City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown
“It must be so much cheaper for you to live in the country!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this in the year and a half since Mr. Frugalwoods, Babywoods, and I made the move from ultra-urban Cambridge, MA to ultra-rural central Vermont. The thing is, it’s not true. Or at least, it’s not entirely true and it’s not true yet.
Why Did We Move To The Woods?
We didn’t make this move in order to save money and we didn’t make this move in pursuit of a lower cost of living. We moved out here to our 66-acre homestead because we wanted to. Because we wanted a slower pace of life, a life surrounded by nature, and the time and the space to pursue our hobbies and interests.
It’s our supposition that–in the long run–living rurally will be less expensive than living smack in the middle of a city, but there’s a long, slow slog of start-up costs before any savings can be realized. We anticipated these expenses before moving here as we’d done years of research into rural life prior to purchasing our homestead (you can read the details of of years-long search in my Frugal Homestead Series). Now that we’ve been living the life for over a year, I thought it would be enlightening to outline all the financial differences between urban and rural life.
Please understand that I don’t share these cost of living discrepancies to complain or even to advocate for one way of life over another, merely to illuminate the surprising differences between living in an urban environment versus a rural one. Our decision to live in the woods was deliberate, strategic, and well-researched so we weren’t surprised by the increase in our spending. But, I hear from many folks who assume that rural life is automatically cheaper than city life and I want to detail just how our spending differs from our previously citified existence.
Before I delve into the specifics, I must include the disclaimer that your own personal experience of costs of living will vary based on where in the world you live, the size and composition of your family, whether you rent or own, what your lifestyle is, and a whole bevy of other factors. I can only accurately represent my experience and so don’t be alarmed if your experience doesn’t neatly mirror mine. This is precisely why I don’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to personal finance. Indeed, there’s far too much nuance in our individual situations for such a myopic view. And now, let’s get to the comparisons!
The Elephant In The Room: Housing Costs
The major–and perhaps only–way in which rural life is less expensive for us is reflected in our housing costs. Or more accurately, our mortgage costs. Mr. Frugalwoods and I choose to carry mortgages on both our city home–which is now a revenue-generating rental property–as well as our rural homestead, which is our primary residence.
Our home in Cambridge, MA has a monthly mortgage of $1,978 (including property tax, but not insurance), while our Vermont mortgage rings up at $1,392.86 (not including property tax or insurance) per month. Clearly, we pay less on the face of things for our Vermont home. However, the maintence and upkeep of our property out here costs us much more, a topic we’ll tackle in depth in the coming paragraphs.
It’s also true that we were grossly underutilizing the asset of our Cambridge home by living in it. We rent it out for so much more than our mortgage that living there represented a misuse of that house as an asset. It’s worth more to us as a rental property than it was as a place to live. We addressed this topic of underutilizing the asset of a home in this month’s Reader Case Study, in case you’re interested in exploring the concept further.
For more on our rental property versus our primary residence, check out:
- How We Turned Our City Home Into A Rental Property
- The Finances Of Our City Rental And Country Homestead
- How We Decided Our Homestead Was The One
- That Time We Bought A Homestead
While housing is often the major barometer of a region’s cost of living index, there are so many other variables that impact a monthly budget that I find it too narrow a focus to solely hone in on. There’s no denying that rural Vermont has a lower cost of living than urban Cambridge, MA, but how you get at that lower cost of living is much more nuanced that one might imagine.
The most expensive aspect of homesteading for us thus far is the equipment that’s required to properly maintain 66 acres of wild woods and grow our own food. If you want to live rurally, there are three primary ways to go about maintaining a property:
- You can live on a small parcel of land (with a short driveway), which limits the amount of work you must do.
- You can hire people to do the work for you.
- You can purchase the necessary equipment to do the work yourself.
Since we wanted to live on a lot of land, and since we plan to live here for a very long time, and since part of our goal in moving out here is to enjoy the process of managing land ourselves, we opted for option #3. It’s also true that, in the long run, going the DIY route for our land will be less expensive than continually hiring people to do the labor for us. Plus, a big part of why we’re out here is to do the physical work of homesteading–there’s no fun to be had in hiring out!
Before moving here, Mr. FW and I owned very little in the way of outdoor tools or equipment. People, we didn’t even own a ladder! Building out our retinue of homesteading supplies is expensive and a rather lengthy process since we didn’t rush out to the store and buy everything brand new.
Rather, we’re taking the longer–but ultimately less expensive and I’d argue more exciting–route of sourcing as much of our stuff used as humanly possible. The major challenge with this, we’re learning, is that very few people out here sell perfectly good used tools. Craigslist has scant offerings, garage sales are ravaged early in the morning, and stuff flies off our town listserve in a matter of hours. Nevertheless, we’ve persisted and thanks to some strategic garage sale-ing, Cragislisting, and the like, we have been able to find quite a few items used. My devotion to the used marked is many-fold because…
- Saves tremendous amounts of money–sometimes over 90% off of what the item would cost brand new.
- Often means getting a higher-quality item for much less than a new lower-quality product.
- Keeps things out of the landfill!
- Circumvents the high carbon costs of buying new.
- Is more gratifying to find just the right used treasure than it is to simply buy new.
If you too would like to learn how to buy (almost) everything on the used market, check out: How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting.
I extensively detail the work we do on our land in my This Month On The Homestead series, but in brief, here’s the labor we perform to maintain and improve our 66 acre paradise:
- Fell trees that pose a safety risk and/or are dead and/or are in need of thinning based on our sustainable forestry plan.
- Remove fallen trees from our driveway.
- Fell trees for firewood.
- Buck, split, and stack said wood to be burned in our woodstove, which is how we heat out home.
- Maintain our quarter-mile long driveway, including clearing snow, grading, and repairing ruts/holes.
- Remove snow from around our cars and porches.
- Repair and build culverts to facilitate appropriate water run-off.
- Plant, tend, and harvest vegetables from our garden.
- Preserve and can vegetables from our garden.
- Harvest apples from our apple trees.
- Make apple cider, dried apples, and apple butter from said apples.
- Prune our apple and plum trees.
- Mow the grass.
- Build and maintain hiking trails through our woods.
- General house and barn maintenance.
- Equipment (tractor, chainsaw, mower, trimmer, etc) maintenance.
- Much more that I can’t think of right now…
Some of these activities are elective while others are mandatory, but all of them embody the nature of the life we’ve chosen and we view all of these pursuits as hobbies in addition to necessary to do’s. In order to accomplish these tasks, here’s a rundown of the stuff we’ve had to acquire.
Homestead Equipment List:
- Tractor with attachments
- Pallet forks for tractor
- Lights for the tractor
- A smart plug for the tractor
- Chainsaw safety gear
- Garden tools, such as: rakes, hoes, trowels, and more
- Vegetable seeds, seed starting mix, trays, a grow lamp, and a plant heating pad for starting vegetables indoors (mandatory based on our short growing season)
- Wood splitter
- Splitting axe
- Miter saw
- Apple cider press
- Endless amounts of smaller tools, measuring tapes, nails, screws, etc
- Woodstove tools
- Wood box (found in our barn; Mr. FW repaired and added these wheels)
- Wood storage racks (built by Mr. FW from scrap lumber found in our barn)
- Ash can for safe disposal of ashes from woodstove
- Wood sling tote
- Wildlife cameras
- Fuel cans and fuels for all of our small machines
- Radios to communicate with each other out on the land
- Game sled to hike with Babywoods in wintertime
- Jogging stroller to hike with Babywoods in summertime
- Boot dryer
- Air compressor
- Weather station
- SO MUCH MORE stuff that I can’t remember…
In addition to the equipment of homesteading, we quickly learned that there are some clothing requirements for rural work. We’ve tried to keep this category of purchases as minimal as possible and all of it was actually for Mr. FW (our primary land laborer) save one pair of insulated muck boots and one pair of snowshoes for me.
Let me disavow you of the notion that we look glamorous while working the land–we do not–but there are warmth and safety requirements that must be met. However, there’s no need to buy a whole new wardrobe when you change paths in life. I still wear the same clothes I wore in the city and I definitely still wear the coat I found in a pile of trash several years ago.
Homestead Clothing List:
- Insulated muck boots
- Chainsaw safety boots
- Insulated bib overalls for running the tractor in -25 degree weather (I must note that these were $5 at a garage sale!!!)
- Work pants
- Work gloves, work gloves, and more work gloves. Really, more work gloves than you could ever imagine…
- Bug repellant
- Hearing protection for operating machinery and loud equipment
And this is just the stuff I can remember!!! With each of these purchases, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have dutifully followed our self-imposed rule of waiting at least 72 hours before purchasing. In most instances, we waited much, much longer.
Our modus operandi with buying stuff is to always, always, always see if we can get by without it first. For each of the above listed items, we tried to retrofit things we already had and go the cheap route before capitulating to our need for the more expensive solution.
A great example is our wood splitter, which we waited over a year to purchase. I have the full story here, but in short, Mr. FW split wood by hand for a year before deciding that a wood splitter would greatly increase his capacity for putting up wood. With how unbelievably cold it has been so far this winter, we’ve burned through more wood than anticipated and so we’re grateful that, thanks to the wood splitter, Mr. FW was able to put up much more wood than we need this year. The wood splitter rang in at $999 and, while very expensive at the outset, is an excellent example of a tool that will save us serious cash over time.
