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How I Live Better In My Hometown Than I Ever Would In A “Glamorous” Big City

When I decided to move back to Buffalo after graduating college, everyone around me was confused. Not just my college friends, but also my peers back home who couldn’t fathom why I’d willingly move back to the rust belt city that so many of them longed to escape. And although returning to be with my family was a huge factor, it wasn’t the only one. Another major reason was that the cost of living in my hometown was so stinking cheap.

I remember talking to a college classmate who said that her parents were trying to sell their home. It was in a first-ring suburb right outside of New York City. It was three bedrooms, one-and-a-half bathrooms, and in need desperate need of a renovation. Color me shocked when she continued to say her parents were listing it at just under a million dollars.

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I explained my amazement to her. In my hometown, a million dollars will buy you a sprawling, fully updated home on a couple of acres. You’d likely get an in-ground pool and a tennis court as well. You’d live in the best neighborhood, surrounded by physicians, business moguls, and our professional athletes. Additionally, because we don’t live in a volatile market, your investment is more secure than it is in other cities. In short, a million-dollar home is the epitome of luxury in upstate New York. But just a few hours away, it’s run-of-the-mill.

My aversion to living in a luxurious city has only been compounded by my frequent visits to glamorous destinations like NYC or LA. I mean, a burrito from Chipotle costs almost $3 more in these metropolitan areas than it does in my hometown. These “little” discrepancies add up big time over the long run.

Since returning to Buffalo and starting a career, I’ve been able to travel extensively both domestically and internationally. I can drive a nice car, buy designer handbags, invest in my retirement, and save for a rainy day. Meanwhile, I have friends who are living paycheck-to-paycheck and busting their butts to make rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I say this not to shame them, because sure, big city life has its own perks that rural and suburban environments just do not. But I often offer it as an alternative perspective when peers are griping about their precarious financial position while paying more in rent than the average homeowner’s mortgage payment in my neck of the woods.

We base our decisions on priorities, and whether or not a decision is the “right” or “wrong” one for our lives right now, they have long-lasting implications. Not being able to save for the first few years of your career — or even worse, racking up a ton of credit card debt to live more comfortably at the moment — would scare me much more than the exaggerated boredom of life in a small town ever would. We get caught up in the glitz and glam and flashing lights of major cities, but last time I checked, there was nothing glamorous about living in an outdated apartment with a couple of mice cohabitating alongside you.

Indeed, there are aspects of my life in upstate New York that aren’t glamorous either. The brutal winters. The total absence of luxury stores. The lack of a Top Golf or a trendy bowling alley. And did I mention the brutal winters? But I don’t claim to live in the most glamorous city ever; all I claim is to live in a city that affords me the opportunity to live a glamorous life otherwise.

Glamour aside, even from a practicality standpoint, it’s an option we need to make more alluring. There is nothing weak or lame about moving back to your hometown or a new city, but one that is affordable regarding its cost of living. No blanket solution is perfect for everyone, but when it comes to dream cities in which to spend your twenties and live your best life, I suggest everyone consider living in a smaller metropolis to start. You may think your Insta-stories will suffer, but your wallet sure won’t.

Alexis Dent is a poet, essayist, and the original White Collar Dropout. Her first poetry collection, Everything I Left Behind, is out now. Read her newsletter for dreamers, doers, and hustlers by joining the White Collar Dropout collective. 

Image via Unsplash

  • You do you. Though keep in mind a lot of people live and stick around in big cities like NYC not for the glamour so much as the walkability, social circles, and access to jobs in their field.

  • Rebecca Ann

    I had to come home (Michigan) from DC after law school. The job market was crap, and I just couldn’t afford to stay. I didn’t want to kill myself working 2+ jobs just to live in a bedroom with no time to actually enjoy the city. I’m doing great back home, found an awesome job that I love, with a whole apartment to myself (not just the bedroom, lol). I’m able to save money to travel, and all the other fun things I want to do. I do still miss it, but my quality of life is much better when I’m not so stressed out about money all the time.

  • Jack

    Oh man….I live in downtown Vancouver and this is making me want to live somewhere that isn’t Vancouver…

    • Ella

      Come to Winnipeg! Just make sure you live in a core neighbourhood where you can walk/bike so you’re not too reliant on our public transportation…that would be a let down after Vancouver.

  • Preach! I didn’t move back to my hometown, but I did move to an even smaller, less “trendy,” Rust Belt-esque city. And I actually really like it here–plus I can afford to live in a waaayyy nicer place than I ever could in NYC, DC, San Francisco, or an equivalent city.

  • Sara Jane Breault

    It reflects my situation, except I moved to a smaller city for university and ended up staying there. Yes my salary is less, but still, I bought a revenue property while being an undergrad and a house 3 years later. There’s little to no traffic and the cultural scene is great. Yes, it involves some sacrifices, but all in all, it was my best move!

