I've lived in a small town for most of my life. The drive home includes steep hills with panoramic views and winding country roads that ramble past ranches and wide-open fields.
But I didn't always have positive feelings about the country life. In high school, I hated it. All of the action was in the city, where coffee shops, museums, restaurants, and concerts happened. When I moved to the city my freshman year of college, I thought that would be the end of country living — I was finally a city mouse.
As it turned out, after seven years in the city, I did move back. It began as a purely financial decision, and one that, at the time, made me feel a twinge of anxiety. I remember that as my husband and I were packing up our apartment in town to get ready for the move, I had a mini meltdown, asking him, “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you really sure you want to do this?” (He probably thought I was nuts since the whole thing was my idea, but he's a wise man and kept that to himself, simply saying that yes, he was sure.)
The move becomes permanent
We planned to save money for a down payment on a home, but none of the houses that we viewed were just right. Then one day we happened upon a beautiful lot that was for sale, and we started thinking about the possibilities of building a home. More excited about the prospect of building than we were about any of the homes we had toured, we bought the 4.5-acre lot and have now started the slow process of paying-with-cash home construction.
This bit of background is just to let you know that I don't view country life as better than city life, or vice versa. Having lived in both places, I see advantages and disadvantages to each, especially when it comes to finances. (There are exceptions to every rule, but for the purposes of this article I'll make a general comparison between living in a rural town of large ranches and 2-plus acre lots with living in a mid-sized city.)
Advantages of being a country mouse
One of the biggest financial advantages of living in a small town is a lower cost of living. Housing is cheaper, and where I live, the closest parking meter is 40 minutes away. Using CNNMoney's Cost of Living Calculator, I compared the cost of living in Austin, Texas, population 790,390, with Seguin, Texas, population 25,175. The results were as follows:
- Groceries will cost 2% more in Seguin
- Housing will cost 8% less
- Utilities will cost 6% less
- Healthcare will cost 3% less
Another benefit I've noticed with living in the country is that one is less prone to lifestyle inflation. No one who lives down a gravel road wants to own a BMW. As long as I've lived here, I've never met “the Joneses,” so there's zero compulsion to try to keep up with them.
I've also found that entertainment and recreation costs are lower — I can't go to a shopping center, coffeehouse, restaurant, or the movies without a some significant drive time. If I lived around the block from a coffeehouse, I'd probably never make coffee at home. I also really get my money's worth from my Netflix Watch Instant account.
Country life gives kids plenty of free entertainment, too. As a child, I didn't have cable TV. I thought it was a drag — my friends would talk about shows on Nickelodeon and I was left out. When I'd launch a campaign to get cable, my dad would tell me to play outside or read a book. I spent hours playing with my best friend next door, hanging out in trees, and shaking hands/paws with the sweetest golden retriever that ever did live — shaking hands was her favorite trick. When I wasn't doing those things, I was reading a book. (Dad might have refused to pay for 100 TV channels, but he never refused me a book.)
There's also a certain independence that comes with country living. Homesteading is more likely to be an option, and you're less likely to run into restrictions. I've heard of homeowner's associations that don't allow energy-saving tactics like hanging clothes on a clothesline to dry. In the country, you're free to hang your shorts wherever you please.
Advantages of being a city mouse
Living in the country is great for tree-climbing and composting, however, there are some drawbacks. Cities come with more employment opportunities, for example. Many professionals would have to commute to a city to find work. A neurosurgeon won't find work in a town of 2,400, and it's just not a possibility for someone who has to commute to the city and be on call.
City life also gives you more options to lower your transportation expenses. Most cities have decent public transportation, and some have excellent public transportation that's a much better option than driving your own vehicle. Car sharing, biking, and walking are all possibilities, which reduces costs like fuel and wear-and-tear on your vehicle (if you own one).
Finally, if you're a city mouse, you'll find it more convenient to network because you live where the action is, meaning you'll probably do more networking and socializing. Done correctly, networking is a powerful tool that will improve your job prospects. With a wider network of people who live nearby, you'll also find that it's easier to have someone pet-sit while you're in Europe (something very difficult for me to arrange where I live — I pay extra to compensate for the long drive) or give you a ride to work when your car is in the shop. Another example: Even though I know a couple of neighbors very well, it would be a big hassle to ask them for a lift to the airport because that would mean almost a 2-hour round-trip.
For my husband and me, the best living situation is having a home in the country that's 30 minutes from city life. Sure, the drive can be a pain sometimes, but I feel like we get the small town life with many of the city benefits. Despite the drawbacks, the benefits to being a country mouse sway me more — plus, I really love that I can stand on my porch at night and look up at the Milky Way.
Readers, what have I left out? What are other ways that country life saves money? What about city life?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.