the process

Should You Move to Retire? // Why We Moved to a Small Town

happy monday, friends. we have very little work travel this week or next (hooray for small gifts!), so took a few minutes this morning to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee on the back patio. in our little mountain town, mornings are always cool and crisp. even if it gets above 90 during the day, we can always bank on a cool morning. it’s one of the many things we love about where we live now.

but we didn’t always live here. for years, we lived in one of the largest cities in the west, and had a very different lifestyle. a lifestyle we enjoyed. a lot. but which we knew wouldn’t be sustainable long-term, if we wanted to retire early. you already know how this story ends: we left the city for the small town, in part to fuel our early retirement aspirations.

does it make sense to move for retirement, either to save faster, or to enjoy a different lifestyle once you’re no longer working?

Should you move to retire? Why we moved to a small town // Our Next Life -- cost of living, expensive cities, budget, save money, retirement, early retirement, financial independence

moving from a high cost of living area to a low cost of living area can certainly accelerate your savings, assuming you’re still able to earn the same income, which isn’t always the case. oftentimes, the high income jobs are only found in the high cost of living areas. you may be able to telecommute to your current job, though, or make good money freelancing. or you could move to a lower cost area after you’ve saved and retired, which could help stretch your retirement dollars farther.

making a move can be a positive change, and can serve as a powerful symbol of our commitment to living a different lifestyle. but it’s certainly not right for everyone. if you love where you live now, if you have close friends and family nearby, if you live somewhere very walkable where you could age in place, if you can support a self-sufficient lifestyle where you are now, or you feel some indefinable sense that you just don’t want to move, then by all means, stay put.

moving also creates challenges socially. after about age 30, it becomes harder to make friends, because plenty of people are full-up on friends, and are no longer looking to meet new ones. if you move in your 30s, finding friends can be tougher than it would have been at age 22, when everyone is eager to go out all the time. if you’re able to move with a job you already have, and you begin telecommuting, what may feel like a sweet gig can actually be a major social hindrance. with no built-in social network of an office, it’s easy to feel isolated. we both telecommute, and have for sure felt this way. we’ve had to make a much bigger effort to get out and make friends.

but just as a lot of us today feel like there’s something wrong with the model of working until 65 and then retiring to florida, a lot of people are questioning aspects of modern life, like industrialized agriculture, mass production overseas, and the rampant pollution and abuse of workers that go along with both. it’s driving a lot of people to consider a simpler life. if you carry within yourself the desire to live a slower-paced life, or have romantic notions of living off-grid, then moving might make sense.

our advice: try before you buy

spend a good bit of time in the place where you’re considering moving. meet as many of the local people as you can, and ask a lot of questions. you’ll learn a lot about the area and what it’s like to live there by what the people tell you. but you’ll also learn a ton by how they say it. we visited a lot of mountain towns before we chose the one where we live now, and in most places, when we’d ask people what it was like to live there, they’d say some variation of “oh, you wouldn’t like it.” this told us two things: 1. we truly might not like it, and more importantly, 2. they weren’t into the idea of us moving there, and didn’t want to encourage us. we quickly realized that a lot of small towns aren’t very open to outsiders or new ideas, and that would have made us miserable if we’d chosen any of those towns.

just as important as meeting the people is knowing the full range of seasons. don’t just visit in the summer when it’s beautiful. go in the winter, and figure out if you can live with that. or vice versa. and stay in a house or apartment when you visit, rather than a hotel. shop and live like a local, and see if you really like it. better to find out ahead of time that you can’t buy some essential ingredient you need for your sunday night dinners, and realize that your chosen place isn’t a gourmet’s paradise, than to discover it only after you’ve moved. (that’s just an example of course — insert your own idea of what your deal breakers are.)

