Updated on 08.26.14

Making A Major Life Change

Trent Hamm

Is It Time For Kathy To Abandon The City?

David Herring #4A reader who I will call Kathy wrote to me with a rather long but quite compelling story that really struck a chord with me. When I read the story, I saw so much of myself and my wife in it in the position we were in about five years ago, and because of that I felt compelled to write a very long response to their story.

Hopefully, Kathy’s story will strike a chord with some of you as well, and you can offer some advice to them. Here’s Kathy’s tale, along with my thoughts.

My boyfriend and I have been fans of The Simple Dollar for some time now, and really respect and aspire to the lifestyle you write about. The reason I am writing you now, for the first time, is because over the past few weeks we have come to realize that we are on the whole very unhappy with our current situation.

We’re both under 25, have been together for over 5 years and live in the Greater D.C. Metro area. We’ve both got computer science degrees from prestigious New England schools and I have a masters in information security assurance. My boyfriend is a software developer and I’m a consultant and our combined income is well over 100k. We’re making all the right moves in terms of saving (well over 30% of what we’re making) and maintaining a debt free life (aside one very manageable student loan and a car which will be paid for in a few months).

Before we even get to the problem, it’s pretty clear that Kathy and her boyfriend are in a very good financial state. If they’re living in D.C., are debt free, and have marketable degrees and already have workplace experience, the world is truly their oyster.

And we’re miserable. We don’t feel as though we are in the right place at the right jobs to be living the kind of life we want. Everyone around us seems to be very content sitting in traffic for 2 hours a day to get to their jobs where they work 60 hour weeks, so that they can afford another sports car, a $500,000 one bedroom condo and a few more inches on their TV.

They’ve also made a conscious decision to reject a consumerist lifestyle. This sounds just fine to me, living in Iowa driving my eleven year old truck.

After many long conversations we’ve identified the things that make us happy in life and have made the decision that we will do everything in our power to be well on our way down the path toward those things in a year. We want to be closer to nature, and we’d love to be able to afford a modest home. I’d also love to be someplace with a sense of community where I could volunteer my time. As far as jobs go, we’re far less picky, we’re just hoping to find something to support ourselves and eventually a family, but ideally use our skills and have some sort of impact on the world.

Let’s look individually at the the things they want:

They want to be closer to nature.

That likely means living in a much smaller town than the D.C. Metro area. If you want nature to be easily accessible, you’re probably looking at living in a town that has at most 100,000 residents – and likely much smaller.

They want to be able to afford a modest home.

This also points toward a move to a more rural area. I can’t speak for other regions of the country, but much of the Midwest is very affordable.

They want to live in a place with a sense of community.

This, again, speaks towards a smaller town, probably one that’s near an affluent area. A great place to look for this is to look for a small town that’s outside an affluent or educated area, such as a small town within 20 minutes of a college town or a technically adept city. These tend to foster communities of intelligent people who want to live in a small-town environment and often include thriving volunteer work and community activities, both in that small town and in the larger city nearby.

Adding up these points, I would encourage them to look at small towns within a 20 or 30 mile radius of smaller Midwestern cities, particularly those that house a university. In many places, these usually have an abundance of jobs for technically inclined people, but make small town living quite easy. For example, I live within an hour of several decent-sized cities in Iowa, including Des Moines, and yet my backyard has a cornfield bordering it, and there are a lot of technical jobs in this area.

We want to be living a simpler life and because doing what we were “supposed to” up until this point has lead us to very stressful, complicated lives, we’re not really sure where to even start. We’d love to pack up the car, drive across the country (something we’ve always wanted to do, always had the money to do, but never had the time to do) and eventually wind up in our new town.

That’s an awesome plan, especially since you have the freedom of youth on your side.

But how do we find this new town and should we lock down work first? What about health insurance? Should we go down to the courthouse and get married just to increase the odds that we’ll both be insured? Is there any way for people in our situation to purchase affordable insurance to make sure we’re covered for the few months of instability a move like this would cause?

If you buy into the idea I presented above, here’s what I would do:

Make a list of potential matching cities in the Midwest.

Look up the state schools for the Midwest, then identify ones that potentially have a thriving research program in areas you might be interested in. This generally means that there are lots of spin-off companies in the area. You should also look for job listings at monster.com for smaller cities in the Midwest – not necessarily to find a job, but just to know who employers are in those areas that might match with your skills.

Narrow down that list.

Try to narrow this list down to two or three, then investigate those cities in detail. Are there small towns nearby with palatable housing markets? Are there community features that interest you, both in the larger town where you may find work and in the smaller town where you would live? Most likely, the right place will start to become clear for you.

As for the health care, I would look into COBRA – it’s likely that you can extend your current health care package for a while after you leave your current jobs. Then, when you’re re-employed, get a health care plan that matches what you need.

And more fundamentally, in the long run, will this be a good decision? By staying where we are, we’ll probably both have six figure salaries in a few years, but during those years, we’ll be stressed, won’t have the time to do the things we enjoy and won’t be able to afford a place of our own. Alternatively, if we make this move, we’ll both likely take huge pay cuts (both to our yearly salaries and likely to our lifetime earning potential) and won’t be able to save nearly as much, but we’ll be happy now, rather than in 40 years when we can retire.

It won’t be the big cut that you think it is. Let’s say you can get a 2,000 square foot family home in the D.C. Metro area for $600K. In the Midwest, you can easily find them for under $200K. Consider the difference in those house payments, and you’ll see where most of the difference in salary actually goes.

Any, and all advice you could give us would be greatly appreciated. Right now we’re looking at about 10 months to make a major life change, and while this thought is daunting, we’re willing to do everything necessary to make it happen.

Living in a Midwestern small town isn’t the right thing for everyone, but from my perspective, it sounds like the right thing for you two.

Do any of you have thoughts for Kathy?

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  1. Punny Money says:

    Kathy, I know the feeling. There are days I wanna move from the D.C. area to Middle-of-Nowhere, Dakota. While you should probably ask your friends and family for their opinions before you consider mine, here it is anyway: get out of D.C. and don’t look back.

    Now more than ever, when the modern luxuries of life are just a click away and you can get internet access in a unabomber-style shack anywhere you like, there’s no reason to tie yourself to the big city. Unless you need 2,000 different restaurant choices, moving to a smaller town will likely do you a lot of good.

  2. delpantano says:

    Doesn’t have to be the midwest – reading through their requirements I immediately thought of a number of areas I’ve either lived or known in the past – parts of upstate NY, certain more rural parts of New England, certain smaller cities in California and Oregon, parts of the NC piedmont region… Not all of them are hopping with job prospects, but none are void, either. They’ve obviously made some good choices in life so far, and it’s going to pay off for them in terms of freedom to find, and then do, what they want to do. Good luck!

  3. MIchael Langford says:

    There are plenty of better cities to live in if you want quality of life. Atlanta, Austin, Phoenix, Seattle, Orlando, and Nashville are all cities that have a tech sector, fun city life, and affordable housing.

    DC is up there with NY, Boston, NJ, etc where home prices are ridiculous and materialism is seemingly ubiquitous, as opportunity and highpaying jobs are in very high numbers so everyone knows a competitive materialist.

    You get to be young and have fun, but don’t have to live in the quality of life nightmare that is DC.


    PS: My wife is from DC. After living in Atlanta, she’s stunned at what people go through there every time she goes back to visit her parents.

  4. MB says:

    Kathy … I would follow Trent’s advice, but be sure to rent a place to live at first and give yourself a deadline to see if you like where you move to. If not, you can always move back and resume your DC lifestyle. The decision doesn’t have to be a forever one if you find you don’t like the country. .. One thing you don’t consider in your letter … would you be moving away from friends and family in the DC area? I personally, as much as I want a more stress-free existence as well, couldn’t stand to move myself and my kids away from their grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. So relocating is out for me … but maybe doable for you. Try it .. you can always move back.

  5. beth says:

    Kathy – make it happen! When I was 25 (mid 1990s) I quit my job, got rid of my (hand-me-down, garage-sale) furniture, and moved west via Amtrak. And I had only basic job skills and a college degree, 3k in the bank, and no debt. And it worked out great.

    In your situation, you’ve got even more going for you! Get money in the bank, start identifying a location, and see if one of you can land a job. If not, it IS worth taking the jump anyway. If you can keep your needed income quite low (cheap apartment, car and school loan payments) you can probably show up in your chosen destination and live off of your savings/income from a starter job for quite a long time.

    It sounds like you’re on the same page – now encourage each other to make it happen. You will never regret it.

  6. 60 in 3 says:

    Note, this isn’t a rant against small cities. I grew up in one and still love them. I just wanted to point out that much of what you’re looking for can be found in a big city.

    I live in the Silicon Valley with millions of people around me. Want nature? I have some of the most incredible mountains, beaches and parks within biking range of my house. 2 hour commute? I bike to work or take the train. I find it relaxing plus it’s great exercise. Bigger television? Don’t know about this one, I don’t watch TV. Property prices are definitely higher here, but then again, so are salaries so I guess it evens out. Plus my wife and I were able to find a really nice and affordable town house which we now own.

    Plus big cities do have their own benefits in terms of social life, entertainment opportunities and a greater diversity of people to interact with.

    Again, if you love small towns then by all means enjoy them, they truly are wonderful. However, there are ways to fix many of the things you dislike about DC while still not moving away from big cities.


  7. BD says:

    After looking on and off for a little over a year, my husband and I both got jobs in Charleston, SC and are leaving the DC Metro area! We narrowed our list of smaller cities to look for jobs in based on where family was nearby as well as city characteristics that we liked. The jobs came just in time as our commute creeped up from under one hour to one hour and a half or 2 hours. Our new “commute” will be all of 12 miles! Good luck, wherever you choose! Just be persistent. It took many interviews (40+) before finding jobs that would not be the drastic pay cut that we feared, although there is still an adjustment.

  8. Neal says:

    I agree that the midwest is not the only place to find such things, especially as the midwest is rather mediocre when it comes to nature (don’t get me wrong there are plenty of nice areas–and I live in the midwest myself–but nothing there compares to the Sierras or the Rockies or to the Redwoods, or the Ocean). Being a bit of a nature freak myself, were I in your shoes I would move to Oregon, Washington, or Colorado, with Colorado probably topping the list (300 days a year of sunshine, mountains, rivers, trees, skiing, hiking…it’s a beautiful place). In each of those areas you can find beautiful, relatively cheap rural areas within a reasonable drive of the big cities. Just my two cents.

  9. Wendy says:

    I have CS friends who lived in gorgeous Ouray, Colorado for a couple of years, and the made a living by telecommuting.

    I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and we *love* it here. Not much night life, but lots of great people, tons of ways to spend time outside all year round, and 320 days of sunshine each year.

  10. Sally says:

    Well, I’m 22, grew up in the DC area, and currently have a technical job in Portage, MI, so yes, I have a few thoughts!

    First off, I’d like to address Kathy’s “closer-to-nature” concern. Though you’ll probably want to move out of the DC area, there are a lot of great, gorgeous nature spots in the area to visit while you’re still there. Take a hike along the Potomac river. Visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens–it’s located right in DC, but you’ll feel a hundred miles away.

    Second, I agree with Trent. Look for small towns. I currently live in Kalamazoo, and I love it! It’s a college town (WMU), so it’s full of fun cultural events, has a great sense of community, and there are lots of volunteer opportunities. I commute about 20 minutes each way to my job but it’s along relaxed back roads, not the Beltway. As for housing, it’s a buyer’s market here right now. Houses are very inexpensive (a married couple I know who are both turning 25 next week, bought a two-bedroom house in a good neighborhood for $60,000), but that’s partially because the overall economy isn’t that good. Unemployment rates are high, but you two probably wouldn’t have to worry about that as you’re both in strong fields. I got the job I have now with an English degree and the pay is good not only given what I was expecting, but compared with entry-level salaries for others in my field across the nation! And remember–cost of living makes a huge difference! Every time I go home to visit, I’m shocked at how expensive everything is. So while moving would likely be a pay-cut, it won’t affect your standard of living as much as you’d think.

