Updated on 06.21.07

You Don’t Need Six Figures: The Financial Realities of Living in Iowa

Trent Hamm

cornAt various points, readers have seemed quite surprised to find out that I live in Iowa and that I can see cornfields in two directions from the back porch of the house I’m about to buy. By sheer numbers, many more people live in urban environments than live in an environment like this, and many of those can’t even imagine living in such an area.

Obviously, there are some disadvantages to living here, chief among them cultural. I have few opportunities to experience large cultural events in Iowa (though there are many interesting small ones) and cultural trends often take a very long time to reach here. Also, the population is very sparse – every time I visit an urban center, I have an almost overwhelming sense of too many people, even when I’m in a suburban area. Another disadvantage is salary; dollar for dollar, jobs simply do not pay as well here as they do elsewhere.

But there are huge financial and cultural advantages to living in Iowa that often aren’t taken into account. Here’s why I love living in Iowa and have very little interest in moving away.

Low housing prices Even in the most expensive regions of the state, you can get a newly-built four bedroom 2000+ square foot home for around $220,000. This comes out to monthly housing payments (depending on specifics) of about $1,400 a month. No joke at all – people in most large cities almost seem unable to comprehend that this is possible.

Good schools Most Iowa schools outside of Des Moines are quite good. The class sizes are small (if there are only 5,000 residents in a fifty mile radius, the school district has to be small and this forces small classes) and the teachers are usually people who want to be there – they chose a rural setting for a reason. Iowa has a lot of tiny schools that turn out National Merit Scholars on a regular basis. There’s no need for private schooling at all.

Low cost of living Because of the low housing prices, most services are able to compete and have lower rates. I have my son in the absolute best daycare in my area and for him alone the cost is less than $600 a month. There are other options that are substantially cheaper than that. I recently read that you have to pay $1.60 for a 20 ounce bottle of Diet Coke in San Francisco – if someone charges more than a dollar here, it’s considered borderline extortion.

Low taxes Because the salaries are lower, most people are in a lower tax bracket or, at the very least, are paying much less of their salary in a high bracket. This means that we get to keep a larger portion of our salary for the same job as compared to urban centers.

Low cost of retirement Because I can live on a lower salary here than elsewhere, I don’t have to put as much away for retirement as others – I may be working with the same percentages as others, but the raw dollar amount is significantly less for me.

As a final note, although many view it as a disadvantage, I believe there are some cultural advantages to rural Iowa. I have a deep understanding of many aspects of America (agriculture, outdoorsmanship, etc.) that many Americans don’t have the opportunity to experience. Also, the solitude can be amazing – I can go for long country walks for hours without seeing another soul.

Yes, even though I may not make as much money, Iowa offers so much that I can scarcely think of living elsewhere.

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  1. guinness416 says:

    As a city-slicker all my life I’m one of those who can’t conceive of living somewhere like Iowa. What’s the diversity like down there, do you have many immigrants?

  2. Tim says:

    Man, reading this brings me back to growing up in KS (the part about walking for miles without seeing another soul). Some days I wonder why I don’t move back there.

  3. Jesse says:

    I to live in Iowa and work at a decently sized financial services company… surrounded by corn fields on 3 sides.

    I’ve been told it’s kind of a surreal experience from some of the visitors we get coming from the “big city”.

  4. Jason says:

    Bingo, Trent! I live in Boise, ID (the most remote metropolitan area in the U.S.), and when I moved here a little over a year ago from the DC area, my friends looked at me like I was nuts. My family and I love it here; wouldn’t go back to a big city for anything. Among all the other pros you listed to rural (or, non-urban) living is I find that I can entertain myself with low- or no-cost alternatives much easier than I could back east. It only costs me gas to drive twenty minutes to a hiking trailhead and spend the day exploring the outdoors with my wife, son, and dogs. You can’t do something like that in urban areas.

  5. Madd Hatter says:

    Shhhh! You trying to ruin it for us? =)
    When I was a kid I p!$$ed and moaned about how boring it was here, and now, being a ridiculously frugal adult, you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to any state with the exception of some more southern states that have similar characteristics but no bitter winters.

    I bought a 3 bed, 1.5 bath, 2 car gar house 5 years ago on a $26k salary and not for one minute was I worried.

    And I don’t care about the school issue, but it is true that outside of DSM (and literally, right outside, the suburbs are fine) schools are good.

    Oh, and to answer the first comment: We do get a disproportionate amount of immigrants considering how far away we are from Mexico. We’ve got factory/meat-packing jobs galore in the smaller towns. Around the capital city there’s also a fair size Bosnian contingent (not sure how that works out). Sometimes though a non-AngloSaxan can cause one to do a double-take.

  6. Mark A says:

    I remember living in rural Indiana, and my dad was making six figures as a regional manager. It was crazy to see just how much more money we had than everyone else.

  7. Wanda says:

    Oh man.. the $220k house sounds AMAZING. But I have to say, it’d be way too difficult for me to live in such a rural area… I need coffee shops and museums and good restaurants with food from all parts of the world. I think it’s more difficult to keep the 20/30-something professional set in more rural areas, despite the lower cost of living.

    I’ve read several articles about Iowa’s “brain drain”… it seems that many of those National Merit scholars are leaving the state for busier pastures.

  8. Tyler K says:

    Cost of living calculators make me want to cry…
    # To maintain the same standard of living, your salary of $85,000 in Boston, Massachusetts could decrease to $52,759 in Des Moines, Iowa
    # Stated another way, it’s 37.9% cheaper to live in Des Moines, Iowa than Boston, Massachusetts

  9. guinness416 says:

    Thanks Madd Hatter. A Bosnian community, eh? Interesting. I couldn’t live anywhere that doesn’t have a certain threshold of fellow Irish immigrants!

