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Is Living in a Small Town Better?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/vitasam2001

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/vitasam2001

Every time we go to spend time in the city, it makes me wonder if living in a small town is better financially and otherwise. While it’s always fun to visit other places, would living somewhere else actually improve our quality of life?

Why We Live in a Small Town

When I say small town, I mean small. The town where we live has a population of about 10,000 people. We are not close to an interstate highway, major airport, or even a Target. What we do have is diversity in landscapes. From my house, you can drive an hour north and be in the mountains, or an hour south and be in the desert. Growing up in the southern US, we had lots of humidity and bugs. My parents philosophy was why go outside when you have a perfectly good air conditioned house to sit around in? I never really fit into the south because I always wanted to go somewhere or find another adventure that didn’t involve a mall or increasing the volume of my hair.

My husband grew up in metropolitan Denver. He is an outdoor sports nut, and was tired of lift lines and too many people on the trail. He felt like a number in his huge high school. Nobody usually noticed when he cut classes. We also hate traffic and driving 30 minutes to get anywhere. In our town, getting behind a tractor or having a herd of elk cross the road is your worst chance of being slowed down.

I think small towns are great for raising kids. If our daughter wants to participate in an activity or sport, she will get to play. She goes to a small school, where her graduating class will be around 50 kids. While there is crime, I don’t feel scared to drive around any part of our area, even after dark.

While I hated growing up in a small town as a kid, I can appreciate the benefits as a parent. I think a big part of my problem was that I was never encouraged to dream bigger than my small town. I want to live in a small place, but show our daughter that there is a bigger world. Go explore, and then decide where you want to live. Otherwise, the grass will always seem greener somewhere else.

It’s Cheap to Live in a Small Town

It may not be cheap if you are in Aspen or Carmel, CA, but our small town has a very low cost of living. You can buy a good house for $150,000. You don’t have to take on a roommate to pay rent. Our property taxes are $1600 a year on a house that appraises at $375K. Full time day care costs $500-$600/month. Having few stores or cultural opportunities means that there just aren’t that many things to spend money on.

Why I Hate Living in a Small Town

Some of the reasons listed above are also reasons why I sometimes hate living in a small town. On occasion,  it just feels like there is nothing to do. Sure, we can go on a hike, but sometimes you just want to go see a show or watch a movie. We have a tiny, two screen movie theater, but if it isn’t a cartoon or something that blows up, they don’t play it. No Lincoln or Argo here. Concerts consist of local musicians. Sometimes, we get a quality act at the reservation casino, like Ratt or a Journey tribute band. Sporting events are my daughter’s soccer games. Our one bowling alley sucks.

We have Wal Mart, grocery stores, or dollar stores for shopping. If you need something right away, there is little comparison to be had. We also have little choice in services like electricians or roofers. It is often very hard to find someone to do work on your house. Websites like Yelp or Angie’s List are virtually non existent here.

Unfortunately small towns often possess small dreams. While there is nothing wrong with living in a small place, I think you need to know why you want to live there. If it’s just because you’re parents told you to, that isn’t a great reason. There is lots of, It’s always been done this way and that’s the way it is. I am not a subscriber to that philosophy, and I will work really hard to make sure my daughter knows there are other things besides what we see every day.

 Why We’ll Stay in a Small Town

With all the good and bad, we will likely stay put at least until our daughter finishes school. Twelve years seems like a long time, but I bet it will be here before we know it. While our small town gets old sometimes, we have several awesome cities within a day’s drive like Phoenix. Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego, or Salt Lake City.

We can become financially independent here quicker as well. With low housing costs and taxes, we can be out of debt, own rental properties, and save like mad over the next 10-12 years. As a teacher, my husband will be eligible for his state pension by then also. It just makes financial sense to stay here, even if I may have to wait for all the good movies to come out on video.

No place is perfect. By taking advantage of what we have and finding ways to make up for what we don’t, I think it is possible to love life in a small town.