  11. Johanna says:

    I live in the DC area, and my life is neither stressful nor complicated. I walk to my workplace, where I rarely spend more than 40 hours a week, in 20 minutes. There are plenty of family homes for sale in my area for less than $300,000. There’s a national park within easy cycling distance (although I’ve never been there, since that’s not my thing). I don’t have a sports car, a $500,000 condo, or a TV, and I don’t really care to have any of those things.

    Yeah, I feel like a fish out of water sometimes, and DC would not be my first choice place to live if I could get a job anywhere I wanted. But that doesn’t stop me from living my life the way I want to live my life, and being happy in the process.

  12. Lina says:

    Just to add to Trent’s whole post. Maybe once you have settled on a couple of places (or one depending on the time) go visit it, and not for like a weekend. Stay for a week and see if its something you can do. Make sure you are comfortable with everything and that you could really make it there before you take the ultimate plunge.

  13. kevin says:

    You say you live in the Greater DC Metro Area…have you ever considered actually moving to Washington DC? There are many “small town” neighborhoods in DC proper that have affordable housing to buy or rent. Brookland, DC and Takoma DC/MD are two examples. You can get rid of your car and Metro to work.

    I moved from the GDCMA into the District proper over 5 years ago, and life is much more stress free. True…it’s not close to nature or some of the other things you mention, but it might reduce your stress level if you were reading a book on the Metro instead of sitting in Beltway traffic.

    On another note, I’ve driven across the country twice in my twenties (once each way), and there were tons of towns that I loved in places I’d never even thought of before. I love living in our nation’s capital, but some of my favorite cities are Boise ID, Eugene OR, Portland OR, and Madison WI. Go there…they fit many of the qualities that you seem to be looking for.

  14. Jim says:

    Great advice, Trent. The Southeast has much of this going for it as well. Nashville, Birmingham, Huntsville all are technology-oriented cities with lots of small-town style community-oriented opportuties available. Cities 30 miles outside any of these places will offer higher education and a wealth of technology-oriented job opportunities. Check out cities in the Nashville – Birmingham – Atlanta triangle for low cost of living, and great quality of life.

  15. Jim says:

    Also, a bit of personal advice is that it’s a bad idea to pretend to be married and put your finances together / have a life together but not follow through with the committment. Dave Ramsey is a big proponent of the argument that if you’re not willing to get married, you don’t need to be making life decisions this big together.

  16. Matt says:

    It’s obvious they’ve put a lot of thought into what they would like to do. I’d like to just offer another suggestion.

    Go live abroad for 6 months!

    By living in another country you will learn and experience more than one could possibly imagine. It will allow them to get a break from the consumeristic lifestyle (as most countries do not even come close to the US in this regard) and experience a part of the world.

    It doesn’t sound like money is much of an issue to them but there are some countries that have working holiday visas for 6-12 months so they could teach English or work some place for income. With high tech skills it shouldn’t be too difficult if they do their research. Besides that you don’t need much to live in most of the countries in the world. $1000 a month would be plenty for 2 people in almost every country outside of Western Europe.

    Seriously, just pick out a country/region they would like to go to and go move there. Yes, it will be challenging but it could end up being the most rewarding experience of your life. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always go home.

  17. Quinton says:

    Personally, being from the Midwest, I would look to be close to home (If Kathy’s relatives are near DC or the NE) but further south.

    Charlotte NC or the RTC area of NC is VERY tech orientated, and you would be within 4-5 hours of DC.

    Plus you do not lose the big city lifestyle as much! Commutes are generally less than 45 minutes. Salaries would drop, but so would housing.

    Google is opening a Data Center in Lenoir, HP opened a factory in Winston-Salem 3 years ago.
    Pretty good opportunities for IT people all over the state.

  18. Emily says:

    I don’t know Trent…
    I would think Midwest would be a very hard sell for someone who wants to be close to nature. Not that there a not beautiful spots in the Midwest, but when Kathy say she wants to be closer to nature does she mean hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing, and skiing right out her back door?

    I think that your suggestion of looking close to college towns is a good idea I think that Kathy and her boyfriend really sound a lot more like they belong in the Pacific North West.
    “Closer to nature” “sense of community”
    I think they should look at the Portland Metro area – specifically Corvallis and some of the surrounding towns.

    Oregon really has its own mindset/culture and its sounds a lot like what Kathy is looking for. While it might not be as cheap as the Midwest the natural beauty of the NW is unparalleled.

    I am From AK (definitely not for everyone) and I think that Kathy has describer herself as a West Coast girl.

    Kathy should do her research carefully – this is a big choice and I hope she can maybe visit some of these places before she makes a final decision.

    Good luck to you Kathy!

  19. r says:

    St.Louis or Seattle…

  20. k says:

    Re: That likely means living in a much smaller town than the D.C. Metro area. If you want nature to be easily accessible, you’re probably looking at living in a town that has at most 100,000 residents – and likely much smaller.

    No, not really. It means staying away from certain sprawling metor areas like NYC, DC, Atlanta. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Portland, and Seattle all come to mind as major metro areas that regularly appear on “best of” lists compiled by publications my Outdoor, Backpacker, cycling magazines, etc., for their accessibility to natural or wild landscapes.

  21. EP says:

    Wow, being under the age of 25 and wanting to escape a metro area sounds very early to me. I’m sure you have good reasons for doing it, however, I’d like to present my “life plan”: I will finish my master’s degree in a couple of years at age 24 or 25 and then I will be working very hard for 3-4 years, having the work experience and the money to settle down and establish a family at around age 30 with less working hours. Depending on how things work out, I hope to be able to live in a fairly big city as I don’t want to escape all the opportunities in terms of jobs, friends, activities etc. that cities give. But let’s see how that goes – I grew up in the country side, it was OK but I felt like I was missing out…

  22. SavingDiva says:

    I would recommend Boulder, CO. It has a lot of great jobs plus outdoor activities. I lived there for a little bit and I loved it! I would like to move out there again.

  23. Katie says:

    I’m from the RTP (not RTC) area of NC and now live in Charlotte. I know a LOT of northern people that have moved down south to enjoy better weather, a lower cost of living, and an equal job market. I, myself, am a northern transplant.

    I’d urge Kathy and her boyfriend to take a series of long weekend visits to places they’re looking at moving – and speak with their companies about telecommuting or transferring.

    RTP is a hotbed for technology and Charlotte is a hotbed for the financial industry – I’d say that they couldn’t go wrong either way.

    Also, NC has both the mountains AND the beach – plus plenty of farmland and country atmosphere, even closer into the larger cities.

    I may seem like I favor NC heavily, but I could say much the same for a lot of other areas of the country I’ve visited. Just thought I’d chime in for my home state :)

    Best of luck with your decision.

  24. Kevin says:

    Depends on what you mean by nature. Big fields and big sky? Mountains and trees. Rivers or lakes? how about the beach?

    Also, I agree that where you family is might help be a deciding factor that wasn’t mentioned. You want to be close to the future in-laws… but not too-close.

    I moved to Chattanooga from Atlanta (still too much traffic for me) and love it here; however, tech jobs are a bit difficult to come by. What about Huntsville or the Research Triangle in NC? I would think that both of these should have a compatible job pool and a closeness to rivers, beach, and mountains (however maybe not the giant cornfields that Trent loves so much :)

    Both should have a relatively low cost of living too and will keep you east coast, if that’s important.

  25. Nightfall says:

    I’d like to put in a suggestion for Madison, WI as well. It has tons of bike trails and parks right in the city, lots of small rural areas in a 15 minutes radius, and if you need a big city fix (or cheaper airfare) Chicago is 2 hours south on 90/94. The university (UW) has a lot of decent paying jobs with great benefits as well.

  26. elizabeth says:

    While I would look into COBRA, when you’re young you are probably better off just finding your own basic insurance packages for a few months. Luckily most jobs have nice insurance packages, but for someone our age, we may not need a $15 co-pay if we’re only going to the Dr twice a year. Find something with a higher deductible. You’ll get a much cheaper rate.

  27. Mishal says:

    Come move to the Texas Hill Country and work in Austin!

    Great young community, very into fitness and music, we have both consumer whore yuppies and anti-consumerist hipsters. The Texas Hill country is absolutely beautiful, long summers, many great oppurtunties for volunteer work. socially conscious community…

    and best of all, many tech companies to work for!

  28. ClickerTrainer says:

    Go ahead and make the move, but rent for one year. If you don’t like it after one year, try another place.

    I have friends who have retired from the big city to their “dream home” in a small town, and hated it. One friend in particular is very liberal, and she moved to a small town apparently not realizing those small town values might be a little more conservative than what you get in San Francisco. She is finding it very difficult to connect and make friends.

  29. guinness416 says:

    Just a thought, but as someone who has moved city several times, the only thing I would caution is romanticizing life outside of DC.

    There are plenty of people (one posted above) walking/transiting to work, volunteering in their communities, working less than 60hrs per week, and with non-traditional work situations like telecommuting, consulting and flexi-time. I don’t know DC well at all but certainly in NYC, Dublin and Toronto, the three big cities I have lived in, lots of people live slower paced lives and lives centred around friends, neighbourhood and creativity.

    There are also plenty of people in small cities and towns who live the I-want-more consumer lifestyle.

    If you have slipped into a live-to-work lifestyle, will that change if you move location? Changes in habits, living in the city itself rather than the suburbs, new job situations or making the decision not to work crazy hours, taking time to enjoy the parks etc you have around you, a change in social life and engaging in community events and groups may give you the quality of life you want without moving away from family and friends.

  30. If you’re looking for a great place, try Minneapolis/St. Paul. Sure, the metro isn’t exactly the smallest, with 3.5 million people, but there are many suburbs just outside of this area that offer all you’re looking for and more!
    In fact, just last week we were named #1 for business by Market Watch – there’s a lot more Fortune 500 companies founded here then you’d realize.
    I was born and raised here, but lived in a couple of major areas such as Dallas, San Fran and Chicago and out of all of them, this area is the cheapest by far!
    My girlfriend and I live in a 1200sqft loft in prime territory in the heart of downtown St. Paul and we pay $1300/month – and that’s a bit more then you’d pay for similar places!
    In fact, if this area is to much for your needs then you can check out Duluth – it has everything the twin cities do, only on a smaller scale.

    Good luck to you!

  31. SJean says:

    This should get a lot of comments! I also live in Iowa and work in a technical feild, and yearn to try out a city (at least for awhile!). Maybe the grass is greener on the other side… or it is just personality.

    But bottom line is, she tried the city, and hates it. They will still earn a really solid living in a smaller community and as you mentioned, lower costs of living. It isn’t the finacial disaster they are predicting. In fact, I feel much better off (financially) starting my career here than in a big city. And the sushi isn’t half bad either (for the midwest!)

    My commute is less than 5 minutes (i go home for lunch all the time and make it back within a 1/2 hour), my employer allows me challenging assingments for a new hire, my rent is about 575/mo with no roomates in a newer building. My employer expects only 40 hours a week

    Something to consdier, maybe you can drastically change your life without moving at all. Live closer to your job (cut the commute), find different communities/people to spend your time with, find whatever nature there is, and it seems on the east coast, you can get to a lot of cool places within a short drive (or train ride?)

  32. Wil says:

    Michigan!! Kalamazoo, East Lansing, and Ann Arbor would be perfect. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University are both large and well respected schools. Michigan’s climate offers four distinct seasons and outside of metro-Detroit, is almost all nature. Plus, houses are extremely cheap at the moment.

  33. beth says:

    This one already has lots of comments, but I’ll throw mine in here. I hail from the Midwest, near Kansas City, and have city-hopped a bit in the last 10 years, finally settling down in Las Vegas. I do have one word of caution for Kathy before you pack up and catch the next flight to Des Moines or Omaha or Denver or even Austin. The culture shock of going from either coast to the Midwest or South has been too much for some people I know, especially from the Big City to a college town or really small city (>100,000). It is a much slower, friendlier, content-with-what-you-have culture, but the flip side of that to some is that it’s backwards, lazy, nosy, and un-ambitious.

    If you’re prepared for the idiosyncratic differences that come with culture shifts like that, then definitely go for it! I would definitely take the pre-move road trip though, to feel out a few towns that have intrigued you.

    And FWIW, I did a lot of locale comparing on homefair.com back in the days, though you can’t base everything on school comparisons and property values. And I think Forbes.com has a couple of listings of places like “the hottest small tech cities” that might come in handy when throwing darts at the map.

  34. Mike says:

    Ill pile on the suggestion for Oregon. I live in the Hillsboro area, just west of Portland. I am surrounded by wheat fields and fir trees, and it’s less than 1/2 hour to work. I work for a large tech company as a software engineer, with an annual income that isn’t too far from six digits. As it happens, I’m planning to move to a more convenient location for my wife and her family – some of them don’t drive. Wanna buy my place??? :)

    Housing isn’t as cheap as the midwest, but it’s definitely better than DC, the Bay area or LA. Also some parts of the Seattle area may work out well. You might want to check out http://getrichslowly.org, another respected personal finance blog whose author lives in Portland.

  35. Nate says:

    I’m also from the Midwest originally and have moved east. I love being outdoors and in nature. In my experience not much of that will be found in the Midwest. We live in Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania and love it. My commute is 5 miles (15min), we’re an hour from the mountains (hiking/backpacking/biking). There isn’t that generica feel here like most Midwest towns.

    That being said I’d still move back to the Midwest because my family still lives back there.

    I would recommend Kathy take a look at upstate NY, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine…small towns galore, and outdoor opportunities around every corner.

  36. martemiw says:

    It sounds like you have it all together. You know what you want, just take it. Now is the time to do it.

    My wife and I were married two years, living and working in Toronto were we both grew up. We had no interest in the commute and other costs of big city life.

    We moved to Victoria, BC. This is the perfect city for someone in the tech sector who wants to be close to nature. We have a booming job market, housing in cheap given the proximity to work, downtown, etc. We have a great school UVic.

    If you want to read about the job market up here; check out http://www.viatec.ca. I work at GenoLogics we are always looking for good talent. http://www.genologics.com.

    Best of luck,

  37. Heather says:

    You may not have to move as far as you think. There are a lot of places that fit your description in VA. I recently moved to Richmond and it sounds like it could possibly fit the bill. My commute across is a max 30 minutes. I moved here from San Diego where I was commuting about 1.5 hours each way. Just a thought.

    Also, as for those who suggested Seattle. I lived there for a while too and it might be a little too much of the things you don’t like about DC.

    Happy hunting!

  38. Mike says:

    I’m from the Baltimore area originally, and I think most of what Kathy is looking for could be found less than 2 hours away, if she feels tied to the area at all by friends and family.

    Kathy mentioned they both have computer science degrees, and Trent mentioned looking for a small college town. I would go one step further – IT in higher education is booming right now, so looking for a job at a small campus outside a city might be ideal.

    Find a campus that is 30-60 minutes outside an appealing city, then find a home within a suitable commuting radius from that campus. Easy access to work, as well as the city nightlife when you desire it.

  39. Pam says:

    Distances are much shorter in the southeast than the midwest, much less the west. Clemson–two hours from Atlanta and two hours from Charlotte–is a university town of about 10,000 people, not counting the students. Greenville SC is the nearest significant city. If you want something more liberal try Asheville NC. If you need more high tech look to the research triangle area of North Carolina. If you want out of the corporate rat race consider an IT job at a university–it takes a lot of tech people to keep the systems the students and faculty use running.

  40. laura k says:

    I am all for simplification, but I think a lot of it is in one’s attitude. You have to be willing to go against the tide. And be able to deal with the confusion and amazement your friends and colleagues will regularly express, especially since some of them may never understand where you’re coming from.

    I grew up in the “middle of nowhere” and vowed I’d never live in the city, but I somehow ended up in Boston and have managed to make (most of) the life I want. It has, however, taken a while (much more than a year). For example, while I would love to live somewhere that I could have a lot of land and a huge vegetable garden, that place would probably require a car, and right now I’m much happier living car free. No car payments, no insurance costs, no maintenance costs, no sitting in Boston traffic, no shoveling snow just to be able to drive somewhere. This is the best simplification measure I have made. I get my exercise by walking 2 miles each way to work. If the weather is lousy, I’m less than a 5-minute walk from the subway (and, incidentally, it takes me the same amount of time whether I take the subway or walk to work).

    I don’t have a TV, and I don’t miss it. I’m on the fence about getting rid of my DSL connection at home — there are 3 libraries with wireless internet within walking distance of my house and the main Boston branch is a 20-minute door-to-door trip. Plus I have internet access at work. I’m considering planting a vegetable garden on my (flat) roof (the only place that gets enough sun – we have a lot of trees). There’s more free entertainment here than I could hope to attend in 10 lifetimes, and a lot of it is really good. It’s not possible the starve intellectually, what with the number of colleges and universities.

    This is the most community-oriented place I’ve ever been. My neighbors and I rally together to rid the streets of drug dealers, slow down traffic, clean up the sidewalks, raise money for a family displaced by a fire. One of my neighbors is wearing a name tag every day for a year to make himself more approachable (www.thenametagproject.com). So is one of our locally owned businesses. I wore one for a month.

    Several years ago, during an early mid-life crisis (I was 28!), I quit my job, drove across the country and had the chance to go anywhere that struck my fancy. I thought it was my chance to find my plot of land and make a go of it. Then I realized that simply going somewhere else was not going to magically make me have the life I wanted. Instead, I needed to decide what I wanted and start to live my life that way. Once I realized that, I realized that some changes were going to happen. I knew I wanted to be somewhere familiar so that I had a support network when I started shaking up my life. That led me back to Boston.

    Yes, my housing costs are astronomical, and no, I can’t make all my own decisions about my living space since it’s a condo. Sometimes my neighbors are noisy, and I’m regularly subjected to rude people on the train, but I know that my dreams (like owning a single family home) will not happen all at once (it’ll be 7 years in November since my epiphany). I firmly believe that you attract what you focus on. If you focus on a stressful commute, it’s pretty likely that that’s what you’ll get. If you decide that you have better things to worry about than how much you hate driving 2 hours to work, like magic an ideal job will seem to fall into your lap. I know it sounds hokey, and I don’t know how it works, but it does.

    Good luck!

  41. Jeffrey says:

    For insurance, I’ve used to http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ to research and purchase my own individual health insurance plan. Contrary to popular belief, it’s NOT as expensive as you would think. Provided you’re healthy and have not major preexisting conditions, it will probably be MUCH cheaper than COBRA. I did COBRA for 6 months after I left my last job and paid $240 a month. I now pay $145 for the SAME plan!

    I also live in D.C. and want to move closer to nature. As for Midwest, however, I would NEVER move there, regardless of the low cost of living. Geography is very important to me. I definitely need decent-sized city. My current possibilities are Portland (OR), Seattle, and Phoenix.

  42. NCReader says:

    Quinton, Do you mean the RTP (Research Triangle Park) area of NC? The “Triangle” (area generally bordered by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) is a nice area. Research Triangle Park is roughly in the middle of that triangle, home to some major tech offices – GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, etc.

  43. Andrew says:

    North Carolina; Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Wilmington, Asheville, Boone, Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill might all be good places for you to think about. Cheap homes prices and universities in all of them.

  44. Transplanted Midwesterner says:

    My husband and I moved to a small upper Midwest town 5 years ago and love it. The cost of living is reasonable (we bought a small house that needed some aesthetic work for under 100k) for two people whose academic salaries aren’t quite as high as those in tech fields, and we are surrounded by a good sense of community, all kinds of opportunities to enjoy nature (kayaking, canoing, camping, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, etc.). We’re also within a few hours from Madison, WI, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and a half-day’s drive from Chicago. The only down side is that or families are on the east cost, this has become even more of a downer as we plan to have a family and as our parents age.

    Having moved *a lot* (more than 5 states in less than 10 years) my advice to Kathy would be that when you move, remember that it will take a little while to feel settled, and that finding your community might take a bit of time. In some ways you’ll know what you like and don’t like right away, but it took us about 2-3 years to build our community of good friends.

  45. Andy says:

    I live in Salina, Kansas. My nice house cost me $116 thousand, my commute is five minutes, there is a contemporary art center and art cinema in town, and there hasn’t been a murder here in over a year. The only problem is that its far from everywhere else.

  46. Dana says:

    I third the suggestion to check out the Portland, Oregon area. It has the beauty of the west coast without the traffic and smog, and it’s close enough to major cities to make weekend trips. The attitude of that area is so communal; it’s odd to a northeasterner like me. Every time we go out there (to visit family) I’m amazed by the friendliness of total strangers.

  47. KCK says:

    I agree with trying several places close to the DC area first. Maybe take weekend trips that are within a comfortable driving distance to visit towns/cities of interest. If they are not interesting, then try places further away, like the Midwest.
    I would like to suggest CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. (population 40,000) It is a college town (University of Virginia) and is very charming. You can hike/camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains, ski, visit the vineyards (some of the best in the country), participate in some of the intellectual activities (there’s a huge art scene), visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, or the University itself. In 2004 it was named the Best Place to live in the United States (and consistently gets high rankings). And, it’s only about an hour and a half to 2 hours away (depending on where you live in the DC area and that nasty Beltway traffic).
    I don’t work for the city of Charlottesville or anything, but I did go to the University and graduated from there a few years ago. From what you describe, it sounds like it would be a valuable option for you to consider. I come from a big city myself and believe me, the small town feel of Charlottesville puts you at ease. Sometimes, it almost seems as if there is more to do there than in a big city (and you don’t have to worry about interstate traffic!)
    One note: If you do decide to visit, I wouldn’t go during a weekend when there’s a home football game.
    Try it. If you don’t like it, you’re back home in 2 hours.

  48. yvie says:

    Hello, I grew up in small town Ontario. No buses or amenities nearby. I grew very tired of the 20 minute commute to work or other amenities. I dreamed of, if not giving up the car, limiting its use tremendously.

    My husband and I moved to a bike friendly city with lots of trails and parkland. Despite that we have to pay more for a home, we don’t need to pay gas for my car and hope to just stop using it. I love it here and wonder why in the heavens we didn’t do this sooner.

    Small town life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as there are fewer communal amenities. My advice would be to stay in a city with a population between 100,000 and 200,000, and that values nature, parkland, trails, and public transit.

  49. Mitch says:

    Here’s an article from MSN listing some smaller cities along the lines of what you seem to be looking for:


    Like Trent, I’m from Iowa, so I’m mostly familiar with the Midwest. I’d look into eastern Iowa, specifically the area known as the Cedar Valley. Several cities, including Cedar Falls/Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City could fit your requirements. Mankato, Minnesota would also be a great option. It offers all the outdoor activities 10,000 lakes can offer, is a short trip from the Twin Cities, and is also close to the Iowa Great Lakes, one of the Midwest’s premier vacation destinations. Good luck in your search!

  50. liz says:

    My fiance and I are in a similar situation (26, in Houston currently, but I grew up in DC and then did the Ivy League thing, while he grew up in a small town in Illinois, with marketable degrees, our lives are well put-together, etc.), but we have decided to move to…Los Angeles. (We don’t plan to buy property any time soon.)

    I sympathize with the desires to do something that makes a difference, to be closer to nature, etc., but I can’t imagine life in a small town. The people/variety factor, the culture factor…these are things that have a huge impact. My sister (30ish) still lives in the DC ‘burbs and has all the same desires you do, but channels them happily into her job (non-profit), her lifestyle (supports a CSA, spends weekends in nature), and her friends (doesn’t waste time with the consumption-minded). DC has such an incredible wealth of activities of all kinds, and is really one of the more connected cities I’ve lived in.

    So why did my fiance and I pick Los Angeles? Proximity to nature, the big city, and my job needs, but also the future – taking the pay cut now would leave us working for a lot longer than keeping the high pay and investing. How miserable would you be if, through some careful planning, you could retire in 10 years? It’s not at all impossible.

    I don’t love 100% of the people in LA, and there’s traffic and smog, but there’s opportunity there, too. I agree with the commenters above who cautioned against romanticizing life outside DC. It sounds to me like you’re in need of a vacation and maybe some tweaks to your daily routine, not a complete life change. Nearly everyone our age feels disconnected and alone.

  51. paul says:

    I also live in the DC area and dream of getting out. However, I have family in this area and don’t want to go to far. If this is the case for Kathy, Virginia has a lot of options. Harrisburg (JMU is there), Roanoke, Lynchburg. In Maryland: Frederick, Hagerstown, Salisbury. In Penn: Gettysburg is a very lovely place.

    Good Luck Kathy. You’ve inspired me to also look for something else in my life instead of just being miserable.

  52. Jenny says:

    I believe it’s called a quarter-life crisis rather than early mid-life crisis when you desire a drastic change in life so early on. As someone who grew up in the city and currently residing in the midwest, I second the comment above about considering the small town mentality maybe conflicting with the ones you grew up with.

  53. Lauren says:

    We moved from Alexandria Va. eight years ago to Joplin Missouri(a town with 55,000) We now have a wonderful home almost paid for, a great community a no stress lifestyle there is no traffic.It was scary at first but It has been a wonderful choice for us. My parents are still in D.C. and most of our friends and when we go back twice a year we love to visit but are always ready to get home. I come from a affluent family but I can never imagine going back to that life style at 30 I see myself as so much better off it is just amazing

  54. BPaul says:

    I definitely hear and feel what you are saying. I also live in the DC/VA/MD area and it is a daily grind to live a decent lifestyle, especially because you two are young. These days trying to establish yourself in this area is much harder now than it was 10 years ago. The housing market and cost of living in this area are now comparable to many northern cities(NY,Boston,etc). My wife and I sometimes ponder about the same topic, and talk about leaving ourselves.

    However, don’t despair because there are few towns in the area that provide that balance. Have you tried visiting Frederick or Hagerstown, MD? They offer great affordable housing, great communities, and only about an hour to 90 minutes from DC. Also, like a previous post stated, DC is a viable option. With the housing market the way it is, you can probably purchase a new construction condo in the city for a decent price.

    All in all, you two are heading in the right direction. Continue to save, and invest in each other.

  55. Tyler says:

    I’ll second the vote for the Colorado area. I grew up in Columbus, OH and made the move to Denver, CO as soon as I graduated college a few years ago. I had about $2k in the bank, no job, lived in a cheap hotel, and I didn’t know a soul out here. But within 30 days of being here, I started my first day of work at a place I love and am still at today.

    Denver real-estate is expensive, although not DC or NY expensive. I live and work downtown and love it (I walk or bike every day). I’m looking forward to buying a home and moving out of my condo in a few years, but I can’t really complain. Nearly every outdoor activity is available within a couple hours at most. Boulder and the surrounding area is also a great place to live, with a small community atmosphere. Real-estate there is even more expensive than Denver. It’s also the home to Colorado University-Boulder, which is a large college (with a great CS program!). Boulder has a great feeling to it and is also a hot-spot for tech jobs. It’s often described as a hippie town.

    If CO isn’t your thing, parts of Utah are also similar, as well as Wyoming. Although Wyoming is not nearly as populous as CO or UT, and I don’t know if it has quite the assortment of outdoor sports (like skiing). CO and UT are world-renowned for our slopes & resorts. (population CO: 4,753,377; UT: 2,550,063; WY: 515,004) As a personal note, I started snowboarding just a couple years ago and _love_ it.

    The only thing we don’t have out here is large bodies of water, relative to the Midwest. If you enjoy boating, then you need should stay out of the West, or go much farther to Cali.

    If you end up moving out here or want more info, get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to help! I’m your age (24) with a long-term girlfriend close in age, and I’m also a computer programmer.

  56. Anna says:

    I’ll throw in my $.02 too.

    I lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of my life, and I think it offers a lot of what you’re looking for. The only thing I would caution you on is not to live IN Seattle, but in a suburb of it. Seattle itself (with a population of over 1 million) probably won’t give you what you’re looking for, but there are lots of smaller communities up and down the Puget Sound. Most of the tech jobs are probably in either the Renton/Kirkland area, or the Everett area, where the populations are around 100,000ish.

    I lived in Marysville and worked in Everett for years, and my commute was about 15-20 minutes. Within about an hour (or less) there’s an ocean, a mountain range, and plenty of lakes, forests, and rivers. The biggest downside in my opinion is the weather. I moved to Southern California because I like more sun, but most people (including my family) who live in the PNW love the weather, so I guess it’s a matter of personal preference. If you decide to try that area, I’d suggest looking into Marysville, Lake Stevens, and Mukilteo.

    If you move that far west, just be careful not to mix up your North and South. When I’m on the East coast I always think the ocean is on the wrong side. ;)

  57. Jackie says:

    My husband and I relocated one year ago from the DC area to Cary, NC and we have been very happy with our decision. We went through a similar process of deciding that we weren’t happy where we were and we were open-minded in terms of where we moved to. After doing our homework, we decided that the Triangle area of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Cary) was the best fit for the factors that were important to us.

    While it might not be as inexpensive as the Midwest, it is definitely more affordable than DC, especially if you move to one of the growing towns like Apex or Holly Springs (but you’ll still have a shorter commute than with all the DC traffic). This area is great for folks with tech degrees (part of our reason for choosing it–my husband is an engineer). We really enjoy the higher quality of life, affordability, less traffic, the fact that it’s safer etc. and since it’s still a city–albeit a smaller city–there’s still a good variety of cultural activities and restaurants.

    Good luck with your decision!

  58. Chris says:

    I highly recommend the site http://www.findyourspot.com/ as a good starting point. You can enter your preferences for culture, environment, city-size, etc. as well as general regions of the country and it does a pretty good job of giving you some suggestions of cities that might be of interest to you. Also, every city they suggest has a nice 4 page report describing everything about the city so you can compare and contrast your options.

  59. Justin says:

    Chattanooga, TN is for you. Beautiful, very close to nature, nightlife, great community, very affordable housing… enough said.

  60. Carolyn says:

    Kathy- Try out findyourspot.com (disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with that site). It takes a bit of time to fill out answers to 80+ questions, but it spits out a list of the top 30 places in the country that match what you desire for your lifestyle. It’s part of the reason I ended up in Kansas City, MO- great lakes for water activities (I’m a sailor! in KS/MO!), four distinct seasons, many Fortune 500 employers, low cost of living, and fabulous restaurants! If you’re really wanting a smaller town, you couldn’t go wrong with Lawrence, KS, home to the University of Kansas. A great liberal town with a quaint main street (diagonal on-street parking! parking tickets cost you $2), only 45 minutes from downtown Kansas City.

    With the kind of technical degrees you mentioned, your salaries probably wouldn’t drop as much as you think. My boyfriend and I are one/three years out from graduation, both with B.S., and our combined salaries are almost $90,000. You can buy a three bedroom house in a desirable neighborhood for $140,000. It’s a pretty great mix :-).

  61. George says:

    Amazing how many people mention Oregon cities… always knew we had a good thing going on here!

    Some friends recently sold their house in Portland and moved to Coos Bay to build a new residence. They’ve not reduced their expenses since putting in the driveway cost $30-40k more than budgeted, but they now live in an ideal country location on 5 acres (much of it vertical) and make about the same income.

    Portland itself is set to become condominium hell. The city is building infill and going vertical with multistory housing. Great if you don’t want a car for taking frequent trips to the mountains or beach, but frustrating if you desire quiet and privacy and have a car. I live outside the urban growth boundary on an acre, which is very nice, and have a 35-40 minute car commute, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

  62. s says:

    I second (or third) the Pacific Northwest comments. For someone that loves outdoors (and a more “alternative” lifestyle, rather than ultra consumerist), it’s a great place. Pretty much anywhere within an hour of Portland or Seattle would be a good start. And even in the city is “close to nature”. Portland has Forest Park right by downtown — the biggest “in city” park in the US I believe. Also, both are less than 2 hours from the coast and the mountains.

    And housing in Oregon gets very reasonable as long as you aren’t “less than 15 minutes to downtown”. And a lot of the tech industry is based in the suburbs and smaller towns anyway.

  63. K says:


  64. Lisa says:

    Check where the nearest AIRPORT is if you are thinking of the midwest. I know it is a minor detail, but somehow it has proved important when moving so far away from family.

    I would like to suggest Buffalo, NY. It is one of those places with lots of city amenities (museums, ~5 colleges, zoo, airport, professional sports, a zillion neat restaurants, etc.) but is very midwestern in attitude. Housing is extremely affordable, Western NY (WNY) is beautiful, and there is a definite since of community! Only draw back is finding jobs, but you would figure that part out before you moved.

  65. Jen says:

    I can’t believe no one mentioned Pittsburgh. It’s beautiful, it’s VERY hilly, there’s whitewater rafting like an hour away. There’s skiing a few hours away, and Fallingwater nearby too. There’s a great public transportation system, amazing museum system, amazing local restaraunts, and beautiful parks. And there’s 14 colleges including Pitt and CMU, CMU is very big with the techies. I’d move back in an instant if I didn’t detour to Phoenix and develop an aversion to cold weather.

  66. Ericka says:

    I’ve only been in the Seattle area for about 3 years, but I can say without a doubt that it is one of the most beautiful, lush places I’ve EVER been. And of course, many of the tech giants are here as well. Traffic can get cranky, but NOTHING like larger cities. I would encourage anyone looking for a new beginning to look here first.

  67. lorax says:

    We did exactly that Kathy wants to do. Some food for thought:

    1) If you want engaging work, where will you work? There’s likely to only be ONE employer out in the boonies. If they fold then you’re stuck. Telecommuting often involves air travel to sync up with other team members.

    2) Health care can be a pain. Driving multiple hours to see a specialist isn’t fun.

    3) It isn’t all that “green.” Many rural communities are sprawling. You probably aren’t going to walk, or even bicycle, to stores, schools, or to libraries. Get to love your car. Public transportation is nonexistent in the sticks. You might be buying on what was farmland, or a nice forest.

    It’s cheaper. It might even fit better with your lifestyle. But there are tradeoffs.

  68. Amanda says:

    There are very few jobs available in upstate NY unless you are keen on working for the state. There is also a hefty state income tax.

    My recommended move would be to someplace in NH or VT. Beautiful, lots of nature, and within quick commute to several big cities that can offer a large variety of job opportunities. I think NH is better for this than VT, but definitely research both.

  69. Amanda says:

    Oh, I should also mention that if you don’t have a problem with hot weather, Austin TX is a great city. I lived there for about 2 years, and second all of the previous commenter’s praise of the city. The Hill Country is gorgeous, and TX has no state income tax.

    San Antonio is also a nice city. I wouldn’t recommend living in Houston or Dallas, however. Houston has the worst climate in the world and prodigious urban sprawl, and Dallas is home to the fakest people on earth outside of LA and also has bad sprawl. Think “Dallas” the tv show and you pretty much have it.

  70. SC says:

    As someone who abandoned the city for greener pastures, I think you have to really think it over. Through internet and cell phones it’s easier than ever to keep in touch long distance wise with friends, it’s still difficult. Also before you move anywhere, you should visit for a while (2 weeks to a month or longer) before making such a leap. My third advice is that one (doesn’t have to be both) but one of you has to have a job offer before making the move. Third, the midwest? No offense Trent, but there are greener pastures nearer DC or on the east coast that might suit them better. If you can afford it, California is nice (northern CA only, avoid southern CA at all costs) and with their job skills they’d probably fit right in with Silicon Valley and or the Seattle/Portland areas (both washington and oregon are nice).

