Rising gas, food, and health-care costs have some Americans wondering where their dollars can do more. Price data collected over the last year by the Council for Community & Economic Research
(C2ER)—a group in Arlington, Va., that tracks housing, transport, health-care, grocery, and other costs in more than 340 urban areas around the country—shows that Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are home to many of the least-expensive places in the U.S. For example, in the McAllen, Tex., metro area, one of the country's cheapest, a loaf of bread costs about 86¢ vs. $3.35 in Honolulu, one of America's most expensive areas, according to survey data. Cost differences among regions can result from issues of supply and demand, economic and physical infrastructure, and what a local market's income levels can bear, says Dean Frutiger, project manager at C2ER. Low costs do not necessarily mean that more area residents can afford a high quality of living: A number of places on this list also feature low incomes, high poverty rates, and above-average joblessness. Still, middle-income earners can achieve a higher standard of living in these places at a much lower cost than they could obtain in most in the U.S.