  • Miss Meg

    To me, the perks of living in a big city far outweigh the costs. Having a job that pays almost 30K more in LA than in my hometown really compensates for an extra $3 on Chipotle burritos! I also have better access to travel, arts and entertainment and a much more stable job market if this job decides to go belly-up. Agree to disagree, but it seems like you’re really making the best of your small town!

  • Maddog

    Alexis Dent has a secret, once Millennials figure it out America is likely to change

    http://www.maddogslair.com/blog/alexis-dent-has-a-secret-once-millennials-figure-it-out-america-is-likely-to-change

    “When I decided to move back to Buffalo after graduating college, everyone around me was confused. Not just my college friends, but also my peers back home who couldn’t fathom why I’d willingly move back to the rust belt city that so many of them longed to escape. And although returning to be with my family was a huge factor, it wasn’t the only one. Another major reason was that the cost of living in my hometown was so stinking cheap.”

    Living in New York, or LA, or in Silicone Valley is glamorous and the pay, if you can pull it off, incredible. Everyone wants that $100,000+ per year hit. But the cost of living is a grind as is the ocean of people surrounding you at all times. Rent in San Jose is a minimum of $3,000 per month unless you live in a rat warren of roommates. Who can afford that? And so the local communities have special housing programs for firefighters, teachers, police because without that they did not have the means to live near work.

    In middle America, however, things are completely different. One can live on $60,000 per year, buy a home and save for retirement. All things out of the price range of anyone in Silicone Valley not making at least $200,000. For some reason, Millennials have fallen for the salary and glitz trap, but soon they will want families, and then the glitz becomes little more than glitter, and the high cost of living even mediated by the high salary a trap.

    Much of middle America awaits with low housing costs, low land costs, low cost of living, and a family-friendly environment. I expect these alternatives to be attractive.

    Alexis notes that where she lives the weather is less than optimal, but middle America is huge, stretching from the Northeast to the South, to the Mountain West and beyond. If the area weather is important, you can pretty much dial in what you want. If recreation drives you, you can dial in that as well.

    The Millennials are America’s largest demographic group, once they become fully adult and politically aware, I expect they will begin changing America to meet what they want more tightly. I strongly doubt that will mean big city life and no family. Millennials are poised to alter the face of America. I would not be surprised to see the change be a retrenchment to family, suburbs, exurbs and even rural life. It might take a while, but I feel a change wind blowing.

    Thanks Alexis for an excellent article. Keep planting the seeds of this idea in Millennials.

    Mark Sherman

  • Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon

    “a million dollars will buy you a sprawling, fully updated home on a couple of acres. You’d likely get an in-ground pool and a tennis court as well”…yet that is just the purchase price. How much does it cost to maintain and especially in winter, heat your home? How much time, money and energy do you have to dedicate to taking care of it? Do you have to drive everywhere from your sprawling home? Most importantly, what is the real environmental and social cost of such a large home? Is such a large home in a walkable area? Do you have to drive for 30+ minutes, perhaps even longer, to get to anything?

    • Wolf

      This is so important. I’m tired of “go to the country, rent or buy a big cheap place” and simply ignoring the time, cost and stress of having to drive to work, to the grocery store, the hospital, the library, to see friends,…
      I don’t “cohabitate with mice”, but I do have a small apartment, and I’m happy being close to everything and everyone, and save a lot of money by not owning a car.

    • advo_kate

      I don’t know that this is the point. I live (and grew up) in Pittsburgh, and my partner and I are currently preparing to buy a house. I’m 25 and they are 23. It’s easy to compare what $1 million can buy you in different areas because it’s a nice round number, but that doesn’t mean everyone is actually trying to live in McMansions out here.

      For context, we’re looking at 2-bedroom homes with a private yard around $100,000, less than a 20 minute drive from the city center. Does that get you anything decent in NYC or LA?

      • Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon

        Twenty minutes is ok in my book if it is with traffic included, and if there are reasonable public transportation options available, which is the option if you are in some kind of “streetcar suburb”

  • Dodi

    Depends on your occupation as well. As a school teacher, I make much more than I would in a rural town. So even though I pay more to live here, I make more money as well. If you have a job where your salary doesn’t fluctuate based on location, then yeah you might be able to save more in a small or rural area.

  • Shelby

    This article must be a joke – I started laughing as soon as you mentioned Buffalo in the very first sentence! I choose to move TO Buffalo for a reason – the renaissance is real! Although the rent is rising now in response. I feel like every other article I read is how millennials are moving to, and back to Buffalo. This article is a nice idea, but not a great example for your hypothesis.

    This article would have much more impact coming from a rust belt city that’s not revitalizing, or an actual small, rural town.

    • Summer

      I’m not sure the specific town discussed in this article is really necessary to focus on… It’s more about the lifestyle opportunities and savings benefits that can come from NOT living in a major city with a high cost of living like New York, San Francisco, etc. One also has to keep earning potential of these so-called smaller/rural/not-yet-revitalized towns in mind when touting the financial benefits. Unless you can manage to land a fully remote gig paying a big-city salary, you’re going to have a difficult time finding a lucrative job in an actual rust belt, middle-of-nowhere city.