    My final advice is consider trying to find a job (or turn their current job) into one where they can work at home. Even if they don’t get out of the city they can avoid the commute and hassles of the city. It’s a good compromise. I know two people who flew into Los Angeles once a week (for 1-2 days) and worked the rest from home because they hate Los Angeles. One lived near Portland and the other San Jose. Someone I know commutes once a week to Washington DC from Northern CA. Even with the commuting costs, he makes really good money. I guess if there’s a will, there’s a way.

  71. tambo says:

    There are some lovely small towns near Iowa city/Cedar Rapids, and it’s a beautiful, high technology area that’s peppered with a maor university (University of Iowa) and some smaller, highly regarded colleges (Coe, Cornell, Kirkwood and others).

  72. SC says:

    Liz, I just read you want to move to Los Angeles, as someone who lived their 10 years, I highly recommend you reconsider. Unless necessary because of the job, Los Angeles should be avoided as a peaceful place. It’s got some of the worst traffic, looks terrible (unless you live in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, or Bel Air) and doesn’t look like a city at all, and has some of the rudest, angriest people, and the public school system is in the dumps. Race relations are really rocky in Los Angeles too. If it’s California you want, I’d strongly urge you north. Northern CA is not nearly as bad, is prettier, and the people tend to be nicer.

  73. SC says:

    Okay, last post on this, but someone mention the Kirland area near Seattle. That’s where my aunt lives and it is beautiful. Fairly rustic and near the tech community. It’s a good place to check out.

  74. Lauren says:

    I’ll second Pittsburgh. It’s a small enough city that it has a very “home-y” feel, yet big enough that it has a lot of things to do (especially if you’re into the arts). With CMU around, there are lots of tech jobs available and even more popping up. It doesn’t take far to get out into “the wilderness,” and the cost of living is very reasonable.

  75. annie says:

    Why not take some vacation time and travel to some potential places. There are a lot mentioned here (I would put in a plug for Portland, Ore. or anywhere in the Mountain West). Maybe make a list and start visiting. Sounds like you have the money to fly so just start taking long weekends. Then, up and quit. I don’t think you have to have a job before you move. In fact, it’s probably unlikely.

    Things will work out like they’re supposed to.

  76. Jenn says:

    I read almost to the bottom of the page, hoping to see Pittsburgh make the list (and finally, it did!). I’ll throw in a third vote for Pittsburgh. In addition to the small size of the city being “home-y”, there are several unique neighborhoods in the city itself that each have their own sense of community. Plus, housing prices are very affordable!

  77. Lucy says:

    I agree with the recommendation for southeastern towns, as well. My husband is a computer science engineer and we moved to Huntsville, AL a year ago. While it is still a small city, there is a great quality of life here. And there are smaller cities/communities like Madison (where we live and work), Athens, etc. There is also an abundance of engineering jobs available here. There are lots of options here to check out!

  78. "Kathy" says:

    Wow!! Thanks so much for posting this Trent. I definitely appreciate everyone’s town suggestions (and advice). I’m really excited now(vs. being a little scared before) about making this move, I’ve got to go through these comments again and make a “towns to research” list.

  79. vh says:

    You may find that a lot of small towns are really not all that great to live in. Tho’ housing may be cheap (it’s relative: if you earn a third of what you’re used to earning, a house that costs half of what a place in DC would cost is still expensive), & gasoline and food can be pricey because they have to be hauled in. Propane is an expensive fuel to heat your house and run your fridge. And precious few small towns and rural areas have adequate medical services.

    A less high-powered city might be more to your taste. One person mentioned Phoenix, where I live: it’s L.A. East — sprawling, hot, ugly, and increasingly crowded. After watching it morph into the Southern California my parents fled when I was younger, I now crave to move someplace where I can see the stars at night.

    In Arizona, Tucson is somewhat less obnoxious than Phoenix and it hosts a better university than the one in the Phoenix area. Flagstaff and Prescott, both small cities cum college towns, have most of the amenities and infrastructure you probably would like but are touristy, and Flagstaff is very cold in winter.

    The Pacific Northwest is appealing if you don’t mind rain. Like Seattle, Portland’s too expensive, but Eugene and some of the smaller towns nearby, hmmmm…how about Medford, Oregon? Idaho is drawing a lot of young people just now; Boise is the city of interest, but the area around Coeur d’Alene has a bunch of towns for the affluent, the outdoorsy, & the back-to-the-earth sets.

    Utah has some very nice towns; Salt Lake is a real city, but within striking distance are a number of satellite towns that are smack-dab in the middle of Nature (stars! mountains! forests! even a Shakespeare festival!). Moab is a hot spot just now. Grand Junction, Colorado, the largest “city” (I’d call it a large small town) on the Western Slope, has a great deal to recommend it. And New Mexico…to die for! Albuquerque nestles beneath a spectacular mountain range. You probably could get jobs at Sandia, not far from Santa Fe (lord! to have a job that would let you live there!). Sandia, a government facility, undoubtedly represents a rich trove of federal employment or independent contracting.

    But…if I were young and had a salable skill, I’d sure look at Australia and New Zealand. Beautiful places to live, they each have a decent health-care system, their economies are not in immediate danger of imploding, their political leadership has not gone off the deep end…and both countries welcome people like you as immigrants.

  80. cv says:

    I agree with laura k, above. It might be worth moving to a small town far away from everything, but I’d spend some serious time thinking about ways to improve my life in DC, first. I lived there for a year, volunteered for three different organizations on an ongoing basis, had a 20-minute Metro plus walking commute, lived within walking distance of the grocery store, library, post office, and a great park with bike trails, and had a bunch of friends who were as anti-consumerist as I am.

    DC is an expensive, consumerist, high-pressure, high-traffic sprawl, and it may be well worth getting out given your values, but life anywhere is what you make of it. I know that’s easy to say and hard to put into practice, but it’s true.

  81. BantyRed says:

    I have many of the same feelings as Kathy – been in the DC area for 16 years – currently working downtown with a long commute, cramped conditions, frenetic work pace – feel like a rat on a wheel. Came down to DC following an internship with the govt, worked a series of govt jobs, and got into software engineering about six years ago.

    I am originally from the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York (didn’t appreciate it when growing up, but do now – really beautiful area; not many jobs though). Currently looking into moving to the Rochester NY area. I may be able to work out a remote work arrangement with a previous project. If that doesn’t work out, come years end, I may move without a job lined up and try to live ultra-cheap for a while.

  82. Sarah says:

    Here’s another way to look at it:

    Work in a “high-cost-of-living” area when you’re young. While you’re there, live as cheaply as possible. You’re young and fresh out of school, so you have cheaper tastes anyway! Save as much money as soon as possible in a combination of 401k and after tax investments.

    *Then* once you’ve saved a decent nest egg, move to a low-cost-of-living area and live nicely. You can let that nest egg compound like crazy and you’ll have a massive head start towards retirement and be able to retire early.

  83. Danielle says:

    I lived in Rochester for 2 years and I loved the size of the community and low cost of living but I hated the weather. We then spent 4 years north of NYC.

    We now live in Columbia, SC and we are LOVING it! It is so reasonable to live here, I’ve found plenty of non-consumer types like me, (no one bats an eyelash at my reusable bags when I shop) there is so much to do and the schools (when you do your research) are great. I love the weather, I live on a lake and I have a palm tree in my yard, a 2600 sq foot house for my family of 5 (DH works from home so this includes his office) all for well under 250k. We are 2 hours from the beach and 2 hours from the mountains. Taxes, groceries, gas are all cheaper. People will knock Columbia and they haven’t even been here! It’s really a best kept secret… everyone seems to want to move to Atlanta or Charlotte or Raleigh… but I am meeting tons of NYC/NJ/DC people here. Columbia is smaller (150k population, 650k metro) but we are finding everything we need here!

    Good luck in your search!

  84. Joe says:

    As good as Trent is at dishing out the advice and being a fellow Iowan I would say don’t move out of your region. Move out of the DC metro area but stay within a 3 to 6 hour drive from what you consider home. Move to an area that does not get the local DC metropolitan evening news. If you are from the Midwest by all means move back. Remember if you move to the midwest people don’t care where you went to school as much as they do out east.

  85. Squeaky says:

    As someone from VA, have they thought about somewhere in VA, along the mountains? Lexington, Harrisonburg and Roanoke are all small, close to nature (practically IN the Shenandoah Nat’l Park), and also within driving distance of big cities. The Midwest doesn’t have a monopoly on small chamring communities.

    And Jim, there are a slew of personal and cultural considerations that go into getting married beyond “Let’s share our money.” American culture does enough to pressure people into getting married, let’s not add to that.

  86. jeremy says:

    have you thought of blacksburg, va? where virginia tech is? ‘the electronic village’? you can both likely get good jobs there, and your could easily move your consulting there.

  87. FIRE Finance says:

    We have only one life to live. Let us live it fully. Instead of taking a hasty decision let us have a positive attitude, be cheerful and keep investing while looking around for the right place.

    Do keep in mind hurricanes, floods and forest fires.

    If any of you are allergic please study the pollen maps and consult appropriately.

    We are sure you would keep the sunshine, rain, snow and storms in mind.

    No one spoke of taxes. Assuming you would get married soon and file taxes jointly, you would be in the higher tax brackets with your combined salaries. We feel it makes sense to reduce state taxes, invest it and enjoy the miracle of compounding. Telecommuting and once a while trip to the meeting should suffice. (Nearness to an airport is worth while.) Now for the taxes.

    State Income Tax is Limited to Dividends and Interest Income Only: NEW HAMPSHIRE, TENNESSEE

    California, Oregon, Washington, Parts of New Mexico and Iowa – people are spiritually more aware, their consciousness is more expansive and broad minded. They do quite a bit of yoga, meditation, organic farming etc. There may be other places as well, but these we have experienced ourselves. We have stayed in the west, midwest, east and southeast. We have observed that nature, sunshine and uplifting energy opens our hearts, makes us more compassionate and our lives truly fulfilling.

    Above all follow your heart and invest in the relationship! There would be no regrets.

    Wish you all the best!
    FIRE Finance

    PS: We too are in a very similar situation. Slowly but steadily planning for such a move. Would be glad to be in touch.

  88. Jason Preznar says:

    Champaign/Urbana, Illinois wants you! The University of Illinois is a great research school, the C/U area is very affordable, and you’re within day-trip distance of Indy, St. Louis, and Chicago.

  89. I’ve been thinking myself of leaving San Francisco the last week. It’s too expensive and I’m sometimes not so sure if I’m getting what I want from being in a beautiful but expensive city.

    Syracuse is a good choice. It’s central to NYC, lots of greener and most importantly a large tech/business hub. It’s also home to one of the best private universities – Syracuse University.

    Nashville’s not a bad place if you don’t mind the heat. The homes in Nashville are charming – brick country style homes. My friend rents a large spacious condo near downtown for $750 a month. If you’re going past downtown you’ll need a car. But there’s no state income tax and there’s a large university – Vanderbilt and a lively country music scene where the drinks are cheap ($2.50 to $3 for a beer even late at night).

    Austin’s also another great place to live. It’s home to Dell (Round Rock, TV), very liberal, fun, amazing music scene if you’re into that (SXSW, Austin City Limits) and very artsy. There’s a nice green park in downtown and a river! Zilker Park is home to Austin City Limits and a wonderful place to take pets if you want them. There’s also a hot springs in Austin that’s always 71 degrees and open year round when you want to retreat from the heat. And public transit in Austin is very efficient – you can ride the ‘dillo or get on the bus.

    If you’re more of an outdoorsy person I’d suggest Portland. It’s got beaches, mountains, parks and a very laid back culture. Lots of tech companies are located in the suburbs.

    But living in a small town can be depressing after awhile. I lived in rural Oregon for a few months before longing for city life – the energy, the people and just being around so many talented people is something the small city can’t offer. Just a thought.

