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Colorado Places Where Your Dollars Go Furthest

Aspen is located in Pitkin County.
Aspen is located in Pitkin County. YouTube
The concept of SmartAsset's eighth annual study of the places with the most purchasing power couldn't be simpler: The site measures the income of local residents against the cost of living in each county across the United States to determine where money goes furthest — and the statistics pertaining to Colorado contain plenty of surprises.

The counties with the most purchasing power vary from extremely affluent areas to those on the opposite end of the spectrum. And while Denver secures a prominent place in the purchasing-power top ten, it's the only county in the metro area to do so — although a few others make the grade when the angle shifts to the per capita income category. Meanwhile, the cost of living is most affordable in some of the poorest Colorado counties.

To determine its indexes for purchasing power, cost of living and per capita income, SmartAsset's number crunchers used two different metrics for a household with one adult and no dependents: The first looks at the baseline cost of living in each location, while the second reflects expenditures typical to someone making the median income in the county. (Sources include the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, the MIT Living Wage study, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with most data updated in 2020.) These figures were then combined using a weighted average intended to determine how close the per capita income and the minimum livable income were to each other after subtracting taxes. That allowed analysts to calculate purchasing power in each county as a percentage of per capita income.

Colorado's top finisher for purchasing power was Pitkin County, home of Aspen, thanks to the huge gap between the cost of living (estimated at just over $68,000) and per capita income (a whopping $155,067). But in the second and third slots were a pair of places with very modest incomes: San Miguel County, in the southwest part of the state, and Routt County. Next came Denver, where the cost of living is estimated at just north of $50,000 and the per capita income is approximately $85,000.

The counties with the lowest cost of living tend to be on the eastern plains and in the southeast corner of the state: None of them exceed $40,000 for cost of living, but incomes were low there, too. The per capita income index, meanwhile, is more of a mixed bag: Pitkin County again tops the roster, but this time, Denver is joined by Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties among the ten highest finishers.

The study's findings are admittedly narrow, since they focus entirely on financial statistics and don't take into account factors such as educational facilities, cultural amenities and recreational opportunities. But at a time when the cost of living is rising across the board, these stats provide new insight on how far dollars and cents go across the state.

Here are the top ten Colorado counties as rated by purchasing power, cost of living and per capita income:

Purchasing Power

1. Pitkin County
Cost of Living: $68,892
Per Capita Income: $155,067
Purchasing Power — Index: 64.90 percent

2. San Miguel County
Cost of Living: $51,799
Per Capita Income: $93,954
Purchasing Power — Index: 46.74 percent

3. Routt County
Cost of Living: $49,546
Per Capita Income: $85,836
Purchasing Power — Index: 43.37 percent

4. Denver County
Cost of Living: $50,436
Per Capita Income: $85,411
Purchasing Power — Index: 41.75 percent

5. Eagle County
Cost of Living: $52,764
Per Capita Income: $87,872
Purchasing Power — Index: 40.58 percent

6. Kiowa County
Cost of Living: $40,149
Per Capita Income: $166,839
Purchasing Power — Index: 40.55 percent

7. Mineral County
Cost of Living: $44,711
Per Capita Income: $73,101
Purchasing Power — Index: 39.32 percent

8. Ouray County
Cost of Living: $43,613
Per Capita Income: $67,263
Purchasing Power — Index: 35.47 percent

9. Jackson County
Cost of Living: $40,536
Per Capita Income: $62,008
Purchasing Power — Index: 34.94 percent

10. Summit County
Cost of Living: $51,141
Per Capita Income: $77,754
Purchasing Power — Index: 34.56 percent

Cost of Living

1. Crowley County
Cost of Living: $30,284
Per Capita Income: $23,751
Cost of Living — Index: 95.46 percent

2. Conejos County
Cost of Living: $35,328
Per Capita Income: $39,847
Cost of Living — Index: 87.23 percent

3. Custer County
Cost of Living: $35,398
Per Capita Income: $45,691
Cost of Living — Index: 87.12 percent

4. Costilla County
Cost of Living: $35,284
Per Capita Income: $38,430
Cost of Living — Index: 86.93 percent

5. Fremont County
Cost of Living: $35,571
Per Capita Income: $38,952
Cost of Living — Index: 86.84 percent

6. Morgan County
Cost of Living: $35,8893
Per Capita Income: $48,701
Cost of Living — Index: 86.31 percent

7. Prowers County
Cost of Living: $35,942
Per Capita Income: $41,990
Cost of Living — Index: 86.23 percent

8. Saguache County
Cost of Living: $36,128
Per Capita Income: $40,032
Cost of Living — Index: 85.93 percent

9. Alamosa County
Cost of Living: $36,170
Per Capita Income: $42,974
Cost of Living — Index: 85.86 percent

10. Bent County
Cost of Living: $36,272
Per Capita Income: $33,591
Cost of Living — Index: 85.70 percent

Per Capita Income

1. Pitkin County
Cost of Living: $68,892
Per Capita Income: $155,067
Per Capita Income — Index: 67.14 percent

2. San Miguel County
Cost of Living: $51,799
Per Capita Income: $93,954
Per Capita Income — Index: 36.51 percent

3. Eagle County
Cost of Living: $52,764
Per Capita Income: $87,872
Per Capita Income — Index: 33.47 percent

4. Routt County
Cost of Living: $49,546
Per Capita Income: $85,836
Per Capita Income — Index: 32.45 percent

5. Denver County
Cost of Living: $50,436
Per Capita Income: $85,411
Per Capita Income — Index: 32.23 percent

6. Boulder County
Cost of Living: $54,110
Per Capita Income: $79,649
Per Capita Income — Index: 29.35 percent

7. Douglas County
Cost of Living: $56,755
Per Capita Income: $78,980
Per Capita Income — Index: 29.01 percent

8. Summit County
Cost of Living: $51,141
Per Capita Income: $77,754
Per Capita Income — Index: 28.40 percent

9. Mineral County
Cost of Living: $44,711
Per Capita Income: $73,101
Per Capita Income — Index: 26.06 percent

10. Jefferson County
Cost of Living: $48,024
Per Capita Income: $68,829
Per Capita Income — Index: 23.92 percent
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts