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Hidden costs of small-town life

by Karen on September 17, 2010

When Tony accepted a teaching job at a community college in a small town in Indiana, we planned to move to Fort Wayne — the closest major city about 40 miles away. I wasn’t crazy about the 1-hour commute for my husband, though, especially since we share a car. When we started hunting for apartments, we also weren’t crazy about our choices — prices were high for the nice areas, and everything in our price range seemed run down.

When we found an apartment about five miles away from Tony’s job at almost half the price we were going to pay in Fort Wayne, we were ecstatic. Lower rent, no commuting costs, and it would be easy for me to drop Tony off at work in the morning if I needed the car for the day.

Two months later, I don’t regret our decision. I’m pretty happy in our little apartment, and there are definite financial perks to small-town living. We’re not spending the fortune on gas that would have been required if Tony was driving 2 hours round trip every day. We’re not as tempted to go out to dinner, because our restaurant options are bleak. And our favorite places for recreational shopping (mainly Target) require advanced planning since they’re 30 minutes to an hour away depending on which city we visit, so we don’t browse once a week and spend more money than we intended.

Unfortunately, I’ve also discovered some hidden costs. Some of them are financial. Most of them are a matter of convenience.

Cell phone reception stinks.

I’ve resorted to using Skype for 99% of my calls, because my cell phone is basically useless in my apartment. I have better luck when I’m not home, which is really what cell phones are for anyway, but the poor cell phone reception is SO annoying. We don’t have a landline. I considered installing one, but since all of our family and friends would be long distance calls, a landline wouldn’t be financially practical. So I’m dealing with the hassle of choppy reception on Skype and dropped calls.

Goodbye, free TV.

Remember last year when I shut off the cable? We loved our antenna reception back when we lived in a reasonably big metro area. But now? We hooked up our antenna, and we get nada. We live about 40 miles from the broadcast towers for all of the channels. Outdoor antennas aren’t allowed in our apartment, and our indoor antenna isn’t strong enough to pick up anything. Most of the shows we watch are available at Hulu.com or the network’s website, and there’s always Netflix, but my husband is pretty sad about missing out on football this season. We’ll also miss other live broadcasts, like the Oscars. Boo. We’re considering opting into the basic cable package for network channels, but the tightwad in me hates the idea of paying $18 a month for something that used to be free.

We use more gas.

We’re not using nearly the amount we would have if my husband was commuting every day. But driving 25-40 miles away “into the city” every other week or so adds up. The nearest midwife is about 25 miles away, and now that I’m in the final stage of my pregnancy, we’ll be driving there every other week.

Sharing a car is more difficult.

In North Carolina, the public transportation system wasn’t perfect, but it worked for us. We chose an apartment on a bus line, and my husband used the bus to get himself into campus for class. There’s no public transportation here, and because the area is pretty rural, it’s also not very walkable. Since I work from home, and my husband’s job is pretty close, I’m able to drop him off and pick him up if I need the car for the day. It’s not a big enough hassle for us to get a second car, but I do miss public transporation.

Making friends is tough.

In North Carolina, we made some friends through Tony’s graduate program. I also joined a book club through Meetup.com. I wanted to meet some other young moms in the area when we first moved here. The closest meetup? The same town where my midwife is — 25 miles away. I joined, and I plan to attend some of the events, but I imagine it will be harder to make the trip on rural country roads when there’s snow on the ground and I have a newborn. Not to mention, when your friends live 25 miles away, it’s not as easy to pop in for a visit.

When we make our next move, we’d like to stick to the suburbs. I don’t want the cost or the hassle of big city life, but living in a small town is more of a hassle than I expected.

Photo by tonivc

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{ 5 comments }

1 Alison September 17, 2010 at 2:46 pm

We used to live in a small town and were also bugged by the lack of free TV! And this was before it was easy to watch anything you wanted to on the internet, so we decided to pay the cable fee because we wanted TV!

We don’t live in a small town now, but we live on the outskirts and are a good 20-30 minutes away from anything but the grocery store. It would be most cost effective to just pick a day and do all my in-town errands, but with young kids I find it very difficult to get to more than one place sometimes (need to return home for lunch or nap or to do a school pick-up and errands just take longer with kids!) and my errands often have to spill over to another day. As a result, lots more money is spent on gas than we would if we lived just a few minutes away from Target or Home Depot or the doctor’s office.
Alison´s last blog post ..Farewell to the ZMP

2 Teresa September 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

This is the country life I grew up in Northern Wisconsin. Hours playing outside, a “treat” to go McDonalds in the “big” city (10,000) people, 1 hour away. I loved it and sometimes think of the lovely days I spent as a child playing on the beach (we happened to live 2 blocks from lake superior). My mom has a different perspective, for her it was a bleak, snow filled 1 hour commute to work. Now, as an adult, I can see it would be nearly impossible to maintain a life there, mostly because there is very little opportunity. But it sure is great to experience this kind of life for even a small part of one’s own life.

I just found your blog and enjoy it. Keep up the good work!

3 Dorinda L Oakes September 22, 2010 at 10:13 pm

I love it! We Homeschool so we don’t have many trips. Hubby does the shopping on the way home from work. Saves us a lot of money and headache!
We also have no TV, To be honest even when we could have we did not because even if the show was clean the commercials were not!
We buy the seasons of the shows we love either on DVD or on Itunes.
Dori

4 Lisa Cooper October 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm

This might help: http://www.newcomersclub.com/in.html. I belonged to the MOMS Club when my children were little and it was a great way for the kids and me to find friends. Plus other moms helped me learn about the best doctors and places to shop.

5 Becky P. October 15, 2010 at 2:44 am

Some of your costs are a bit “funny” to me. We live in another country and have chosen not to get tv either. We miss the shows. Oh well. We can’t even get Hulu.

We do other things. Much of this is mindset. Some people love the city/suburbs and others miss it dreadfully. Most of these are just adjustments that you’re making because of trying to live with one car. When you have your child, you will continue to make adjustments. :)

How much did public transportation cost in NC? Most places I know–it’s not cheap, and in our home town, which has started it now–is mostly not convenient at all.

Mostly if you learn to stay home more and not need to go to town so often, things are cheaper. When you have a child and it becomes more of a hassle than it is easy, you may actually prefer staying at home.

However, not everyone is wired that way. Not everyone likes the isolation and quiet that can come from being unplugged.

Probably the best thing you could do is develop some wonderful hobbies and utilize the library more for entertainment. Very few people are sorry at the end of their lives that they didn’t watch more tv.

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