Why do you live where you do? Do you ever dream of moving somewhere else?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I think not, the best option is to live in a mid sized town since you get advantages of both country and city 🙂

  2. I was raised in a small town in Alaska. When I went away for college the student population was larger than my home town. I hated growing up in a small town. Now I live in a tiny town of 3000. And I love it. I couldn’t shake the small town girl when I grew up.

  3. I’ve lived in a small town, big city and everywhere in between it seems. The one thing that I would worry about raising kids in a small town is education and diversity. I didn’t really thrive in school or socially until I left the tiny private school my mom taught at and switched to a much bigger public school where I was part of the gifted program. All of the sudden I had age-level peers that I was on the same learning level with. Mr. PoP didn’t get that growing up in a small town at all and wishes he had my experiences in middle and high school.

    • We actually have some diversity with the Native American culture and Hispanic population in the area. Most of the sports and activities combine all the school districts, at least up until junior high level, so there is a pretty good mix. We will also make it a point to travel and see other places. I never saw much of anything until I went to college, so I have lots I need to make up for.

    • Diversity isn’t necessarily a good thing, but that’s a whole different debate.

      You’re right about school choice in very small towns (<5000 people), there just won't be enough kids for your children to have much of a social life. If you live in a small city (think ~25,000) this isn't a problem. Educational quality in a town big enough to have real school infrastructure but not so big that the teachers are overwhelmed with the number of students is actually extremely good. There are gifted programs, a full selection of sports and activities, and there's the comfort (and cost-savings) of knowing your kids can walk to school and back safely – with the bonus that classroom sizes are still usually small enough that all the kids can get the attention they need for a quality education.

      For older teens, small towns in rural areas also tend to have an abundance of agriculture-related part time jobs available. These tend to pay very well. Summer work is also much easier to find. With unemployment out of control in the big cities, it can be very difficult for high schoolers to find a part-time job. Unskilled labor positions are becoming rarer and rarer. Hell, it's difficult for college graduates to find work in large metropolises.

      The kids might get wanderlust when they graduate high school and head off to some big city college, but I've noticed that a lot of them end up going back to the small town – maybe the one they grew up in, maybe a different one – because it's just more comfortable. It's quieter, it's cheaper (very important when you're just starting out and loaded down with student loans) and small towns tend to have less competition for skilled positions – especially in the IT fields. Sure, such a position may pay less than a comparable one in a big city, but the reduced costs in a small town mean that at the end of the month you still have more money leftover.

  4. I live in Minneapolis-St. Paul mainly because I grew up around the area, went to college around the area, met my wife around the area, all my friends are around the area, and most important got a job out of college here. It doesn’t have the perks of low cost of living that small towns do, but with our career tracks I don’t see us moving to a small town.

    • I would think Minnesota wouldn’t be too bad as far as cost of living, but what do I know. You certainly have to stay where the jobs are.

  5. I think you are underselling just how much of a benefit it is to not have to wait around in traffic all day. That is my number one pet peeve of living in a city Vs living in a smaller township.

    • Living without traffic is wonderful. I know exactly how long it takes me to get from point A to point B, no matter what time of day.

  6. I live where I do because that’s where my employer is. For me the only places worth living would be in the middle of a major metro area or in a small to midsized college town.

    Major metro areas appeal to me because I imagine walking out of my apartment heading to a world class museum or concert on a random weekday evening rather than having to make a weekend day trip out of it.

    I think that small to mid sized college towns are the sweet spot of low cost of living and enough to do as not to be bored out of my mind.

    • If we didn’t have the outdoor adventures that we have, I’d probably be really bored. Some nice concerts or events might be nice though.

  7. I lived mainly in the South until we moved to Chicago when I was 16. I like both aspects, but at the end of the day I like more of the small town feel as opposed to a big city. We live in Omaha and it is a decent sized city, but it can have a smaller town feel to it. We live here because it’s fairly cheap to live here and we like the Midwest. We can also be to any of the major cities in the Midwest within a day’s drive.

