are counted among the top 750 in the nation. For parents, Albuquerque offers low unemployment and sales tax, although the cost of living and median income aren't especially noteworthy.
7. Minneapolis, Minn.
Cost of living index: 105
School spending/student: $7,979
Median household income: $43,865
This Twin City lays claim to a slightly above-average cost of living and low median household income, but it spends a lot of money on students. Crime is low, unemployment is especially low, and the comfort ranking sits in the middle. As you might expect from a town whose name combines the Dakota Sioux word for water, mni, with the Greek polis, meaning city, there are 20 lakes and wetlands nearby and many creeks and waterfalls to explore.
6. Bakersfield, Calif.
Cost of living index: 97
School spending/student: $4,580
Median household income: $50,337
Bakersfield aligns with the country as a whole when it comes to cost of living, median income, and heat in the summer. For parents who want to spend lots of time with their kids and with other parents, the city offers short commutes and excellent opportunities for socializing with other families: Bakersfield sits in the No. 4 spot on our list of cities based on percentage of married residents with children.
5. Raleigh, N.C.
Cost of living index: 102
School spending/student: $4,421
Median household income: $56,691
The national nonprofit GreatSchools ranks Raleigh the top large city for public schools. Parents can choose among magnet programs, charter schools, and traditional high schools, including three with International Baccalaureate programs. Median household income is relatively high and crime is low.
4. Wichita, Kan.
Cost of living index: 87
School spending/student: $4,679
Median household income: $48,325
Wichita offers quick commutes, low sales tax, low cost of living, and below-average unemployment, although the summers can get hot. The city, which has been known as "Cowtown" and the "Air Capital of the World," remains a hub of aircraft manufacturing despite the departure of Boeing. Wichita is home to many museums, parks, and theaters, in addition to several universities, shopping malls, and an international airport.
3. Virginia Beach, Va.
Cost of living index: 114
School spending/student: $5,341
Median household income: $63,453
Virginia Beach is endowed with more than 35 miles of beaches, nearly 160,000 acres of parkland, and nearly five playgrounds for every 10,000 residents, according to the ParkScore rating system developed by the Trust for Public Land. The cost of living is high, but that's offset by high median income, low unemployment, and low sales tax. The violent crime rate is lower here than in any other city we researched.
2. Colorado Springs, Colo.
Cost of living index: 100
School spending/student: $4,392
Median household income: $53,854
Colorado Springs claims one of the lowest violent crime rates among the 52 cities we looked at. The cost of living is on par with the national average and nearly one-third of residents commute less than 15 minutes each way. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Vanguard School 141 among the nation's high schools. The city is home to beautiful parks, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
1. Omaha, Neb.
Cost of living index: 87
School spending/student: $4,875
Median household income: $49,352
Residents of Omaha enjoy a much lower than average cost of living alongside a moderate median family income. Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska and residential developments have sprung up near the downtown waterfront during the past decade.