Are you one of tens thousands of Americans planning an exodus from the big city? As more and more people are considering a move due to the availability of an increasing number of remote jobs and work from home type positions that have resulted from the pandemic. If you are considering leaving an urban area for rural region, you might be surprised to find out “the simple life”, as one 80s rock band once said, “ain’t so simple”.
The transition to rural life comes with lifestyle changes for which most urbanites as well as people that live in “denser” suburbs are unprepared for. There are also certain household expenses that may increase as well as decrease, so be prepared for a different cost of living. Here’s what you need to know if you’re going to thrive where the air is cleaner, the stars are brighter… but where life isn’t always easier or less expensive. In fact, try a cost of living calculator as well as salary calculator to determine what you may earn (and spend) living in a suburban/urban area vs. rural.
1. You’ll have to bring your own job
If you’re not taking advantage of your company’s new work-from-home policies that may have been started during the pandemic (or that existed beforehand) and just want to get away from urban areas, be prepared for long commutes and scarce local employment opportunities. Unless you work in the trades (construction, for example, as explained in a few moments) your options will be slim and pay is less than competitive. The employment gap is often reflected in poverty levels, and the USDA reports that poverty in rural areas is the low 16% while poverty in metro areas is around 12%. Read more here. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/rural-economy-population/rural-poverty-well-being/
2. Housing is scarce
If you dream of living in a town you’ve frequently visited for getaway weekends, find a place to rent (or buy) before you put your current home on the market or give your landlord notice. Homes in vacation destinations once rented out to year-round tenants have, thanks to the popularity of popular vacation rental platforms VRBO and Airbnb, been taken off the housing market. Many rural homes are also in disrepair, and a 2018 Housing Assistance Council reports that rural homes have two times as many deficiencies, including issues such as water and plumbing. Find details on free home repair programs that can also benefit rural communities.
Many rural locals who moved to the city for jobs–and lost them in the pandemic–have returned to live closer to family. The lucky ones found housing through personal connections, and, of course, there are a lot of people just like you competing on the open market for places to rent or buy.
Are you buying bare land? Construction professionals and planning agencies in rural areas are in high demand. That means you might not get your driveway, septic systems, power, internet, and home set up for months. Take this into account when you’re planning interim housing.
3. Be prepared for limited services
Rural residents often don’t have the disposable income to support the amenities urban dwellers enjoy, and logistics make everyday services more scarce, unreliable, and often more expensive. The National Conference of Sate Legislatures reports that rural communities have 37% more residents without broadband/high speed internet access, and that was a huge challenge during the pandemic and also year round. Rural hospitals have also been closing, and each doctor in a rural community needs to care for about 50% more patients due to this shortage according to the NCSL.
4. Access to retail stores
In the city, variety and competition work in your favor. In rural areas, grocery stores don’t have the best selection of dry goods or fresh produce. This is particularly important if you prefer organic foods, or you need to maintain a specific diet. Due to lack of competition and the costs of bringing food in from distant distributors, expect to pay about 20% more for food and household supplies.
As for clothing, electronics, and other necessities, be ready to spend a lot of time shopping online; most rural economies can’t support specialty shops. Or find thrift stores near you, which rural communities are known for. Support local businesses whenever possible, but save up and plan to make all-day or overnight trips to outlets in larger cities. Invest in an extra freezer and upgrade your refrigerator, and prioritize pantry and storage space for stocking up.
5. Lack of local medical care
If you need regular medical care, a simple appointment with a specialist could be an all-day event thanks to travel distance and road conditions. Most regional hospitals, even those affiliated with larger healthcare networks, have limited services. Even within your county, you may have a 40-minute trip to an emergency room–from where you may need an airlift or ambulance trip to a trauma center or surgery specialist in the nearest city.
In fact, about 20 rural hospitals are closing per year according to Beckers Hospital Reviews. About 60% of Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) are in rural communities, and consider that rural areas account for ~17% of the population. Rural residents are about 20% more likely to have medical or dental insurance, which some experts say is correlated to employment barriers. For these reasons, rural residents tend to put off potentially serious health issues, contributing to a higher mortality rate.
Check with your insurance policy to make sure you’re covered for long-distance emergency transportation, and shop around for supplemental insurance if you need to bridge any gaps. Or find other medical bill assistance programs and health care. Be sure you have coverage for hotel stays and mileage for yourself and your accompanying family or friends.
6. Fewer school services
While certain laws require that school districts provide programs for special needs students, that care might be miles away with fewer available places. There’s no reason to expect lower education standards, though; there are as many wonderful teachers in rural areas as there are in the suburbs or city.
Rural school districts might have less funding for sports and after-school programs, so if you’re interested in giving back to your community, booster clubs are a great way to get involved.
Your student will have a ways to travel to school, and the nearest bus stop might be a trek. Be ready to get up earlier in the morning to get them where they need to be, and set aside extra time in the afternoon to pick them up.
According to the Bureau of the Census, the proportion of adults in rural towns and communities with a college degree stood at about 20%, which is about 1/2 of the rate of urban areas. And, as noted, whether right or wrong, college graduates earn about 1 million dollars more over a lifetime than someone without a college degree according to the Social Security Administration. Read more on college degree vs. high school.
7. Unreliable utilities
Power plants may be tens of miles from your new town, and above-ground transmission lines are vulnerable to weather and accidents. Damaged underground cables and lines can cut out communication and power service for entire communities. Be prepared for multi-day outages, especially if you need to keep medications refrigerated and life-saving machines operating.