    • I’ve never been to Omaha, but there were several people I went to school with from there or North Platte. They all really liked the feel of that part of the country. Omaha always seems to rank high in the best places to live polls.

  8. We moved from a large suburb to a small town 7 months ago, and I have to say, we sure do love a lot about it. I also find that we are spending less money simply because the mindset is different here. In the suburb where we lived, it felt like everyone was concentrating on keeping up with the Joneses. Here, no one cares about the Joneses, so we never feel pressured to have or do certain things.

    • Small towns seem to take longer to need the latest and greatest. Many people I know pay for quality, but keep things forever. Big cities seem to turn over items much more quickly.

  9. I think I would do good in a small town. I’m not one that thrives on hustle and bustle. I know my wife would never go for it, though. She likes having access to stores and events that would be much further away.

  10. Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom

    We currently live in a small town of 10,000 like you. WE LOVE IT (aside from the winter, but it snows in the city too!!!!!) My brother lives in the city an hour away. Day care rates here at $30/day, he pays $50/day. His property taxes are twice what mine are, and they commute through traffic to work. But he’s has an ultimate Frisbee league there, here its baseball, soccer, hockey, or curling (only the basics as he says). I still think I have the better deal. Who needs Starbucks anyway?

  11. We live in a fairly small town of about 17,000 people. I like the financial aspects of living in a small town. Daycare for two kids costs me $625 per month and we have a really nice house with low taxes that only cost about 160K. But, sometimes it can be boring here!~

  12. This is why I love St. Louis. There are plenty of small towns, but also tons of bigger cities that are close by. W’s grandparents have a couple hundred acres of land, but if they want to go do something, it’s only a 15 minute drive into town where there’s everything to do. We are undecided of how we want our next house to be, but I would love some acreage!

    • We actually have 3 acres and it’s wonderful for the dogs and for kids if you have some down the road.

    • Michelle, my wife and I are contemplating moving to the St. Louis area (or somewhere in Missouri) for the pure fact that it’s warmer and we can get more land for our money than where we currently live (Minneapolis). It’s great to hear that you love the area!

  13. I grew up in suburban Detroit which had about 22,000 people, and at the time THAT was even to small for me. What I hated personally (and maybe it was part of the times I grew up and location), was the small town mentality. Nobody was different and if you were you probably stayed closeted because of fear of being bullied. It was also lilly white. Seattle was the perfect sized city for me because there was so much to do (culture and outdoors), yet it was easy to navigate. Traffic sucked there too though. I think I’d like to eventually move back to a mid-sized city. I think that fits my needs best.

    • I hear you about lack of diversity. My hometown was population 3000 with nothing but Bible belt southerners. When I was 16, I got to attend a program called Governor’s Scholars in Frankfort. There were kids from all over the state. It was the first time I ever interacted with people of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Indian descent. It was also the first time I ever met anyone who was Catholic, Jewish, or Agnostic. I felt like I finally found what I was looking for. I was always a square peg in a round hole who just knew there was something else, and there was. My Mom was so mad when I got home saying they brainwashed me, and I could have handled it better, but when you’re a teen, you always know best. I can appreciate and get along with just about any type of lifestyle that isn’t criminal, but I don’t want to have any one lifestyle inflicted on me and I certainly don’t want to inflict mine on anyone else. See what’s there and make up your mind.

  14. I grew up in a small town, but it was 35 outside of New York City. The next town (5 miles away) was a college town. All the benefits of a small town and the services of a major city.

  15. Wow…to me 10,000 people is not a small town. Thats bigger than the nearest “city” i grew up close to. In Saskatchewan a town qualifies as a city when it reaches 5000 people. I grew up near a truly small town. Population 450, with a nearby reserve with a population of 1300 and surrounding farms 300. The nearest walmart was an hour and a half away as was the nearest theatre.

    One of the biggest benefits I’ve found of a small town is…people actually care about what happens to one another. You can know someone your whole life and actually be able to trust people. Sometimes the smaller towns are more expensive for groceries but people learn to watch what they spent, budget for a trip to a bigger center and save money by not having easy access to all the stores to go and blow every cent they have.

