It’s time to move again, but perhaps the big city is starting to lose its luster for your family.
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This time, smaller cities are beckoning, with their more affordable homes, potential for growth and quieter neighborhoods. These typically suburban cities and towns balance the advantages of living near a big city with the perks of living a little farther afield.
Yet families won’t find the same features in all small cities.
» COMPARE: List of best small cities for families
NerdWallet examined the data for 944 cities across the U.S. with populations of 25,000 to 75,000 residents to find the top options that offer the best combination of affordability, growth and prosperity, and family-friendliness. To see the full data set — and learn more about the factors you might want to consider — click here.
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The top places are close to big cities. Nine of the top 10 cities in the analysis are suburbs. The exception is Bentonville, Arkansas, whose closest big-city neighbor (Tulsa, Oklahoma) is 115 miles away.
Some of the best are in Texas. Four out of the top 10 cities are in the Lone Star State — suburbs of either Dallas or Austin.
The top 10 grew four times as fast as other cities. The population growth rate of the top 10, on average, was 24.5% from 2010 to 2015, compared with 5.9% for all cities in the analysis. Similarly, growth in median income for the top 10 grew, on average, at an 11.7% clip, while the average annual growth of median income of all cities examined was 2.7%.
Best small cities for families
1. Linton Hall, Virginia
An unincorporated area of Prince William County about 40 miles west of the nation’s capital, Linton Hall shares its name with a local Catholic school. The area has seen a population surge in recent years, growing 21% (to 40,567 residents) from 2010 to 2015. It’s a friendly place for families, too: 53% of families have children, making it the fourth-highest population of children in our analysis.
2. Little Elm, Texas
Hugging the shores of Lewisville Lake about 35 miles north of Dallas, Little Elm was the fastest-growing city in the top 10, and the fourth-fastest growing place in the analysis of all cities: the population increased nearly 47% (to 32,581 residents) from 2010 to 2015. It’s also the second most affordable city the top 10, with a median home value that puts it in the middle of the pack — No. 559 out of 944 — in our analysis.
3. Leander, Texas
This city was originally called Bagdad, but it was renamed in 1882 for Leander “Catfish” Brown, one of the men who helped build the new railroad through town. Leander today is a fast-growing suburb of Austin, having grown 37% (to 32,051 residents) from 2010 to 2015. Despite the growth in the number of residents and in median annual household income, which increased 12% (to $80,178) from 2010 to 2015, median home values are still below average relative to most cities in our analysis. Leander’s home value is the most affordable in the top 10, and No. 571 out of 944 places.
4. Lehi, Utah
Named after a prophet in the Book of Mormon and about halfway between Salt Lake City and Provo, Lehi sits on the northern shore of the freshwater Utah Lake. It’s a family-friendly city, ranking the highest in the top 10 and No. 3 overall for the percentage of households with children, at 55%. Like other cities in the top 10, it has attracted a lot of new residents in recent years, growing 28% (to a population of 54,079) from 2010 to 2015. The city also is home to a campus of software giant Adobe, which opened a 280,000-square-foot location in 2013.
5. Sammamish, Washington
Once known as an area for resorts on the shore of Lake Sammamish, the city of Sammamish is about 30 miles east of Seattle, which is home to Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Costco. The city has the highest median annual household income in the top 10 ($147,349) and is No. 6 for income in the overall analysis. Not surprisingly, Sammamish also has the highest median home value (over $600,000) in the top 10 and is No. 42 overall. That said, it also scores well in our analysis for family-friendliness, with the percentage of families with children at 49%.
6. Brentwood, Tennessee
Brentwood is a close suburb of Nashville, which in addition to being the traditional capital of country music, is a major center for the health care industry, with over 400 companies employing 250,000 people in the region, according to the Nashville Health Care Council. Brentwood has the second-highest median household income ($141,833) in the top 10, and the second-priciest median home value (over $500,000).
7. Flower Mound, Texas
Flower Mound gets its name from a prominent 50-foot mound on the eastern end of town that is said to have 175 species of wildflowers. The 70,000-resident town rates among the best for family friendliness, with 44% of families with kids. A suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the town has the cheapest median home value (about $280,000) of any of the cities with the highest 40 median annual household incomes. Put simply, your money will get you more house in Flower Mound than in many other places in our analysis.
8. Cedar Park, Texas
A more populous neighbor to the south of Leander, Cedar Park is the sixth-fastest growing city in our analysis, having seen its population grow 35% (to nearly 61,000 people) from 2010 and 2015. This community is similar to Leander in other ways, too. Median annual household income is similar, at $82,311, as well as income growth, which went up nearly 14% from 2010 to 2015. The two cities even share schools in the Leander Independent School District.
9. Bentonville, Arkansas
Headquarters of retail giant Walmart, Bentonville, perhaps not coincidentally, ranks in the top spot in our analysis for income growth, with median annual household income growing nearly 28% (to $71,941) from 2010 and 2015. Walmart recently announced plans to build a new headquarters campus in the city.
10. Plainfield, Illinois
About 40 miles southwest of Chicago, Plainfield is still dotted with farms among its housing subdivisions. The village scores well in our analysis for families, with the percentage of families with children at 44%.
Tips for relocating
Here a few tips to keep in mind if you are considering a move to a new city:
- Find ways to lessen the financial burden of moving.
- Assess your priorities to see if you should rent or buy a home.
- Find financial options, such as a good credit card, to cover expenses while in transition.
For resources, check out NerdWallet’s Moving and money: A financial guide for relocating.
Best small cities for families data
NerdWallet examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 944 U.S. cities (incorporated municipalities and unincorporated census-designated places) with populations from 25,000 to 75,000. Here’s how we analyzed the data:
Income and affordability (33.33% of the overall score). We looked at median annual household income and median home value. A higher median annual income contributed to a higher overall score, while a higher median home value resulted in a lower overall score.
Prosperity and growth (33.33% of the overall score). We looked at population growth and median annual household income growth from 2010 to 2015. A higher percentage of growth created a higher overall score for population and median income.
Family-friendliness (33.33% of the overall score). We measured family-friendliness by looking at the percentage of families with at least one child under age 18, and the percentage of families with incomes below the poverty level. A high percentage of families with children under 18 contributed to a higher overall score, while a high percentage of families with incomes below the poverty line created a lower overall score.