    Good luck!

  90. Renee says:

    The small town lifestyle is wonderful. I didn’t read all the replies if someone has already mentioned this, but the Austin, Texas area sounds like just what you described. There is some beautiful small towns in the area. We live in a really small town in Southeast Texas and love it, but that may be too much of a culture shock to move from DC., but the Austin area sounds perfect for you. Lots of young people, plenty of tech jobs and all boarded by beautiful land.
    Good luck!

  91. Gayle says:

    If you are thinking small town/rural areas be sure to find out where the nearest hospital is that can handle obstetrics, trauma, open heart surgeries, and neurosurgeries. I work at a hospital that can do all of those things but it is the only one within 100 miles. One of the most profitable services we have is airlifting people from outlying hospitals to our facility. Many small town hospitals are in fact long term care facilities with an attached urgent care.
    We have lots of people who move here because it is a very beautiful area and then find out that winter is a whole lot different than spending summer vacations here.

  92. Julie says:

    A word of caution on looking for tech jobs in the Des Moines area: yeah, there are lots of jobs, but the employers there don’t seem to feel the need to pay for qualified people.I hesitate to say that the wages are far below the national average, but I know they are significantly less.

    My husband worked for a very large insurance company that decided to off-shore its IT department. He interviewed for various comparable jobs in Des Moines, but the salary offers came in at $20K to $30K less than what he was making for the same job. After crunching the numbers, it was less expensive to move than to take that kind of salary hit. So we moved…to Topeka, Kansas. Our cost of living is roughly the same, housing is cheaper and the salary is essentially the same but comes with better benefits.

    Good luck on your search!

  93. Diana says:

    Hello – great concerns and questions. I currently live in North Carolina and feel that it has all the benefits you are looking for – closer to nature, community involvement, and great career possibilities. The weather is amazing here – wonderful during fall and spring – and many parks/spacious backyards to enjoy the great days. The beach and mountains are only a couple hours drive from one another which is perfect for day trips. My family is from New York and we couldn’t be happier. My sister and her family also moved from Mass. recently and love the costs and education programs for her children. Don’t let Southern stereotypes rule out N.C. because many are untrue and you can meet people who have moved here from all over the U.S. We also have the Research Triangle Park near Raleigh/Durham/Cary area with lots of different computer/technical careers available. You may make less here, but things are much cheaper including houses, taxes, and even food. You can also look into cities like Greensboro and Charlotte where you can get a nice, affordable house outside the city and close to nature. Hope this helps in your search. Good luck!

  94. Matthew says:


    I grew-up in DC and lived and worked there until 2002. When I took a job in Knoxville, TN. It was a big transition for me, however it has been great. I work for a major media company, using my IT skill-set, while being able to afford a house, volunteer & be very close to nature. Great Smokey Mountain national park is only 30 minutes away and has miles & miles of trails.

    There are some minor drawbacks to a smaller city, but I do not have to sit in traffic or have the GDP of a small country to live. So, I would recommend looking into the South for an affordable, yet familiar lifestyle.

    Good Luck Making this Transition!

  95. Jenyfer says:

    hey, just a thought–let a headhunter do your job searching for you–there is no charge to you, and you can find a nationwide company that will look everywhere.
    To have the skills and youth and just darn good sense that you are showing are wonderful things. Now use them to your advantage and take that chance!!

  96. Jamie says:

    My wife and I are in central Iowa now where our family is located. However, we spent about 4 years in Boise, ID, and found a very ‘midwestern’ community. They’ve got tech jobs (Micron and HP), it’s at the base of the foot hills and an hour from the mountains, it’s a college town (Boise State), and it’s relatively small (MSA=400k). A truly excellent place to live, and one I’d recommend to Kathy that she at least check out. We love being close to our family, but a part of us will always be in Boise, too.

  97. Marsha says:

    I don’t know what Kathy means by “nature,” so it’s hard to pin down a place – but I agree with suggestions to look at other than the midWest – specifically Portland, Austin, and Huntsville. I also suggest Reno, NV.

    Kathy should try to find a recruiter to look nationwide for jobs for her and her boyfriend.

    It is not a good idea to get married just for insurance purposes!! COBRA is a possibility, but I would also suggest they check out private insurance, because COBRA is so expensive.

    Bottom line: no place is immune to consumerism — and nature, community, and volunteering is possible anywhere.

    Good luck, Kathy!!

  98. Mel says:

    Hi Trent and ‘Kathy’, I only got through about 1/2 the comments before posting so if this was already covered, mea culpa.

    I’m from Boston (really, I grew up IN the city, not a close suburb) and I lived in Minneapolis for 3 years because I got a job out there. Sorry for saying this but I didn’t like living there much at all. It was a big city with a small town mentality but without a lot of the things I really like about cities; there is no subway, bus/alternative transportation is poor and not enough culture (I know all you Minnesotans are going to blast me for that but compared to the East Coast, it’s the truth). In the winter you can expect to be holed up in the house a lot of the time, all the snow but no skiing to speak of… but on the up side, the summers in Mpls are amazing and there are some wonderful parks and bike trails but if you’re worried about commuting, be really careful before you choose Minneapolis. The one thing I miss about it is that there are a ton of co-ops and natural food stores, small locally owned places, not the huge chains we have out here.

    I’ve “lived” in a lot of places for 5-8 months thanks to my old job and I can honestly say that there are few places I would choose to live (in the US, I agree with another comment that you should try Europe!) that are not in NE. I was in Costa Mesa for 2.5 months and it was horrible, traffic, nothing to do unless you could spend your days at the beach and the food was atrocious! Seattle was dreary and other than live music and hiking, not much to do. Dallas was bbboooorrrriiinnngggg! I thought Charlotte was pretty bad too but my friends who moved to another town in NC say it’s wonderful… The only places I really liked were Chicago (lots of small communities within the city, public trans, lots of outdoor activities and friendly people) and Denver (everyone in Denver is so happy, wonder if there’s something in the water… :)

    Well, I wish I had taken the plunge and lived in Europe when I was younger but I got sucked into the trap of a job that paid pretty well but required me to work a lot of hours because I had huge debts from college. I hope you find your place, and if you need contacts, try LinkedIn.com, you can connect with college classmates, friends and former coworkers and ask them for recommendations as well as job referrals. Good Luck!

  99. Monica says:

    Trent often criticizes cities and seems to think his rural Midwestern lifestyle is right for everyone. It’s not. Is it right for Kathy? I don’t know. I do know that there are many, many options in between A) stressful Washington life, and B) Trent’s life.

    In some ways, city living can be very simple. One thing that makes my life much, much simpler is not owning a car. This would be very difficult in a rural area, but here in the city I have access to good public transportation, lots of bike paths, taxis, and I can rent a car every so often if necessary. Many other professionals I know do not have cars. John December in his “Live Simple” website recommends city living for many similar reasons.

    Every city has its own culture and they aren’t all high-powered big career type places. Some cities tend to be more laid back. Even within a city, not everyone is living the same lifestyle. Maybe you could downsize in D.C.? But it sounds like you’re ready for a change of scenery. If you choose the right city, one that has resisted urban sprawl, you may find that nature is more accessible than you think. Not all cities have a high cost of living either. In my city (quite large — the metropolitan area has a population of 3 million) you can purchase a house for between 200,000 and 300,000 dollars. Some cities, especially smaller ones, are cheaper than that.

    I’m not against rural areas or small towns; I just don’t think simplifying one’s life necessarily means crossing all cities off one’s list of potential places to live. And I certainly don’t mean to say that you should only look at cities; just consider all the options and don’t strike anything off until you’ve thought carefully about what things you are looking for and investigated thoroughly.

  100. krylenko says:

    My wife and I just moved from the DC area to Tucson, so I sympathize. The irritating thing about DC is that the natural world may be fairly close in distance, but with traffic it often takes 30 minutes just to get to a so-so urban park or trail.

    Figure at least an hour to reach anything more peaceful/remote, and of course you can never assume that you won’t get stuck in a 3-hour traffice jam on the way back.

    We’re happy here so far – near my family and we could finally afford a house. There’s not as much to do as in DC, but what’s there is a lot easier to get to, and the university has a lot of cool events.

    That said, we moved so my wife could go to grad school, and my employer simply let me change office locations. Had we just plopped down here without jobs in place, I’m sure it would have been much harder.

    Oh, and the previous poster was right – avoid Phoenix at all costs. Tucson may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Phoenix just sucks.

  101. Quinton says:

    Opps! Yes, I meant RTP! (Around Raleigh!)

    But, some people brought out good points on visiting and knowing the culture that you will goto.

    If you are from the East and move West or Mid West or South, you WILL meet different people.

    Think of the stereotypes of those areas. Now water them down and that will be a lot of what you will run into.

    Personally, I LOVE the small town that I live near.. its 15 minutes to town of 15,000 and 45 to town of 100,000. But I knew the people are more conservative and sometimes not as nice as you would expect in Southern Hospitality.

    Of course, this depends on your personality too. My wife isn’t as social as I, and doesn’t connect to strangers. And if you move to a smaller place, you ARE a stranger. Sometimes for 10-15 years :)

  102. Brian says:

    Wow, I’ve never seen this many comments on a Simple Dollar posting.

    In addition to all the good suggestions, “The Best Places to Live” was a recent cover story in Money magazine (annual rankings they have done for about 25 years!).

    They focused on smaller cities this year, populations

  103. Brian says:

    Money magazine feature focused on smaller cities this year, populations

  104. Annie T says:

    I moved from DC to Alaska. I enjoyed my single life living in Cleveland Park, but my job wasn’t filling my soul. I found a four-month temp assignment in a rural Alaskan village, quit my job, sublet my apartment, put my personal things in storage and packed everything I needed in two large duffels and off I went. My friends sent me off with a party at Buffalo Billards and a big box of hand warmers, hats and mittens and a lack of understanding why I was leaving. For me keeping my apartment and things in storage was an emotional safety net knowing I could come back to my DC life. As it turned out I never came back. I met my husband here and we live in Juneau (pop. 30,000). My thoughts….

    – Follow your heart, not only your head. Looking at all the “where to live” articles made my head spin. What I did know is what I felt. I believed that cities would be around forever but nature in a pure form may not always exist. I also knew that being around water made me feel good. And in my heart I always felt like I wanted more adventure. I could draw on my feelings as a kid – I used to check out books about Alaska. Now I live on the ocean in nature. Yesterday I saw humpback whales bubble netting. Six bears showed up at our wedding in Glacier Bay. I have a glacier two miles away. Unbelievable mountain hiking. My life kind of feels like a vacation. Yes, I do miss access to city things, but fortuntely my husband has business in DC and we have two-for-one airline tickets and hotels paid by his business. I get to come back and visit all those friends who now understand why I left. They get a cheap Alaskan vacation by visiting me!

    -Let go a little. I’ve seen many of my friends become so focused on making the perfect choice that they make no change at all. And in the process of thinking about it they forget to live it. Thinking back on it, my life sort of unfolded because I wasn’t afraid. I had the attitude (and still do) that experience makes a person richer. It takes the pressure off. Letting go allowed my inner instinct to come through. Another example, I let go of my expectation of defining myself by my job. We examined our wants and needs and happily and successfully live on one income.

    -Know that it all doesn’t get resolved at once. Years ago I had a dream of taking a long camping trip to see the country. Next year it’s going to happen. We found a small (cheap and adorable) vintage travel trailer and are in the process of doing the rehab. I’ve gained new skills (and tools)doing the work. The total cost for our six week trip will be what some of my friends spend in a few days at a luxury resort.

    Last, I know that this is the right place for us for now. But we’re always open to change….

  105. Mitch says:


    Minneapolis has more theaters per capita than any city in the U.S. other than New York City. I can’t speak for other forms of culture because I haven’t spent enough time in the city, but I think that’s an indication that the city isn’t starving for culture.