  10. Morydd says:

    I love Iowa. My wife has family outside Cedar Rapids, and there’s no better place to escape for a few days. We look at what you get for the dollar and nearly weep with envy. That said, after a few days we’re ready to go back. Food is the biggest thing for us. We’re not huge meat eaters (and one of those CR relatives is actually a cattle farmer) and we like a lot of ethnic food. Could we live without it? Absolutely, but at this point in our lives, we’d rather not. I like public art and public transit. I also work in an industry that needs a large high-income population to survive. (I’m a theater tech.) So, while it may be less expensive, my income potential is much lower without a massive career change. While we do love visiting Iowa, it’s a long way from being somewhere we could call home.

  11. Kimberly says:

    Do you think you spend more on gas? Because I live in an area that’s only semi-rural and you can’t get anywhere to shop, see a movie, etc. without a car, whereas in a city they could be walking distance. Not enough to offset your other lower costs, though, I’d imagine.

  12. Allison says:

    Besides wanting to be closer to my family, all of the things you mentioned are reasons we will probably end up moving back to southeast Louisiana from where we are now (just outside Seattle). My stepbrother just moved back there from San Francisco and bought a newly built four-bedroom house for LESS than $220,000. Yeah there’s no opera, but there are cultural advantages (food, music, festivals, etc.) that most people will never understand. And that’s just fine by me – it’s getting too crowded down there anyway!

  13. Don says:

    I’m JELLY… Jelly I tell ya! Wish it could be me and mine…Ahhh, maybe someday.

  14. @Mark: With that income in Iowa, you probably lived like kings!

    Submitted to reddit:


  15. Russ says:

    As someone that lives in SF, I can say that yes $1.60 for a coke is exactly what walgreens sells it for (or 2 for $3) and the corner stores are even more expensive with most of them charging $1.75. As for rent, I pay $1500 for roughly 750 sq feet which is considered quite reasonable and due to rent control is probably below the current market rate.

    I am one of those in their late twenties that left rural life to live in the city. Maybe one day I’ll go back when I have a family that I want to raise, but in the mean time I get all of the well documented benefits of living in a large city (cultural/arts/sports events, dining options, large dating pool, higher wages etc).

  16. Dan D. says:

    I’ve thought of moving to Iowa City on occasion, or somewhere nearby. I can barely comprehend the idea of a 2200 sq. ft. house costing under $400k though, except maybe in Brentwood or Antioch (CA, and not the LA suburb). Are you sure this is in US dollars?

  17. Ladarzak says:

    I live in a cheap little hick town and it’s noisy as hell and I just hope I can get out of here before the stress of stupid redneck motorhead noise lovers kills me. It’s ruining my health. Back to civilization for me.

  18. Iowan says:

    I live in Iowa, and you missed a few of the problems. The economy is based on agriculture so the land and water is full of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. There is no intellectual life to speak of, even my university town is known more for its drunken partying than its cultivated intellectual pursuits. Everyone is either very young, or very old, most people move out of the state as soon as they graduate from high school or college, or return here when they retire. Racial diversity is nonexistent, everyone is whiter than white, the few minorities live in rural ghettos and work in horrible jobs like meat packing plants. Public schools are full of religious fundamentalist teachers and school boards push a right-wing agenda on the curriculum. The weather is miserable, unbearably hot and humid summers, miserably cold and windy winters, and home energy costs are insanely high. There is no “outdoors’ to speak of, the entire state has been plowed into farmland. Even the few rivers have been dammed and controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers.
    Well I could go on and on, but the brutal reality comes down to one simple fact: cost of living is low here because demand is low, nobody WANTS to live here. And with good reason. Iowa is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live here.

  19. Lee says:

    but it’s IOWA!! Nuf said… There isn’t a beach for miles and miles. Lots of corn though.

  20. lorax says:

    Leaving out quality of live issues – the problem with moving from a high cost of living city to low cost of living rural land is that you can never move back. It’s too expensive.

    Once you’ve lived in the rural area long enough, you will have missed out on enough income that you’ll be behind those city slickers. And they’ll move out to the rural lands to retire (eg Vermont is full of retired New Yorkers).

    And before you move to a rural area, double check that it is what you expect. Around here, the rural schools are awful, jobs are very hard to come by, and the life-long residents resent the city slickers who move in for driving up the price of land. That’s not universally true, but look before you leap!

  21. Hawkeye says:

    Hey Iowan,

    Move away from Ames and you’ll be much happier.

  22. js says:

    I wouldn’t mind moving somewhere a little more rural than – well than Los Angeles. Ok well maybe Iowa would be a bit much for me, but I’m tired of L.A.. I do dream of elsewhere.

    To maintain the same standard of living, your salary of $60,000 in Los Angeles-Long Beach, California could decrease to $35,294 in Des Moines, Iowa

  23. ahh_iowa says:

    I think i might have the best setup ever! I’m planning on moving back to Iowa and my big time-big salary San Francisco Bay Area company is going to let me telecommute fulltime! Bay Area salary in little ol’ Iowa..the possibilities are endless! I’ve been house hunting, and when they say 215K for a 3000 sq ft house, I’m almost too shocked to say no! It’s just me, no kids or husband, so it’s obnoxious and arrogant to buy it, just because I can! It seems so cheap. The whole point of my moving home is to be able to live larger on a lot less than in San Jose. (oh and my entire family is there..) Good post, reminds me why I want to move back..

  24. Milo says:

    So here’s a thought, try Minnesota. Cost of living is similar to Iowa. For housing, try a 3500 square foot home, 3 car garage, double lot for only 200K. For culture well, Minneapolis/St. Paul is only about a 70 minute drive, and just a little bit north of the corn fields are thousands of acres of woods and lakes…

  25. Mardee says:

    I’m sure Iowa has it’s attractions but you couldn’t pay me to live in a rural area. I grew up in a small town and hated it – I couldn’t wait to move to the city. I live about 10-15 minutes from downtown now and would love to get even closer. If I want peace and quiet, I’ll head for the countryside on the weekend, but give me the shimmer and excitement and culture of the city any day!

