Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I always thought of escaping and pursuing adventure elsewhere. I think this is a common dream for everyone, regardless of where they are from. It’s not about escaping the small town; it’s about leaving the nest and setting out on your own.
What no one ever talks about is how refreshing it can be to live in a small town. I’m a city girl. As I said, I grew up in Chicago’s suburbs, and then I lived in Los Angeles for the first ten years of my adult life. I now live in a tiny little town in rural(ish) Pennsylvania. Although it’s not perfect, there are many benefits to living in a small town that you don’t always consider.
The Benefits of Living in a Small Town
The sole reason I moved here is to save money. I wanted to find a place to live with a low cost of living to help me achieve my FIRE goals. When a great job opportunity opened up in rural Pennsylvania, I jumped on it.
Home prices in my area average $100k. I was able to buy a fixer-upper for half of that. I bought the home in cash and basically eliminated most people’s number one cost. Of course, most people can’t afford to drop 50K on a home, but they could probably afford a 100K mortgage far easier than they could afford a mortgage or even rent in larger cities.
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Something I didn’t consider about moving to a small town is how walkable it is. Outside of going to work (which is a few miles away from the town I decided to settle in – in another small town), I don’t really need a car.
There’s a small grocery store a few blocks away where I can get all my weekly groceries. The post office is down the street. There are also three small bars, a convenience store, a pizza place, a Chinese take-out place, and a sit-down restaurant, all within walking distance.
Obviously, the resources nearby will vary based on which small town you choose to settle in. I regret not finding a small town with a coffee shop, for example. However, most will have at least a few places nearby where you can get your basic needs met.
And the great thing about these nearby places is that most of them are locally owned! The pizza shop across the street isn’t a Dominos or a Pizza Hut. It’s a small business owned by a member of the community. The restaurant isn’t Applebee’s or Olive Garden; it’s also a local small business. Even the grocery store is a Pennsylvania company rather than a national company.
It’s nice knowing that I’m putting money directly into the local economy every time I go to one of these places.
Another bonus about living in a small town is that smaller towns’ crime rate tends to be lower than that of large cities. People can feel safe walking down the streets at night (though I never recommend leaving the doors unlocked, no matter how safe you feel!).
However, you should know that this isn’t always the case. Some small towns near me have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. Homes are falling apart, and crime is rampant. If you are considering moving to a small town to escape the crime of the big city, do your homework. Make sure the town you move to has a thriving main street and isn’t falling apart.
One thing I noticed immediately about living in a small town is how friendly the locals can be. I’ve lived in a lot of places and moved around a lot. Moving to this small town was the first time I’ve ever received a neighborly welcome. During my first week here, my neighbors stopped by to welcome me to the neighborhood with fresh baked goods – a “welcome to the neighborhood” basket that I thought was a myth.
However, it is also true that the locals are cautious of visitors and newcomers. It took a while for the customer service workers at the local restaurants and stores to warm up to us. But now that we’ve been here for a while and have established that we’re regulars, they are a lot more comfortable with us.
That being said, it’s not perfect. Although most folks are outwardly friendly, there’s still a sense of not fully belonging. More on that when we talk about the disadvantages of small-town life!
Close to Nature
Another great thing about living in a small town is that you are close to nature. I live about a twenty-minute drive from portions of the famed Appalachian Trail, and one day I will be able to hike more than a quarter-mile of it without literally dying. There are also many rivers and lakes for kayaking, mountain hiking trails that can also be used for biking, and all the outdoor activities you could want, all within easy day trip driving distance.
However, not all small towns are close to the same type of nature. Small towns in the Midwest are probably closer to cornfields, and in the southwest, they are probably in deserts. My family lived in a small town in central Illinois for the longest time. Although there were cornfields as far as the eye could see, there were still many options for natural activities within driving distance (Illini State Park was pretty close, as was the Kankakee river).
Other Considerations of Living in a Small Town
Although these six things really making living in a small town worthwhile, they aren’t the only things to consider when deciding where you want to live. There are other things that you need to consider before moving to a small town, such as how people survive and make money.
How Do People Survive in a Small Town?
And this was the first question I asked myself before moving. As a city girl, I couldn’t imagine surviving in a town that was just a few blocks long. I can literally walk from one side of the town to the other on Main Street!
How will I enjoy all the things I’ve come to rely on living in big cities? The food at all hours, the nightlife, the being able to do whatever I want whenever I want?
I soon realized, however, that I never actually cared about those things. Sure, it can be convenient, but it really isn’t the end of the world. All of your needs can be taken care of in a small town just as easily as in a big city.
How Do People Make Money Living in a Small Town?
The biggest hurdle to moving to a small town is the jobs. Big cities are where the best jobs are. Although you can find work in small towns, it is generally limited to low-paying service positions or manufacturing work (which is slowly being replaced by automation anyway). However, a few sectors generally have jobs available in or near any small town – healthcare, education, and sales, to name a few.