City vs. Country
While all of the above enables us to live the life we want out here on our homestead, there are other costs to rural life beyond simply the maintenance and upkeep of land.
In the city, we had access to numerous modes of transportation: walking, biking (which is how Mr. FW commuted to work every single day), public transit, and finally, our car. Out here, conversely, we have only one mode available to us: our cars. Not ideal in terms of carbon emissions or expense. However, it’s simply a fact of life when you live in the literal middle of nowhere. Our driveway alone takes 10 minutes to walk up!
At any rate, before moving here, we knew we needed to own not one, but two reliable cars. As a family of two adults and soon-to-be two children, we sometimes have different schedules and felt the most prudent route would be owning two vehicles–an approach that has served us well. Before moving here, we purchased a used 2010 Toyota Prius (in cash) and a used 2010 Subaru Outback (also in cash). I detail those purchases in these two posts:
In addition to needing two cars in the country, we need two cars that are both reasonably reliable. Back in the city, we were able to scrape by with a junky, 200,000+ mile, 20-year-old minivan that occassionally didn’t start. In the city, it wasn’t a big deal when our car didn’t start because there were plenty of back-up modes of transportation: walking, biking, public transit, ZipCar, etc. Out here, however? The only back-up mode of transportation is to either not go anywhere or to rely on a friend to come pick you up in their car. There are no other options. Hence, we feel it’s responsible to have cars that are more reliable, which is why we upgraded to new-to-us 2010 models (note that we didn’t buy brand new; more on why here).
Our Toyota Prius is our answer to the incredibly long distances we need to drive in order to reach places like the grocery store, the doctor’s office, the dentist, the pediatrician, etc. It’s a wonderfully fuel-efficient hybrid machine and, with studded snow tires, is able to handle (almost all) of our harsh Vermont winter. Quite a few of our neighbors similarly own Priuses as the gas mileage–and decreased environmental impact–can’t be beat. Love the Prius.
Our Subaru Outback is our answer to the sometimes unavoidable need for an all-wheel drive machine. There are times when our driveway–and the side roads in our town–are so ice-covered or mud-entrenched that only AWD will see you through. We drive the Prius as often as possible and reserve the Subaru only for the worst weather or when we need to haul something too large to fit in the Prius. I have to say, I’ve been impressed with how infrequently we have to rely on the Subaru. That Prius does a great job!
We were correct in our suspicions that we needed two cars and there’s really no way we could make it with just one car, especially given the fact that we have young children and refuse to be stranded (either in cases of actual emergency or toddler emergency–aka we must get to playgroup!! parents of toddlers will understand this… ).
Back in the city, we were able to share that geriatric minivan between the two of us with nary a need for a second car. Additionally, we lived in cities for many years with no car at all–truly the cheapest and best way to go!
Hence, our transportation costs–the vehicles themselves, taxes, insurance, gas, and maintenance–are markedly higher out here and our options for transit decidedly limited. The upside is that we get to listen to a lot of NPR while driving.
Another factor I’ll note is that, despite the distances we drive on a weekly basis to the grocery store and for errands, we don’t commute daily, which dramatically reduces our costs. Plenty of our neighbors have a daily 60-mile roundtrip commute to work, which is a cost that should be taken into consideration before making a move to a rural area.
This was one of the only unanticipated increases in our spending. We did not realize before moving out here–and performing several months of grocery shopping–that our food costs would be higher. However, as with all things, more options = lower prices, and we have fewer options out here. In the city, we had dozens of grocery stores to choose from and we shopped exclusively at Market Basket (an amazing local chain with FABULOUS prices and and even better selection) and Costco (a warehouse-style membership store). The dream team combo of Market Basket and Costco enabled us to keep our food spending in the neighborhood of $350 per month for two adults.
Out here in the country, however, there are fewer grocery stores to choose from and, tragically, no Market Basket (I shed a tear). There’s a Costco 1.5 hours away from us and we do have a membership. Mr. FW drives up there every few months to stock up, but it’s not the same as being able to shop there regularly.
We now shop at Hannaford’s, a regular old grocery store with OK prices, and BJ’s, a warehouse membership store whose prices and selection aren’t as good as Costco’s. It’s true that we have a third little mouth to feed now that Babywoods is two years old and it’s also true that I’m currently pregnant and thus eating more than I normally do. However, family expansion alone does not account for the increase in our spending. Eventually, we hope to grow ever more of our own food on our land, but that goal is still a number of years away. But hey! We grew a lot more this summer than we did last summer!
3) The Used Market
The used market–which I waxed about above–isn’t more expensive out here, but it’s less well stocked. I alluded to this challenge above and while it’s true there are garage sales and online buy/sell groups and some roadside trash finds, it’s nowhere near the bounty we enjoyed in the city. I posit this to be the case for several reasons:
- Fewer people live here; ergo, less stuff.
- People are thriftier out here in the country; ergo, they upgrade their possessions much less frequently.
- The city is a much more transient place and, when people move, they often get rid of stuff. People don’t move very often out here.
- Homes (and barns and land) are much, much, much bigger out here and so people aren’t constrained by space in the same way that they are in the city. When you live in a studio apartment, you’re not keeping extra junk around. Conversely, when you live on acres and acres of land, you’re much less motivated to declutter.
- There are fewer thrift stores with smaller selections.
While we’ve found plenty of stellar deals on the used market, there’s no doubt we have to resort to buying new more often than we’d like. I haven’t had too much trouble finding used (or free) baby and kid stuff–a second crib, clothes, toys, etc–for the girls as we have a pretty robust market of people swapping and selling their kid stuff. But the farm equipment arena is decidedly a scantly populated used market. If you live in a city, revel in all the free and cheap used stuff you can source!!!
4) Home Infrastructure
Out here in the country we, and all of our neighbors, are on septic systems and have individual wells for our water. I detailed the nuances of these systems in Frugal Homestead Series Part 5: Well, Well, Well and Frugal Homestead Series Part 6: Septic, The Other End Of The Water Equation, in case you’re interested in gory water-related details. While we don’t pay a monthly sewer or water bill, as we did in the city, over the longterm, it’s more expensive to maintain, repair, and replace septic systems and wells.
While we heat our home primarily via our woodstove with wood we’ve harvested ourselves from our land, many folks heat with either oil or propane, both of which are typically much more expensive than natural gas, which is more widely available in the city.
We absolutely LOVE that we have high-speed fiber internet out here in the middle of the woods, which comes to us thanks to a local cooperative dedicated to bringing internet to broadband-scarce rural communities.
However, be aware that not all rural areas have access to such quality internet, or any internet at all. One of the major prerequisites we had for purchasing a property was access to high-speed internet and the fact that our home has the holy grail of fiber was a significant factor in deciding to move here. We feel so strongly about the importance of providing internet to rural areas that Mr. FW now serves on the fiber internet cooperative’s board of directors.
That being said, we have exactly one choice for fiber internet with exactly one dollar amount. We are more than happy to pay $74 per month for this stellar internet, but it’s a fixed cost that can’t be reduced by shopping around for other options–something that you can typically do in a more urban area.
Real Numbers! What Fun!
This is a personal finance blog after all, so let’s take a look at some real numbers. Since I share what we spend every month in my Monthly Expense Reports, I tallied up our expenses for a year of living in the Boston area versus a year of living in rural Vermont. This is not a perfect comparison since, as we all know, large aberrational expenses crop up in individual years. Over time, I’ll be able to provide a more comprehensive and smoothed-out view of urban versus rural spending, but I’ll need a few more years of data first.
We closed on our homestead in January 2016 and moved here full-time in May 2016. Since we started purchasing “homestead related” items in January 2016, I decided to use calendar year 2015 (January 1, 2015-December 31, 2015) as my urban year. For our homestead year, I chose May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017 as that was our first full year of living on our homestead.
The period of January 2016 to May 2016 was a weird one since we were living full-time in Cambridge but driving up to our homestead almost every weekend. Given this, I decided to eliminate that time period from this side-by-side comparison, but you can check out our spending during those months in my Monthly Expense Reports section.
Another complicating factor is that our first child was born in November 2015 and so our year in the city reflects life without a baby and our year on the homestead reflects life with a baby. That being said, Babywoods actually costs us very little every month since we source all of her stuff used and stay at home with her (thus no daycare costs; although she does now attend preschool two mornings a week).
A Year In The City
|2015 Month||Total Spent||Groceries Only|
A Year In The Country
|2016-2017 Month||Total Spent||Groceries Only|
|September||$10,580.95 (includes annual VT property tax)||$325.63|
Difference: We spent $4,523.79 MORE in our first year in the country than we did living in the city and $2,359.27 MORE on groceries in the country. This despite the fact that Cambridge, MA is regularly cited as one of the most expensive cities in the country, if not the world.
The most significant change in our spending was the cost of our mortgage, which went from $1,978 in the city to $1,392.86 in the country. However, what the above graph illustrates so clearly is that this decrease in housing costs was MORE THAN eaten up by increases in spending in every other category. This is why I strongly caution against using housing as the only barometer in calculating cost of living.
Year of mortgage payments in the city: $23,736
Year of mortgage payments in the country: $16,714.32
If you’re curious how we kept our costs so low while living in uber-expensive Cambridge, MA, check out the following:
Taking The Long View
All that being said, and all those expenses being tallied, in the long run we anticipate a lower cost of living out here in the country. Just about everything we purchase now will enable greater frugality down the road. Performing all of our own wood harvesting (to heat out home via our woodstove), for example, is more expensive upfront as we needed to purchase a chainsaw, chainsaw safety gear (NEVER operate a chainsaw without safety equipment and training!), pickaroons, axes, mauls, a wood splitter, and more.
Over time, doing this work ourselves is vastly cheaper than paying for a delivery of split wood every year. It’s also cheaper than paying a heating bill in the city. Thus, it’s a question of the long game for us.
Another great illustration of how these purchases make life cheaper in the long run happened this fall when Mr. FW changed the snow tires on our two cars himself. Here in snowy, rural Vermont, snow tires for your car are mandatory (provided you don’t want to get stuck) and must be changed twice a year–from summer to snow in the fall and then back to summer tires in the spring. Last year, we paid our mechanic to do this switch-a-roo on both cars. Not wanting to replicate that expense this year, Mr. FW purchased all of the equipment necessary for him to change the tires himself. So at two cars being changed twice a year, a great investment in tools! Our eye is always on these longterm DIY options that allow us to both build our skill set and save money over the years.
Most of the equipment I’m discussing can be used for years (if not generations) and so much of it represents a one-time expense. That being said, it’s a lot of one-time expenses! I note this as a cautionary tale for anyone assuming that a rural life is automatically a cheaper life. Having this awareness has served Mr. FW and I well in our first 1.5 years out here and allowed us flexibility in our budget. We are still in the process of outfitting ourselves for many years of homesteading bliss and so I anticipate our expenses will continue piling up over the next few years. However, I do anticipate a time when we’ll plateau. When we’ll reach that wonderful state of having (most of) the tools and equipment we need and when we’ve carved out an even more sustainable life for ourselves. Until that time, I’ll continue to view these expenses as spending in service of our priorities.
A counterpoint to this longterm reduction in spending are our transportation costs. They won’t go away and will likely increase over time. Not even counting depreciation and the upfront cost of cars themselves, the ongoing expenses of car ownership will always be with us: insurance, maintenance, registration, gasoline, and more. All that to say, who knows? We might end up spending more on our country life than we would have had we stayed in the city. But that economic reality doesn’t change our minds in the least.
Choose The Life You Want
The overarching message I want to drive home today is the importance of choosing to live where you WANT to live. Not where you feel you should live or where you perceive is cheapest. There are plenty of lower cost of living places Mr. FW and I could’ve chosen–other rural communities, the suburbs, etc–but we made a considered and conscious decision to move here. Vermont is not the cheapest place in the US to homestead, not by a long shot, but it’s where we want to live.
We love Vermont’s progressive ethos, the good public schools, the type of land and housing, the proximity to Boston and NYC, our proximity to Dartmouth College, the arts and culture alive in our rural town, the community-minded spirit, the people, our church… the list goes on. I have an entire post devoted to our selection of the Green Mountain state, which you can peruse here: Frugal Homestead Series Part 3: Why Vermont? Life should be of your making. Life should be lived as you see fit, where you see fit. I’m cognizant that there’s a great deal of privilege coursing through the ability to choose your circumstances and I never want to lose sight of how tremendously fortunate my family and I are to have this freedom.
Frugality is a means of enabling yourself to make decisions based on what you want to do, not what you have to do. When you give yourself the unending gift of financial security, you can start making choices with an eye towards your priorities and your values–not what your monthly budget mandates. Free yourself from the shackles of living paycheck to paycheck. Open yourself up to the possibilities that arise when you aren’t beholden to your stuff, your debt, or even your job. The liberation that comes from being able to choose your path through life is transformational and I wouldn’t trade it for all the material goods in the world.
Give yourself the choice of your circumstances OVER a choice of buying things. What Mr. FW and I have discovered through living the life we want to live, where we want to live it, is that our lives are now infused with gratitude. When people ask if our frugality makes us feel deprived, I’m taken aback: how could we feel deprived when we do what we want, where we want, with the people we love most? Deprivation isn’t any part of this equation. Rather, a recognition of abundance surrounds us daily.
P.S. I WROTE A BOOK! I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!? My book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.
Where do you live? Do you love it or are you plotting a move?
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Thanks for such an in depth post. I always assumed rural living would be way cheaper than urban, it’s cool to see the break down. It sounds like anywhere in the north east is crazy expensive haha. Puts Nashville cost of living in perspective 🙂
Yes we love the low cost of living in TN.
This is a great post! I think I live in one of the least expensive areas: small midwest city with major university, which comes with the added great dumpster/curbside diving finds! Life on a homestead would include major start-up costs for many years if we were to relocate to more, rural land. I assume I’d find more and more “optional” hobbies to expand my spending. It’s great to build a frugal life with flexibility and savings.
state capitals tend to offer the best of all worlds – Raleigh & Columbus come to mind as 2 of the ‘cooler’ ones.
This is an excellent example, thank you for sharing! We live in the country and certainly reap the benefits of less expensive line I tems in some areas, but like you note, other areas come in at a higher cost than our previous HCOL area home.
Ultimately, our move to the country was not a “cost move”. We craved the autonomy, adventure and lifestyle that permeates the area we live in. And unlike our former location, it is a home/hometown we can see ourselves residing in for years to come.
Great breakdown Liz. I would hazard that the cheapest cost of living would be in small/mid-sized towns, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ve spent most of my life living in major cities (Baltimore, San Francisco, Abu Dhabi), with a few exceptions. Currently thinking about a move to a small-ish town in the Czech Republic, but my wife is nervous about it. We’ll see.
In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed how, well, thorough you were in your analysis! I’ll be sharing this in a few personal finance groups I administer on FB, and perhaps with our mailing list as well.
I used to live in a super small town (population 4000) – my rent was very very inexpensive, and I walked to work. However, the grocery costs involved local/expensive/not very good produce or 40-50 mile (round trip) drive to larger stores. (Highway driving, so not terrible on my car). There was also no public transit to speak of, not even a taxi. It is also, as Mrs FW notes, much easier to source goods in the city, even in a small city like where I live now (around 250 000 people).
Great topic and I appreciate the breakdown. You’re right that some of the start-up costs will have a good ROI over time as you’re able to grow more food and manage your property yourself. Even if they don’t produce, they’ll last. I’ve wondered if the used goods market would be quite different in the country vs. the city. That’s great you’ve still found some deals on used goods, but I imagine there is a higher demand and smaller market for some of the big-ticket pieces of equipment you’d need for your rural property. Based on your break-down, it seems like it hasn’t been that much more expensive to live in the country, considering this is your dream!
Oh wow this is such a detailed analysis! It should be super helpful for those who are considering city v. country life.
I have to admit that I had the misconception as many people that living in rural areas is cheaper than living in the city.
I have lived in cities pretty much all my life. But I have Bern thinking about rural life once hubby and I retire.
What would housing costs look like with property taxes and insurance included and then also separated out? The property taxes in Texas were a complete shock to me when we started the process to buy our first home. We don’t pay state income tax, so they gotta get you somewhere! It’s a huge factor when I think about moving somewhere now.
Liz – Excellent analysis as always!
We’re FIREd in downtown Philly which has turned out to be cheaper than the burbs because we downsized as part of moving. We also can walk or bike to most places that we want to go so we use our single car a lot less.
Beautiful photos, the first one just took my breath away!
I’m surprised the cost of the difference is that high! I thought it would be less expensive to live outside of the city than inside (having lived in expensive cement jungles my whole life…) so this was an eye opener!
Transportation for me is why I don’t want to live in rural areas. I do love cheap public transit. Everything else that comes along with woodsy living, sign me up!
Unfortunately my husband is terrified of spiders so he’s giving me major NOs. Oh well, maybe next life!
Haha, there are indeed more spiders out here, but we consider them our compatriots in fighting off the wasps and flies :)! (this from a former HATER of spiders)
Ha! This made me laugh. I’m pro-spider all the way. I don’t want to touch them, or make friends with them or anything, but when I see them, I’m all “hey Mr. Spider, you stay over there on the ceiling, I’ll be over here, and you just make sure you eat all the mosquitoes this summer, okay li’l buddy? Thannnnks.”
Great post. I grew up in a rural community and yes, the car expenses were absolutely necessary. When I moved to a city, it was a real eye-opener that I didn’t need the car expense anymore, and had cheaper options for internet, groceries, etc. I always assumed city living would be more expensive because the housing was so costly. I sure do miss having big trees and two ponds in the backyard though… no more free ice rinks in a tiny suburban backyard!
Great post and thanks for sharing the numbers! Ironically, I live in a pretty good-sized city and still only have one choice for high-speed internet, and I also pay $74!
One thing I think that you’re forgetting that’s lower cost in the country is the fact that you live a much lower stress life. Lower stress will cost you less over your lifetime in healthcare costs and just mental anxiety. Even people who love living in big cities don’t realize that the constant noise, pollution, low-level smog, and lights cause levels of stress & anxiety that are higher than being in a natural setting.
Great points!! Mr. FW and I talk about that a lot–the lowered stress and the absence of pollution, etc–but I didn’t think to mention it in this post. I recently heard about a study on the BBC on how living close to traffic decreases life expectancy. Certainly something to think about! Thanks for bringing it up!
