Living in the Rural Midwest: Benefits and Trade-Offs

Recently, Erin from Broke Millennial (one of my favorite personal finance experts) had an Instagram story offering to answer her followers’ questions about money.  One response was asking for tips about those living in rural areas as most of her content is tailored for city dwellers.  She replied that she tries to ensure her advice transcends location, but city life was what she knows and asked how she could help.  As someone who grew up in South Dakota and Minnesota and has never lived in a town with a population of more than 30,000, I decided to chime in.  I currently live in the state capital of South Dakota, but the town only has a population of 13,000.  The closest city with a larger than 2,000 person population is over 150 miles away.  The nearest major metropolitan area (Minneapolis or Denver) are both an 8 hour drive away.  Erin and I exchanged a few messages back and forth, and I said I would love to see a comparison highlighting the pros and cons of city living versus a more rural setting.  I had a post like this in my queue anyway, so I decided to try my hand at detailing what it’s like financially to live in a rural area from my perspective.

Benefits:

  • No state income tax: Of course this isn’t applicable to most states, but in South Dakota it is.  Having a little extra income with each paycheck is certainly a benefit.
  • Fewer people: As someone who is easily irritable, this is probably my favorite item on this list!  Some parts of the state are truly hidden gems, in my opinion, like the Black Hills.  I enjoy exploring the outdoors, so having less crowded parks and hiking trails than say, Colorado, is wonderful.
  • No traffic: Literally none.  Especially for those of you who are used to city living, I think this speaks for itself.
  • Short commutes to work: I live on the opposite end of town from where I work, and on a “busy” day, it takes six minutes maximum to drive to work.  Not too shabby.
  • Safety: Unfortunately, as the murder of Mollie Tibbetts from Iowa this summer illustrated, violent crime can happen anywhere.  Generally speaking, however, most areas in South Dakota are very safe.
  • Fewer going out options to spend money on: I wish I had Target and major department stores/clothing stores closer than 200 miles away.  I’m not big on online shopping (especially for clothing and shoes), so I am really limited in these purchases, which is great for my wallet.  The only chain stores we have in town are Walmart (which I loathe), Hobby Lobby, Maurices, Bath and Body Works, and Menards.  The same goes for restaurants.  I don’t think any of the restaurants in town are all that fantastic, so it’s easy to say no and cook meals at home.
  • Not paying to park: Aside from major tourist attractions like Mount Rushmore and a couple of parking garages in the larger cities of Rapid City and Sioux Falls, paying to park just isn’t a thing around here.

Trade-Offs:

  • Greater distance to popular stores/entertainment venues/arts and theater: Quite frankly, there’s just not much to do where I live.  I mentioned in the benefits section how this is good for my wallet, but when you think about how much time and gasoline it takes to travel to these stores, there’s still a large cost there as well.  For example, to go to a “real” supermarket, the closest is Safeway in Rapid City, a 175 mile drive one-way.  That is easily a full day of just driving to and from.  Same thing for concerts.  If well-known artists even come to South Dakota, they perform in Sioux Falls, 225 miles from where I live.  Oh, and we don’t have a Trader Joe’s anywhere in South Dakota.  Talk about a true bummer.
  • Not as walkable/bike-friendly: From what I’ve seen in more populated areas, most neighborhoods have grocery stores and convenience stores where you can pick up most of your necessities a short walk away.  In my town, business and residential is very distinct, and not many homes are located within a few blocks of Walmart or the local grocery store, making it difficult to walk with an armload of groceries.  Additionally, a car is nearly essential to get around in this part of the country, as public transportation just isn’t a thing.
  • Lower wages: I’d like to think this is relative to the lower cost of living, but I’m not so sure about that.  I’ve also found that the quality of customer service at fast food restaurants in particular is really low around here, which probably is a result of the low unemployment rate.  Employers kind of have to take what they can get, and there isn’t much extrinsic motivation to perform well in your job because if you get fired from one, you can get a job at another restaurant just down the street.
  • Less economic opportunity/development: We just got a Caribou Coffee kiosk (not even an actual store) inside the local grocery store, and it was a big deal.  New businesses rarely come to town.  We don’t have a college or university, so there isn’t that labor pool to pull from.  The interstate also does not run through town (I-90 is about 35 miles south of here), which I’ve read can negatively impact a community that is trying to grow.
  • Small dating pool: While not currently applicable to me as Mike and I have been together for about a year and a half, I have definitely had my own negative experiences with the dating scene.  Ask any of my friends who are currently single and looking, and they will echo my sentiments.  There’s not a large population of people moving into the area either, which limits things.  Forget even trying to use a dating site like Match.com or Plenty of Fish.
  • Higher priced/crappy quality fruit and fresh foods: I try to take advantage of the weekend farmer’s market during the growing season, even if it means spending a little more to know where your food came from.  I’m thankful we have that, because relying on Walmart for quality produce is just not a good plan.  For example, 9 times out of 10 when I buy strawberries from Walmart, they are moldy in the middle of the package.  Gross.

I’m thankful for living in an area where I’ve been able to make a decent living and not go broke just to reside in a certain zip code, but part of me really wishes I had branched out a little further after college and tried city living.  When I was 24 I was actually offered an emergency management job in the Seattle metro area (I had only been with my current employer for about a year and a half).  The prospective employer even paid to fly me out so I could check out the area, meet their staff, and determine if the position was right for me.  After conducting further research (and even putting a deposit down on an apartment I looked at while I was visiting) and crunching numbers, I determined it was just too expensive of an area for the salary I would be making, which was a little pay raise from what I was making in South Dakota but not enough to justify draining my savings for a cross-country move to an area with a high cost of living.  I think about that opportunity constantly and wonder how different my life would be if I had accepted it.

I have traveled to most of the major cities in the U.S., as experiencing different parts of the country and world is important to me, but it’s not the same as actually living there.  I’m 26, certainly not past my prime (or at least I hope not!), so there’s still time for me to experience that, but now that I’m much more finance-focused, I want to be sure the timing is right and make a calculated decision to relocate.

Do you live in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?  How does your location affect your ability to gain financial independence?  Let me know in the comments!

~Autumn

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3 thoughts on “Living in the Rural Midwest: Benefits and Trade-Offs

  1. Your town sounds so quaint! I live near Sacramento, so it’s got a big metropolitan feel to it. But I’ve lived in more rural towns, and I think you definitely captured the pros and cons well! I hadn’t even considered the dating pool (I met my husband when I was 10 and we instantly hit it off, so I never really had to dip my toe there!).

    Liked by 1 person

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