    • Wow, that is small! I agree with everything you said, and still we got into debt here. It would have probably been 10X worse if we were in the city.

  16. I have lived in a good sized city most of my life. I went to college in a small town and loved it. My wife and I would like to move to a smaller town eventually, but all of our family is here, so that keeps us here.

    • Family is a great reason to stay where you are. We actually do better a little further away from ours. Too much drama.

  17. I wouldn’t mind living in a small town, but my husband would go crazy. I couldn’t imagine how miserable he would be!

  18. I see your 10,000 and raise you my 5,000 🙂
    There are definitely pros and cons. I was discussing with a relative today how I like going to the grocery store and knowing that I’ll say hi to at least one person I know. She HATES the grocery store in her hometown (which is really, really tiny) because it takes four hours to do anything if you go there, especially when you’re just home visiting.

  19. I grew up in LA, although we lived in one of the suburbs, everything is connected so it feels like one big, extended city. There are definitely pros and cons to city life and small town life. I’d love less traffic and less overall congestion and affordable housing, but I’m a city girl at heart. We refer to our city as Mayberry because it has a small town vibe where everyone knows each other and is relatively safe.

    • I think a small place next to a bigger place would be ideal and where we will probably end up eventually. It’s four hours to the closest major city from where we live.

  20. I enjoy taking holidays in small towns, but I can’t see myself ever living in one. The costs of my city are high, but the opportunities are infinitely greater, the culture and lifestyle is what I want, and our friends and family are here.

  21. I’ve lived in the burns and the city, but never a small town. I’d love to try it for a few years. It seems like things move a little slower in small towns

  22. Totally dream about living in the suburbs. We live right outside NYC and everything is incredibly expensive. Our property taxes are $600 a month on a 800 sq ft condo. No lawn, no patio, no parking. I grew up in a very small town on the coast of Maine, but have lived in major cities since I was 18. I definitely miss the country (or even surburban) life sometimes.

  23. I enjoy the financial aspect of living in the middle of nowhere, and miss the big city about twice a year, then I travel and get my share of smog and rush and stress. As normal earners, most people are much better in low cost of living areas, unless you are a trader in Wall Street, living in a big city doesn’t make a lot of financial sense.

    • Small town life has been good for us financially. If we lived in Denver or Phoenix, I would make about the same money, and my husband would probably make more, but we’d spend tons more. A few days in the city usually does it for us as well, especially if there is traffic.

  24. I’ve lived in big cities like London UK and small villages and honestly I prefer the villages. It’s much easier to get around, things are cheaper, people are friendlier because we all know each other and life isn’t as fast paced. Even in Canada I find living in this big city a bit much but who knows where we will end up one day.

    • Village sounds so much more inviting than town. Maybe I should start referring to our area as a village. We certainly have some idiots that would qualify as the village one.

  25. You raise some good points Kim. We live in the suburbs because it’s all we’ve ever known. It’s a good balance for us. There are fewer people than the city, but it has many of the amenities that we need.

  26. I grew up in a small town. 2010 census was a little over 7000, and that was a pretty big growth from when I was a kid in the 90’s. Even more so from when my parents were in school in the 70’s and the population was under 2000.

    Average distance to pretty much everything was about a 30 minute drive. Movie theater? 30 minutes away. Hospital? 30 minutes away. Supermarket? 30 minutes away!

    That said, I do miss it. I feel out of place here in Fort Collins. And you are certainly right about traffic. It takes almost as long to drive to the movie theater across town as it did in New Egypt to drive the movie theater in the next county!

    • The town where I grew up had a grocery store, but everything else was at least 30 miles. It kind of made it more of a treat when you did get to go.

  27. I agree with you regarding that as a parent, you look at where you are living a bit differently. You want what’s best for your child. Where we are moving, it is still a suburb, but has a small town feel and a great school district.

    • The school makes a huge difference. The school our daughter is supposed to go to is really crappy, but luckily we got in out of district. Since there is no traffic, it really isn’t a big deal.