Super interesting! I also think this comes down to personal preference. For example, I have a sister who loves downtown living in big cities and I think it would be very stressful for her to live in the middle of nowhere. Generally speaking though, I agree with you. There are so many stressors in city life that are constant and it’s easy to forget they are even there.
I think that depends on your life circumstance and personality…. As some who did live in the “country” for about a year, I gained 30 lbs, became severely depressed, and emerged from that year so badly shaken it took years to recover. I love to visit that place and home still (I was living in a family home), but found that living there year round was too stressful as a single woman. I enjoy my visits, but I enjoy leaving for more populated areas.
Very impressed by the clear breakdown that frugality isn’t about choosing the cheapest life, the cheapest place to live, etc. It’s about crafting the life you want in an optimized way that makes you happy. Thanks for sharing your details!
The old rural vs urban debate…..I’ve been telling people for years that living in London, UK isn’t as expensive as you think. Cities have many more free and budget priced cultural offerings – I could go to free things each day. Transport is much cheaper in cities, it’s only housing costs where there are compromises to be made.
Great article subtly makes some interesting personal finance points.
Be cognizant of highest and best use of an asset – i.e., Sometimes makes better financial sense to rent a property than to live in it.
Wait at least a few days before making a significant purchase to minimize impulse spending.
Sometimes it’s not ideal to be super frugal with your car. Reliability at some point takes precedence.
We noticed the increase in grocery cost when we moved from the Dallas area to East Tx almost 25 years ago. We also went through the same type of “gearing up” cost when we bought our 150 acre hay farm. One expense that was dramatically reduced almost immediately was our entertainment cost. In the city most gatherings with friends were around some activity or event. In a more rural environment, the gatherings are typical at someone home to play dominoes, a board game or just to have a friendly dinner. And I must say life got richer as the people became more important than places.
Well, that was an unexpected result. I would have guessed that country living was cheaper. I’m very curious how this will look in a few years once all the efficiencies have been realized. This is certainly a lesson that the grass is not always greener.
Thanks for breaking down the numbers! I’ve always figured living further from civilization was a tradeoff with extra costs (transportation, equipment, etc.). But it comes down to whether you find country vs. city living right for you. It can often be worth paying slightly more (not significantly more, though) to live where you want to live.
Interesting to see the comparison. As you were prepping for the big move to the country several years ago I was thinking “it might not really save that much $$” which is probably more a reflection of my bias toward city living over country living. Good to see it’s about the same and should trend down now that you’ve bought much of what you need in terms of big equipment (though the periodic replacement stuff will get you for sure!).
I feel like city living in a place with moderately priced housing (aka not in the northeast, nor DC nor coastal regions of the US west coast) will net the lowest overall cost. Here in Raleigh we have 8 grocery stores (including a Costco!) in a 1.5 mile stretch and some of those are walkable from our house. Super duper competition for prices and running to the store is a 5 minute car trip or 25+ minute walk. So much is walkable so we burn a tank of gas every 1-2 months (and transit is free for the kids and cheap for adults at 1.25/ride). Entertainment is cheap, high quality and often free (scored $500 worth of free tix to the state ballet company 10 mins from our house and even found free parking 1.5 blocks from the theater).
My extended family is from the rural part of North Carolina and from frequent visits up there I know what country living is like. The whole “going to town” concept – get provisions at a reasonable price in town because you might not be headed back into town for quite a while! The alternative is paying $$$$ for convenience items at the nearest gas station (if you’re lucky enough to have one within a reasonable distance) and I imagine the craigslist and freecycle opportunities are nowhere near as great as in the city as you suggest.
This was really neat to read… We moved out to the country for about 3 years, and while we likes the quiet and privacy, it was more expensive and the upkeep took up all my husband’s free time. Every penny we had left after bills went to repairing things, upgrading things that were unsafe, the upkeep on the well and septic was never ending, and my husband spent an entire full day of the weekend mowing just to keep the grass down enough to wear our daughter could play outside without worrying a rattlesnake was hiding in the grass (which they were). We moved to the city almost 4 years ago, and while it’s still a very small town, we loved being on city water and hearing the trash truck come every Monday to take our trash so my husband doesn’t have to spend the time loading it and hauling it to the dump every weekend. It takes him 30 minutes to mow the entire front and backyards, and we are two blocks from an amazing park. I also love that my kids can ride their bikes on pavement, they couldn’t even ride bikes on the Rocky dirt ground where we lived. We would never trade city life for country life ever again, and we have money and time to go places and see new things and explore with the kiddos, which is really where our hearts are at. It was nice to see from this post that we aren’t the only ones who experienced a more expensive and time consuming situation out in the country, your place is beautiful and I’m sure it’s exactly what works for your family! Ah the financial freedom to be able to decide how you want to design your life. It’s a beautiful thing! 🙂 love your blog!!
Thank you for sharing your experience! And I just love what you said, “Ah the financial freedom to be able to decide how you want to design your life.” YES! That is it exactly 🙂
We must be on the same wavelength! My post today is about how living in the city HELPED us pay off all our debt! We love the country too but we’re die-hard city dwellers for now!
Living on the edge or rural and suburbia here I wrote something similar a while back. Honestly I wouldn’t trade where I live for anything. But even the extra emergency equipment we keep is an added cost. Your home may be cheaper but you pay more in other areas.
Very interesting analysis! I am always amaze how you analyse situations in details!
The only thing I disagree with is your presumption that it is going to get cheaper in the long run to live in the country. Doing this myself for more than 15 years now (after many years in a big city), I can say that this is not the case! First of all, teenagers are way more expensive than little ones and it is becomes more and more difficult to dress them/equip them/stimulate them with second hand stuff since they grow up so fast and have their own stubborn taste:) Second thing is that all those equipment required to live in the country are not eternal… you will inevitably need to replace them one day or another… In my experience, as soon as you thing next year is going to be cheaper, some appliance or tool break and you need to replace it, juste like you said, with fewer and more expensive options because you are far away from everything!
So my point is you could expect that yours living costs will not decrease significantly before your kids will be raised and independent:)
Which doesn’t mean living in the country is not worth it if this is what makes you feel happy!
You were always so disciplined with your spending that this wasn’t an issue for you, but for us I find that since we moved to a more rural area, with much less in the way of restaurants and stores, we are more easily able to not spend in these areas. Along with much more affordable housing, it has been super helpful for us. I am very interested to see what your expenses will look like after these start-up costs dissipate!
Yes! When we moved up here, HR told us that the COL was 30% lower than living in New York City, and we’ve found things to be absolutely comparable. Part of it was that we lived in NY for ages and knew where to get things cheap and free, but part of it was definitely everything you’ve mentioned above. The biggest difference for us is that we were able to purchase a house (even studio apartments in NYC felt out of reach for our budget), but especially when we were renting, things were the same, if not a little more expensive in Vermont.
We went from renting an enormous studio in Brooklyn with a washer dryer for $1750 a month and paying about $250 a month in transportation costs to paying $1300 for a much, much smaller place in rural Vermont, plus about $600 in transportation costs (we bought a new car, which I know is a big PF no-no, but was absolutely the right choice for us), $100 in storage fees for all the things we couldn’t fit into our newly downsized home, and $20ish for paying to do laundry out of the house. And, as you mentioned, our grocery bills went up as we lost access to our reduced-price market and worker-managed coop. We’re so glad to have made the choice, for lots of reasons, but affordability wasn’t one of them!
Gas here in my adorable country town in the Hamptons: $3.59 a gallon.
A half gallon of Tropicana orange juice will run you nine bucks.
I’m seriously thinking of getting Blue Apron for dinners several times a week because it will save me money than buying ingredients locally.
On the plus side, I save on take out because right now, there is only pizza, and even though I dislike cooking, even pizza gets old after a time. Our local Chinese place closed a couple years ago so I can’t even get Chinese.
Never thought it would actually be more expensive !
With three older kids, I am glad we live in the city (transportation, entertainment, schools, activities). I grew up in the country and it was fun when I was very young but not as a teenager. it’s not just about the money.
I love that you wrote this article. Over my life, I’ve lived in the country, small town, suburbs and city. They all come with their own costs, lifestyle implications, pros and cons! Many assumptions are made about one option being better or cheaper.
Glad you were so detailed in your research and it’s worked out for you.
One note on the supplies needed for the country life, even though you had to purchase them, you didn’t have to pay to move them all to VT. We were fortunate to have my in-laws provide us most of our yard and garage items when they downsized, but now we need to move them from place to place. It’s probably not that expensive but the labor aspect was huge for us.
Thanks for the numbers and detailed analysis. I’m surprised about the grocery bill. Then again, I don’t know where/how I assumed groceries in rural cities would be cheaper. Maybe from hearing broad generalizations like “OMG everything in the Bay Area is so expensive compared to XYZ city”.
I like the reminder of choosing where to live first and then figure out the finances later instead of allowing things like states with no state income tax drive the decision of where to live.
Have you found that knowing your place in Boston is still available has also given you peace of mind? If you ever decide to move back to an urban life?
We moved to New Hampshire from Atlanta, and we found the country also more expensive. We also moved parts of the country, so we had to account for that as well, but groceries are dramatically more expensive in New Hampshire (and New England) than they were when we could shop at our local Aldi’s. Preschool and property taxes are other expenses that cost (or did cost) a lot more. But New Hampshire is beautiful and the outdoor attractions can’t be beat! Plus the public schools are awesome!