why we moved to a small town

back to our life in the big city. our money didn’t go very far there, so we had a small condo, with a small balcony as our only outdoor space. (and it still cost a small fortune.) and of course spending temptation was everywhere — we often ate at trendy restaurants, went to concerts, and occasionally bought stuff we didn’t need. we were happy there, but we also spent a lot of our weekends and vacation time traveling to the mountains. every winter along, we took at least 10 ski trips (most of them just a drive, but we usually flew to ski at least twice per season).

we didn’t set out to find a mountain town to live in, but we’d sometimes talk about what it would be like to leave the city. then one day, serendipitously, we found our town. a friend had a cabin there that we rented for a week, and it was darn close to love at first sight. we loved the place, we loved the people (friendly! welcoming!), we loved the location (not too remote!). we even loved the winter.

related post: our actual love at first sight. the best bad money decision we ever made.

we visited a few more times in the next year, and then the stars aligned to let us both do our jobs remotely. we jumped at the opportunity, and started house hunting pretty soon thereafter. we bought what we dubbed our “retirement house.” at first, we thought we’d split time between the mountains and the city, and so didn’t think as hard about the move as we could have. but it quickly became clear that we didn’t like trying to live in two places. it was like our heart was always divided. we sold the condo and became full-time mountain locals.

for us, the move was about aligning our lives to what we value most: time outdoors, especially in the mountains. whether we were planning to retire early or not, the move would have made sense for us in terms of how we want to spend our free time. (though if we’d wanted to keep climbing in our careers, we might have wanted to consider a different mountain town with more career opportunities than ours has. fortunately, we don’t care about that.)

related post: our love affair with mountains, and how climbing then is like saving for early retirement

we didn’t make the move for financial reasons, though we are happy that our money went a lot farther here than it did in the city, and we were able to buy a house that we love, for significantly less than our condo had cost. and there’s a lot less temptation to spend money here. there’s minimal retail, not that that was ever a huge weakness of ours. we were more likely to spend on travel and restaurants. and we save a ton on travel now because we don’t have to get ourselves to the mountains. we’re already here. and restaurants are a lot harder to get to, close earlier, and are often packed with tourists. it’s much more tempting to eat at home, and way cheaper too. so moving has been a financial net gain.

what about the rest? so far, we’re happy with small town life, though it’s definitely different from life in the city. the traffic we don’t miss. the assortment of ethnic foods, we do. everyone talking about how busy they are all the time — we don’t miss that. but the range of cultural activities is a void now for sure. right now, while we’re working, we still have a lot of time in the city. but once we quit, and no one else if paying to fly us around, will we miss the city? quite possibly.

but for us, nothing can replace being able to wake up in the morning and say, “hey, what should we do today?” and know that basically every outdoor activity we enjoy is an option for us, with no advance planning. we can go climbing, hiking, mountain biking, road biking, paddling, skiing, or just go sit by a lovely alpine lake and take it all in.

just as good budget management is about aligning your spending to your values, we think that where you choose to live should align to what you think is important. for us, moving was the right decision.

have you thought about moving? does where you live now provide so many benefits that you plan to stay put? think you’ll move after you retire? we’d love to hear from you!

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72 replies »

  1. We will be moving ASAP – which is still a few years away. We live on the hot, humid, sticky and nasty Gulf Coast. But, it is the primary hub for our jobs… but we daydream about mountains and crisp cool air! Currently, we are trying to find our small town for when we make our lifestyle change, and then we are hoping to buy a vacation house there, which will hopefully quickly become our primary residence!

    • Yes, saw your post on that! Can’t blame you for wanting to escape the humidity! And watch out — our vacation home became our “real” home pretty much instantly! It can happen. 😉

  2. We live in a small town. We have found it helps to make friends by joining stuff. All the small towns have volunteer boards for everything from the cemetery committee to the emergency preparedness committee to volunteering for bingo. Being over 65 means there is also a seniors place to join. We joined yesterday. $20 for the year and a monthly dinner, pot luck, for $10 a month plus social stuff. Sports for fun is great in the country. Here its slow pitch summers and curling winters. Being the only Jews means joining a church is out, but that is an option too. In the city your social life can be arranged for you by others in the form of clubs and hang outs. In the country there are no such things. You have to make it yourself but you also don’t have to pay for it. I miss two things. It’s hard to get certain items like rye flour for baking. OTOH I have fresh home grown salads these days and the tomatoes are ripening. I miss being able to jump in my truck and be at the grandkids in 20 minutes. OTOH two of them are coming to stay over the Canada Day holiday because their parents want to get out of the city. I really don’t miss anything else. And the benefits to country living are many and with internet, and we have great internet out here, you are never disconnected from the world.

