I haven't live in NC for three years, but was born and raised in NC for 32 years. As Greg mentioned and I would like to reiterate:
NC has a very wide breadth of standards of living.
My original home town you could easily live off of $17k a year, even today. But to live near the tech industry, which is the Raleigh/Durham/RTP (dying) area, there are plenty of opportunities for inexpensive homes to purchase or rent.
The first real decisions are
- What kind of life are you trying to live?
- Type of job you would prefer?
- What area are you looking at in NC? (Like the coast, mountains or the middle area which are the $$$ areas.)
Jacksonville is a very inexpensive area and right on the coast. The main employer that keeps everyone is good shape, besides the military, is civilian-based non-profit MCCS which has a ton of areas waiting to be filled with great benefits.
The triangle has lots of available jobs, but depending on how you like to live one of the cheapest areas to live is Durham, but that is changing year. Plus it has one of the top medical surroundings in the country.
The mountain area is sparser in reference to jobs, but there are some good areas to live that are more gorgeous than anywhere else in NC.
Edit: Also, on that note, Newport had a weekly RC plane meetup with an airfield for flying.