Of all the places I have lived, the inner suburb of Washington DC was the most frugal place I have lived. I know, I know, the housing prices. But we had two teenagers and only one car. The competition between grocieres were Phenominal. the yard sales were to die for ( got a complete full year sears mix and match wardrobe, which was like garanimals in the old days for five dollars minus shoes and undies for my six year old). The public services like county facilites were excellent (things like soccer were 20 bucks for a year), and there was literally more free cultural entertainment than anywhere else I have lived in the world!
thanks for trumpeting the pluses of the DC area – as a lifelong private sector worker, I am often asked why I’ve lived here for 30+ years – it’s the economy, stupid! Ain’t nothin’ like a world capital’s resources – it is wealthy in many ways. Since I mostly bike and bus, I am immune to most of the traffic woes – and I would be more concerned if we didn’t have traffic woes – does anyone really want a lifeless, unvibrant, static US capital??
Very interesting analysis! We recently moved into a slightly more suburban location from a very urban area, and we bought our own house (whereas we rented before). We were prepared for the increase in costs due to necessary home repairs, etc., but were surprised by two changes in our expenses: 1) The ladders, tools, yard stuff that you mentioned (we thought about the big stuff like lawn mower but not those smaller items) and 2) That our food expenses are much less. Previously we often traveled by foot to shop, as the closest store was only a block away; now that we shop less frequently, we’ve seen our costs go down considerably.
Thanks for the great post! I think another big factor in the cost of living is the culture of the place. 2 years ago, I lived in a college town with great culture – there were great community events (both free and paid), fantastic restaurants, and a good Craigslist community. Now, I live in a larger city with a “bland” culture, rarer community events, and generic chain restaurants. Due to this, I have saved more money in the larger city simply because I tend to stay home more! (despite it being more urban)
I would love to hear more about your decision to choose two cars versus one. My spouse is moving to my city soon, and we are considering whether to downsize from two cars to one. Were you able to manage OK with one car in Cambridge? How did you resolve time conflicts?
We found that one car was more than sufficient in the city because of all the other options for getting around: walking, biking, and public transit. We walked most places as a family, my husband commuted to work by bike, and the car was mostly used for my work commute and going to the grocery store. It is a HUGE cost savings to only have one car and I can’t think of a time in the city when we felt like we needed two. However, if you have kids, the variables might change. You could always try it out with both of your cars and keep a careful log of how many times you actually use both of them at the same time. Then, sell the second car if you don’t need it!
Thanks for the suggestions! I think we will try at first with two cars as you said, and hopefully we’ll find that we only need one 🙂 I commute by bike right now, and only use my car about once a week anyway,
Great post! We live in one of the most expensive housing areas of the country. (Coastal So. Cal). Not moving, though I think about it.
I realize that other things are more expensive “elsewhere” – like heat or AC, neither of which we use much here. But it’s hard to argue that most other places would be cheaper when our 1100 sf starter home was almost $800k.
Wow on the cost of the starter home! On the positive side, coastal southern California is absolutely gorgeous! I think if I lived there I would seldom want to travel because it is so beautiful!
Marcia, I tend to agree. Our starter home in LA would fetch 4-6xs what a similar home would cost in a rural location. The free avocados in the backyard don’t make up for it 🙂
While there are a lot of free cultural opportunities in the city, there are also a lot of tempting activities that wouldn’t exist elsewhere. My kids have access to a dizzying array of camps, sports, and lessons, but it doesn’t come cheap. Same for amazing restaurants. None of this is even remotely required, but I find it a lot harder to resist than buying stuff.
This post opened my eyes to a lot of costs I hadn’t even imagined, though!
I have never had a mortgage over $600 my entire life (almost 58 yrs old) so I really do not know what it is like to have a HCOL in regards to a mortgage. I did live in a larger city when (okay, I know, Jackson, Mississippi is not a big city to y’all but it is the biggest one I have ever lived in…lol) I was 23 to 28 years old. My mortgage there in 1987 was $444 a month, for a two bedroom one bath house built in 1950. I moved from there to a 2870 sq ft house in northern Mississippi for $600 a month. I have lived in various rural places around Alabama and Mississippi, from $250 a month to the $500 a month I am currently paying on my house in a very small town. I am trying to pay off the mortgage of $37,000 early, which is why it is $500. Chicken is cheaper in the rural towns near where I live (I can find it on sale from 49 to 89 cents a lb) but eggs are much higher…go figure However, groceries, other than chicken, are cheaper in the largest town around here that is about an hour and a half away. The electric bill is the same, it is the same company. Houses are much higher, more than double what they are in this small town. Gas is much cheaper in the bigger town ($2.20 a gallon) vs $2.59 here. I did the math and concluded that if I bought a similar house to my $37,000 house in the larger town, it would cost me $100,000. I would also have a much longer commute to work, since I do not plan to give up my job down here near where I live (20 miles) away. I guess I would prefer to retire to the larger town, but even then, I am not sure. I cannot figure out what I want to do with my life when I grow up, so I just stay put, in the interim…lol. P.S. I like my house and fairly large back yard and front yard. I am always afraid of jumping from the frying pan into the fire, which has happened in my life before.
Great analysis! I live in New York City (and I know you did, too!), so I have some things to say, haha. I agree that moving out of the city isn’t just about cost, and should never be about that alone. When I visit my mom in the country I definitely notice a few things: ethnic groceries are much more expensive (even something common like soy sauce), the used market game sucks, with the exception of thrift stores, and of course, driving somewhere for 30 minutes means you’re in a totally different town. It’s like a “day trip.” Although here in NYC, travelling for 30 minutes means you go a few miles on the subway. I’ve always thought there were plenty of city amenities that actually DO offset costs (free events, cheap transportation, more competition so cheaper food, higher salaries), but the one big cost is housing. If you can hack the housing factor, then I think city living can be alarmingly on par with more rural places.
I think any kind of lifestyle change involves certain expenses. For example, when we moved to Colorado 19 years ago, after living in Texas all our lives, we had to purchase a bunch of winter clothing (boots, coats, sweaters, hats, etc etc) that we had never owned before, as well as snow tires, snow shovels, a snowblower, etc, etc. etc.
What a fascinating and extensive post! Thank you so much for spending all the work to pull all these things together. I think, like you, that rural life will eventually get cheaper, but there are real start-up costs that need to be considered, for sure!
Thorough and great comparison, I was definitely interested to find out the end costs. I can agree, the start-up costs of going more DIY is upfront, but over time it is far less expensive. We live in NJ with no plans to move out of state any time soon. It is considered an expensive place to live via home costs and property taxes, but we enjoy living by the beach and DIYing everything. We live on far less than most around us, so we know it can be done anywhere. Maybe one day we’ll rent a small apartment as a home base and then travel, we’ll see! I would love you to share your learning journey on the homestead on my podcast, The Lifelong Learning Podcast, if you’re interested!
Thank you for such a deep analysis and a very good post.
We moved from inner city to the suburb (with a huge meadow in the backyard), and started with similarly increased costs. However, now that we installed the solar panels, rainwater collection and only energy saving LED lights, we are now down to similar costs of running the house. We are still fighting the increased cost of transportation and most importantly, increased times of transportation but having switched to a hybrid, and working from home we are making some progress there too.
I can’t agree more that it’s totally worth it! We can afford the lifestyle and it is the most important for us.
I wanted to ask about the forestry management plan: can you share more details about it?
Thank you so much for this post! You mentioned growing more of your own food. There is a book that, for you as well as for me, is a must read if you want to grow healthy food on a very tight budget: Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliant Gardening. This is not your average vegetable gardening book. Bonsall lives and works daily in exactly the way he recommends to readers, and I have learned so much from his writing even after 20-plus years of growing food and almost 20 years making a living as an organic landscape gardener. It’s been worth the investment as a reference book and a great read. I think you would find it so as well.
Enjoyed your article. We love Vermont and would have loved to have lived there but it is very expensive compared to the mid west. We vacation in Vermont. It has high real estate taxes, income taxes, and taxes on investments. Groceries are more also. We live in the country because that’s where we want to live and not for financial reasons. Yes, you have to purchase the stuff to maintain etc. But it is worth it. We raised two children here and they also prefer the country. We enjoy less stress, freedom to do what we want on our acres. We have a large garden, orchard and hiking trails. It costs us more to get to things and appointments, takes more time also. Our Meijer grocery store is 15 miles away but it is great. Church is 20 miles away so we do not go to all of the activities. We like it also because we could raise our children and teach them the way we wanted. They are doing very well in life. It is also much quieter in the country. We have a well in a spring and the quality of this water is much better than the cities around. It may cost more but the quality of our life is much higher than in the city and you cannot put a price on that. Enjoy Vermont.
Love this post! I live directly across the Charles River from where your rental property is, and, as a single woman, I am a die-hard city dweller. But it’s still possible to live frugally, even here. I’m lucky because I bought my apartment 40 years ago, before Boston real estate prices went completely crazy. I have no mortgage, minimal monthly living expenses, minimal transportation needs (beyond the MBTA), and am completely happy with fairly modest ‘luxuries,’ which actually do abound here (free Shakespeare on the Common every summer, anyone?) The best thing in life is to have no money worries.
