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The 7 U.S. cities where your money will go the farthest

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Americans with career aspirations tend to migrate to big cities, where pay is higher and more job opportunities.

Yet that salary might not go as far as people think, especially in large cities with a high cost of living. In fact, workers might want to consider finding work in smaller metropolitan areas where their dollars will go much farther, according to a study from Indeed.com.

An analysis of salary and cost of living data for 104 cities with at least 500,000 residents by Indeed chief economist Jed Kolko found that some urban areas with the highest unadjusted salaries are among the toughest 20 cities to make ends meet. The worst was Honolulu, the analysis found. After factoring in the cost of living, Honolulu's salaries are the lowest in the country.

"When we adjust for living costs, those big coastal metros with high average salaries no longer look like a good deal," Kolko wrote in a blog post. "It turns out that when salaries are adjusted for cost of living, they tend to be higher in smaller metros than in the largest ones."

Of course, smaller cities may offer fewer job opportunities, which could prove limiting depending on one's career. Other workers want the experience of living in a big city, regardless of the cost.

Surprisingly, San Francisco and San Jose -- where housing costs are notoriously high -- landed in the middle of the rankings, Kolko noted.

"Unadjusted salaries in these Bay Area metros are so high that, even after adjusting for local prices, they still rank in the middle of the pack, nowhere near the bottom 20," he noted.

The average salary in Honolulu is about $74,500, but is adjusted to $59,882 after accounting for the cost of living, Indeed found. The other metro areas where your money doesn't go as far are Tucson, Miami-Fort-Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, New York-Newark-Jersey City and Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California, the analysis found.

Read on to learn about the seven cities where your salary will go the farthest.

7. Memphis, Tennessee

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Adjusted for the cost of living, the average salary of about $77,000 feels more like $84,000, Indeed found.

Memphis is helped by low housing costs, with the median home value at $81,900, according to Zillow. The city is known for its cultural roots in the music industry and for its Southern cuisine, and also offers employment opportunities at companies such as FedEx and International Paper, which both have their headquarters in Memphis.

6. Cincinnati, Ohio

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The average salary in Cincinnati -- $75,201 -- feels like $84,306 after adjusting for the cost of living, Indeed found.

Housing is more expensive than in Memphis but still affordable, with the median house valued at $124,800, according to Zillow.

The city's biggest employers include grocery chain Kroger Co., the University of Cincinnati and Procter & Gamble. While not as well known as other Midwestern cities, Cincinnati was last year rated as one of the best places to live in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

5. El Paso, Texas

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The typical salary of $75,457 in El Paso adjusts to $84,498 based on the area's cost of living, Indeed found.

The top employers in El Paso include Tenet Hospitals and El Paso Healthcare, as well as Fort Bliss, which employs both military and civilian employees. The median home value in El Paso is $114,100, according to Zillow.

4. St. Louis, Missouri

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The average salary of $76,567 adjusts to $84,511 after accounting for St. Louis' cost of living, the analysis found.

Major employers in the St. Louis region include Boeing and Washington University. The Gateway City is emerging as a technology hub in the region, which is bringing in younger workers and helping revive the city.

3. Fresno, California

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Living life on the typical salary of $82,236 in Fresno works out to an adjusted salary of $84,511, Indeed calculated.

Fresno's major employers include Cargill and Kaiser Permanente, which operates a medical center in the city. The median home value in Fresno is $215,900, according to Zillow.

2. Jackson, Mississippi

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The typical salary of $76,666 adjusts to $84,995 after taking the cost of living into account in Jackson, Indeed found.

The typical home value in Jackson stands at just $52,500, far below the other cities on the list. The biggest employers include the state government and the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

1. Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama

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The metropolitan area where salaries go the farthest is the Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama region, where the average salary of $76,886 feels like $86,196 after taking the cost of living into account, Indeed said.

The typical Birmingham home is valued $63,800, according to Zillow. The biggest employers include University of Alabama at Birmingham and Regions Financial Corp., a bank with locations across the South, Midwest and Texas.

So why isn't everyone moving to Birmingham from higher-priced cities?

"For starters, many people are tied to where they live," Kolko noted. "They don't want to move away from family or friends, or maybe they have a professional practice or family business that depends on local customers."

He added, "Then, too, some places are so appealing that people want to live there even if it means taking a financial hit."

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