• Invest in a generator large enough to power your essential appliances, and learn how to safely use it
• Have a backup source of heat. Most mountain and country homes use propane or wood heat as a secondary source.
• Before renewing your cell phone contract, ask locals which carrier works best in your new town.
• Plan on purchasing a high-quality signal booster if cellular service is spotty in your area.
• Ask about local internet speeds, and whether your area will soon benefit from government-sponsored upgrades.
Current satellite providers have a bad reputation in rural areas, so opt for cable services if you have the option.
8. Few entertainment options – more substance abuse
Unless you’re moving to a posh resort town, plan on driving to the city to see that big blockbuster in a theater or for a nice, quiet dinner that’s not “bar food”. You’ll probably fall in love with the local breakfast diner but miss your favorite sushi bar, Thai restaurant, or food truck court.
On the other hand, bingo nights at the local bar, church, or senior center are highly underrated. High school sports games are a big deal. And even if you’re already an outdoor sports enthusiast, you might find it worthwhile to pick up new activities like snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, foraging, kayaking, snowmobiling, bass fishing, antler shed hunting, or birdwatching.
The lack of entertainment can be reflected in substance abuse statistics. Opioid use is 100% higher, on a per capita basis, in rural towns and communities than in cities per the CDC. Publications such as Money magazine and others show that urban areas have anywhere from 50% to 100% more libraries, restaurants, move theatres, cultural events, and other activities, on a per capita basis, than rural areas.
9. Make personal connections
If you don’t have established relationships among the locals, you might have a difficult time building a social network–particularly if your political beliefs lean toward the left. As example, Gallup reports about 2/3 of people that live in suburban and/or urban area support abortion vs. about 35% of people in rural regions. About 80% of people in suburban/urban area support diversity including immigration and minority rights while only about 55% of rural residents say newcomers strengthen America.
On the other hand, rural communities often rally when their neighbors need them, setting aside personal differences to assist in emergencies. Just like cities due, such as Boston Strong or NYC medical staff dealing with COVID.
Rural social activities tend to center around churches and schools, but even the smallest towns often have recreation and civic clubs. Look for opportunities to volunteer in your new community, and join local social media pages to keep abreast of news and events.
10. Become self-reliant
If you live far enough away from a mid-sized town, you might as well cut up your roadside assistance club card and forget about same-day emergency plumbers or one-hour oil changes. Equip yourself with the tools you need to make basic repairs, from tire plugs to frozen pipes to cranky chainsaws. Invest in a basic collection of quality tools, and learn how to use them. As the amount of financial help in rural communities is rare.
Are you moving to the mountains? Pick up a chainsaw or two. Even if you don’t plan on heating your home with wood, you’ll likely need to clear at least one downed tree each year on your property and, as Murphy’s Law dictates, that tree will be across your driveway the morning you’re headed somewhere important.
11. Honor the local culture
One reason rural folk are wary of newcomers is their fear that they’ll destroy their way of life by raising taxes and voting for laws that negatively affect their incomes, use of their property, or pursuit of their passions.
New residents may generate tax revenue benefiting communities, but skyrocketing property values hurt those who retired there on fixed incomes, or who are struggling with few employment opportunities and lower pay rates.
12. Be a good neighbor
In the city, you may never meet your neighbors. In the country, they could be your lifeline, and it’s essential to understand and defer to local customs, and find common ground in conflicts.
• Rural life is noisy. Get used to barking dogs, tractors, chainsaws, gunshots, and all-terrain vehicles.
• Does your neighbor keep old cars and tractor implements all over their property? You’ll be better off planting a hedge or trees to block your view than asking them to clean up their reserve of spare parts and hardware.
• Keep your dog on your property. Your neighbor may be lawfully entitled to shoot your pet if it’s caught chasing livestock or wild game on their land.
• If you share a private road, offer to help with regular maintenance and snow removal. Be prepared to shoulder more of your share when a neighbor is unwilling or unable to pitch in.
Urban- and suburbanites are used to homeowner’s association bylaws, municipal codes, and ordinances. Outside town limits, there may be very few building codes and nuisance laws. If it’s important to you to have neighbors that don’t keep a dirt bike track on their back 20 or a pile of tires on your shared fenceline, seek out a subdivision with established covenants governing property use.
13. Respect hunting and access traditions
In the country and in mountain towns, hunting and trapping isn’t just a sport; it’s an essential component of self-reliance. Hunters also help control game populations and generate essential funds for conservation.
As large private properties are subdivided, sold, and developed, more “no hunting or trespassing” signs go up and, increasingly, owners of property previously open to access state and federal land refuse access to the community. You might be worried about liability if someone’s hurt on your property, but some states have specific legislation in place to simultaneously protect landowners and encourage them to allow reasonable access to responsible parties.
You have every right to protect your property against trespassers, but if you have a large parcel, consider allowing responsible neighbors and locals limited access on your terms to hunt or hike. It’s one of the quickest ways to make friends.
Enjoy your new lifestyle
If you have a realistic outlook on life “in the sticks” and are prepared for a little culture shock, you’ll do just fine. With more remote work due to the pandemic, now may be the time. Note that there are no guarantees that the corporate remote work mindset will stick around, and more than likely the pendulum will swing back to an office environment or a more “balanced” lifestyle. The point being, moving at any time (whether to a city or moving to a rural area) always comes with risks and/or stress. When you’re frustrated by the challenges, remember why you moved out of the city: A slower pace, fresh air, and more opportunities for an active life outside your home office.