Great write up. I agree that it is more expensive in the beginning. I moved to a rural area 4.5 years ago and my expenses only started to go down 6 months ago. I have a short driveway, which is less expensive to maintain, but does have its downside. I live in a beautiful place in the Rocky Mountains that gets a lot of tourist traffic in the Summer. I woke up one morning to a family eating their breakfast on my deck while enjoying the view. Another guy blocked my driveway for hours so he could ride his bike nearby. The best yet was a lady who trespassed while I was out. She peaked in the window to my workshop and saw a handsaw hanging on the wall. She had only seen one in a horror movie so she called the sheriff to report a serial killer! The sheriff came out, saw the saw and told her what it was used for and then told her she was trespassing. By the time I got home, only the sheriff was there and we had a good laugh about it. City people… 😉
Oh wow! That is bizarre! Sounds like you could do a brisk AirBnB business! We definitely don’t get any unexpected foot traffic out where we are–we’re way too rural for tourists. Although we do have a fair amount of wildlife that comes and hangs out near our house 🙂
That’s great! I moved here for the wildlife. My closest “wild” neighbors are a bear that has a den toward the left side of my property, a fox that has a den dead center up the mountain from me, and a mountain lion that has a den to the right side of the property. We have all figured out how to get along over the years.
Holy cow! The people having breakfast on the porch beats all…what did you do?? I would have freaked lol. What gets into people to inspire them to go eat breakfast on someone else’s porch?
Do you have a gate with a “Private Property” sign? Would only need it during Tourist Season 😉
This was my experience with rural RI. I was living in a family home on the beach… its beautiful but people are pretty aggressive. I’d have people parking in the driveway, or blocking the road altogether. People would snoop in the windows and would see nothing wrong with relieving themselves on my neighbors lawn. Private property and no trespassing signs don’t apply to them evidently! In the summers the road association needs to hire a guard to staff the road to keep out cars and tourists.
I lived there a year and found the constant influx of strangers combined with the desolateness in the winter plus the distance to anything substantive (20 minutes to town where there was a general store and a pizza place) proved to be difficult.
I now happily live in a university town on the North Shore of Boston and have never been happier. 🙂
Not surprised the costs were similar! However, I am surprised you didn’t detail the lower “food & entertainment” costs in the country. I would expect you guys probably don’t eat out as frequently (or get takeout) as often as you might in the city.
You probably spend a lot more time entertaining yourselves on your land now. Granted, you were pretty frugal in the city too!
Great post btw!
Yeah, the key is that we didn’t eat out, or get takeout, or pay for entertainment in the city either!
There are definitely trade offs to the costs of city and small town living. We live in a small town and pay substantially more for groceries, we always try to buy a bunch if we are in the city. That said, there are fewer places to spend money living here, there’s no real shopping, unless you have an affinity for sporting goods and snowboard Ts!
Another upside is that while we have a solid number of restaurants to choose from, they never change their menus really, so we’re bored with going to them now.
I feel like if we lived in a city, we would have different pressures on our money. Fewer people would be into multi-thousand dollar bicycles, but there would be more events to go to, both free (with opportunities to spend) and paid.
This is an excellent study! I live in the best of both worlds- A small home in a rural town with lax codes. I can have a big garden and a clothesline but we can get by with a shovel for snow. My husband commutes ~35 minutes to a “city” and takes advantage of the competitive grocery pricing there.
I like your point about the availability of secondhand merchandise. I have all but quit thrift shopping except when my travels take me to college towns. I will say that although our local Craigslist leaves much to be desired, our estate sales and farm auctions are awesome.
We would like to move to an acreage eventually. But we are under no impression that it will be less expensive! Our motivations are similar to yours.
Don’t forget to use the wood in your nicely stacked woodpiles! I.e., rotate it regularly, as rotten wood is not useable in your wood stove (a waste of time, energy, and money)!
Oh, no danger of that happening here!
Fascinating post! I am curious about how you ensure that your supply of home-grown firewood won’t get used up over the years? I often wonder if warmer climates have lower costs of living. I am in PA and the overall cost of a cold winter adds up, including heating, gear, equipment, and pricier fresh produce. It can be disheartening!
We are fortunate that Vermont is a heavily wooded state and on our 66 acres we have, easily, hundreds of thousands of trees. According to the US Forest Service, we could sustainably harvest 120 cords of wood per year on our 66 acres and still have plenty of trees! As it is, we harvest circa 3 cords of wood per year :). Additionally, we sustainably manage to encourage new growth trees by removing dead/dying trees to allow the baby trees to sprout. If there’s one thing we have a lot of out here, it’s trees!
Thanks for such a detailed post! One thing I have always loved about your blog in particular is that you really emphasize doing what is right for you, but doing it in a frugal way. You don’t always advocate aggressively pursuing the cheapest options out there.
My husband and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis right now, in between our jobs and our families. We could move to a location where we could both bike to work, but it would put us farther away from our families. Spending time with our parents is a high priority for us, so we found a home that is close enough to work that my commute is only a 20 minute drive, and also only 30 minutes away from both of our parents. Balance.
I moved to the country and have kids about your kids ages (pregnant with #2 now), we also moves to rural maine from a city about the same time as you. So it’s fun to read your blog. Do you feel like maybe a truck would suit you better than your Subaru? We have a minivan and my husband gets a car through work. I want to get a prius but I do haul things sometimes like soil and lumber with my van so I’m hesitant. I just learned about this organization called VBikes that helps Vermonters use electric assist cargo bikes to combat the car culture. I think you guys would be great ebikers!
Another thing people don’t think about I’d the lack of a close restaurant or store to get forgotten items. My in laws live about 25 minutes from the nearest store which means that forgotten sugar can be had from the corner CVS. 25 minutes isn’t bad, but that lifestyle means you gotta be organized when you do your shopping trips and do an inventory beforehand.
Also, when it comes to snow tires, you really should invest in another set of rims. If either of your cars has aluminum alloy wheels, taking tires on and off can damage the rims and over time cause leaks. If they’re steel wheels with hubcaps, it’s not a problem but for alloy wheels it is. You can get a spare set of rims at places like TireRack for inexpensive, and the plus side is it makes changing from snow to all season tires a breeze. The only downside to switching wheels as my father in law experiences (rural Central PA life and he DIY his own car stuff too) is it can throw off the low tire pressure sensor (NBD, just be sure and check the tire pressure manually).
Yep, we have rims! Totally worth the expense 🙂
Hi! Great post which will undoubtedly be of great help to many. I just tripped over an insurance hack that I picked up from one of the You Tube video blogs on homesteading. This particular couple has grown children so that may be an issue for those with small children. Anyhow, they have two vehicles – a car they use when necessary and a truck that is 15 plus years old that they only use when they have to haul something in or out. They have a deal with their insurance company where the truck is taken off insurance most of the time. When they have to use it, they call or e-mail their insurance company and the insurance goes back on for one day or however many days they need. Then another call or e-mail and it’s off insurance until the next time. I don’t remember you ever posting anything like this, so thought I’d pass it along. It may be a big save for someone.
I am always impressed with how thorough your posts are. Thank you for doing such an in-depth analysis! It’s a topic I never would have thought of, but when I read the title I thought “Why, yes! I would love to read about this.” You are an inspiration to me as a writer!
no state income tax is a real plus along with lower real estate prices and taxes and lower sales taxes=FLORIDA!!
Funny you should say that dotti, because I moved from Vermont (yes, I am that rare breed, a native Vermonter. Mrs. Frugalwoods can tell you what that means in Vermont lol) to Jacksonville, Florida about a year and a half ago. I moved here because my fiancé had lived here for 25 years and everyone told me how inexpensive it is to live in Florida. Actually, I have found it MORE expensive to live here. My car insurance increased from $99.00 a month with full coverage to $170.00 a month with slightly less coverage. This is will extremely low mileage used and the state of Florida designating me a “safe driver”. Reason? Florida’s no fault insurance laws. I cannot depend on public transportation to get to where I need to go, so being without a vehicle is not reasonable at this point. My rent of
$800.00 a month is equal or a little higher to what I would pay in Vermont and
Cooling costs of Summer equal out with heating costs in Vermont. I find food to be about a wash as I mostly shopped Aldi’s in both places. I will say that the public libraries in Jacksonville are wonderful and a great resource, but other than that, I find it just as expensive to live in Florida as Vermont and a heck of a lot less enjoyable and pretty. Working on my honey to move back to Vermont and become Snowbirds.
We moved from one mid-sized city (Richmond VA) to a slightly bigger one (Orlando FL) last year, and overall our cost of living has gone down. We paid cash for our home here after selling our Richmond condo–it’s in a highly desirable neighborhood so we made money. There’s no state income tax, and we get a HUGE break on property tax since this is our primary home. Once we get on the budget plan for electric and water that will ease things too. Groceries are about the same. And the winters are MUCH more pleasant. 🙂
What about the Market Basket store in Claremont, NH, just down the I-91? That’s where my folks shop (who live near Springfield, which is admittedly further south), and Google maps gives the driving time from your town to Claremont as one hour. (Even if that is optimistic, it may not be that much further away than the Costco.)
