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Big City vs. The Country

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Trent from The Simple Dollar states why he loves the country life in Iowa. He goes into the detail about the financial advantages of Iowa.

I have always lived near the big city, usually about ten miles away at the most. The two big cities are Boston and San Francisco. Here are some financial advantages I've learned about the big city:

  • There are a number of places where I can save money by being more frugal. Trent mentions that a 20 oz Coke may be $1.60 in San Francisco. That may be true, but I rarely even buy one on the fly. I usually go to Walmart and stock up on cans and 2-liters. As I drove across the nation, I noticed that the pricing was surprising the same - 58 cents for a 2-liter of Sam's Choice - $3.98 for a 24 pack of cans.
  • Looking at that previous bullet point again, I earn quite a big more in the city than I would elsewhere and I'm able to keep some of my costs the same. This gives me a greater surplus.
  • The weather has been so good near San Francisco that most places don't even have air conditioning. The mild winters (below 32 degrees is considered an emergency) means that I use a minimum of heat. Comparing this to most areas in the country and $70 a month for gas and electricity (including about 6 billion computers and gadgets) add up to big savings.
  • The level of education in Boston and San Francisco is tremendous. In Boston, I would find myself in groups where everyone went to MIT or Harvard. In San Francisco, I'd say about 80% of my current company has a degree from Stanford. Smart people are contagious or to put it another way, nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.
  • Time and time again I hear that San Francisco has a very high "quality of life." What that really entails differs on your preferences. However, it's fairly quick and easy for me to watch, not one, but two major league baseball teams. I could even go to a museum in the day and a baseball game at night. The culture and diversity is amazing.
  • Competition for software developers in the area has reached the point where salaries and benefits are experiencing a bubble effect. With Google offering a gourmet cafeteria and other great perks, other companies have started to join in to compete. My company offers free lunch and dinner from restaurants around town delivered every day. They are also looking to give a $500/month in housing allowance if you live within a certain distance of the office. These benefits completely flabbergast most of the people I talk to.
  • I imagine that it is very hard for someone from Iowa to move to San Francisco to retire. However, the reverse, moving from San Francisco to Iowa to retire strikes me as something entirely possible.

The more I think about it, the more opportunities seem to be in the city. If something were to happen to the company I work for in the country, could I get another equivalent job? I think the odds are much better in city. It makes me think that the odds of me working for the next YouTube is much better. The odds are still small, but their headquarters are within a five mile radius.  You never know, perhaps I'll be retiring in less than a year with a stroke of tremendous luck.

Posted on June 22, 2007.

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15 Responses to “Big City vs. The Country”

  1. Both cities you mention have access to an ocean. Not in Iowa.

    Even though I am rarely on the Ocean. Regularly seeing large bodies of water is somehow peaceful and calming.

  2. GeekMan says:

    I wonder how a comparison would actually fare should you compare the lifestyles of people earning the same equivalent salary in two completely different locations. In this case I’m thinking of the ‘quintessential’ big city, New York City, versus the ‘simple’ country life. For example, any salary earned in NYC would seem to offer a lifestyle that would be equivalent to earning half that salary in Des Moines, Iowa. But how does that lifestyle actually compare? earning $50,000/year in NYC might mean not having enough left over after meeting basic needs to partake in all the “culture”, but earning the equivalent salary of $25,000/year in Des Moines might mean you can live quite comfortably. Conversely, earning $50,000/year in Des Moines might get you a nicer home and car than your immediate neighbors, but where would you find the “culture” you could easily find should you earn $100,000/year in NYC?

  3. guinness416 says:

    Great post. Yeah, I tend to think you’re right. The person who commented that once you go rural you can “never go back” was spot-on too. A few thoughts:
    * Don’t forget the option to give up your car … I’ve lived in Dublin, Amsterdam, NYC and Toronto all without owning a vehicle (well, except my trusty bike!). I can’t even fathom how much that has saved me over the years. And big cities adapt to service the public-transit people – in rural places they don’t.
    * Flying out of big cities tends to be cheaper and more frequent too – important to an immigrant like me.
    * I find that things like eating out & entertainment can be extremely cheap (although you can also spend a fortune) in the big cities – there is such a concentration of decent, cheap, and varied (ethnically) eateries in places like NYC; and so much free entertainment, from things like the lunchtime broadway gigs to smaller galleries to things like free ice skating classes to world-class facilities like Central Park.
    * Heating/cooling/maintaining those bigass houses in the sticks can’t be cheap either.
    * Big cities can have the trails etc he mentioned too – Toronto has many wonderful biking/walking spaces.
    * I have my choice of small businesses in the big smoke – sometimes it seems like my suburban friends are stuck with soulless big boxes.
    * For your software developer example substitute “construction professionals” in Toronto!

  4. Tyler says:

    I couldn’t stand the OUTRAGEOUS cost of living on the west coast. Not to mention, all the gays and lesbians. People are rude and too many liberals.

  5. guinness416 says:

    I don’t think your issue was west versus midwest Tyler, I think it may have been 2007 versus 1957.

  6. Dong says:

    You know what I think there might be gays, lesbians, and liberals in the midwest too. Let’s not short change the midwest.

  7. Foobarista says:

    For us, several things:

    1. We’re rare Silicon Valley natives. Our family is here.

    2. In SV, you can drive relatively short distances and go to any number of wonderful rural areas for walks, hikes, etc. The beach is close, and ski areas and Yosemite are weekend trips.

    3. We’re too used to having Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, several types of Chinese, Korean, Mexican, and other food within walking distance or a short drive.

    4. Money can be saved by living here if you know how to do it. The ethnic grocery stores are great places for deals, even if Safeway is expensive. And we also have all the usual suspects for big-box shopping.

