This post is by staff writer Lisa Aberle.
Is financial security eluding you? Maybe you should move to North Dakota. In 2012, North Dakota’s economy grew by 13.4 percent, which was significantly more than any other state. And according to this cost of living calculator, a $70,000 salary has the buying power of a $100,000 salary in Los Angeles.
But perhaps you don’t want to move to the fourth least densely populated state. And moving anywhere is a total pain. Still, is it possible that moving to a lower cost of living area coupled with a decent salary could make a big difference to your bottom line? The short answer is yes, of course.
No matter where you live, it’s not really about how much you earn, and it’s not even about how much you spend. What really matters is your gap, or the difference between what you earn and what you spend. That gap is something I have tried to exploit to the best of my ability, first by spending as little as possible and then by earning as much as I possibly can.
Part of my plan is accidental. A Midwesterner by birth, and now by choice, I fortunately find myself living in a low cost of living region of the U.S. There are pockets of expensive areas to be found in the Midwest, but overall the Midwest has a relatively low cost of living. We have to have something to compensate for the snow and humidity, right?
Let’s just talk about the problems first: Low cost of living areas aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Despite North Dakota’s robust economy, many areas have depressed economies. Take my county, for example. It’s full of “bedroom” communities, communities where people shop and work out of the community and then sleep and socialize at home. Many of the small towns are trying to revive their Main Streets, but it’s hard to compete, and the battle to stay in business gets more difficult every year.
Part of my county’s problem is that many people drive out of the county for work, because there aren’t many jobs available. Actually, since I’m kind of specialized, when I was employed full-time, I had to drive about 100 miles a day (round trip) to find a job that matched my qualifications. Fortunately, within an hour’s drive, there are several small cities, each with more employment options.
Driving a lot has its own costs, but employers are offering more flexibility with working. With longer work days and telecommuting, location is less important to jobs than it used to be.
Even though I am no longer a full-time employee, I have three part-time jobs. Two of the three part-time jobs aren’t location-dependent at all. That means I can work from home, saving money on clothes, food (sometimes) and most important, transportation costs. But it also means I could live in a low cost of living area and command a higher salary from a higher cost of living area. Theoretically.
For most people, their housing costs are the biggest part of the budget. Even in a low cost of living area, housing markets can make a huge difference to your bottom line and your long-term goals.
I’ve read many comments about astronomical housing prices in certain areas, prices that prevent many people from becoming homeowners at all. I don’t know how people can afford a modest $500,000 house on a regular salary. Our first house was 1,250 square feet, crookedly sitting (bad foundation) on 2.4 acres. It set us back $50,000, and, as a bonus, the burgeoning mice population was thrown in absolutely free. According to Zillow.com, the median home price in my town is a whopping $56,000, so our first house was below average (in more ways than just the price, actually).
I know you’re not jealous of our first house and its quirks, but doesn’t $50,000 have a much better ring to it without the extra zero?
Just to show you the difference in housing markets, even in close communities, compare the median home price in my town ($56,000) with that in the same in the city where I work ($156,000), just 50 miles away.
Imagine the difference $100,000 would make to your long-term financial goals. A smaller mortgage means lower monthly responsibilities which could mean a larger gap between earning and spending…for 15 to 30 years. That is one reason why many people live in the small towns surrounding the small cities: they can reap the benefits of the higher city salaries while also reaping the benefits of cheaper housing.
Country (gravel) roads
Like I said above, I’ve tried to increase my gap as much as possible. Living in a low cost area of living is just one weapon in my arsenal, but I know my choices aren’t for everyone. Some people would prefer to have the normal nightlife, instead of our four-legged variety. Or they would prefer to avoid the gravel roads (that’s where the unpaved part of the title comes in) of some low cost of living areas. Or they just want some excitement of any kind. But these choices work for me in other ways, too, so I am happy to keep doing my thang of living here. And reaping the benefits of a low cost of living is just icing on the cake.
I believe that the cost of living can make a huge difference to anyone’s financial success. Would you be willing to move to a location with a lower cost of living if you could improve your financial situation? Do you think this is something most people think about?