    And no offense, but you can keep your 2200 square foot house with four bedrooms. I think Americans in general use too much space for their homes – which is not only inefficient but more costly to heat and cool.

  26. Dan says:

    I’m astounded. I wish I could live in Iowa now, because Houston, though not terribly expensive, is so… congested. It’s impossible to think. I would love to live in a place I could walk without seeing people.

  27. Rednecklandern says:

    You could say this about any small mostly rural state. I live in Oklahoma and a nice 2000 sq ft home is about 200k or less depending on quality/location in the “bigger” cities (Tulsa, OKC, Edmond, Norman). Far less in rural areas.

    There are many advantages to small town America as well. College is significantly less expensive, rental housing is VERY inexpensive, land is inexpensive, starting your own business is significantly easier due to lowered overhead, and as a percentage I would consider most small states to contain just as many qualified people per capita. In fact there are significant numbers of overqualified (education-wise) employees in my area due to all the local Universities.

    With the commoditization of everything in America (seriously what can you find in Chicago you cannot find in LA, or Dallas or NYC or Miami from a consumer perspective, very little, I quit going to Chicago and NYC to shop, now it’s just for sight seeing,) there is little you cannot find locally. And the Internet has made it even more difficult to find “unique” things in any particular area.

    Plus the girls here are surprisingly much better looking than in the NE :P

  28. Tubaman-Z says:

    In 1992 my wife and I lived in state-tax free southern Florida. We had been married 5 years and were ready to have kids…but didn’t want to raise them in the social environment around us. She had lived there ~17 years and I had been there 5. We saw far too many circumstances of parents basically throwing money at their kids and leaving them to raise themselves. We moved to SE Minnesota (just north of Trent :-) to a small town of about 1500. I continue to work for a large corporation about 17 miles away in a city of ~100,000, passing more cornfields than cars on my daily 20 minute commute. In my little town we’ve had 2 school bond issues pass in the past 4 months – including one this week to build a new middle school. Downtown Minneapolis/St. Paul is about 70 minutes from my house with all of the metropolitan stuff I can stand. I’ve seen traveling Broadway productions of Les Mis, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Showboat, South Pacific (my wife and I are fans of more classic musicals), been to Twins games, museums, etc.. It’s more of a day trip than an afternoon, but afternoons are reserved for local team baseball, walking our beagles along country roads, and going trout fishing. DSL keeps me connected to the office in the evenings. Going from state-tax free to state tax was well worth it. I’d never go back.

  29. Joe says:

    There are immigrants here (Mexicans, Bosnians, Czechs, and a large Italian community in Des Moines)–and the Irish settled here too guinness? Check the websites for Emmetsburg and Melrose. I would not characterize Des Moines or the suburbs as rural–the difference of living in Des Moines and the Chicago suburbs is really negligible. Your street looks like our streets, our commute is shorter, we have nice restaurants, museums, parks–Naperville is what about 200k people–West Des Moines is about 60k–the only difference is the Naperville commute is longer–your house is not bigger–your schools are not better–your neighborhood parks are not better–and your restaurants are not better. More people would move here if there were a consitent stream of new jobs for young people coming out of college–larger metros can accomodate a larger influx of young vibrant people with energy–after you reach the age of 25 and you have slowed down the partying Des Moines beats a city like Chicago any day of the week..

  30. Dennis says:

    what is there to do in Iowa?

  31. Chris says:

    You almost seem to imply that Des Moines schools aren’t good. I don’t know how they compare to rural schools (and what metric do you use to measure schools, anyway?), but as with the rest of the schools in the state, the quality of education is very high.

  32. Matt Kurjanowicz says:

    The commenters who discussed moving to rural areas really hit it on the head for me. I was a suburban boy growing up, but of many suburbias. By the time I graduated college I had lived in 4 countries and seven states. Out of school I was looking for a job and flying all over the country – DC, Seattle, Cedar Rapids, IA, etc. I got an offer from a company in Iowa and, in a decision I sometimes regret, I turned the company down. I took a job in Seattle instead. I sure do like city life, but a little bit of me would love to be in a rural area like the suburbs or farther out of Cedar Rapids, IA. The key point is I’d like to move there once I have kids. As a singe twenty-one year old IA is just not that appealing – it doesn’t have the range of cultures within arms reach that Seattle does. However, I also like the simpler things in life, like growing my own plants (Come on bell peppers grow!), and sitting down for an evening with friends – these things would be just as easy (and in the case of growing food easier!) as they are in Seattle.

    What I’ve learned is that I have some friends, and we go to the same places and often do the same things night after night, week after week. Humans are creatures of habit and I go to the same restaurant every Tuesday and Thursday and have the same drink with the same people, even though I have all these other opportunities in front of me. I think that we need to be more careful before dismissing areas as “too boring” or having “no culture” – there will always be the normal haunts and the group of friends.

  33. plonkee says:

    AS a confirmed city girl and a Brit I actually can’t contemplate what living somewhere like Iowa would mean. I don’t think I’d like to do without good public transport and I couldn’t be miles from decent clothes shops.

    I often think that living in a smaller population centre would mean that there was more pressure to fit in, as everyone else is quite similar and I’m not exactly the stereotypical rural/suburban person. I wonder if this is really true.

  34. Tim says:

    why do all the trees in Minnesota point South? because Iowa SUCKS!!! aside from lower cost of living, Iowans have to put up with jokes like these. guess where I’m from? ;o)

  35. Ryan says:

    Interesting post Trent. As a graduate of the University of Illinois, I couldn’t live in Iowa because I wouldn’t be able to deal with all the irritating and obnoxious Iowa Hawkeye fans! ;-)

    Seriously, as a guy who grew up in rural Central Illinois, then lived in large cities both in the United States and abroad, I think the only thing that I can say for certain is that there are pros and cons to living in both rural and urban areas. I think ultimately that I will want to live in a small city surrounded by a lovely rural area, yet maybe about 70 miles or so from a major city. This way, I will get the best of both worlds!