  28. I would love to live in a small town someday. The only other problem I see with small towns is the lack of jobs. My current job is normally only found in larger companies, so it’d be tough to find a similar job in a smaller town.

  29. I grew up in a small, midwest town where everything exciting (meaning big city, malls, good movie theaters, quality restaurants) was at least 30 minutes away. And my favorite sports team (Cincinnati Reds) was 90 minutes away. Usually made it to one or two games a year.

    When we moved to the South, we settled south of Atlanta in a small town. And I absolutely love it! We get the small town, suburban feel but within 30 minutes, we can be at all things the big city has to offer (barring crazy traffic which Atlanta often has).

    • That sounds perfect. We won’t move for many years, but hopefully we can be somewhere similar to that at some point.

  30. I can honestly say I’m a small town kind of person. I can’t stand the traffic and noise. In fact I often wonder how people separate themselves from the hussle and bussle lifestyle. My town is pretty similar in fact the closest Walmart is at least 20 minutes away and that’s fine with with me.

  31. I grew up in a small town of about 3K people, graduating class 80. 1 grocery store, 1 traffic light. No movie theater (that would have helped!). 2 restaurants, 1 pizza place. One school for k-12.

    I loved it until I was a teenager then I hated living 30+ minutes from a mall, a chain store or restaurant. Finding rides to these places was a bummer and there really was nothing to do in town. There was and still is a HUGE drug and teen pregnancy problem there, namely because there is nothing at all to do.

    It also helps to expose your kids to culture — something neither of my parents did. Moving out was a pretty big culture shock.

    • That sounds a lot like my hometown. My parents always assumed I’d just stay, so no reason to teach me anything different.

  32. Small ski tourist town in CO, grew up in Chicago and lived in Denver. I will take our acreage and boredom most days over traffic,congestion,crime and a “busy” life. We only have a Walmart, Walgreen and 2 grocery stores. A lot less shopping going on but also a lot less work for my construction hubby.

    • That almost sounds like our town, except we aren’t a ski town, but we do have lots of tourists because we’re close to Mesa Verde. I wouldn’t trade it right now either. Boredom is good at this point in my life.

  33. I have lived in cities for most of my life. I was born and raised in one big city where neighbors don’t know each other, always attending to their busy lives outside their homes and communities. Now we have settled in a quiet, rural town where most people know one another, and some think it’s their business to know their neighbors’ lives. Aside from the latter, I would prefer this simple town to the big city.

  34. I LONG to live in a small town. I spend 2 hours a day commuting — time I wish I could spend with my family. But I also love the work that I do, the range of options for activities, and the energy of a city.

    Any good suggestions for small college towns, close to bigger cities?

  35. Kim, I am in the same situation as you, I too live in a small town of about 10,000. I also have a daughter who is our motivation for staying here. I grew up in St. Louis, and had to wait 40 years to move to a small town, cause I didn’t know what I was missing. I am glad to be here and fully embrace it!

    • I really think small towns are better for raising children. At least they are easier to keep up with when everyone knows you!

  36. We recently moved to a small town and I couldn’t agree more with the points you’ve outlined here. The low crime is awesome of course. The very limited access to goods has been great for us. It causes me to pause, be more purposeful when shopping, planning meals, or dining out (rare!). We enjoy our trips to the big city (especially Trader Joe’s and Costco) and make the most of the family time we spend together. Like you noted, entertainment is a not limited–which is a wonderful cost savings. Great post.

  37. Ha. The town I grew up in was much smaller than 10k. We referred to towns with Wal-Marts as cities. Let me guess, your town even has stop lights!

    My wife and I are in the suburbs now but we plan on moving to a rural area in 5 years when we get all of our debt paid off.

  38. I always enjoyed my small town on the rez. but always enjoyed meeting new people. I went to a big town for education than came home to work. My son lives in a huge city and my daughter a big town. Now I am retired and rent a home. Our neighbors are all white people but they seem okay. We travel 30-90 miles away to go to a Walmart.

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