  106. Amy says:


    I’m going to buck the Move to My City! trend and suggest you and your boyfriend take a step back and consider.

    Among the priorities you mention are volunteering, a sense of community, being close to nature, not having a long commute, not being surrounded by materialists, and having a meaningful job.

    I’ve never lived in DC, but I have friends who have, and I’ve visited there a lot. I know there are plenty of beautifully scenic areas that are an easy day or weekend trip out of the city, I know there are no shortage of volunteer opportunities, and I know there are many people who live there who are smart, young, educated, and deeply passionate about making a difference in the world, who feel that they’re part of vibrant, supportive communities of like-minded people, and who certainly aren’t defining their worth by the size of their flat-screen TV.

    Are the things you mentioned part of your life right now? Do you volunteer one or two evenings a week, and get out of the city a weekend a month? If so, and that’s not enough, then by all means think about moving. But if not, why not? Are there obstacles that you can remove (a job that demands 80 hour workweeks, for instance)? Have you not really tried to find these opportunities? Or is it perhaps that you’d like to be the sort of person who is made happy by volunteering and spending time connecting with nature, but in fact your priorities are somewhere else? Before you move somewhere to be an outdoorsy sort of person or a volunteering sort of person, make sure that those really are the things that make you happy, by doing everything you can to incorporate them into your life in DC and see what happens.

    And finally, a word on community. If you want to be part of a community in any other setting than a small town into which you’re born, you really have to put some work into building that community, you can’t just join one ready-made. I think college tends to be really misleading in that respect…it feels almost effortless to build up a circle of friends who share your passions, but there’s tons and tons of work that goes on behind the scenes by the administration in order to structure an environment that maximizes the effortlessness of making those connections, because they know that sense of community is what will drive alumni donations down the road.

    So if you want to be part of a community, you have to put yourself out and meet people, and do the work to build and sustain it. My boyfriend put a couple of window boxes in front of our apartment, and spent several hours each weekend making these the best-coddled flowers in Manhattan so he’d have a reason to say hi to the neighbors as they went in and out. I started a book club. We have people over two or three times a month, and make a point of bringing together acquaintances from different parts of our lives (work, college friends, neighbors, etc.) to increase the interconnectedness of the people around us. If you move to a small town, you’ll have to do a different sort of work to become part of a community where many of the people will have known each other for much of their lives. In both cases, it’s going to take time, and you need to have the right outlook and not get discouraged early on.

    If you’re unhappy, then by all means make a major life change. But a move is not the same thing as a major life change – it’s got to be just one part (and in a lot of ways, not a very important part) of a whole lot of changes in how you actually spend your time and money in a day-to-day basis. I tend to think that smaller changes are the better place to start, because they’re easier to adjust as you get feedback from the results that tells you whether or not you’re on the right track.

  107. Sput says:

    Depends on what you’re looking for, but I would echo that the west is expansive, nature is everywhere, and you have more tech centers and companies than the midwest. I went to school in the midwest and couldn’t wait to get out! After spending all my life in Texas and Colorado, I couldn’t identify with the midwesterners. They’re really nice people, but their ideas are very different from what I’m used to. Moving away from the East coast will probably be quite the culture shock and I would second the comments saying you should visit the town first. Places like Grand Junction and Colorado Springs are not far from the mountains, and are reasonably sized, but Ouray (a town someone mentioned) is very small and hard to get to in the winter. I would suggest making a list of cities and seeing which ones interest you. Look at their tourist attractions. Those will usually let you know what kind of things the people in that area do for fun, be it art, street festivals, biking, rodeo, shopping, etc. The places that sound neat to visit are places that you’ll probably find fun things to do for years to come.

  108. Duane says:

    I would suggest looking at relocating to Charlottesville, Virginia. It is culturally interesting, family friendly yet still far enough away from DC while close enough for day trips. I made the move here from DC five years ago and it has been a wonderful life transition.

  109. Pomadour says:

    My only concern w/the response to this individual’s question is that the midwest was specifically suggested instead of just a general “find a cheaper rural place to live”. I’m lucky enough to live within a couple hundred miles of DC, in a lovely rural area right next to a college town. Granted the opportunities aren’t as immense as DC, and maybe not even Des Moines, but still, it would cut down on the cost of moving! Like the poster before me suggested, Charlottesville is gorgeous and energetic but not as congested. If they really like nature they can live in Nelson county and still commute, but the drive will be SO much nicer!

  110. Greg says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with a previous comment that this is too big a commitment for an unmarried couple. You have obviously thought through many of the issues so think this major issue through as well. Best of luck!

  111. tom says:

    Why not move to virginia and find a place there that is a trains ride away from dc? This way you dont have to quit your job but still get the country type living.

  112. tanya says:

    i’m from the midwest, a good sized suburb of chicago, and i wouldn’t recomend moving out here. I’ve always wanted to move to vermont. I think that if you guys want to have fun outdoor activities then you should maybe check out Vermont.

  113. Margaret says:

    I grew up on a farm 15 miles from a small town (pop 1400), lived in cities for about 10 years (mainly while being a university student), and have since moved back to my home community. I am all in favour of small town life. HOWEVER — as a few people have mentioned, be aware that there will be things about a small town that you will probably not like. It is great to be part of a community BUT that also means that there are more people who know your business, and you may or may not like that. Also, people in small communities have known each other a LONG time. In a really small community, the people in your age group may have known each other since kindergarten, and to some extent, you will still be an outsider even after you have lived there for 10 years. Of course, there are also the people who move in and who become such integral parts of the community that you forget they weren’t born and raised there. I think it is like most things — everything seems really great and easy, but once you are involved, you find out about the down sides (whether you are looking at other careers or other places to live). I think small town life is worth it, but be prepared to have to make adjustments.

  114. Ann says:

    As I begin my forties, I so understand what you are feeling…I’ve uttered the same words myself!
    But, I am going to take the Dr. Phil approach and ask you to consider looking inward first…ask yourself “why would I want/need nature, to volunteer…” instead of “I want/need…” What is driving the desire to make a major change?

    On relationships: I have made a big move with a committed partner, whom after the move wasn’t so committed. That’s okay, he wasn’t the one for me, anyway, but realize relationship dynamics can change, too. Not only with your boyfriend, but with your family. Sometimes a move away from your family and friends can enrich those relationships, other times they flounder. Deep, close friendships/relationships take T.I.M.E. and working much more than even 40 hours/week pretty much limits what you can expect of yourself and others. Ultimately, it sounds like you desire to invest in relationships rather than slugging it out working to live. That is great!

    Location, location, location: There is a lot to be said about the Midwest, the Heartland, the South, the West or the PNW or any other place on this precious planet…each has their own language, culture, beauty, climate. As far as geographic locale goes the suggestions to utilize FIND YOUR SPOT are very good…it is a great website and very practical. But the PERFECT place to live really doesn’t exist…as many others have said…there are trade offs.

    Act Your Age: Well, if you are serious about change, now is the time to do it! I am excited for you! All these comments will help you, I am sure, but those who know and love you best will be your true sources of encouragement and support. Have fun with this new adventure and remember, it’s not like it has to be your last big whhooopa before you settle down or anything.

    As far as the Midwest is concerned: I live in Lincoln, NE but have lived/traveled in almost every region of the country. Putting roots down here in Lincoln has been truly Providential. It just feels right. For me and my family, the Midwest offers all we need as far as geographic locale and financial bennies…but our family (parent, brothers and sister, cousins, et al) is spread out from one coast to the other, one border to the other. Wish they were closer, warts and all. We have been able to develop meaningful relationships with others at our place of worship and at work/school/neighborhood. As far as community is concerned, this week on seperate days I lost my cell phone and a $50 check on campus and both were returned within hours of losing them.

    Finally: Who wouldn’t want to have a home with a ski in/ski out backdoor or see the Tetons from your living room window or watch the surf each morning as you wake peacefully from slumber…but those externals will never really seem “right” until you start the journey by looking inward.

  115. Just to point out the Triangle area in Raleigh is federally funded. there was an article in Time Magazine about that awhile ago, I can’t remember but something to think about while researching your relocation if you are going to move.

    Good luck!

  116. ABQ guy says:

    come on out to albuquerque.

    check out dukecityfix.com, a local blog for more info.

  117. Mariette says:

    Fly, fly, fly. No matter where you end up I would definitely do the travel cross country thing – take some time off and explore – you’re young and in good shape financially – no reason not to. At your age I saved up the money and took 1 1/2 yrs off to backpack around Asia and I’ve never regretted it.

    Travel, even within the U.S., can really give you a different perspective on things, who knows where you’ll end up – that’s part of the joy of it. I would have an idea and a bit of a plan about where you want to land at the end – but don’t adhere to it religiously – things may change and you may end up somewhere totally different than where you thought you’d be when you started out – again, part of the fun.

    Another thing to try when you’re traveling around the country is volunteering on organic farms. You get room and board, meet great people, learn about farming and related activities and it’s a great thing to do as your wending your way around, provided you’re willing to work. There is an organization that provides you with a list of host farms when you join called World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, here’s their link:

    Good luck!

  118. Matthew says:

    I don’t want to say that your situation was I faced a few years ago, but it sounds similar. The big city blues you fell now, might be the indication of certain other issues unrelated to the the vices of D.C.

    I agree that NYC, DC, Boston, Paris, London or LA would never be in the list of my favorite places to spend my youth, let alone my middle age. But a change of living surroundings might not be the panacea. May be a change in your job/career is what you need. Sometimes
    just changing the color of the walls of your bedroom might help.

    I was chronic complainer about the city I lived in – Silicon Valley was too expensive, NYC was too rude, Boston was too crowded, Omaha had nothing except Steakhouses and the Twin cities were too cold. Finally I realized that I was not happy with the job I was doing and I wanted to be closer to my friends and family. So I moved across continents back home to India after 9 years. I was dreading that I couldn’t stand the
    pollution, the corruption, and the complete abscence of night life. It has almost been a year ad it has been great!. I’ll probably never move again. I get to do what I enjoy. I’ve made peace with bureaucracy. I work 70 + hours a week and I want more of it!. I own a Condo and 2 acres of land. My dad who had retired 2 years ago and was bored playing chess with his friends, has put his heart and soul into it and now grows mangoes, cashews and other tropical fruit.

    Your situation might be completely different and move might be the answer. Som people are influenced by the environment more than others. To think one would be automatically be happy by giving up a materialistic life style is wrong. Unless the city you decide live in has similar values that you cherish, you are better off making changes within yourself.

  119. Gail says:

    For the past nine years, I have lived in the greater DC metropolitan area during the week, and I own a farmhouse and 11 acres about 2 hours west, where I live on the weekends. So I’ve had a reasonable amount of time to think this topic over.

    I’m not yet ready to cut the ties to the metropolitan area just yet, for these reasons: Health care. Libraries. Universities. Job opportunities. Ethnic markets. Cultural diversity at work and in the neighborhood.

    The rural county in which I live on the weekends has perhaps 35,000 people. After nine years, I am still not reconciled to its insularity, racism (not just subtle stuff, but Ku Klux Klan recruiting flyers), conservative politics, and nostalgic yearnings for the way things used to be (or how they were *remembered* to be–read Kathleen Norris’ _Dakota_ for a Great Plains take on rural life). Or small town petty corruption, like the issuing of county economic development bonds to build a Baptist fundamentalist school. And next county over, the sheriff has been brought up on charges of taking bribes to ignore cockfighting matches. . . and so it goes.

    While I participate in the rural community, mostly through volunteer work at my rural church, I can’t ever be truly accepted into the community, because I didn’t grow up or go to public school there. This, despite being closely related to many family members there (and it’s my grandmother’s farmhouse that I bought). I have met some wonderful people there, but it gets very, very old to keep hearing acquaintances refer to my life in the “city,” with a smarmy tone in their voice. (I tend not to talk nor draw attention to my life during the week at all.)