  36. Kevin in NC says:

    I live in a very obscure little town on the NC coast. Lots of farming here and very little industry of any kind. Cost of living here is along the lines of the author’s comments or less. The upside for us is that we are just 30 miles from the beautiful NC beaches. We love the beach and this is why we could not live anywhere else. We are happy. These white sandy beaches provide us hours of cheap entertainment. All we need is a packed lunch, a boom box, a good book from the library, and a cooler full of cheap Keystone beer and ice. The wife and I get a nice tan, and the kids navigate the waves on boogie boards for hours on end.

  37. Jeanne says:

    Iowa is not the only cheap place to live! Our family left the bay area where we had two high income salaries to move to the Augusta, GA area (Columbia County–Evans, Martinez are–to be exact, which is growing and has great schools). There are cultural events here: symphony, opera, vibrant art community in downtown Augusta. We traded those two big salaries for one much smaller salary, got a house that’s twice as big for less than 1/2 the price (and paid cash, no less). In California we felt like we were part of a big ratrace. Here we have slowed down and are much more involved in our kids lives. Is it perfect here? No. But California wasn’t perfect either.

  38. Nebraska Jess says:

    It’s so true that the Midwest offers substantially more than most people give it credit for – after being born in Iowa and raised in Nebraska, I didn’t realize how wonderful we had it here until we moved! My husband has been stationed all over the country and we’ve lived as far away as Arizona and Georgia, but in the end moved back to Nebraska because it is a much better way of life for us. We just bought a 1300 sq ft plus home on a .37 acre lot on our small, combined $39k salary for 1/3 the price that it would have cost for a smaller house in Chicago (I know, because my sister just bought a house up there)! Plus we enjoy some “city benefits” – we live right outside of Omaha, known for it’s museums and varieties of cultural activities, not to mention the College World Series for all you baseball fans! Yeah, I wouldn’t leave Nebraska for all the money in the world…

  39. Tyler says:

    Where you live is all relative – relative to what you want in your financial life, personal life, recreational life, on and on. Everyone has different goals and perspectives on what they want in their lives and where they live should not be the only determining factor. Since I graduated college, I live in 4 places, all across the country. The semi-rural life in Wisconsin, the big city life in Chicago, the beach life on Florida’s gulf coast, and the typical midwest life in Ohio. From seeing all these perspectives, I’ve really discovered that my life is not determined by where I live, but what I make of it. Each place I lived had its own fun and differences, but there is only one thing in my life that is important – family and friends. As long as I have those things, I get by great wherever I live.

  40. Tyler says:

    Where you live is all relative – relative to what you want in your financial life, personal life, recreational life, on and on. Everyone has different goals and perspectives on what they want in their lives and where they live should not be the only determining factor. Since I graduated college, I lived in 4 places, all across the country; the semi-rural life in Wisconsin, the big city life in Chicago, the beach life on Florida’s gulf coast, and the typical midwest life in Ohio. I did all of this and I am only 24. From seeing all these perspectives, I’ve really discovered that my life is not determined by where I live, but what I make of it. Each place I lived had its own fun and differences, but there is only one thing in my life that makes it fun and worthwhile – family and friends. As long as I have those things, I get by great wherever I live.

  41. Brent says:

    The retirement bit is only true if you don’t want to travel or do anything with competing prices in large cities. If I was in a big city with twice the cost of living and twice the salary and we played our percentage game the same, I’d be far better off at retirement due to costs inelastic to location.

  42. Keesa says:

    I live in Alabama, and my place used to be just like that (except with more trees and no cornfields). Then we got discovered. :grumbles:

  43. Wendy says:

    “iowan” posted: [Well I could go on and on, but the brutal reality comes down to one simple fact: cost of living is low here because demand is low, nobody WANTS to live here. And with good reason. Iowa is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live here. ]

    The rest of Iowa is better off without you if that’s your attitude about this state. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere that I had that attitude about. But that’s why I don’t live in California; I like to visit, but I’d never live there.

    Shhhhh, Trent! You’re blowing our midwest cover. Let the rest of the country think we all live these boring, deprived lives while we get the last laugh.

  44. Lana says:

    I live in a college town in Michigan. Smallish city, though we’ve got a lot of arts and culture and great diversity of restaurants. I make just under $30k and live comfortably in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment (hardwood floors, charming courtyards, east-west windows and a beautiful view, very quiet). My friends who live in Chicago are always bowled over by what I pay in rent ($550, all utils included). When I go to visit them, I get tired of the city really quickly. It’s noisy, crowded, stressful all around…I don’t care for it. As it stands, my parents live just outside the city I live, in the country – across the street from cornfields, etc – and sometimes I miss THAT level of solitude and open space.

    Living in the country is more than economical, it really gives you a sense of peace and well-being that I just don’t think you can find in the city. And that connection to nature is priceless.

  45. MVP says:

    I agree with Tubaman in many ways. I also hail from Fla., which has a lot of great things. But I grew up very fast and had some negative experiences at a young age that I blame on the relatively fast-pace of life and other issues there. I now live in a semi-rural area of the Northwest and as we think about starting a family, I wouldn’t return to my homestate for anything. But I will say I miss the diversity I grew up around. There’s pretty much only a large Hispanic community in my current area, but in Fla., I grew up with people of many, many cultures and religions. I do, however, get tired of all the “Sunday drivers” in rural areas. When I first moved here, I got several speeding tickets, having learned to drive on the Florida “speedways” where you drive fast or get mowed down. I guess the cops really do have nothing better to do around here…

  46. Glenn says:

    My wife and I moved from Boston to Tulsa, OK three years ago. We were able to pay cash for 2,700 sq. ft. house with the equity we had in a small condo. Our kids go to great public schools. We are able to live a very comfortable life and still live in a good size city. I know Tulsa is not for everyone but we have enjoyed the move to a low cost city.