    • So true — we’ve founds sports to be a great connector. We have met folks thru rec leagues, and we introduce ourselves to folks out doing what we’re doing.

  3. I moved to NYC last year for the income and career potential it would give me over where I was previously (much smaller city in the Northeast). So far it has worked even better than plan. Even in the more “expensive” city I’ve been able to save more (mainly due to eliminating a car and being able to walk to work) and increasing my income. I was born in the sticks and definitely plan on moving out to the sticks again or maybe settle in the burbs. I plan to move out of NYC rather soon, while trying to keep my NYC pay :) well that’s the optimistic plan at least.

    • Was thinking of you while writing that the high paid jobs are clustered in the HCOL areas! So glad NYC is working out for you on all levels!

  4. We’ve done very well by moving from a bigger city to our home town, with much lower cost of living. I work in health care where I can benefit by the supply/demand of less competition of people who want my job here so easier to get higher pay and better work conditions. Mrs. EE works remotely so could work anywhere. We initially missed the restaurant options and entertainment, but over time miss them less and less and rarely go to any of the major metro areas that surround us with a 2-3 hour drive.
    In ER, we are considering splitting time between the east coast (family) and somewhere west (for love of mountains) but think we will need to decide to simplify our lives. One of the biggest and most interesting decisions we have ahead.

    • Wow — so glad the move has worked out for you guys on every level! As for splitting time down the road, we found that really hard to do, but maybe it would work better for you all. We didn’t feel like we really lived in either place, but that changed the second we sold the condo and committed to full-time mountain life. Look forward to hearing what you ultimately decide!

  5. Ah you pose such a challenging question that I ponder often! Throughout my life I’ve moved close to 9 times (more than half were cross country moves – mainly attributed to my dad’s relocation of jobs/opportunities). I’m grateful for each move because it’s allowed me to experience several communities, cultures, lifestyle differences, etc. Where I live now (Eugene, OR), I honestly feel would be a contender for a place to retire! It’s a large city (second largest in OR), but traffic is never a burden and the longest you ever drive is 20 mins. The university atmosphere is always inspiring and drives a lot of community, research, and athletics. We are within an hour or less from mountains, ocean, rivers, trails, and desert which always calls for adventure. Not to mention, you get the same perks as Portland living with a fraction of the price tag! It will be interesting to see how life develops in about 10 years, but you’ve got it right to picking a place that aligns with your passions & values!

    • Sure seems like you hit the jackpot in Eugene! An OR, long-term, seems to have fewer things to worry about than the rest of the west coast (will be a while before you all run out of water, for example). Totally agree that moving is good for us, and expands our minds. But at some point we have to pick a place and settle down, unless you want to be a permanent nomad. You could for sure do worse than where you are now!

  6. This is very, very good advice. Moving is a big step, and unless you’re moving specifically for work, it is usually in response to a WANT. You want to live in the mountains. Then again, we do too, at least for a while. But visiting at all different times of the year, if possible, is the best way to fully grasp what it would be like to live in that town…all year.

    As you know, my wife and I certainly do want to travel. In fact, our plans originally included a move to Sedona, AZ, and then we’d travel from there for a couple months at a time. Now, we’re actually toying with another idea – we like change. We like to move around and experience new things. What if we just rented space somewhere and live in different cities for about a year at a time? Maybe we’d start in northern Arizona, then move up to Utah for a year, then Washington State, then…?