    I participate in the rural community, volunteering for many activities through my church, and I do my rural libertarian thing, mostly by retrofitting my house to eventually take it off the grid–to return it to as it was when it was first built. I support the local farmers’ markets, local businesses, and I’m doing more these days to seek out kindred spirits through the local library and arts groups.

    But I no longer take it for granted that I will retire there; there is only so much cultural isolation I can take. Before pulling up stakes and moving to a rural area, I recommend learning as much about the area as you can, and knowing your own needs and limits as well.

  120. Rhonda says:

    Just wanted to mention Danville, Kentucky. A great little town, approximately 35 minutes from Lexington and home to Center College. The atmosphere as well as the community is welcoming.

  121. Mariette says:

    Matthew makes a good point. In the past 15 years I’ve lived in L.A., Bali, London, Amsterdam, Santa Cruz, New York and now San Francisco. One thing I’ve learned is you can’t escape yourself necessarily by moving – you’re baggage goes with you. Unhappiness is usually generated from within, sometimes this is helped by a change in environment, but not always.

  122. dalidan says:

    I have to admire you guys for being so wise at your age! Why I say that? I just came from CO looking for a great job in the DC are…..how wrong! I thought money will be great and the capital after all has great social life to offer! After being here for a short time I see the same things you talk about and now I am waiting for my one year of experience to go by and return co colorado spring….try that! it’s what you really want, trust me!

  123. Suzanne says:

    Hi Kathy, My husband and I (54 and 49)have lived in 3 different states, always far enough from any family that we didn’t see any of them more than once every couple years. We have one daughter in her 5th & last year of school, just married to a wonderful guy from that state, and that state is quite far away. We’ve just built our dream house in an area much like you describe. We want to live here for the rest of our lives. So to make our dream complete we hope our daughter moves somewhere near by the time she starts a family and some of our favorite family members move closer by the time we retire. So we would recommend considering living within a few hours of family members especially if you sometime hope to have children. I’m not revealing where we live because it’s extremely beautiful and doesn’t need any more advertising! My commute is 45 minutes but it is five-star! One point takes my breath away every day.

  124. guinness416 says:

    Some really good, thought-provoking comments here. Always amazes me what a wordly and experienced bunch this is; what keeps bringing me back to this blog is that I always learn something from the commenters here.

  125. Pamela says:

    I recently lived in the lifestyle you are in now in LA and 2 years ago I moved to a small town in SC that has 25,000 people by choice. While I lived in the small town I worked from home & kept my $100K+ lifestyle (I am in executive recruiting). About 6 months ago I accepted another full time job because I fell in love with the company & I am now living in Raleigh, NC and have what I feel is the best of both worlds. I live surrounded by forest on almost 2 acres with a stream, am less than 20 minutes from work, do meaningful volunteer work and love my life. As a recruiter for the past 20 years I’d tell you that you are in a fabulous spot to make the move to the lifestyle you want now. As IT folks generally speaking you can work anywhere as a contractor. If you want to try out a new city, get a contract job there for say 6 months & try it out. You will make good money and have the freedom to try on the community. The person who mentioned COBRA is correct, whether you resign or are fired, COBRA is available to you for, in most cases, a minimum of 12 months. Since both of you are young, you are quite insurable if you want to get individual insurance as well. The last thing I’d leave you with is there are NO guarantees in life, you don’t know how long you are here for & you should not live one moment longer unhappy. I am 57 and wish I’d learned that much earlier in life! I wish “Kathy” and companion the best life has to offer.

  126. m says:

    I have no real advice for this couple, since the decision is a very personal one and there is no way to know form that short letter what they really want, need, and should do.

    Personally though I’m with those who described the potential for simple living in an urban area. Also those who suggested nature, community, and some of the other desired traits discussed here can be found in many places–including the DC area.

    If the couple in question want to live in a small town, or the Midwest, then that is what they should do. However if they just want to have more of what they listed: simple living, nature, community, etc., then I don’t think moving the the Midwest or moving far away is necessarily the answer.

    You abs. can live simply in a city, in fact often much more easily than elsewhere. Some cities in particular are great for allowing one to forgo a car, have all one needs within walking (or public transit) distance. Higher salaries and many job prospects are common, esp. relative to smaller or less urban areas, and nature is usually accessible in and outside the city. I think suburbs and rural areas require much more resources than city living does, at least with the type of lifestlye I live.

    But it is all about personal preference and individual need. Still I wouldn’t discount the possibility of simple living in a city, nor assume one has to spend spend spend by living in one. I don’t part. like the DC area for living in either and feel it is overpriced for what you get. But not every metropolitan area is like DC, which in my view has some of the worst aspects of both urban and suburban living without many of the benefits of those types of lifestyles.

    Not all cities require sitting in a car for hours, and it also depends on where and how you live in a particular city. I know the DC area and living and working within the city would likely eliminate/reduce the traffic issue for the most part. Public transit in the area is quite good, even in some of the suburbs.

    As another commenter mentioned, I’ve never seen nature that is as accessible and beautiful as it is in the Bay Area, which is quite urban in many areas. There is more nature around for SF residents than there is for residents of many other less urban areas.

    I guess my point is the couple may be able to find what they seek in many places, and that jobs, salaries, and other factors must be closely considered in this type of move and blanket generalizations about any area, though maybe true to some extent, must be looked past when deciding about a move. Each area must be considered for its own unique qualities bc often what we are looking for may be in a place we least expect or may even be right under our noses.

    Simple living is a lot about personal choices and can be done most anywhere. The key is just to find the place that one fits in best and where one’s needs are best met. Lots of research and a few visits and knowing oneself very well helps a lot. Best of luck to them and anyone else dealing with this issue. If I had to suggest any place, I’d suggest places that have decent public transit and some walkable areas. Perhaps some university communities or smaller cities that others have suggested.

  127. Nicole says:

    While I was reading this post and the comments, I kept thinking of that saying “Wherever you go, there you are.” If Kathy and her bf are miserable, it may not be a problem that can be solved by moving somewhere else. She may genuinely feel that the trouble is that she is living in the wrong place doing the wrong job, but I have a feeling that it may run deeper than that. I have to say that I was pretty surprised by the facts in Kathy’s email. She and her boyfriend are under 25 but have been in a relationship and living together for over five years. They have accomplished a lot at a very young age. I think it’s very impressive. But I wonder if they are missing out on some of the benefits and turmoils of youth in some way by being so darned responsible and settled. I wonder if they are happy on where they are in their lives emotionally – in other words, their relationship with each other. Maybe this focus on DC and their lifestyle is really a way of not focusing on other things that are deeper and more difficult to talk about. Of course, this is all speculation and I have no idea, but I thought I should at least mention it.

    It is very hard to pick up stakes and move away from friends and family to start a new and very different life. I did it with my bf when I was out of college and it was terribly difficult for us both. Maybe she should save up some money and take a few months off – do a road trip or travel around the world? I just think it’s time for some fun and adventure. There’s time later to settle down in a small town, buy a house and join the rotary or whatever :)

  128. dapperdan7 says:

    heres a little secret for you all.RENO NEVADA.i have lived there for 12 years and the geography is amazing,the weather great (four seasons,lots of sunshine,close to snow,)real neighborhoods,a river running thru downtown.the culture is getting better with the spillover from the bay area.lots of niches that need to be filled.cost of living is reasonable.of c ourse,the gambling reality does have its negatives but still not a reason to check it out.just my two cents

  129. Colleen Costello says:

    Kathy needs to check out Bloomington, Indiana. My husband and I came here for grad school and stayed on. I often think about how lucky I am to be raising my family here instead of New Jersey where we grew up. All of the comments Kathy made in her story reaffirmed my beliefs that “the good life” is easier to find in the Midwest. We have a lovely home, good schools, a reasonable work schedule, no traffic or commute to speak of, and our neigbors are the type of people who would stop to help if someone’s car got stuck in an intersection. There are people here from all over the world because of the University, yet we still feel “small town.” There IS life beyond the coasts!

  130. Louie Nicholson says:

    Kathy, i am a student at Miami University in Oxford Ohio…and if you have never heard of it, maybe you should check it out. Miami is an excellent school, considered to be a “Public Ivy” and i really love attending as well as where it is located. it is 35 minutes from downtown cincinnati and oxford is home to Hueston woods state park and several farms/farmers markets and there are abundant opportunities for philanthropy through the University…so if you would consider a career with a university, check out Miami and the Oxford area. http://www.muohio.edu

  131. Magic says:

    I am not from America, but live in Midwest almost 14 years. Midwest nature is very beautiful and I know many who do a lot of sports (biking,running…) if you are into that kind of thing. There are many trails and lots of greenery with everything growing 1/3 bigger than in Europe. I generally don’t like American lifestyle regardless of location, but I have no opportunity to change things as I am raising two children who need stability. I don’t think that moving from DC to a smaller town will make you happier,… you need to look within to find your balance and your purpose. I don’t think moving is a solution … humans are terrible at predicting what will make them happy.

  132. Karen says:


    Look into moving to Greenbelt, MD search on GHI– it is a co-op. Like-minded people live there.

  133. Chaturon Wattaporn says:

    Five months ago, after 19 years living like a mushroom in a cave in New York City, I moved to La Jolla, California, a seaside resort community near San Diego, having paid cash for the cheapest, smallest condo on the market — a block from the beach! Was able to relocate because I work freelance and all work is done via email. Cost of living is one third of that of NYC and I can bike, kayak, surf, swim, run, paraglide, etc., every day of the year.

    You don’t necessarily have to move to a small town or make less money!

  134. steve says:

    A high cost-of living, consumerist place is the perfect place to live and work if you are looking into building up a stash of cash for yourself, since incomes are high there.

    There’s no reason you can’t brown bag it in a place like that. Once you start, you’ll notice that a lot of other people do it too. Heck, the illegal immigrants do and the small shopkeepers do. Keep their low expenses and combine with your high income and you will do well.

  135. steve says:

    To piggyback on my last comment, I have a name for high-cost of living consumerists: they are called “desirable customers”. If such a lifestyle doesn’t make sense for you or you can’t afford it, serve their business needs for income purposes but forego the lifestyle for one that makes more sense.

  136. Hi Kathy I have done moves like the one your thinking of doing.

    Here are two sites to check out


    and if you plan to have kids check this one out


    best of luck!

  137. June says:

    I would chime in to think about family and distance to family (inclusive of friends that are like family to you). Are you happy seeing them once a year? Are you and your bf from different areas, such that you will need to alternate visits home? What role do you want your family to play in your childrens’ lives? Everyone’s different, but for some of us, it has a strong effect on being happy where we live – for me, that was especially true after having children and we moved to an area with many loved ones. There are many places with jobs, nature, short commutes, but maybe not so many that are close to people you love.

    That said, it’s not like you can’t change your mind if you find you are wrong, or what’s right this year becomes wrong later. Don’t be afraid to do it, I am sure you will land on your feet.

    Best of luck!

  138. Tyler Ketchum says:

    You guys saying oh yeah go to austin, seattle, or any other big cities don’t know anything thats still metro life. You want simple living and earthy and close to nature you have to live 60+ miles away from a big city. I live in Chehalis Wa, 90 miles south of Seattle and 90 miles north of Portland OR, you cant get a better small town than a town far away from the very common rural areas. All you people making your huge incomes have sold out for a very uncommon lifestyle in my opinion. You havent had the time or the nature to sit back and take a breath as you watch the trees sway. If you don’t have the nature close to you and your seeking it, then why of all things for your jobs have a 2hr commute each way? By the time you wake up, get in the shower, get out & get dressed, eat a little breakfast, get out the door, get on the road and then finally get to your work thats about 3 and a half hours of your day gone right there. And then with the 2hr drive back. Not only is that adding up to the 60hrs a week you stated earlier but, where is your time for your traveling and eachother and someday down the road a few kids. When you get to this part of the comment alot of you wont respect me, and I’ll tell you why I’m 16, 17 this next July and you simply wont think I have enough life experience, but think of yourself when you were a kid (teen) you had dreams too.

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