  47. MFJ says:

    @ Brent – In my opinion – salaries in lower cost of living areas are not proportionate to the lower cost of living. In other words even though it might be 35% cheaper to live in Iowa the salary is probably only 10-15% lower than the the big city.

  48. Monica says:

    I also wonder about what plonkee said above. I live in a big city and there are so many kinds of people — there is a niche for everyone. In a rural setting, I wonder if everyone would think I was weird, would I be this oddball that everyone talks about? Would I be marginalized for speaking my mind or for making different choices? Even if I was basically accepted, would there be this atmosphere where everyone knows your business? Would everyone be gossiping about everyone?

    I also don’t want to own a car — which you can’t really do without in rural areas. Here I can get everywhere I need to with public tranportation.

    And I think I would have a hard time giving up the opportunity to do almost anything I want. Shop at ethnic stores of all description? check. Take a class on stained glass? check. Worship at a Quaker meeting? check. Learn Chinese? check. Shop at an outdoor market every day of the week? check. Browse at a board game store with a large selection of Euro-games? check. Shop at stores with a great selection of clothes in a “specialty” size? check. Join an activist group to protest against war, climate change or the WTO? check. No, I don’t necessarily do all these things all the time, but they are there for me and for others.

  49. christiana says:

    See, living in a rural area is bad because you’re forced to own a car. Nothing is walkable. Unless you happen to live close to a strip mall. (And why would you want to walk to a strip mall?)

    I actually get irritated when I think about stuff like this, because what you’re doing contributes to sprawl. I appreciate the need for solitude and blah blah blah, but what about the impact on the environment?

    And don’t even get me started on the lack of divesity, both cultural and ethnic. Sure, your houses are cheaper, but that’s because there’s NOTHING there.

    I’d rather buy a one-bedroom condo for $500k and be blocks from the lake and surrounded by amazing architecture, spitting distance from world-class museums and some of the best restaurants in the world, and best of all, not have to drive to any of it.

    I think the saying “you get what you pay for” would apply here.

  50. heather says:

    I’m a Drake grad, my husband has a degree from IA State, and we have lots of family in IA and KS. I miss living in the midwest – we’re living just outside Detroit now. Yeah, there’s a Whole Foods nearby and we enjoy the “attractions,” but the pace of life here is different. Everyone’s always doing so much that I don’t think people connect with each other the way you do in smaller population areas. I also think there’s a higher “keep up with the joneses” factor. When you don’t get to know people well, you make lots of assumptions based on appearances.

    Urbanites think they have the higher hand when it comes to diversity and culture, but IA has its share of great ethnic restaurants and immigrant populations. Culture travels, too. I love going home to see my family and see what’s new there. And I try not to think about how we paid about as much for our 1400 sq ft house as my in-laws did for their much nicer 4BR, eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, great room, den, main floor master suite home in a really nice neighborhood.

    As soon as we can finagle it career-wise, we’re moving back west.

  51. Tristan says:

    We plan to move from San Diego to St. Joseph Missouri in a few years for all the reasons you listed. There are too many people here. We are packed in like sardines. I can’t wait to get back to houses you can pay cash for instead of shacks that cost a half million and people who don’t think you’re crazy for smiling at them. I feel sorry for people who will work till they die just to pay for a house. There are people here who have never tasted a home grown tomato. MY GOSH!! That’s so sad.

  52. SwingCheese says:

    @Iowan – As a public high school teacher in the DSM area (and a product of Iowa public schools), I take great offense to your statements about the Iowa public school system in general, and to your characterization of the teachers as being “fundamentalists”. We spend a great deal of time and effort in making sure that we present up-to-date information to our students, using the latest pedagogical methods. Although the majority of the faculty/staff/students at my school are Christian, I am not, and have never felt out of place or maligned due to my religious beliefs.

    I have lived in Iowa my entire life (though only in the DSM area for 2), and I love it here. It’s true that my husband and I would like to move when he finishes school, but that’s mainly b/c we’d like to live in a smaller area in the mountains. For the time being, though, Des Moines has quite a lot of coffee shops, museums, sporting events, culture, and well-mainteined bike paths to offer. The public transportation system could definitely be improved upon, though.

  53. Dr. T says:

    I think one of the only careers that can pay better in smaller towns is being a physician. There is increased competition from various sub-specialties in big cities. For now my wife and I enjoy the city life, but after growing up in a small town I do see the benefits.

  54. Jack says:

    Iowa has low paying jobs and low cost of living. California has high paying jobs and a high cost of living. I live in Oregon where the cost of living is high and the jobs are low paying. ????

  55. Lisa says:

    OK, People. Live in the larger communities in the midwest. My own personal experience has been in the western suburbs of Kansas City. You will have your theater, fountains, museums, opera, and all the family oriented festivals, with a since of place, than any schedule can handle. You will have close access to major airports to get out of Dodge when you want to.

    If you are younger and/or single, live in the city.

    When you get kids, you will probably understand the lure of safe schools, neighbors you actually know, and the opportunities to get involved in your community. You children will know where foods comes and, if you choose, how to use a fishing pole.

    I don’t need to convince you. My county is one of the fastest growing ones in the country. Firms make their world headquarters here. There is green space and nice people. Frankly, I don’t want anyone else moving in.

  56. Foobarista says:

    Whenever we travel, we often have fleeting thoughts about living in these sorts of places. For us, eastern Nevada is a place we like, probably with even fewer people than Iowa. The problem for us is my wife is Chinese, and really isn’t happy without a decently large Chinese community, with access to Chinese grocery stores, etc. Also, we go to China several times a year, and being near an international airport with direct flights makes this much easier. The SF Bay Area, where we live, is also good in that there are lots of fairly secluded hiking areas within a half-hour’s drive of our place. And my wife has a solid business broker practice going here – it takes several years to rebuild after moving in this field, and one needs to be in an area with lots of immigrants and others who buy and sell small businesses.

