Writing for Wisebread, blogger Linsey Knerl suggests that one effective way to save money is to move a good long way from the Joneses, the better to delete the temptation to keep up with high-flying neighbors and peers. The gist of the conversation has to do with pressures to stay expensively in style, with Linsey arguing that moving to a rural environment, as she has done happily, insulates you from the social forces that urge you to waste money on status symbols.
Whether or not you really need to move away from the “Joneses” to protect your self-esteem and curb your spending impulses, for some of us there may be a very good financial reason to take up residence in a rural town. Just this weekend I ran across people living in this circumstance and, thanks to their setting, living pretty well. It goes like this:
If you are poor and you know you will never be anything other than poor, you may be able to make a better life for yourself and your family in a very small town. Housing and schools may be better and safer, and the overall environment may be a great deal more pleasant than anything you could afford in a city.
Saturday a friend invited me to visit her relatives who are living in a small high-desert mining and ranch town. A few years ago this pleasantly funky wide spot in the road was discovered by a few affluent big-city residents-briefly. After a period of low-key vacation-home gentrification, it was pretty much forgotten except by a small population of ancient old-timers, a few retirees, some refugees from the big city, and a coterie of artists. Quiet and companionably eccentric, the place consists mostly of old miner’s shacks, prefab cabins, and trailers set among picturesque boulders and chaparral beneath a clean sapphire sky. The atmosphere is low-key, much of the economy is based on barter, and if anyone has money, they don’t show it off.
Among the several residents we met was a handsome 12-year-old girl, just on the verge of blossoming into womanhood, who had befriended the relatives’ little girl and had spent the Fourth of July with the family, visiting a nearby small city to watch fireworks. Expressing her pleasure at the trip, she remarked that it was the first time in her life she’d ever seen a fireworks display.
This elicited some quiet clucking from the Californian refugees, who observed that her own family, a single mother with three children, was very poor and lived in a trailer.
But… When I was 12 years old, I’d never seen fireworks. Somehow I didn’t feel deprived. And so they live in a trailer: so do a lot of people in this town. Probably a third of the structures started life as mobile homes. None of them are in trailer parks: every home occupies a lot, some as large as an acre or more, and each stands among granite boulders, flower gardens, and pleasant shady streets. Some houses have spectacular views of the surrounding hills and distant mountains. The kids attend a decent country school with small classes and no gang activity.
If you lived in a trailer in my city — and you were too young to qualify for one of the quiet senior citizens’ parks — your home would be located in the toughest part of town, where you would pay rent for a slot of ground to park your trailer practically on top of the neighbors. The garden spot to the right, for example, is just up the road from my house and a notorious hot spot for crime. Your kids would go to a gang-infested, drug-saturated and violent inner-city school. Your neighborhood would be a noisy, crime-ridden hardscape where trees and flowers are rarities and cop helicopter fly-overs routine.
The point here is that if you don’t have a lot of money and you have no prospects of ever earning anything other than poverty-level wages, life in a rural setting has a lot to recommend it. Not in some shallow sense where you move away from temptation that you don’t have the self-control or self-esteem to resist. But in the very real sense that in a small rural town, your dollars may buy you a better life.
Won’t gas prices kill you if you live far away from everything?I guess being more self-sufficient and needing to make fewer trips mitigates that somewhat, but if you or someone in your family, say, gets sick and needs to go to the hospital a lot, it can be a long drive.
But, yeah, rural seems to be the way to go if you want space for cheap.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008 – 01:38 AM
This is so true.There are so many things that we now expect and take for granted that were “special” when we were kids – trips to the movies, going out for dinner, getting driven around to every after school activity possible.
@!wanda – living in the country often means you discover that you don’t need all the things you had in the city, so no need to travel.
Sunday, July 20, 2008 – 01:29 A
Thanks for visiting, !Wanda and Journeyer.
@ Wanda: Within 30 minutes’ driving distance, there are two towns with decent infrastructures. One, reachable by a winding two-lane road, has the usual range of grocery stores, a Costco, and a respectable hospital. The other, on a safer road at the bottom of the hill, has a couple of grocery stores with inflated prices.
But if you’re willing to drive another 20 minutes — as our friends do — you reach the outskirts of the Phoenix metropolitan area, which has every urban shopping amenity you could desire: box stores, groceries, chain clothing and household stores, and even a few locally owned shops. People who live in the town own freezers. They drive to a larger town or the city once a month to stock up on household goods, staples, meat, and frozen vegetables. And most everyone has a garden. Because of the lovely climate, the produce defies belief: in our friends’ yard alone there’s a pear tree, an apple tree, two plum trees, a lime tree, and a fantastic vegetable garden. I came home laden with ruby lettuce, incredible little green onions with red bulblets, runner beans, carrots, and Swiss chard, all gifts from our hosts. The corn wasn’t ripe yet, but from a roadside produce stand we bought ears of corn so sweet you’d swear it just came off the plants and the best avocados I’ve ever had.
If these friends ever came to spend the day at my house, I could offer them no gift as handsome as the armsful of produce they sent me away with.
So, what about medical care? In an emergency you can be helicoptered to the nearest hospital or, in dire circumstances, to the major medical centers in Phoenix. Day to day? Well, you know…if you’re poor or even middle-class, you’re not going to have very good access to much medical care, anyway. So really, access to doctors and hospitals no longer is a consideration that should drive your choice of places to live
Sunday, July 20, 2008 – 10:18 AM
What a very insightful post!Many of the things you mention are exactly why we love living rural (and Omaha is less than 40 minute drive from home.)Thanks so much for the mention
Wednesday, July 30, 2008 – 08:59 PM