I called my little brother yesterday. He lost his home to foreclosure last fall, and things have only continued to get worse. He and his wife are doing the best they can, but they feel overwhelmed.
“What's the latest?” I asked. Tony gave me an update. We talked about his problems with insurance, and with the bank, and with the debt settlement service. We talked about his options for the future.
“All things considered, I guess we're doing okay,” Tony said. “But to be honest, we've thought about relocating to Kansas.”
“Kansas?” I said. “Why Kansas?”
“I was at a trade show in Kansas a couple of months ago,” Tony said. “And I got to talking with a woman who does something with economic development in Osage County. Apparently you can get all sorts of financial help for starting a business there. Plus things are less expensive in Kansas.”
Tony and I laughed about the notion of his family relocating to the heartland. There's nothing wrong with Kansas, but it seems like such a non-sequitur. Our family has deep roots here in Oregon. We have no relationship to Kansas.
Later, though, I realized that it might make sense for Tony to move. Because he sells a product across the United States, his income is not tied to where he lives. If he moved from Bend, Oregon — which has a high cost-of-living — to someplace less expensive, it could make a great difference to his financial situation. (The big question, of course, is whether his quality of life would change.)
Just for kicks, I ran some numbers through the Bankrate cost-of-living comparison calculator. This is one of my favorite financial calculators. I love to play with the numbers, trying to find expensive places to live (San Francisco! New York!) and cheap places to live (Waco, Texas! Salina, Kansas!) Portland is sort of in the middle. Guessing at Tony's salary, it looks like he could save significantly by moving from Bend to Osage County:
Cost of living is one of those factors that few people consider, but which can have a huge impact on the family budget. When you have access to affordable housing, and when food, clothing, and health care costs are manageable, it's easier to meet your financial goals. Sometimes it's possible to make choices that keep costs low and allow you to stay where you are. But in other cases, it can make sense to relocate to a region with a lower cost of living.
I admit that over the past few years, I've been fascinated by the stories of towns in Kansas and North Dakota offering free land and other incentives to lure new residents. Coupled with low costs of living, these locations really appeal to me. “Wouldn't you like to live in northwest North Dakota?” I asked Kris recently. She gave me The Look.
I guess we'll stay in Portland for now.