    In other words, no home base. Always moving.

    I guess you could say that we’re not ready to settle down quite yet. But, when we do eventually get to that point, I’m hoping that we’ll have enough experience from living around the country (and the world) to choose the absolute best place for us. The ability to make friends with a lifestyle that has us moving around so much will probably be the toughest part.

    • Have you read the book How to Retire Early by Robin and Robert Charlton? They maintain just a small condo in Boulder, and travel around a big chunk of the year. We have discussed that idea, of having a permanent home base, but keeping costs low. Then you also get consistency of neighbors and some friends, which has its upside. But we’ve discussed going nomad, too. We could possibly quit this year if we went that route. But we like having a home, ultimately, and see it as a great asset for rentals and house swaps.

      • We haven’t read that book, but it sounds like their plan almost exactly matched ours – just replace Boulder with Sedona. And truthfully, we might find that we prefer a home base after traveling around for a few years without one, and if that time comes, we’ll certainly be in a position to make that happen. That’s one of the many, many nice things about early retirement. You have so much flexibility to try different things and see what works. :)

      • Absolutely! That’s why we say “we *think* we’ll stay in our house,” but truly we may change our minds once we pull the trigger. Flexibility in thinking is important!

  7. We live near a small town and plan to sty the next 15-20 years. We like the relative rest that comes from living outside the city and the easy access to the busy city centre.
    We will see how the plan evolves…
    Living in Belgium, we can not really move to the mountains or the coast. Nothing is ever far away. Well, we could, but a lot of the action for jobs is centered around the capital. That being said, there are some poles of work hubs in each major city.
    Moving to anther country? I dont feel like doing that, I like the proximity of my family and friends, and I do not want to push around the kids now that they start to bond. I know it is possible, but we do not want the hassle.

  8. I’ve thought about this recently, and wrote a little bit about it a while back… but I think that we have found our “forever home”. We love the location, it’s close to family and friends, easy walk to the beach… I wouldn’t call it a low cost area, but it is worth it to us.

  9. Moving to any lower-cost location is a great tool for reaching your financial goals faster.

    We lived in Hawaii for six years – where the cost of living is high and the jobs pay low. We were barely making it financially and couldn’t live the life we wanted – travel, travel, travel – so we made the (tough) decision to move. (We still miss Hawaii, every day.)

    We moved to Portland where the cost of living was much less (though still higher than other areas) and found jobs paying more than our previous. Since the move, we’ve been able to reach our goals – debt free, multiple international destinations a year, and enjoy the outdoors (we’re lucky that the area here is great for camping and backpacking).

    If it means reaching your goals, I’d recommend moving in a second!

    • That’s great to know! Thanks for sharing your perspective. Certainly lots of people want to move to Hawaii, but with really high cost of living there, moving makes total sense. Portland is a pretty great place to be overall!

  10. We talk about this all the time. We’ve mentioned to you before that we are on the hunt for our ‘retirement’ location. We often use our adventures and vacations as an excuse to go check our next ‘home’. We are also ok with moving to a few different locations over the new 4-10 years and not necessarily settle down in one place if/when we are ready. I moved around a lot growing up, so packing up and moving isn’t new to me. However, it can be a big change for some and the advice you have given in this post are great.

    • That plan sounds great — it’s wonderful to live in different places! You’ve still got so much time before settling down somewhere will be important, and maybe it never will be!

  11. Unfortunately for us moving to a cheaper place has backfired. We moved from the city to a suburb over ten years ago. We are saving a substantial amount of money on living expenses, however we overlooked one small problem. If one loses a job it’s almost impossible to find another. Sadly, we will be picking up and moving back to the city as soon as my husband gets his transfer approved. I’m looking forward to getting back to work so we can retire early…if that makes sense. ;)

  12. It’s always good to check the business climate before moving. The company I had worked for closed its doors. Companies are fleeing our state every day because of the ridiculous corporate tax rate and backwards corporate laws. It’s really important for people to consider all possibilities before moving. Shame on us for not doing that research! Hopefully our story can be a lesson for others.

