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For decades, there’s been a migration from farms and small towns to big cities that has become a standard within the LGBT community.

It wasn’t long ago that many gays and lesbians felt the need to hide in bigger cities — ideally San Francisco, the queen of all gayborhoods — if they wanted to live in a community that would leave them be. The LGBT community gathered in pockets within the less desirable neighborhoods. The Castro in San Francisco today is not The Castro pre-Harvey Milk. Chelsea in New York City and Boystown in Chicago weren’t the exclusive enclaves they are now either. Pre-1980, these neighborhoods were often dirty, crime-ridden places that citizens forgot and governments hoped to forget.

With the sheer number of people these cities housed, it was easy for gays and lesbians to hide out and create their own sanctuary city. It was either irony or recompense that these places of refuge made many of their disenfranchised residents “house rich” due to their DIY skills, even before shirtless HGTV stars showed them how.

Times have changed and in most parts of the country gays no longer seek refuge. There’s still, however, a big draw to these cities — one that now poses a financial problem. While real estate and the cost of living has increased nationwide since the 1970s — exponentially so in these first- and second-tier metros — many formerly gay locales are now million-dollar enclaves. For gays and lesbians who don’t earn six figures, this is a problem.

Big City, Empty Pockets

While it’s desirable to live in a city with a half dozen things to do all seven nights of the week with millions of people like you, you may be surprised at how expensive it can be living in such cities. Here is the cost of living for premier gay destination cities, based on PayScale data.

  • New York – cost of living is 118% above average; housing is 341% above average
  • Los Angeles – cost of living is 32% above average; housing is 102% above average
  • San Francisco – cost of living is 63% above average; housing is 198% above average
  • Chicago – cost of living is 17% above average; housing is 38% above average
  • Seattle – cost of living is 24% above average; housing is 57% above average

What’s interesting is that only three of the five cities above are ranked in the top 10 metros with the highest concentration of LGBT per capita, according to Gallup poll data.

Smaller Cities, Bigger Pockets

Gays and lesbians today should know that the door out of the closet doesn’t only lead to these emerald cities (and potentially stressed finances). Below are five cities that rank in the top 15 for highest concentration of LGBT per capita but have a more affordable cost of living. Best of all, when budgeted correctly, a resident in one of the below cities can easily hop on a plane and visit any of the above cities.

1. Austin, Texas

Austin’s cost of living is 6% below the national average and housing is 13% below the national average. Austin has an amazing music scene and is becoming a mecca for comedy and improv theater. It’s also known for great food, yet is one of the fittest cities in Texas.

2. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake’s cost of living is 6% below the national average and its housing is 8% below the national average. Salt Lake is close to top skiing and cycling destinations and has a growing music scene with many free concerts in Pioneer Park.

3. Denver, Colo.

Denver is slightly above the national average in most categories. Cost of living is 6% above the national average and housing is 23% higher than the national average, which is due in part to the influx of residents during the past five years. Forbes, however, recently ranked Denver as the third easiest place in the country to find job. Denver is known for its proximity to premier skiing and mountain sports, as well as its plethora of micro-breweries.

4. Louisville, Ky.

Louisville’s cost of living is 8% below the national average and housing is 20% below the national average. The city is filled with beautiful historic homes and — put on your best hat —it’s home to the Kentucky Derby! Louisville also has a thriving art, culture and zombie scene. (Yes, zombie scene. It’s the site of one of the world’s biggest annual Zombie Walks.)

5. Jacksonville, Fla.

Jacksonville’s cost of living is 2% below the national average and housing is 15% below the national average. If you want to live near the beach, but can’t afford it, Jacksonville is the next best thing. Jacksonville has a thriving downtown scene, including great restaurant and nightlife. It also has the largest urban park system in the U.S.

The above list is not all-inclusive of the best third- and fourth-tier cities for gays and lesbians to consider living. However, we do hope they give you examples of money-conscious options for places to live, hopefully sans debt, and still be who you are.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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