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Cheapest Places To Live And Buy A House In California

Erin Gobler5-minute read
March 29, 2022

Wait, the words “cheap” and “California” in the same sentence?! Well, we won’t pretend the Golden State is the most cost-friendly place to buy a house. In fact, it’s the third most expensive state to live in the country.

But this state is also the third largest in the U.S. Why does that matter? With large space comes large variety, including variety in affordability. So while some areas of the state may be best suited for those with a hefty budget, there are still several cities and towns that can be affordable if you play your cards right.

Here, we will look at the cheapest places to live in California to help you find something that works for your budget, whether you’re a first-time home buyer or looking for your forever home.

Where Are The Most Affordable Places To Live In California?

When future homeowners are deciding on where they should live, California could be an option, even though it tends to be on the higher end when it comes to cost of living. It’s all about knowing the local real estate markets like the back of your hand.

Understanding buyer’s and seller’s markets and the potential obstacles they may create is crucial, as this will dramatically impact the true cost of buying a house in any given area. Because of this, we recommend doing your own calculations to determine your specific cost of living, based on your financial situation and the current market.

Still, there are a handful of cities where you can start your search. To determine the most affordable cities in California, we leveraged cost of living index data from BestPlaces.net, which analyzes and accounts for the price of food, housing, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services across 383 metropolitan areas. This data was cross-referenced with the median home price in each location to determine the most affordable places to live and purchase a home.

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Cheapest Areas To Live In Northern California

When buying a house in California, Northern California could be a great place to live without breaking the bank. Affectionately referred to as NorCal, Northern California includes anywhere from San Francisco to Chico.

NorCal is known for redwood trees, pristine ocean shorelines, and a wide variety of parks and attractions to appeal to any type of tourist. But if you’re looking for a more permanent stay, consider the following as a few of the most affordable options.

Eureka

Eureka, California

Located near the northern end of California, Eureka is the biggest coastal city between the cultural hubs of San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, and it’s therefore a popular choice for anyone looking to live near the water. Stepping away from the coast, the city center known as “Old Town” offers a unique historic district filled with buildings from the Victorian era.

Chico

Chico, California

Home to a large campus of California State University, often referred to simply as Chico State University, Chico is a college town known for outdoor recreation, restaurants and the second-largest craft brewery in the country. Just shy of two hours north of Sacramento, Chico is particularly appealing for those looking for cooler year-round weather.

Cheapest Places To Buy A House In Southern California

Home of Hollywood, theme parks, iconic beaches and more, there’s no question that there’s something for everyone in Southern California making it one of the best places to live in California. SoCal is home to several of the largest cities in the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, but there are also affordable cities available in the area.

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Oxnard

Oxnard, California

With over 20 miles of coastline, Oxnard is the quintessential coastal town, known for offering more affordable beachfront living. Only about an hour from Los Angeles and 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, this city also boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the state, making this the ideal spot for families.

El Centro

El Centro, California

Surrounded by desert and known for dry, hot temperatures reaching 90 degrees for more than half of the year, El Centro is only 12 miles north of the Mexican border. The cost of living here is 7.9% lower than the U.S. average – making this one of the most affordable cities in the state – and it is also considered the center of one of California’s most promising commercial and industrial regions.

Cheapest Cities To Live In Central California

By definition, being more centrally located means easier access to attractions located to the north and south. Located between Northern and Southern California, the central region of the state is considered one of the most affordable places for buying a house, likely due to its smaller cities and more suburban atmosphere. These cities could be anywhere from Fresno to Bakersfield. Let’s take a look at some of the most affordable cities in this region.

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Fresno

Fresno, California aerial view.

With a cost of living close to the national average, a population growing consistently over the last decade and future job growth over the next 10 years predicted at 32.9%, the moderately sized city of Fresno is another viable option to consider. This is particularly true if you want to be centralized in the state, as it sits near the geographical center of California.

Bakersfield

Bakersfield, California

Conveniently located on the main route from SoCal to NorCal, Bakersfield is an incredibly affordable option for California living despite being one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Although the cost of living here is 2.6% higher than the national average, it’s still 31.6% cheaper than the California average, with the most expensive factor here being the cost of utilities.

Cheapest Places To Live In The Bay Area

The Bay Area refers to the cities and towns directly surrounding San Francisco. This section of California is considered one of the most expensive to live in, but the area is also incredibly popular, in part because of the booming technology industry in the city. Plentiful job opportunities make this a valid region to look at – especially if you consider the following cities.

Vallejo

Vallejo, California view of Bay.

Considered one of the most desirable commuter communities near San Francisco, Vallejo was once a navy town which has seen consistent growth and development in recent years due to Bay Area crowding. The city is home to several attractions, including Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, which is one part amusement park, one part aquarium and one part zoo.

Fairfield

Fairfield, California views of fields and wind turbines.

Formerly a military town, Fairfield’s economy has seen growth in recent years. This is primarily due to the commercial and industrial companies that have spread here from the Bay, which has led to consistent income and employment. Although Fairfield itself lacks in the entertainment category, the suburb is only an hour from San Francisco.

The Bottom Line

Even though California tends to be pricier, there are still many affordable places to live. Do your own research on the housing market in specific areas of the Golden State that you might like to live in and speak with a Rocket HomesSM Real Estate Agent if you’re ready to make the next steps in the home buying process.

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Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler is a freelance personal finance expert and writer who has been publishing content online for nearly a decade. She specializes in financial topics like mortgages, investing, and credit cards. Erin's work has appeared in publications like Fox Business, NextAdvisor, Credit Karma, and more.