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South Dakota ranks 28th for cost of living according to this <a href='' target='blank'>comparison index</a> by the ACCRA.
South Dakota ranks 28th for cost of living according to this comparison index by the ACCRA.

Is It Cheaper To Live in South Dakota?

Nov 25, 2011

By Bernie Hunhoff

Politics are often cussed at Hunhoff holiday gatherings, and as many South Dakotans know, my extended family covers the ideological spectrum.

I happened to tell the clan of a fellow I know in Pierre whose home was heavily damaged by the flood. He was a state employee with a good job, but he couldn't get financing for a home "improvement" loan, even if the improvements were necessities like new sheetrock and flooring. So he told the bank to just keep the house and he left the state for a better-paying job.

"Well, that could be any of us," said one of my kin. "We could all get higher paying jobs elsewhere. But it's cheaper to live here."

Maybe I accidentally rolled my eyes, but I didn't argue because, after all, it was a holiday gathering and I was eating free.

But between you and me, I just haven't noticed that K-mart prices its lawn chairs and cranberry juice any cheaper in South Dakota than the rest of the country. It's well-documented that housing costs are on par with all but the high-cost areas of the USA, unless you live in one of those cool little West River towns like Fairfax or Bonesteel where the fishing is great and you can still get a decent old house for $12,875. Our energy prices were once lower, but they are catching up with the rest of the nation.

But what do I know. So I checked it out online, and soon came to this 50-state comparison. Of course, I was right ... and fortunately I am the only one in my family with a Web site — so I get the last word.

Check it out. South Dakota ranks 28th in cost of living — about in the middle of the pack. I was surprised to see that according to this data base, Nebraska is far cheaper. So are neighboring states Iowa and Wyoming. We are basically tied with North Dakota and Montana.

Wages are considerably lower in South Dakota. We generally rank around 50th in that category, so people working for wages are likely being squeezed here. Business owners, farmers and ranchers may or may not feel the same pressures, depending on their industries and their luck.

You know that we normally like to shed as nice a light as we can on life in South Dakota. But we also don't think it benefits anybody when we perpetuate a myth. If you take taxes into account (which this particular comparison doesn't seem to do) then South Dakota's ranking would probably improve somewhat. But not for the working man or woman, because they pay a far higher percentage of their pay in taxes than their wealthier neighbors.

And if you took taxes into account, then you'd want to also tabulate a hundred other things — like the fact that our technical school tuition is among the highest in the country. We are one of the only states that do not help low income students get a college education. One of the few that does not assist local communities and poor families with pre-school. Etc., etc. There's a flip side to being a low-tax state. So perhaps this comparison (which leaves out taxes) is one that might actually help the Hunhoffs to avoid family arguments. Or even eye-rolling.

South Dakota is a beautiful place to live. We don't need to perpetuate myths to make it seem even better.


08:57 am - Fri, November 25 2011
Rebecca said:
I visit Omaha often and the groceries seem cheaper there - even at Whole Foods. But I don't think I would rather live here.
09:33 am - Fri, November 25 2011
mikeyc, that's me! said:
I know that the time changes as you cross South Dakota, but I didn't realize that you are a whole day ahead of West River.
09:53 am - Fri, November 25 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Thanks for catching the date, Mike (which we fixed). I dated it to appear Saturday, but the Web site ignored my command and published it pronto. Thus the mix-up.

We would never presume to be way ahead of our West River friends.
12:14 pm - Fri, November 25 2011
Ellen said:
I hear people say this all the time, so it's interesting to see some numbers. Next time it comes up I'll know what to say.
02:32 pm - Fri, November 25 2011

When I first started visiting South Dakota - falling in love with the Black Hills (and the wild burros of course) I was amazed at the number of people that I met that had two jobs just to make ends meet... property taxes are much higher than what I was paying in my former state (and no I'm not moving back for anyone who wants to make the comment!), food is far more expensive (though restaurants are cheaper) houses were still a little less and everything else seemed about the same.... Not only are the wages low for the work that folks do, the number of jobs that would require higher pay are far more people - at least on this end of the state are cleaning hotel rooms and bussing tables... Oh well.
04:42 pm - Fri, November 25 2011
Jim said:
Interesting chart if I'm reading it correctly South Dakotas transportation is the lowest in the nation. That surprises me given the distances and lack of mass transit. Maybe we stay home a lot. As for west river I'd presume anybody experiencing great hunting and fishing from an affordable house in Gregory is way ahead of most of us.
06:04 am - Mon, November 28 2011
Charlie Hoffman said:
What would be interesting is if we put together a list of grocery items and on the same day went to the store in Ashley, ND and Eureka, SD (only one in each town so there is little competition locally) to buy the exact same list of goods. WIth ND not having a sales tax on food one would assume that billing should be less with the SD billing higher.
08:41 am - Wed, November 30 2011
Justin said:
Hmm. I'm not convinced by your estimation of SD as "middle of the pack" in terms of cost of living. The very bottom of the Composite Index score (essentially and average of all the scores) was Tennessee at 89.36, and the highest was Hawaii at 167.08 . South Dakota's index score was 98.38. While that places us, as you say, at 28th, we are 9 points from the absolute cheapest, and over 68 points from the most expensive. Put another way, on this 77-point range from lowest to highest, we rank in the bottom 12%. If you broke it down by population, I think we'd show just as good a score (that is, look at the terribly high cost of living in most of the NE corridor, or in California). Could things be better here (housing!)? Sure. But I think placing us in the "middle" is a distortion of the costs.
12:32 pm - Mon, December 5 2011
Jeff Holweger said:
dang! Now I see the old email ploy. Get me to look at one story and lo, and behold, more bait...then why not read the whole magazine online? Oh no you don't....send mine by snail mail..=8-{)>
01:12 pm - Mon, December 5 2011
Laura Johnson said:
You're right, Jeff - it is a dastardly trick...a trick to give you more great South Dakota content than we can fit in the magazine. (Insert diabolical laugh here.) Don't worry, your copy of the Jan/Feb issue should be on its way to you sometime after Christmas. In the meantime, why not enjoy what we have to offer here?
02:44 pm - Tue, December 6 2011
Steve Sewell said:
Justin is very wise; he has correctly interpreted the data
01:04 pm - Wed, April 2 2014
Dan said:
I know this is an old post but this latest review shows SD as the cheapest place to live:
11:40 am - Mon, February 1 2016
Leon said:
Hi i have a job offer for 19 and hour there is it worth it as far as cost of living. I am black and my wife is Spanish is race an issue as well?

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