  13. I’m in kind of an in between place right now; as an early career academic, everyone always tells you that you don’t get to pick where you live. And I’ve decided that’s kind of true, and kind of not. Right now I have a short list of locations I’d move to for work (based on proximity to family and friends, mostly) and I wouldn’t want to go outside that list just for a job. I am very happy with my current small city; the COL is absurdly low, it’s close to a bigger city in case I want to eat Ethiopian food, the access to local vegetables/fruits is good, it’s got a beautiful river, and although many people would not vibe with the social scene, I happen to do well with it. I don’t know that I’d retire here, but I think I could happily live/work here for a long time to come.

    • We have friends who are academics, and it seems like a tough way to live in terms of planning or settling somewhere. How great that you have found a good situation that you’re happy with for the time being.

  14. We also moved from a big city in the Midwest to a smaller mountain town in the west. Couldn’t be happier! While the cost of living is lower, the income potential is also much lower (initially I worked remotely and financially that was great, but now I work locally). Making friends usually works out at your job. We get constant reminders that our family is none too pleased about us living so far away. But if our souls feel fulfilled like they do, then that seems most important.

  15. I don’t suppose you can give hints as to which town it is? my fear of moving to a smaller resort town is the inability to find recreational sports leagues, especially since I am still single and looking. It sounds like that’s not an issue there though?

    • I can tell you that our town, and others we looked at, has great rec sports. If you have a town in mind, look up whether they have a rec sports calendar. Ours has a pretty full schedule during all seasons!

  16. In my opinion moving to a smaller town and to a smaller house is very good idea! My parents have moved and downsized last year. I understand this because it is hard to pay the same bills and taxes as when you were younger. It is nicer to live in a town where everybody knows each other. If you live in a smaller house it is also easier to mange the housework!

  17. We actually love where we are living now but, due to the fact that our rented house is owned by the federal government (my employer,) it won’t remain an option once I am ready to quit. We intend to be here for another two-three years and then plan to travel around as I work as a travel nurse. This will allow us opportunities to explore our options, experiencing places for 3+ months at a time, and ultimately decide where we want our forever home to be. It’s going to be an awesomely fun process! :)

    • That DOES sound fun! I love the idea of being able to try out a lot of places — so much better than making such a big decision on the basis of short visits!

      • It will certainly be an adventure…and completely opposite of what we did when we moved to South Dakota. We were literally six days away from packing up a U-Haul and heading to Houston, Texas when the Indian Health Service hospital I now work for called me. Due to the Loan Repayment Program and other benefits, we changed course and moved out here completely blind! We had absolutely no clue what our housing would be like, what the hospital was like (other than the exterior picture I found online,) or anything else about the area…or even the state of South Dakota for that matter!

        So me, my pregnant wife, and our dog drove out here to the middle of nowhere, pulled into the parking lot, and said HERE WE ARE! It was rather insane, but it’s honestly been the greatest decision (other than having our son, of course) that we have yet to make in our lives. We really love it here. But our next major move will surely entail some more in-depth planning! lol :-D

      • Wow — you moved blind! That’s so impressive to make such a big decision so boldly. I’m such a planner, and can’t imagine doing something like that — but how wonderful that it has worked out so well for you!

  18. I’ll admit, it scared the ever loving crap out of me when I got the call from this place. We were standing in my parent’s living room (where we were temporarily living between moves from college to our next locale,) surrounded by all of our stuff stacked in boxes. I started to tell the guy something along the lines of how I really appreciated the call but that I had already made a prior commitment. Thankfully, my wife was sitting there and shot me a look that burned into my soul, telling me I better at least take the interview and hear them out…lol.

    My wife is a Type A personality through-and-through so I completely understand your reservations about making such a rash decision…but honestly, your knack for planning and forward thinking (when considering the benefits of the situation,) would actually make for an extremely easy decision.