    5. Sure, houses are small, but there are money-saving advantages to small houses. One thing I didn’t like when I was briefly looking at moving was that you pretty much had to buy a big, newer house with a big plot of land if you wanted to live in a good school district in the Midwest. Small houses on small pieces of land tended to be in really bad areas.

    We’re perfectly happy in our 1300 square foot place and can’t imagine needing more than 1750 or so even when we have kids, and I could never get into a world where you need to buy farm equipment to maintain a lawn.

    6. Overseas travel is extremely convenient. Since I go to China and Japan fairly frequently, this is important.

  8. Dave says:

    I’ll give you a sneak preview of my blog post about getting the best of both worlds – country/city.

    The Value of Living by a University

    Ride Sharing Board ““ you can find out who needs to get home this weekend, and if it’s a place you’d like to visit, you can share gas expenses

    Dumpster Diving ““ when the spring semester ends and the dorms are vacated, often a treasure trove of furniture is left behind

    Surplus and Salvage Barns ““ colleges are often getting rid of old desks, chairs, and computers ““ and if you don’t like dumpster diving, look here instead

    Great entertainments at discount prices ““ from music to theater to guest speakers ““ it’s all right there

    Culture…for Free!
    The universities where I live all have multiple lecture series, films, music programs, etc., which are open to the public and, in most cases, free. We can see everything from almost first-run films to historically important cinema just for the cost of driving out there and paying to park. There are also lecture series catering to various professional groups and senior citizens

  9. Brip Blap says:

    I grew up in a small town (10,000 people) and moved from there to two of the biggest cities in the world (Moscow and New York). I loved living in a small town, and I certainly miss the prices, but it doesn’t compare. Maybe not all big cities are alike, but the tremendous ‘buzz’ you get from a big city just can’t be replicated in a small town. I gripe about the prices all the time, but you just can’t beat taking your one-year old son to visit the Bronx Zoo or play soccer in Grand Central Park or even see Santa at Macy’s. I blog about this kind of stuff all the time, and as much as I dream about getting a 5 bedroom house in Smalltown, Middle America for $200K I just couldn’t bear to leave the New York metropolitan area, even if it means a smaller place with higher expenses.

  10. limeade says:

    Some people like rural areas. Others prefer the big city. Instead of trying to figure out which is “better”, be grateful not everyone sees things the way you do. Otherwise, one place would be really crowded and eventually lose any appeal it may have had to begin with.

  11. mysticaltyger says:

    Here’s my experience of a single person living in Silicon Valley on 50K a year. I think there is some truth to all sides of the argument. If you are going to live anywhere in the Bay Area (or any “global” type city like New York or Los Angeles or London) and expect to live the “fast” lifestyle (you know, eating out, theater & concerts every weekend, expensive hobbies, etc), while still having money left over for your 401K, then you’d better earn more than 50K per year. It’s true that you can’t get many of the cultural attractions in Iowa that you can get in Boston or San Francisco. But the thing is, for a lot of people living in expensive cities….they really can’t afford these things anyway–or they can only afford them in a very selective “once in a while” kind of way.

    I do admit I LOVE the weather here, and I like the proximity of the ocean….but a lot of people who live here are busy with their high stress, time intensive jobs a lot of the time….so many are not spending as much time on the beach or in other outdoor pursuits as some might think. And unless you live and work in San Francisco proper, you are going to have to drive everywhere. People tend to scatter all around the area, and it seems friends and attractions are always a 45 minute drive away.

    Another interesting observation is that people in cheaper areas seem more capable of doing fun things that don’t involve spending a lot of money. In places like the Bay Area, every social activity seems to revolve around spending.

    Real estate here truly is horribly overpriced. If you’re going to raise kids here, make sure your income is in excess of 100K a year. Otherwise, move to Iowa.

    As a gay man living in the SF Bay Area, I hate to agree with any aspect of Tyler’s redneck attitude….but many people here in the Bay Area, and San Francisco, in particular, ARE RUDE, arrogant, and smug “know it alls”. They think they have the answers to everything because they have graduate degrees or went to Stanford, etc. Unfortunately, the San Francisco brand of “liberalism” is as intolerant as Tyler’s redneck conservatism.

  12. PiggyBank Raider says:

    I may be an anomaly, but I wanted to throw in my 2 cents. We live very rural (pop: 4,000). The benefits, IMHO, have less to do with finances and more to do with lifestyle.

    1. I know my neighbors. And they’re the kind of people who have your back, if you KWIM. They may be a bit “redneck” conservative, but I’m a non-white person who hasn’t experienced any blatant racism.

    2. I feel safe. Average number of homicides in my town equals 1 per year, almost always a result of a domestic dispute or bar fight.

    3. Farmer stands and markets are abundant, providing me with a wide variety of locally grown foods.

    Sure, we lack some cultural benefits. But D.C. is only a 2-hour drive–an easy day trip. My biggest regret is the poor selection of decent restaurants, but cooking at home is cheaper anyway.

    With regard to the financial aspect, we purchased our 8-year-old 3BR home on 1/3 acre for $100,000 (4 years ago). So I don’t see a financial disadvantage to rural living either (Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart and such are all within a short driving distance.). Hubby works in an industry (medicine) that offers plenty of career opportunities in surrounding cities (within a 30 minute commute), and I’m a freelance writer (my income would be the same regardless of geography).

    Overall, rural living benefits us. Though I agree that it’s great there are differing opinions. If everyone came to my town to live, it wouldn’t be so rural! :)

  13. saladdin says:

    I will add for the rural living: TVA.
    Last I saw we were in the top 3 for cheapest electricity. With electricity so cheap, I am able to watch CNN and follow the blackouts in California.

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