      • Summer, I agree completely!

        Shelby, I live in a small city that might not technically be in the Rust Belt but definitely shares a lot of qualities with the Rust Belt and that is very very slowly revitalizing, and I felt like this article still applied to my situation and could’ve just as easily be written about my city.

  • Anon

    I’m in school right now and just had to pick my post-grad job — despite wanting to pick a smaller, less glamorous city with a higher quality of life and lower cost of living, I ended up choosing the option in NYC. I didn’t do it for financial reasons, but rather because the option in NYC comes with the greatest prestige and likely the best launching pad and broadest exit options. Prestige can feel amorphous, but it can also pay off down the line.

    Starting in a small market can keep you in a small market, and at this point in my life, I don’t want to close any doors to my career.

  • Anon

    I feel like one of the things people who haven’t lived in a place like NYC miss is that it recalibrates your expectations and desires. My sister moved to a suburb of a cheaper city and it’s true that she has an enormous house, two big cars, and a back yard. Ten years after living in NYC, I find her home incomprehensible. I’m not envious; I’m confused as to how she cleans it and keeps up on repairs. I also find the idea of buying enough stuff to fill it kind of wasteful. People have lived happily in all sorts of living spaces. Most people I know if NYC don’t pine for more space, really, though they might complain about rent. The cost of living thing seems like a fair point; the desire for a large space is a red herring, I think.

  • Ella

    I liked this article because it shared the author’s experience but I think it’s important to not take it as a blanket small town vs. big city argument – it’s just this one person’s experience.

    There are so many different levels to this conversation than Buffalo vs. NYC. You can live in cities with a reasonable cost of living that still have the big city appeal of walk-ability etc. without moving to NYC or LA. Also, let’s remember Buffalo isn’t “the country”. It’s a city of 200,000 with a lot more economic opportunity than what most areas that would call themselves rural have.

    • Ella

      Thinking on this more I think my definition of “rural” is probably different because I live in Canada. Rural to me is still the small town farming community I grew up in with a population of 600. I think “rural” is probably defined differently in the US.

      • Shelby

        No, you are very correct here. Buffalo is a terrible example to use, especially considering it’s recent renaissance from it’s rust belt days! (The Buffalove is real here). If one wanted an article comparing specifically NYC to Buffalo, that would be an appealing debate – but hometown vs. glamorous big city, it is not.

  • Abby S

    I love this article and can say from experience – I lived in NYC for two years and moved back to a small Midwest city, this is exactly how I feel. Well written, too!

  • I like this essay and can definitely relate. I also keep my costs down by sticking to a small apartment and when my husband’s car went kaput, we decided to share mine. We live in a walkable small city in PA (Lancaster) with a thriving arts scene and so many “big-city” amenities and a short drive or train ride to major northeast cities. Love the proximity. If our city was a little more isolated, I am not sure I’d feel as happy living in a smaller community – but lowering our cost of living and major bills has helped us enjoy life outside of the apartment more – which helps me deal with not having as much space as I’d like sometimes.

  • Calla Martyn

    I appreciate the insight but am disappointed the author completely neglected one of the biggest reasons for living in big cities; jobs. Sure, cultural attractions factor into a lot of peoples’ decisions but for many fields jobs are concentrated in just a few major cities. Moving to a smaller metro area is not an option for me. At least touching on this factor would have made for a more well-rounded article.

  • Stephania Stump

    This. So much this. My husband and I moved to Brooklyn from Indiana for him to attend NYU dental school. We were renting a 1500 sqft three bedroom house with a decent sized fenced in backyard in a comfortable neighborhood for about $800. It was fully updated and well taken care of, and we continued that while we were renting there. In Park Slope, Brooklyn (which we chose because of it’s proximity to Prospect Park — we have 2 dogs we couldn’t bear to leave behind), we’re renting a 550 sqft one bedroom apartment for $2600…and since the building is from 1897, it leaves a lot to be desired.

    I completely understand (after living here for a couple years now) the attraction of living in a big city for some people. Food whenever and wherever you want it, extreme walkability, and vibrant neighborhoods and people everywhere you turn. New exciting things are around every corner, even if you were just there last week. And my husband and I take full advantage of all the opportunities in the city, as much as we can on the income of one medical researcher and one student.

    However. I long for the ability to open the backdoor and let my dogs out without having to get ready to go outside and down four flights of stairs. I miss being able to drive myself to work and to visit friends, and knowing exactly how long it will take to get there – since I don’t HAVE to rely on public transit and service changes and delays. As an introvert, the city exhausts me…and I have to actively schedule relaxing quiet time into my day just to function. Plus, groceries, goods, EVERYTHING is so much more expensive here.

    It probably is different for me because I grew up in a smaller city (300,000 people) and was raised with an outdoorsy lifestyle with lots of camping and roadtrips … but we can’t wait to move back to the Midwest and have a little (lot!) more breathing room… and a ton of extra cash in the savings accounts.