Cost and Lifestyle Comparisons of City versus Country Living
Considering making a move to the country? Maybe you want more quiet days, or you want to reduce your spending. Or maybe you just want a change in the pace of life. No matter your reasons, relocating to the country extends beyond the romanticized images of open pasture and long, remote dirt roads.
For purposes of this article, I’ve used the U.S. Census Bureau’s definitions of rural and urban areas.
“Rural” (country) areas are defined by the Census Bureau as places that are “sparsely populated, have low housing density, and are far from urban centers.” And usually, have less than 2,500 people.
“Urban” areas are defined as having 50,000 people or more (an “Urban Cluster” has at least 2,500 people and less than 50,000).
While 97 percent of the U.S. is considered to be rural, the vast majority of people (more than 80 percent) live in urban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Moving to the country is more than just a scenic change. It can be an adjustment to your finances and lifestyle. Housing, employment, income, and community are a few of the big categories affected with a move to the country. Here’s a glimpse of what you can expect with this transition.
Housing costs are generally going to be lower outside of urban places. You can expect to save on your monthly mortgage in the country, and therefore, maybe even pay it off sooner than if you were living in the city. A 2016 report from the Census Bureau stated 44% of people living in the country owned their homes with no mortgage or loan, whereas only 32.3% of people living in an urban area owned their homes. The report also mentioned the following housing costs:
Country median housing cost: $151,300
Monthly mortgages in the country were $1,271
Urban median housing cost: $190,900
Urban monthly mortgages were $1,561
This is where making the move from city to country living can get tricky. For those looking to retire the question of employment isn’t so much an issue. But if you are still in your working years, having options of where to work and having the ability to meet your income needs is a significant deciding factor.
The USDA’s recent report states, “Rural America includes 14% of the nation’s population, but has accounted for only 4 percent of employment growth since 2013.”
The USDA report also states that rural employment rate numbers have seen only .5% growth per year (with no change in 2012 to 2013 and 2016). And unlike urban employments rates that have seen 1.6 percent growth each year since 2009 and are 8.2% over their pre-recession numbers, rural areas are still 1.8% below their pre-recession level as of last year.
Why are jobs lacking in rural areas? Well, one reason is that population size plays a big part. As the report says, “jobs follow people” and people also follow jobs. A significant part of the population living in the country is from the baby boomer generation, so rather than looking for work, they are looking to retire. This means fewer people working, which eventually means less need for jobs.
The good news? More and more companies are beginning to offer remote work as an option for employees. Country living could likely mean working remotely, also known as bringing a job with you to your new home.
While you might save on housing, moving to the country could mean you make less than what you were making in the city. In 2017, the median earnings for adults in rural areas with a bachelor’s degree were making nearly $12,000 less than those with a bachelor’s degree in an urban area, according to a USDA Rural Education report.
Here’s a deeper dive into those median income differences based on country and city living.
High School Diploma
Less than High School Diploma
Aside from income, employment, and housing, another element worth considering is community. Moving to the country does not have to mean losing community and feeling isolated. You can definitely move to a rural county and still have a strong support network, just like you can live in a big city and feel lonely.
One thing worth mentioning is that the median adult age in rural areas is 51-years old. Urban areas? 45-years old, according to this 2016 Census Report. While not a major difference in years, it does mean rural areas tend to have older people.
Another item to note is rural counties make-up nearly 85% of the 1,104 counties that have more than 20 percent of their population 65 and older. To put that another way: There are a lot of retirees living in rural counties, which could be a big bonus factor if you yourself are a retiree.
This primarily includes regions that are scenic and nearby to bigger cities. Making places such as the Appalachians, Upper Great Lakes, Texas Hill Country, and Rocky Mountain West ideal spots to retire. And retirement destinations like these are gaining popularity – 58 percent of rural counties saw increased populations between 2012 to 2013 and 2016 to 2017.
Smaller Scale Day-to-Day Changes
Living in the country could also bring with it limited options for grocery shopping, higher internet costs, and delayed mail/packages. But having fewer options of where to get groceries and which restaurants to dine at is an appeal for some people wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of a city.
Will living in the country save you money? When it comes to housing, most likely. But it could also mean taking a reduction in income and working remotely. Like many of life’s big decisions, it’s worth doing your research to gather an idea of what moving to a rural county could mean for your finances, especially when it comes to employment and income.