    For me, I could theoretically telecommute, but it’s brutally difficult to find work once you’re physically out of the Silicon Valley loop. “Telecommuting salary arbitrage” may work wonderfully while one has a job, but I know several people who had to move back to find work after their employer went out of business or laid off their department.

  57. joanE says:

    our son will soon attend a small private college, cornell college in mount vernon, iowa…9 hours from his home in southeastern MI.
    we were dumbfounded at the size of this college town (4000) as his hometown is 5 million. i wanted to dislike the place,(apologies to you iowa folk) but every time i called w/ a question or comment, someone actually picked up the phone and remembered my name. we’re off to a good start as we experience iowa for the first time.
    now if only a plane or a train or a bus or something stopped in mt vernon.

  58. Brad says:

    I’ll take a pass on Iowa, thanks. Life is too short to live someplace so boring.

  59. KoryO says:

    Some of the comments in this article crack me up. I’m a big city girl (Phoenix…population, too damn many, go home already, please!!!), currently living in a small city on the Florida Atlantic coast. We are getting ready to move to Cedar Rapids.

    I thought I was gonna go nuts living in a small city. True, you can’t run out and go to the theater any time you want, but hell…haven’t any of you people heard of Netflix? They’ve got lots of performances and foreign films, and you can watch them on *your* schedule. You can even sit around in your undies and eat Cheetos if you want while you do it. I don’t care how “liberal” NYC is….I don’t suggest you try that on Broadway.

    And don’t get me started on shopping. I can find virtually anything I want online. A few clicks, and it’s on its way to me….without me burning up fossil fuels to get to the mall, wasting my time dealing with some weird, snooty salespeople, and then finding out they don’t have my size/color that I want.

    I just love how some of the commenters are dogging on Iowa without ever having been there. Let me fill you in on it a bit. Yep, there’s cornfields. Lots of ’em. But the people are genuinely friendly…even if you talk English funny like my sweetie does (he’s Russian). It’s not all flat. As far as I could tell, the people were just as sophisticated as anywhere else. There were even a couple of shops in Iowa City that would have fit in perfectly in Snottsdale, AZ….without the attitude from the clerks.

    Now if I could just get over having to deal with that white crap they call snow, and find a decent sushi joint, I’d be ecstatic. Got any info on that, Trent? ;)

  60. John Jenkins says:

    Yes, even though I may not make as much money, Iowa offers so much that I can scarcely think of living elsewhere.

    That might not be true, actually. Your nominal wages might be less, but your purchasing power might be equal or greater. Someone would have to do the calculations to be sure.

  61. SJean says:

    I’m from north dakota and now live in Iowa.

    For someone in your place (family, settled) it may suite you. It doesn’t suite me at all.

    Everyone I know is married or engaged (I’m only 24) There is community theater, but seriously… It is nothing compared to a “real” city. The shopping is horrible, and perhaps I could find things online, but there is something to be said for trying things on! The weather is bad most of the year–too hot, too humid, too cold.

    Young unmarried people just don’t (usually) enjoy themselves here. I wanted to take up rock climbing and realized it would be a 2 hr drive to try it out. Ug.

    Anyway, I’m headed for the coast in just 2 months. I’ll get a raise, which will probably be cancelled out by increase in rent, but I’ll get to see the ocean more than once every 5 years, and it is in the seventies every day. World class museums. Free events. New resaurants. People who don’t marrie at age 19. Oh, and the increase in salary will mean more money in retirement from myself and the company match.

    For sure there are aspects I”ll miss. My rent (under 600 for a nice place), movie theaters for less than $5, my 4 minute commute, and being closer to my family. But Iowa just isn’t for everyone.

  62. I have to laugh out loud at someone characterizing Iowan college students as rude, beer swilling idiots… as if that’s true only in Iowa.

  63. Kat says:

    Having spent part of my schooling in Des Moines, I can say it was some of the best schooling I had. I even skipped a grade once we moved, that is how far ahead their schooling is. Also I found it to be just as liberal in it’s teaching as any other place I attended.
    Des Moines also has great museums and world-class architecture. It has the ballet and opera. Also a great science center.
    Where my family lived we could walk to the store and to get ice cream, even church if we wanted.
    And there are a lot of things to do outside of it. You are close enough to go skiing in Minnesota, shopping as well.
    While, I personally wouldn’t move back there (I love my California area), the Midwest is really a nice place to live and has a lot more to offer than most people think.
    Life does exist between the two coasts. Shock, I know.

  64. Heidi says:

    It makes me sad to see so many people knocking my home state. I have traveled the world – spent time in Hong Kong and nearly a year in Chicago – and I love Iowa. I love that I have never had to buy sweetcorn or pumpkins (my Dad is a farmer). I love that there are only a few perfect 70 degree days a year (makes you appreciate them more). I love that the people are nice, the air is clean, and that my neighbor’s know my dog’s name.

    I know that we don’t have oceans or moutains – but that’s what makes us so smart. I read somewhere that Iowans are more well-read and well-traveled than those from other parts of the US. It’s not because we’re all dying of boredome -It’s because we’re aware that the world is bigger than our little corner of it, and we want to see it and know about it.

    I live, in Iowa, within a mile of an Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and French restuarant, there is an excellent community playhouse just down the street, five coffee shops (one starbuck’s) on my way to work, and three concert venues within biking distance, and to top it all off – my commute to work is less than ten minutes (at a job where I make over $80k annually + bonus). There is a ten acre dog park nearby wonderful bike trails and a nature preserve. I came here kicking and screaming (I was think I’d land NY or the Twin Cities), but staying in Iowa is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

  65. SmurfyHoser says:


    For Sushi, in Iowa City try Formosa. I’m not even much of a sushi fan but loved loved loved it there.