    By the way, I see that you have decided to follow along with my blog; thank you!!! :-D

  19. I lived in a town with low COL and commuted nearly 50 miles each way to a city with higher COL for the city salary. It was not worth it but it was hard to back away from the salary. Now I live in a high COL area with a higher salary but believe as long as I can hack my housing, I can make use of that higher salary and get to FI faster. We will see.

    • I can definitely see the financial incentive you had to do that commute, but ugh — 50 miles each way sounds pretty terrible. And I’m with you 100% — find a way to keep housing costs low (pretty much our mantra from day one — our only good decision even in the baller days!), and you can definitely still get to FI in a HCOL area. :-)

  20. My wife and I often talk about moving to Florida when we retire. Maybe even moving sooner if I can find work within my industry down there. We dream of having a very affordable ‘base camp’ and then spend much of the year renting homes in various places as we travel around. What’s hard to imagine is leaving all the great friends we have now. What isn’t hard to imagine is leaving all the traffic. I totally agree on giving it a test drive. My father in law is in a very large retirement community in Florida and we have visited him several times. Our opinion of that lifestyle changes almost every time we visit. He loves it BTW…For us, a lot of it comes down to leaving traffic behind and shoveling snow for someone else.

    • We moved well ahead of retirement (~6 years) and have been happy with the move, so there’s one data point to add to your decision making. ;-) And we definitely agree with the base camp approach. But don’t envy you having to make that decision about whether to leave friends behind!

  21. Even though I’m two years late to the party, GREAT POST.
    I am in a little bit of a different boat. My wife and I currently live in a very cheap suburb right outside a big city. Our dream “retirement” spot is in a smaller town but unfortunately it is much more expensive.
    Do we go ahead and make the move now and push back “retirement” a number of years or do we stay put and keep saving hard even though we are ready to move?

    • You’re never late to the party here! ;-) And thank you! I definitely can’t answer that question for you guys, but it comes down to weighing now vs. the future. If you want to move eventually, putting it off means not building new friendships and putting down new roots for a while. But it also means saving money in the meantime. I tend to ask myself a question like, “If I died next year, would I regret not having done the thing sooner?” and then weigh the intensity of that answer against the financial cost. In our case, it was an easy decision because our mountain town was cheaper, so we had both the cost and quality of life upsides on the same side!

  22. You could be writing about our experience in finding the place that felt like “home” – though it isn’t right now. We’re probably 15-ish years from FIRE and the area we love has almost zero job opportunities and housing costs almost as much as where we live now. We also have all our family here, so that would be a hard push (though the other place is only 3ish hours away on a good day). Visiting in March definitely unsettled my equilibrium and got me dreaming.

    • I’d say for us, we’re glad we prioritized moving to a place that we love and that gives us the lifestyle we want. But we also don’t have kids and have jobs that we could take with us, which makes a HUGE difference. These often aren’t easy decisions, but you have a lot of time to figure out what’s ultimately most important to you guys.

  23. Loving the archives, thank you! And hooray for small town living, remote working lifestyles, we do that too! Do you miss the city any more than you’re FI? I enjoy traveling occasionally for work to get my big city restaurant fix, but am always glad to be returning home.

    • Glad to know the archives are helpful! :-) Such a good question about city vs. small town life. While working, I was in the city almost every week, so definitely got my fill of city time. I was actually a tiny bit worried when we quit that I’d get bored at home, but so far so good. It’s all still fairly fresh, though, so I’ll report back in a few more months! ;-)

  24. Great post, great site, thank you. I currently live in an expensive, beautiful west coast city and am looking very strongly at moving to a mountain town. Do you have any resources / process you can share in terms of evaluating locations?

  25. I appreciate blog posts such as this one. I will surely follow a few of them. Keep writing such detailed blogs. Those are some great tips for Should You Move to Retire? // Why We Moved to a Small TownGood Stuff.Keep Posting