Unfortunately, it’s actually more than an hour from us and not worth it to us to do a two-hour round trip every single week. We only go to Costco about once every four months! We’re not big fans of long drives if we can avoid it 🙂
Great post and analysis! We’ve generally been country dwellers with a few escapes for graduate school and jobs. Back in the country for good now in Maine. Definitely higher food costs here (we just have Hannaford or Shaw’s) even though we try to grow most of our veggies and beans for the year. We’re on year 3 of the garden, I think that by year 4 we’ll be close to that goal again. You will get there as well, I highly recommend eating as seasonally as possible. Really changes you outlook on food on cooking. You will oh so appreciate your garden veggies when they come in! We do manage to get most of our tools used and are always on the lookout for those side of the road deals on wood chippers and splitters. For me, living rurally means much less temptation to spend money. I rarely go in any store besides the grocery or hardware store and having to drive a distance limits those trips. And I found out I can go overboard in the hardware store! Interestingly I will impulse by in a store that I don’t online. The waiting period online works well. Our yearly spending is right on track with yours, but I know we are not as frugal and that gives me focus to get it down for 2018! Thanks again.
So many thoughts on this!! Mostly because I’m just a few towns over on the NH side and because my husband and I have analyzed this topic for ourselves a ton. The Upper Valley is truly a hidden gem and I think that you end up paying for it in higher cost of living than some other rural areas. I grew up in a very rural town on the Canadian border in NYS where the average home price is a ~$60K. I think you could find similar cost of living in northern VT/NH/ME, but that’s also due to the lack of jobs and infrastructure. A far cry from the surrounding towns of Hanover, but like you say, we do get access to good quality healthcare for rural parts and the arts & culture that the college brings to the area. We moved back east from Boulder, CO area about 6 years ago after college/grad school because my husband’s parents live in central VT, we love the summers here, and it was one of very few rural areas in the mountains that we could get jobs in our fields because of the college and great startup environment around Leb/Hanover. After renting in Bradford because we were priced out of Hanover/Lebanon/Lyme/Thetford (my husband hadn’t secured a job yet), we found a house that we loved in Orford. We looked for a property that hit one item on your list: didn’t have a driveway so long that we would need all the equipment to maintain it like our own private drive! I really envy some of the families and our friends who have been in this area for generations and have parents or family members with a plow or tractor who are willing to come plow your driveway out for peanuts, but we would have paid a good sum for it! Now we have about 3 acres, a manageable driveway (that my husband plows with a hand-me-down snowblower). Anyway, I keep hoping we may see you around sometime! Maybe an Upper Valley frugal meet up (that may be entire communities of people) is in order.
Thank you for chiming in! You make great points about the Upper Valley and we really do love it here. Good point about healthcare too–I’m very glad I get to go to Dartmouth for my OB care and the birth of our second baby. I love the idea of an Upper Valley frugal meet-up (although I think you’re right that it would include pretty much everyone here :)!!!). So glad to hear you’re loving it too! Feel free to shoot me an email and we can get together (email@example.com)
I’m a fairly frugal urban dweller and am not surprised by this (excellent) post. Just as you can choose where you want to live, you can choose HOW you want to live.
I love this breakdown! We love in the city but do the urban homesteading thing as much as possible. Food and heat are the main categories that we save money. We grow a lot of our own food in our yard and on a plot that is a community garden on steriods. Bigger than a pea patch type of set up, this community garden is where we can grow big crops. We don’t pay because my boyfriend helps with managing the garden. It is however a ton more work and time. The payoff is knowing what is in our food and how many people have touched our food source. This is especially true for meat. We raised meat chickens twice now and it is way more expensive, but again the quality is rarely matched in store bought meat. Time, you must have time to manage land and home. We both work full time currently and it is a challenge, but helps us streamline our process to continue the yield of food. Always a learning curve. We too have a woodstove as our main source of heat. We get our wood from a friend that has a tree service. This is a win/win because then he doesn’t have to pay for dumping and we get wood! We purchased a splitter this year and we love, love, love it! It has been one of the best purchased this past year. We maintain our oil furnace and use it when there are burn bans. There are trade offs to each lifestyle choice, but we enjoy the work at this time in our life.
I’ve lived in the country for a very long time. Sooner or later, most people come to understand that they do not own the land. It’s the land that owns them. If they are wise enough, they learn to let the land be.
Great topic. I live in a very small town out in the country and I can say the only thing that is cheaper right now anyway, are my property taxes. The cost of housing here has sky rocketed with no end in sight-equal or greater than housing costs in the city. This has become a very desirable area to live and there is a short supply of available housing so costs have risen dramatically- I am sure property tax increases are not far behind. I am fearful of having to move because I am simply priced out.
Groceries do cost much more in the country and the selection is slim- bread is never fresh.
The trick to living in the country is planning- you have to plan ahead for everything. You cannot get in your car and drive an hour every time you need an item. You also must be part of the community and be friends with your neighbors- you should always be willing to share a cup of sugar when needed by a neighbor- you just saved them a long drive.
I have two adult children that were raised in the country and I can say from experience, you will be living in your car driving them to/from all the activities teenagers want/need to do. The upside is they can practice soccer or baseball in the huge yard you have anytime they want-no need to go to the nearest park. Another upside is fewer people means less chance of getting in with the wrong crowd-as long as you keep them active in positive things they will love where they live. At the time, I wondered if I would survive one more car trip but I can say I do not regret raising them in the country at all- in fact I think it gave them many more opportunities than they would have had otherwise. Small schools mean less students which means your students get to do more things- they actually make it on the basketball team and into the choir. I know students in the city that have to compete with several thousand students to participate in anything.
Living in the country is not cheaper but the quality of life is amazing and I would not trade it for anything
We bought 7 acres in 2016 and moved from a townhouse in a city to a very rural community about 4 hours away. It’s been a big adjustment but we definitely made the right decision for our family. We knew there would be expenses but weren’t quite as prepared as you and Mr. FW. However, we’ve been able to get along just fine and were able to make some money off our property last year, which helped offset the expenses. We have bigger plans for 2018 and love learning and developing our homesteading skills. Congrats on your book and the impending arrival of baby #2!
I’m just curious what’s different, in your experience and opinion, between Market Basket and Hannaford. I live in Maine, and I’ve shopped at Hannaford for twenty years. What I love most about Hannaford is their conscientious sourcing of products from local farmers and producers. We have local butter, local meat, local produce, local beer, local wine, Maine-produced flour and other pantry items (salsa, mustard, and salad dressing, etc.), local condiments, local cheese, and even local soft drinks. Hannaford also has the distinction of having one of the largest selections of organic foods in the Northeast.
I understand that your goal is to be “frugal”, i.e. save more money. I, too, wish to be frugal, but I’ll spend more money on my food to buy it from local vendors and be “frugal” with my carbon foot print, which is lower, because my food is produced closer to home.
A Market Basket store opened near my house. It’s about the same distance to MB as it is to Hannaford (in the opposite direction). I was not impressed with MB enough (not their selection or their prices) to make the switch, and they don’t pay the same amount of attention to sourcing local foods as my Hannaford stores do. Perhaps it’s different for you, in Vermont?
I’m just curious why you call Hannaford “a regular, old grocery store”, but Market Basket is something else.
We live in Honolulu, HI! We lose on groceries, housing, and travel (if we ever want to see our families). Big wins on clothes, transportation, and entertainment.
Hardly ever buy clothes (just one season; also a relaxed, “aloha” vibe about outward appearance here)
Drive ancient cars about 8,000 miles/year (we live on an island, nowhere to go!)
Entertainment=potluck at the beach
Electricity is so expensive! But we live in a tiny condo and never use AC or a heater.
Thank you for this interesting post. I enjoy reading your story. I have lived in rural area for 34 years and raising children became an important consideration in the financial balance. Particularly as they entered teens with increasing independence, need for own transport and engaging in school and social activities. Then comes tertiary education and the need for each child to move, usually to a city. As a parent I want to support my children and the added expenses of living away from rural home needed to be factored in. I have watched similar families move back to medium sized towns as kids reached teens and this resulted in lots of benefits for the families, like more access to friends, social activities, public transport and part time work. Its good to consider different future options and as you say have a financial buffer.
I love your tractor.
Thank you for this post! As someone who has always lived in rural settings, I got a bit aggravated that people always assume my cost of living is negligible, but I never have been able to do a great breakdown and explanation like this. It’s so true that cars, equipment, lack of resources, etc., all drive up the cost of living in “the country.” I don’t ever want to live anywhere else, but at least now, when someone tells me that I “cheat” in my frugality by living cheaply in the country, I can point them to this post.
Haha, yes! Happy I could help :)!
Great, in depth post. Nice mix of math and philosophy!
Yes, you need to account for EVERYTHING when considering where you want to live, not just housing. There are so many things to consider. Especially as you go from one climate to another. Essentials for a cold climate area are so different compared to a warm climate.
It really all comes down to what you want in a place to live, which can involve more that just costs. You need to consider the community and culture too.
We currently live in a relatively HCOL, urban area in the UK and I totally get what you’re saying about the used market being great. Last week I picked up a used but great condition microwave which would have cost £100+ new, but the lady just wanted to get rid because they had installed a new kitchen, so she gave it to me for free. Nearby there are also multiple charity (thrift) shops which have fantastic, almost new adults and kids clothing – I just saw a brand new children’s raincoat, never worn, pretty expensive brand (around £30 new) going for £3 in my local store. People with lots of money don’t seem to mind throwing out perfectly good, expensive stuff! Win for me!