    The Iowa City end of the Corridor (with Cedar Rapids at the other end) tends to have the more eclectic food choices – Devotay and Linn St Cafe and many many more. Cedar Rapids has a handful of decent eateries, but not nearly what IC does.

    joanE, the eastern iowa airport in cedar rapids is maybe 15 or 20 minutes away and has connections to about everything, including minneapolis and chicago that i presume you’d use. it’s a perfectly sized airport, too, easy to get in and out of, rarely are there lines (i fly thru there a couple times a month and you can arrive 40 min before your flight, no problem).

  66. tightwadfan says:

    plonkee and monica-

    my husband grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and from what he says there is room to be yourself. HOWEVER, what he hated is that everyone knows everybody else’s business. He still talks about that as the main reason he doesn’t want to live in a small town. His mother still lives there and she admits that it’s probably her biggest dislike.

  67. BradM says:

    I grew up in a small town in Canada (8000 people) and moves south of LA (orange county) about 4 years ago. I can’t imagine moving back to the small city. I enjoy never seeing the same people, and never having to deal with the small town BS (Excuse my French)

    I would do it if I really had to, but I’d have to change my entire life. Quit my job, divorce my wife and give away my dog. So I have to pass, though it IS enticing. ;)

  68. boardmadd says:

    I’ve had the opportunity to watch the “small” town I grew up in become a fairly big town (Danville, CA), I lived in San Francisco for many years, and I now live in a suburb of San Francisco. One thing that has proven to be very interesting is that, while it’s a challenge, I am able to make a life here in the Bay Area for myself and my family for about $60K per year. It’s not a flush life, and we have to make sacrifices and live frugally, but overall we do pretty good. One of the reasons we live where we do is the fact that my wife wants to stay close to her family (only child of only family in the area, thus staying here is *really* important to her). However, I’m not married to this location, and would be willing to relocate if the circumstances were favorable and made sense (we may well follow our kids when they grow up and decide to abandon the Bay Area, which I think is a pretty good bet at the rate that prices are today and likely may be in the future).

  69. wendy says:

    I took my last vacation to Iowa. Everybody I knew looked at me like I was nuts when I said I was going to IOWA for my vacation. I came into the state by the quad cities, went up to Dubuque, diagonaled to Des Moines and had a grand time.

    My only regret was I didn’t have more time to keep going kinda in a number 8 loop and hit the SW and NW areas also.

    I just rambled around from one town to the next hitting big ones and small ones and I LOVED IOWA.

  70. Someone says:

    Everything in the midwest (or most rural or suburban areas) seems to be so automobile-centric: like your life has to revolve entirely around your car. I like not having to own a car, and factoring in having to buy a car, I don’t see how my total cost of living would be any better in the midwest.

    I refuse to move to an area that’s so automobile centric that I’d have a difficult time getting by without one– it would be too big a decrease in quality of life from being able to walk places, like I do now.

  71. K says:

    I have lived in Iowa my entire life and have never suffered from lack of transportation…I have never suffered from lack of coffee shops, restaurants, music venues, opera, ballet, you name it. We do have people from all over the world where I come from in Iowa. Yes, living here is much cheaper than a lot of places and I am thankful for that. When you piss and moan about how boring the state is and how we have “nothing to do or see”, please do the collective population of this state a giant favor and go somewhere else. We don’t need you. As for comments from the peanut gallery about Iowa sucking and being full of drunken college students in the university towns, take a good hard look at your own school. And hey Minnesota, we couldn’t care less about this contest you guys seem to “try” to have with us. Do you think if we don’t acknowledge they exist, they’ll go away? Iowa schools are some of the best in the nation, so please, don’t go by what they say online or what’s in the newspaper as far as ratings. Do your own search, find your own truth. Even if the kids don’t want to stay here, it’s their loss. My state is wonderful, be it rural or city life…you really have to make your own fun and not worry about what other big places do. Who cares? If you really wanted to be there, you would.

  72. Raphael says:

    You should check out Fairfield Iowa down in the southeast sometime.
    Inexpensive iowa lifestyle, big culture. Over 50 restaurants in a city of approx. 10,000. Monthly “first friday’s art walk” http://www.fairfieldartwalk.com/

    Don’t know where in iowa you are, but if you get a chance stop on by.

  73. SBT says:

    I love Iowa City. It’s a terrific cultural center, more racially diverse than most of Iowa, and has the best schools in the universe.


  74. John says:

    Iowa does suck, but it grows on you. Been in Iowa City for 4 years, for school of course, then I’m out of here. Could be worse I guess, we could be in the south dakota.

  75. Sarah says:

    I have a love-hate relationship with the state. I attend school in Chicago, my bf in Des Moines. I’ll probably end up in Iowa after graduation. Partially because of him, partially because I’m scared to death to try to get a PR job in Chicago and really don’t want to become a corporate slave. If things work out, we’re thinking of Northwest IN – lower taxes, but still close to Chicago.

    My only qualm with Des Moines is actually West Des Moines. I’ve only spent a little time in Des Moines (he tends to come back to Chicago), but W. Des Moines seems to be nothing but a consumer orgy, with not much in downtown Des Moines.

  76. Richard says:

    Must be real exciting watching that corn grow!

  77. Accroyer says:

    I have read all of these comments and there are lots of valid points. I grew up in Los Angeles but have lived everywhere (Cleveland,D.C., Baltimore, Las Vegas, Dallas, Portland(OR), Seattle,Montreal,Biloxi,Vancouver (B.C.). Each place had certain qualities (except for Cleveland) that made them unique.I think a major factor people are missing is the current economic situation we are in. this will dictate where we will migrate too. I believe that many people will move to more rural areas in the future as major cities cut back on employment opportunities and crime escalates. Food, energy, cost of living will play into this also, people will move where they can survive.

