Friday, August 11, 2017

Making It Work In An Expensive Town (That We Love)

Last year, we moved from the flat, rural Midwest to a picturesque mountain town known for its ubiquitous pine trees, comfortable summertime temperatures, and close proximity to some of the western U.S.'s most popular national parks and monuments. 

Like this one:

And this one:

Aaaaand this one:

(Sorry. I'm a little obsessed with public parks.)

It's a lovely place to live, but it's also exceedingly expensive. Hang out in any coffee shop or bar downtown and you're bound to hear frustrated conversations about the disparity between local salaries (average household income: $65,000) and housing costs (average price for a single-family home: $350,000; average rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1400/month). High cost of living and homelessness are perennial issues here. It's not New York City or San Francisco, no, but the majority of non-millionaires we know are struggling. 

At least from our wallet’s perspective, we’d have it much easier if we returned to Indiana, where we paid a grand total of $500/month for a three-bedroom house with an enormous front yard. Yet we haven’t even considered it. The mountains, the climate, the outdoorsy culture, and the sunshine (266 days out of the year!) all lend to a quality of life that is exponentially higher for us than where we previously resided. 

That clinical depression that's hounded me for most of my life? Yeah. It’s been in remission since October of 2016, the month we landed here. 

I’m convinced it’s the mountains. We’re not going anywhere.

We're committed to making it work, but in order to afford living expenses AND keep up with our debt repayment plan, we have to be strategic. Here's how we do it: 

(1) We both have salaried jobs. First, can I just say that we are lucky, lucky, lucky? We didn't move here with these gigs. Yes, we worked our butts off to find them, but opportunities are somewhat limited, and we feel incredibly grateful. Prior to this, Fortysomething spent 10 years as a contract worker. Contract work can be lucrative, but it can also be unpredictable, and in this town we need income predictability. Two regular paychecks and employer-sponsored health insurance are crucial for us.

(2) We keep our transportation costs low. We own just one car, and because we never have that far to travel, we budget only ~$45 a month for gas. Fortysomething, the Kiddo, and I all walk to work or school. My commute on foot is about 45 minutes each way, which gets me outside and it allows me to forego my employer's pricy parking pass, an expense that would set us back by at least $500 a year. 

(3) We signed a longer lease. Our apartment complex has month-to-month options as well as a variety of longer options (9-month, 12-month, 16-month, etc.) The longer the lease, the lower the price, so we decided to sign a year-long lease. It's a bit of a gamble in a complex like this one because you never know when you're going to get a noisy neighbor, but so far, it's working out fairly well.

(4) We shop at thrift stores. We have some well-stocked, independently-owned thrift stores here, and we’ve learned that we can find quality goods at low prices. We bought some of our furniture, a bunch of kitchen gear, and part of the Kiddo’s fall wardrobe from these stores and have saved at least a couple hundred dollars in the process.

(5) We stopped going out to eat. Our little town boasts some amazing restaurants, but they’re generally priced for tourists. We were paying anywhere between $50 and $80 every time we went out for dinner. So we gave it up. We'll go out for special occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries, and live it up when we do.

(6) We’re choosy about activities. Things that are out: skiing (we don’t have the gear and we’re not going to rent), bike tours, concerts, and basically anything with an entrance fee. However, there’s still plenty to do without paying a cent, including movies on the town square, music in the park, the library, hiking, and running. I’m not saying we never feel like we’re missing out. Sometimes we do. (And by "we," I mostly mean me.) But the longer we live here, the easier it is to find free fun.

Like going to the lake:

Or taking a hike:

Or catching the sunset:

Thank you, nature. You're the best.

Do any of you live in a particularly expensive area? How do you keep your expenses in check?

Disease Called Debt


  1. We just came back from a camping trip to the Grand Canyon, and I can totally see why you would want to live in that area.

    I think that's Montezuma's Castle, in your first pic? It's absolutely stunning up there!

    How amazing that you guys were able to make moving there work financially, while working towards paying off your debt.

    Best of luck to you guys!

    1. Yup, Montezuma's Castle! It's pretty incredible. We love all the national parks and monuments in this area.

  2. It's such a great area. On my recent vacay, the temps were cooler there there than back home. My child has a lot of fun shopping at our local thrift stores. Every once in a while we will venture to find new-to-us stores. Found out the ones by the college had some stuff she really liked.

    1. SO MANY GOOD THRIFT STORES. My personal favorite is Full Circle. The inventory changes all the time, and they sell some quality stuff. We went there for back-to-school shopping.

  3. We spent 15 years living in a "destination ski resort" talk about catering to tourists. Now at least we are farther south but its still pricey. Just not as bad. We rent a house, I lease my car and my hubby works 1200 miles away (his dream job and after 20 years of contract work he now salary). We are in our 50's and we know that we never want to be in financial hole where we have to live with his mother (did that for 8 years) so we do what has to be done.

    1. I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday - how the town really does "cater" to tourists by jacking up prices, especially at restaurants. We're saving so much money by not going out to eat. I'm still trying to ID restaurants that have good food AND good prices.

  4. I'm curious where you are at. We live in Phoenix and have been to all of those places and wish we were closer but happy to be in a big town with opportunities. We try to do day trips there though and you are right, the woods are such a relief! Hopefully you guys are able to stick around and still achieve your goal! We are rooting for you!

    1. We're in Flagstaff. Housing prices and lack of job opportunities are big problems here. My husband and I feel incredibly lucky to have both found full-time jobs here. They don't pay enough, but unless you work for Gore or the medical center, *nothing* pays enough. We're making it work, though. We have family in Phoenix and love to head down there every now and then, especially in winter!

  5. Heck yes we do, one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world (low wages, high COL to boot).
    We stopped briefly in Flagstaff and stayed overnight - thought it was a cute place and a nice town close to fabulous natural attractions. Thrift shopping is huge for me - I hardly ever buy anything new.

    1. The thrift shopping here is pretty great, I will say that! It looks like you're from Aukland, based on your profile? We've heard it's expensive to live there. All the beautiful places are so $$$$!

  6. We live in a remote area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula which tends to make everything more costly. Our housing is expensive because we live on a lake, but I feel it is worth every penny! Jobs are also few and far in between and don't tend to pay all that well. We make it work because Hubs travels for a living and I was fortunate to get hired with a local government agency and also work seasonally (and mostly from home) as a camp registrar.

    1. That sounds so beautiful! I agree... Living by a lake and being surrounded by nature would be totally worth the extra money.


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