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Moving to the country? What to expect

Moving to the country? What to expect

How often have you heard comments about small towns declining? You know how it goes: There's little to no economic opportunity in rural areas, the population is aging, Main Street is becoming a ghost town, small towns are experiencing "brain drain" as young people move away in droves, taking their education with them. Sound familiar?

As it turns out, it's all wrong.

Since 1970, the rural population in this country has gone up, not down.

Steady population increase in rural America since 1970

According to the research of Ben Winchester, a rural sociologist at the University of Minnesota, rural areas in Minnesota and other Midwestern states are in the midst of a "rural brain gain." The population of people ages 30-49 has steadily increased in rural America since 1970.

Winchester has been studying rural migration patterns for two decades and has found that, yes, young people who grow up in small towns tend to go away to college or settle in cities to begin their careers. But when those kids get a bit older and start to have families, their eyes turn back to the wide open spaces. And they're bringing their education, skills, work experience, professional savvy and connections, spending power and children back to rural towns with them.

But they're not the only ones who are moving to the country. City mice are seeing the appeal of rural life, too. Especially now, with high-speed broadband internet covering much of the rural Midwest — 96% of Minnesotans now have access to high-speed internet, as do 94% of Illinoisians and 88% of Wisconsinites — it's possible to work from home doing just about anything.

As Winchester's research shows, people are migrating to rural America for several reasons:

  • A simpler life
  • Safety and security for themselves and their families
  • Affordable housing
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Quality schools

Doesn't it sound nice to get out of the rat race, already? The hustle, bustle and traffic in the city can take its toll. Are you ready to move to the country?

Going country: What to expect

"Lifestyle change" doesn't quite cover what it's like to move to a rural area, especially if you've been living in the city your whole life. Here are a few things to expect from your new life in a small town.

Housing costs will dramatically decrease ...

If you've been paying rent in any large, metropolitan area, or worse, dreamed of buying a home and were sticker-shocked into a stupor, you will be pleasantly surprised at the cost of home ownership in a small community. On average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us homes cost 30% less in rural areas, but the reality can be a whole lot less, depending on where you buy. Also, you'll get more for your money and your mortgage will go further — think a spacious house on 10 acres vs. an apartment in the city and you've got the right idea.

... but other expenses may vary.

This is all about the rural lifestyle. Here's a rundown, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Eating out. You'll generally spend less on eating out. That's because there are fewer options than you'll find in the city, they're further away from home, and if you do go out to eat, the prices are generally lower on menus in rural areas. Also, incidental expenses, like those $5 lattes every morning on the way to work and expensive lunches, will take a nosedive.

  • Utilities. They'll stay about the same or even go up, depending on where you live. It also depends on the size of your home. If you're moving to a four-bedroom farmhouse with high ceilings from a small apartment in the city, expect to pay more to heat it.

  • Automotive. You'll likely pay more for gas and wear and tear on your vehicles, because rural life means you're driving everywhere you need to go and driving much further to do things like run to the market.

  • Groceries. If you decide to plant a vegetable garden, buy eggs from your neighbor who raises chickens and get your meat at the local butcher, you'll likely pay less for food (and it will taste better, too).

Everything is farther away

When you're living in the country, shopping trips are outings that take awhile. There will be no more running quickly to Target or to the convenience store. Savvy rural dwellers plan their shopping trips carefully, making lists of the groceries and other items they'll need for the week. Another option is to shop online. Amazon delivers just about anywhere!

The power will go out

It's just a fact of country life that your power will tend to go out more than it does in the city. Plan on having a backup generator for appliances. Also, if you're working at home via the internet, make sure your phone is a hotspot, and keep it charged at all times. That way, if your electricity goes out, you can still get your work done. Also, consider getting a backup battery for your computer, and keep it fully charged.

The sounds are different

People expect it to be quiet in the country, and if you've been living next door to the Loud Family, you will relish the respite from the constant din. But it's not completely quiet. That's a misconception. It's just that the sounds are different. You won't be hearing the noise of traffic, constant sirens or your neighbor kid's drum practice. But you will be hearing the soothing sounds of the plains and the forests. Wind whispering through the trees, ducks chattering on your pond, birds singing, deer crunching through the leaves. Depending on your location and the season, you may hear a few moos and oinks as well. It's a whole new soundtrack for your life. Ahhhh.

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