  78. Laurel Wetzel says:

    But you have to remember a lot of good people and things come from Iowa. Like Curt Warner, quarterback for the Cardinals in his 3rd Superbowl tomorrow, Johny Carson, John Wayne, Field of Dreams the movie, Bridges of Madison Count the movie, Fist, the Movie. We are always guaranteed to have changing seasons of weather and when you are used to that you almost always come back to Iowa for that. (Any way I did). Once and Iowan, always an Iowan no matter where we live and move and roam. You will see us all around the world. I know of one that is in Malaysia right at this very moment.

  79. Lindsey says:

    True, Iowans are everywhere. I know of a few teaching in North Korea right now also. And everywhere I’ve lived, in many different towns and states, I will run into someone from Iowa, and they will talk about their hometown fondly, and almost always, they say they plan to move back there someday. Iowa can’t be all that boring if everyone wants to move back there, even after seeing the world! I am moving back there this Spring to raise our daughter and be closer to my husband’s family. I was born and raised in Northern CA. I like Iowa. Yes it can get very cold and gray and sometimes be a bit too quiet, but once you learn to embrace that lifestyle, going back to the crowded city life doesn’t sound appealing to me at all.

  80. Jane says:

    true that moving can really change costs, and also quality of life. My sister recently relocated from New Jersey (where she had moved as a Katrina refugee) to Colorado Springs: taking a 25% cut in headline salary but getting a 40% increase in disposable income after housing and utilities costs (mainly by paying rent of $1000 pm for a 4 bed 2 bath home rather than $2000 for 3 bed 1 bath in NJ). And swapping a 30 minute commute on an over-crowded highway for a 5 minute drive on clear suburban roads!
    And I still live in the UK- with some of the highest living costs in the world

  81. I live in a small town in rural Illinois and I agree with the Iowa plan–I wish I lived there as the taxes in IL are insane–ONE THIRD of my house payment is frigging TAXES and I have no children so the excellent schools make no difference to me, but they do attract an affluent white population as we are 34 minutes from downtown St. Louis but the demographics here (courtesy US Census Bureau) are 99.1% White, .04% Asian, .04% Hispanic, .01% African American and .01% Other. This translates to a crime rate so low that people don’t lock their doors or cars, no prepay at the gas pumps needed, no need to worry about being out after dark and if you get so much as a PARKING TICKET your name will be in the bi-weekly newspaper. I love it here and I am close enough to the Lou to make a living there (I’m a wedding planner) and still have the small town life.

  82. Jill says:

    I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago but have family in Iowa. I spent a month every summer with my grandma in my mom’s tiny home town (no stop lights!) and always loved my time there. I often get homesick for that town even though I never actually lived there. I still visit every year and always feel like I have come home. There is nothing better than sitting on the porch swing chatting, snacking and having some drinks while waving to every car that goes by.

    I went to school at the University of Iowa and loved the four years I lived in Iowa City. It is a great town with plenty of great restaurants and culture. My husband and I almost moved there when a job opportunity presented itself. Unfortunately, we needed to stay in Chicago to be closer to a family member with health problems. Although we love Chicago and love the culture that living in the city provides our kids, we often think about what it would have been like to have moved to Iowa City.

    Where you live is certainly a personal choice but it always amazes me to see how people who have never been somewhere can judge it. Iowa is a beautiful place with beautiful and kind people. That is not to say that everything is perfect there but no place is perfect and there will always be people you encounter that are not worth your time. I have traveled all over the country (NY, PA, NJ, MN, MI, WI, IN, FL, CA, AZ, WA, DC, GA, NE, MO, OH, TX, AK, UT) and have found something to like about every place I have visited. However, I can honestly say that Iowa is my tied for my favorite place to live along with Chicago. I would truly be happy living in either place.

  83. Jill says:

    I should also add that although I am a fan of Chicago, I am not a fan of the Chicago suburbs even though I grew up there. I now live on the city’s north side and love it. If I had to move away from Chicago, I would pick Iowa City over a Chicago suburb in a heartbeat.


    Consider a midwest college town. My town is about 20,000 now, of which one quarter are students. Lots of cultural events at the colleges and lots of ethnic diversity. Among our friends are Kenyans, Chinese, Canadians, Poles, Koreans, Japanese, Thais, Vietnamese, Ghanaians (how do you spell that?), Aussies, Portuguese, Filipinos, Mexicans, and various hyphenated-Americans.

  85. Kristin says:

    While in San Francisco last summer, many people I met were shocked I lived in Iowa. They said “but you are so smart and creative, you should be living here” haha. Well, among what Trent mentioned, where I live, in Ames, IA there are these amazing things:
    + 57 miles of connected bike paths – meaning you can get anywhere in town on your bike in under a half hour,
    + several high quality museums in Des Moines as well as here in Ames. We actually just opened up another community gallery here.
    + a great bus system that also allows many of my friends to be 100% car free (my partner and I share a car).
    + Great crop share programs, farmers markets, handmade markets, and community gardens.
    + Active art organizations, craft guilds, indie press projects and businesses – from the small to the large scale.
    + An amazing indie music scene – live shows all around town just about every night in the week – and bands from the east coast all the way to japan playing right along with local bands.

    And I should season all this with the fact that I’ve traveled from San Francisco to Florida to France (my partner all the way to China, Tibet, and Japan), lived right by Chicago, and lived in England. I was honestly surprised and delighted when I moved here.

  86. Bob Davis says:

    I canno’t entertain the idea of living in a rural setting in Iowa. I am a big city person. Give me San Francisco and its waterfront any day.

  87. elizabeth says:

    You know where it’s at? Larger college towns in rural areas. All of the advantages you’ve stated if you’re 10 miles away from town and an amazing variety of restaurants and cultural attractions.

    Though I’m not the first to comment that. :)

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