My husband and I moved from NYC to (somewhere between suburban and rural) upstate NY a decade ago, and we found a lot of the same things you did. Yes, housing and even many everyday items are cheaper up here, but there are a lot more necessities, especially going from a rented apartment to a house: two cars, a snow blower w/ gas for the driveway, home heating, a lawn mower (w/ more gas), home filters, a water softener w/ supplies, etc. But we’re much happier here, so it’s definitely worth it.
Nailed it. Rural living, if you are into cost savings, takes a bit more planning. We have a huge advantage of the home place having been in the family forever. We were the inheritors of 5 generations of stuff so have the luxury of shopping the shed before we buy anything. Everyone knows everyone and if you need a new to you piece of equipment you just start asking around and voila, options present themselves. There are some huge advantages to not being the newcomers in the area, more respect because of familial recognition and access to all that stuff.
don’t forget to factor in the additional costs and hassles of flying when you move to a rural area – you’ll pay more for airfare to/from smaller airports (less competition), make connections, or drive further to access larger airports. My friends in VT fly into/out of Montreal in order to gain cheaper airfares and more destinations.
Love this post. Its right up my alley. We currently live in the city of Richmond VA and my work place which I own is 1/4 mile from my home which I also own. A long commute is not an option in my lifestyle, and I consider 20 minutes long. While I can see from the photos that my home is a miniature in comparison, I admit we are making the same silly mistake in not renting it out and purchasing another one to live in as you have. Currently we are tied up in that department.
Live the life you choose is such an important statement. A Socrates quote comes to mind “The unexamined life is not worth living” this is a statement I live my life by and this blog is a great example of some of the ways that can be done.
Thanks for the interesting post. I’m curious about why you didn’t include your VT property taxes in your cost analysis? By my estimate (as someone who lives in Cambridge), it would bring your house expenses pretty close to even, or possibly make the monthly expenses on your VT house greater than your Cambridge home. Property taxes in Cambridge are comparatively low, and as a tax rate are about half of most towns in VT. What was your reasoning for not including them, or did I miss something?
I did include our VT property tax–it’s reflected in the $10,580.95 spent in the month of September. You are right, property tax is expensive here, although we’re happy to pay it! I will make a note in the post that it’s included that month in case others are also wondering.
Ah! It’s right there in the chart. Missed it. Thanks!
Great comparison. I have only lived in the suburbs and now in the country on a 2 acre lot. City life looks more fun for young people. It does not seem ideal to raise a family. There are more cultural events and diversity living in a city. You spent more living in the country, but it was not apples to apples. You now own a lovely 60 plus acre farm and had to spend some money on equipment. It is hard to compare what you now have to living on a city block.
Great post. Like any comparison of this type it is going to be an apples and oranges type. You moved to rural to get more land and with that you got less shopping and more driving etc. but had you wanted rural but not lots of land you could have cut many of your costs. Of course you were shooting for a lifestyle and that brought most of the extra costs with it. I did a little looking and here are how Mass, Vermont and Arkansas compare in that order. Electricity: 16.89,14.36,8.15 Gasoline: 2.609,2.661,2.364 Natural Gas: 13.32,10.37,10.66 House:384k,289k,172k Groceries:14.95,16.18,16.89. I consider the geoarbitrage of locating a high paid career in a low cost of living area was a key part of achieving FI for us. I’m still living in the only home we’ve ever owned and it was an eight mile commute from my job for my entire career. Cars were an extra cost but my job provided me a free car and gasoline so we only had to have one car that we had to pay for.
Good to know! Thanks for the in-depth post!
My wife and I plan to go from city to country in the next 2-3 years. We can’t wait! But…it might be more expensive…at least at first!
Very interesting post! My fiancé is always trying to convince me to move to a more rural area. I can affirmatively say that it’s not of interest to me. The amount of work and the increased expenses is just not attractive for this city girl.
However, I enjoy reading about your adventures in the woods and will be stopping by again!
You made the first move towards self-sufficiency but here is my advice to you. Sell you rental property in the city and use the equity to pay down or off your country place. We are on the door step of financial Armageddon and nothing can stop it. We have a wholly corrupt money system run by the private bankers of the private Federal Reserve and if you believe they care about the 99%, you believe in a complete fantasy. The Fed is trying to bring down the world economy. None of what I’m saying is just my ideas. There are legions of true economic experts saying the same thing and have been for years.
The best advice to you readers is to pay off all debt as quickly as possible. Store as much food as possible. Get out of all paper investments that you can, including 401(k)s (pay the early liquidation fees – some money is better than none), buy gold, silver, guns, ammo, medical supplies; anything you can imagine that you will need when no stores are operating.
Yes, this is coming and is inevitable. The US is not too big to fail; the USSR was much larger and failed. Venezuela was a middle class country whose people are now killing zoo animals to survive (read about this on theorganicpreppercom). It was brought down by SOCIALISM and we have a large number, though not majority, of people believing that the blatantly failed tenets of socialism is the answer. Wake up, everyone!
We moved to a remote little town in New Mexico for my husbands job and it’s an interesting mix of rural and city because of the national lab nearby … housing prices are through the roof and bidding wars occur regularly (we bought ours during a slump so we consider ourselves fortunate). There are two grocery stores and a farmers market so I feel the competition has kept the main grocery store prices down, and if I shop the sales I barely notice a difference. But there is only one internet and cell phone provider that works, so you’re stuck with their rather high prices. On the other hand the city has free transportation during the week (if you’ve seen Parks and Rec … we’re totally Eagleton) and free concerts, National parks everywhere, a tripped out Rec Center and splash pad … so overall, despite being warned about the high house prices and limited choices I think we spend less than we did in the bigger city we lived in before this. And because of the mountains we enjoy it so much more (we’re both wanderers at heart but I think we’ve finally found home base😊).
Rural life is even more expensive since the costs of the wood-burning stove, gasoline consumption, hardware, etc., are not really captured by the price. I adore nature more than most (heck, I’ve a PhD in ecology), but I would have a hard time stomaching the carbon-intensive lifestyle. Love the pics though.
This is the first time I’ve been on your site and I have to say that you have an absolutely stunning property – especially in the fall. I’m looking forward to getting my family into a less stressful and slower-paced lifestyle at some point too. Congratulations on the new baby!
Truly great article. The photos of your property are stunning. Initially I was surprised that your costs were higher in rural VT, but i guess that’s a typical assumption by an urbanite such as myself. It’ll be very interesting to see how much your costs come down in the next several years.
Thanks for this post and for your book, which I just finished reading (I got it from my local libary, no bookplate needed!) I love reading about all the various ways to approach frugal living. I’m a frugal professional mom in an expensive major city and sometimes I feel that I could/should be spending less, but costs associated with where I choose to live (a large progressive metro area) are worth it to me. Very cool to see that is also true in Vermont. You have a reader (and fellow personal finance blogger) here for life!
One thing that isn’t included in the “cost of living” here is income. When you compare income that can be made in the City vs. income that can be made in the Country, it further skews the numbers towards city living. The primary cost that is cheaper in the country is Housing. Everything else is typically more expensive as the Frugalwoods illustrate. But wages in the city are much higher than in the country.
People who do my job out in the rural areas of my state typically make 2/3s or less than what I make (although lately that margin has been narrowing).
I was thinking about writing a post on this topic myself! Thanks – I’ll be reading this thoroughly.
Love your site a d stories.
My brothers and I were fortunate to have frugal parents so we all became financially independent very young.
I escaped the US 20+ years ago and now split my time between a 6 acre farm an hour from Quito and a home near Lake Chapala México. Wonderful weather, fresh cheap food, world class medical and dental services and little government interference make for a wonderful but incredibly inexpensive lifestyle. You need patience to live in either location but the overall result is better than anywhere else I’ve found in my 63 years of living and traveling through 36 countries.
Look outsude the US for a better life. I started with an organization called International Living but I’m sure there are others out there. Since living costs are 1/4-1/2 of the US combined with a $70,000 income tax exemption, earning a living abroad is a lot easier than most people think.
Just don’t plan in moving back into an expensive area of the US.
If you are going to Hannaford’s and BJ’s you must be within striking distance of the Upper Valley … go to Market Basket in Claremont (NH)! MB has the BEST price+selection combo anywhere. And on the way stop at Stern’s Produce in WRJ. Now living in “big city” NC and am continually amazed at how much more we spend on grocery staples–despite the bigger market, choice, and competition–without those cornerstone stores.
We have found the country life was more expensive at first, but after the first couple years (and initial, large one-time purchases), the cost started to decrease as we learned about using our garden and fruit trees to sustain us through the year. Also, we spend less more often because we don’t want to actually make the trip into town where we used to live within a few miles of our shopping.
I live in a 1 bdrm apartment, No Car.
Downtown Las Vegas, NV
$ 200 food and non food supplies.
You make a good point. One is that there is less quality “used” available where you are. We live in the Bay Area. There’s a lot of used available here but if you go to a store like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, you pay top dollar. Generous people often pay it because they feel good about helping Goodwill and the Salvation Army. A year ago, I saw a desk chair with one arm missing that cost $20. I almost did a double take but have since stopped doing these, lol. My 2 cents: realise that everything you buy has a “shelve life”. It doesn’t go bad but shelve life also means that you won’t use or like it any longer. This is true for about 90% of what you and I buy. Plan your purchases. This is not just about saving money but more about saving the environment. There are gazillions of dollars yet there is only ONE earth: what is worth more? Only 65% of items deemed recyclable in the US are recycled because the US doesn’t have the capacity …..