Additionally, some folks choose to live in small towns that are within commuting distance to larger cities. I live near Harrisburg and Reading, both cities with far more industries than my small town. Both are about a 45-minute commute.
With the shift to more remote working opportunities, the idea that jobs are only available in cities might be changing.
If you are interested in moving to a small town to save money, you should absolutely try to find a good job working remotely. Various industries are shifting to online work, like information technology, graphic design, project management, even teaching.
What is the Best Small Town to Live in?
You will find thousands of articles trying to sell you on what small towns are the best places to live. But the thing is, the answer will be different for everyone. And those reporters definitely did not visit every small town in the country to come up with their list.
To figure out the best small town for you, you need to determine your motivations for moving to a small town and your needs. Are you looking to save money? Then maybe your biggest consideration should be median home values. Do you need to be near enough a large city to commute there for work? Then you probably don’t want to move to a very rural small town.
Many small towns aren’t even that cheap. Jim Thorpe, Pa, for instance, is a small town fairly close to where I live. Nestled in the Poconos mountains, it’s a gorgeous little hamlet full of small-town charm. However, it’s a tourist town and quite expensive compared to a lot of the surrounding area. But if you’re planning to move to a small town to be close to nature and have a little bit of bustle and don’t care about cost, a place like this might be ideal for you.
Disadvantages of Living in a Small Town
Living in a small town isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. There are plenty of disadvantages, and before you decide to move, you should weigh both sides.
As a foodie, it hurts that I can’t get any type of food I want. I was spoiled living in LA. All types of good food were just a short drive away! Now, if I want Indian or Vietnamese, I have to drive to either Harrisburg or Philadelphia. The food scene here is severely lacking.
Thankfully, there is a Japanese restaurant in my small town, so I can at least get Hibachi and sushi. But other than that and the Chinese place, there aren’t any ethnic restaurants nearby. If you’re a foodie who loves to eat around the world, it’s something to consider.
The culture and values of people who live in small towns tend to be different than what you will encounter in a city. As a person who lived in cities my whole life, this was quite a shock to me. Most people are actually nice and neighborly, but I still often feel like an outsider even after I’ve lived here for a few years.
The town I moved to is very religious, and as a non-theist, I didn’t join any of the local churches. Unfortunately, this is where most people congregate and make friends. People notice when you don’t join the church group and either try to convert you or become distrustful of you. Thankfully, most people have been outwardly kind. But I definitely feel a sense of community in the town, one which I am mostly excluded from as an outsider.
I can only speak to my experiences as a white person. Although I can’t know for certain, I have a feeling that if I were a person of color, my experiences here might be vastly different. No one has said or done anything racist, but they haven’t had the opportunity. And I’ve seen enough flags on enough houses to deeply question how some of my neighbors would behave if I were a person of color. I didn’t realize this when I moved here, and this is the number one reason why I don’t want to stay. I don’t want to live in a long-term place where I can’t trust the majority of my neighbors to treat every human with dignity.
On the plus side, there is an Indivisible Chapter working in my county, giving me hope. There are people here who want things to change and are working hard to progress things here in this county.
We talked above about finding work in a small town. Although some industries always have openings regardless of where you work, they are indeed limited. If you aren’t able to find remote work, your job opportunities will be sparse.
Retirees looking to downsize to a cheaper cost of living area won’t have to worry about this. Neither will folks who are in high-demand industries or who can work remotely. However, not everyone has these options. Some are in industries that demand in-person work, and if your industry is not available in a small town, you might be out of luck.
Another negative about living in a small town is that the public schools aren’t always as well funded as they are in big cities. This means that you will have to be very careful about which small town you decide to relocate to if you have children.
That’s not to say that all small towns have terrible schools. Some have much better schools than you will find in certain suburbs. When my cousins moved to Central Illinois, they had a much better schooling experience than they had in Chicago. There’s a small town near me with one of the top-rated school districts in the state! It’s no coincidence that it’s also the most expensive small town in the county.
However, not all small towns are created equal. If you have children that will go to public school, do your research on the school districts before committing to any particular town.
Enjoying my Small Town Time
I’ve lived in many places. Although I won’t say that the small town I live in now is the best place to live, it definitely has its advantages. I’m glad I moved here, despite some of the issues I have with it. I’m saving a ton of money, getting fresh air when I walk to the store, and able to enjoy a lot of nature that I didn’t get when I lived in California (though I do miss living on the coast!).
Small town life has its charms. It’s also not all that different from city life if you think about it. As John Mellencamp (who, by the way, also sings the hit song “Small Town”) says:
“Well then, there, Diane, we ought to run off to the city,” Diane says “Baby, you ain’t missing nothing”
If you aren’t a nightlife person and aren’t in a career that is only based in big cities, you aren’t missing much by living in a small town. And because you can save so much money, it’s worth checking out.
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