The Local Cost of Living as a Factor in Choosing a Retreat Location

The cost of living is a relevant factor to consider when choosing a retreat location.
The cost of living is a relevant factor to consider when choosing a retreat location.

Whether you’re looking at a retreat in a nearby state, or a far-away country, one of the issues to consider is how much the cost of living will be.

For sure, WTSHTF, there will be a massive rewrite of the cost of living equation, with unpredictable and uncertain results into a Level 2 and/or 3 situation.  But if you’re considering spending time at your retreat prior to a Level 2 or 3 situation, then the local cost of living is helpful to understand.

In particular, an appreciable number of preppers seek to find a dual-purpose location which is suitable to live at, permanently, and also to stay at as a retreat if things go bad.  There might also be a (very weak) correlation between cost of living and the cost of creating a retreat.

Here’s an interesting list of the 30 cheapest cities in the entire world to live in, as of April 2013 (Note that these indexes are regularly updated, so depending on when you’re visiting, you might want to search out the latest list from the site’s home page).

And, for its twin, here’s a list of the 30 most expensive cities to live in.

The website uses a detailed methodology to create these lists, but there’s one important thing to appreciate.  It calculates costs to create an equivalent cost to live at a reasonable western standard, rather than the costs to live like a local, in whatever sort of average lifestyle locals have.  That is presumably why Luanda, Angola scores so high, and probably also why six US cities appear in the list of the 30 cheapest cities.

Of course, if you are considering a move anywhere outside of the US, you’ll want to be able to accept a lifestyle that is perhaps somewhere in the middle, a compromise between how the locals live and how you’d prefer to live in a perfect world, and for sure, in an emergency situation, you’ll need to be able to live completely like a local, because all your favorite imported luxuries will no longer be available.

In addition to the 60 cities listed as either most expensive or least expensive, you can see ratings for their entire database of 780 locations, all around the US and all around the world, here.

Here’s their list of all 50 US states, ranked from lowest cost of living (a bit confusing, the higher the score, the lower the cost) to the highest.  We also show the US average (443) cost of living to give a relative measure of better and worse states than average.

TN  702
KY  688
AR  683
OK  670
KS  663
MO  657
TX  650
NE  640
AL  632
MS  621
GA  619
LA  611
ND  609
IA  607
ID  598
WV  593
UT  590
OH  585
IN  582
SD  569
NC  566
MI  560
IL  554
WY  552
WI  551
SC  545
NM  541
VA  535
FL  513
MN  503
CO  497
MT  483
NV  470
DE  465
AZ  464
PA  452
US  443 National Average
WA  441
OR  408
NH  402
ME  381
VT  359
RI  347
MA  342
MD  307
NJ  296
CT  265
NY  257
CA  253
AK  171
HI  149

Interestingly (perhaps) using this company’s ranking methodology, the first of the American redoubt states doesn’t appear until you reach the fifteenth place (ID), and the two partial states in the redoubt (OR and WA) are 11th and 12th worst states, no doubt due to the big city and liberal influences in the western part of these two states.

Here’s a map showing the top five states in strong green, the next five states in pale green, the worst five states in strong red and the following five states in light red (we ignore HI and AK).




There’s no real surprise to see where the red ends up, but the green might be more of a surprise.

The local cost of living is of course only one factor to consider, and also bear in mind that these are state-wide averages, so can vary greatly across a state.  As an example of variations within a state, Texas scored very positively with a state-wide rating of 650, but there is quite a spread between individual cities, ranging from, eg, Houston at 661, El Paso at 634, Dallas at 610, and Austin at 583, but Amarillo gets a very different score, at 300.

Other Criteria

The results we’ve been discussing here are based on one set of assumptions, tailored to help companies adjust compensation packages based on where they relocate an employee.  There are many other ratings for cost of living, using a mix of the same and perhaps different criteria, and with different weightings for different factors, all giving slightly different sets of results.

For example, here’s another excellent set of ratings, also from April 2013.  There are both similarities and also some differences between this other rating system (MERIC) and the first (Xpatulator).

We summarize the best and worst states as per Xpatulator and show their comparable ratings with MERIC in this following table.  We rate 1 as the cheapest state and 48 as the most expensive (we again ignore HI and AK).

State  Xpatulator  MERIC 
TN 1 2
KY 2 3
AR 3 7
OK 4 1
KS 5 8
MO 6 12
TX 7 9
NE 8 5
AL 9 13
MS 10 10
ID 15 4
NH 39 40
ME 40 39
VT 41 41
RI 42 44
MA 43 43
MD 44 42
NJ 45 46
CT 46 48
NY 47 47
CA 48 45


The results are similar, but not identical.  Both agree on the same ten ‘worst’ states, in slightly different order, but there are slightly greater differences in the best ten list, with only seven states appearing in both top ten lists.

One notable difference is Idaho comes in at number 4 in the MERIC ranking, but only made 15 in the Xpatulator ranking series we first looked at.

The best state for the MERIC ranking series is Oklahoma (scores as 4 with Xpatulator) and Tennessee for Xpatulator (scores 2 with MERIC).

There are plenty of other rating series too, but even ‘just’ these two sets of data give a reasonable consistent picture already – maybe more rating series start to add confusion rather than clarity!


There are major differences in the cost of living between the various states in the US, and of course, even greater differences when you start to look internationally, too.

While this is only one of the very many factors you need to consider in choosing a location for your retreat, it is a valid consideration to bear in mind.  The Xpatulator website has information on all US states, many US cities, plus a large number of other cities, regions and countries around the world that gives you one perspective on how the various costs are made up to live in different locations.  Another good rating series is the MERIC series.

If you are considering off-shore locations, the calculated cost of living is an even smaller part of your total evaluation, and you also need to realize that many of the apparently more desirable countries and locations have what can be politely termed ‘developing’ economies, meaning that these numbers are subject to potentially great change with little warning.

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