Is Country Life Cheaper Than City Life?

The lovely Frugalwoods had a post up recently about the cost of living in the country vs. their previous years living in the city. Apparently people kept saying to them ‘you must be saving so much money living out there!’ which couldn’t be farther from the truth for them at the moment. This really piqued my interest because I so often see people, myself included, making sweeping assumptions or predictions about lifestyle cost without actually examining the numbers.

Most of us are pretty bad at guessing what our life costs are. I recently saw a thread regarding family grocery costs with a huge range of numbers and reactions and judgements on the statement that the average family spends $500/month on groceries. For some people that number was just right and others it was way too low. Fair enough. But the really interesting part to me was how many people claimed to know exactly what they spent each month on groceries. This is where I wanted to ask questions. Do you track all of your spending and the average out food spend for the year? I know for myself the only way I truly know how much we spend on food is by tracking every single purchase. Before we did this I thought we spent 25% less than we actually did.

Unless you actually know what your costs are, making generalized assumptions/declarations about certain lifestyles are a waste of time. Moving to the country could have been a lot more expensive for us with a few different choices. Unlike the Frugalwoods, we did not buy a homestead. We bought a house on a quarter acre lot within walking distance to town and our kids school. We don’t need a tractor. We have no plans to live off the land or raise chickens. And we prefer to hire out for repairs rather than keep an expensive and space costly trove of tools (plus we’re not handy!).

That said, I’m generalizing on costs here and using percentages. I could provide a detailed graph and charts and such… we are users of Mint… but for privacies sake, I won’t.

Savings from moving to the country/a small town:

  • Childcare has dropped in cost by over 35%. The rates are lower here and you are not charged for holidays, vacation time you take or when the daycare is closed over. Our niece and nephew babysit for us for date night and they charge us less than half of what babysitters in the city charge.
  • Bye-bye sushi and cappuccinos. While I thought we were mindful about our casual spending in the city and it was “reasonable’, now that we no longer have good and cheap sushi a block away and so many coffee shops between us and any errands, our dine out and entertainment budget has dropped dramatically. We still go out once a week or so to a movie or for a date at the board game cafe here but it costs us a lot less than it did in the city. We spend about 20% of what we spent on entertainment and dining out when we lived in the city.
  • Our groceries are cheaper. We’re spending 10-20% less on groceries here because we can buy in bulk. The grocery costs are actually pretty similar to the city but now that we can buy a 40lb box of apples for $25, instead of paying $1.99/lb, we’re spending less. We’ve also moved from using recyclable coffee pods to French Press coffee that we grind from beans bought in bulk. I’m embarrassed to admit how much this change has saved us. *Hint: much more than buying apples in bulk has. Sometimes it felt like too much work to grind the beans and do the clean up for French press coffee (which is really terrible to admit!). But with the increase in available time with our move, and my husband’s willingness to make the coffee most mornings, it’s dare I say easy to drink homemade French press coffee everyday.
  • Rental income. Our home came with a basement suite and we are about to rent it out for the first time. I don’t know if this will be an ongoing thing but if it is it will be a significant source of income.

Increased costs from moving to the country/ a small town: note, these are one time costs that should have very little ongoing spend.

  • We bought a car. We paid cash for a pre-owned minivan and plan to use it for many years. With insurance, maintenance and gas this is a huge increase compared to our no car city life. Add in that we made $80/month renting our parking spot out and the increase gets even bigger. In the city we averaged around $150/month on transit, bike share and car-share. Add in that we made money from renting our parking spot out and YIKES, the increase in costs is exponential. *I haven’t costed out the investment opportunity loss of having money tied up in a depreciating asset. But it is there and it is significant.
  • All that garden stuff. We had to buy a lawn mower and some other gardening implements. I didn’t find a quick and easy way for us to buy a used lawn mower once we moved here and the grass was getting long, so we bought from the local hardware store. I think we are mostly done on those pieces but it was a significant outlay of cash.
  • More furniture. We bought most of it used before moving up here but it was still a significant cost. Two chairs for our living room, a dining table (our old one went to the basement suite), a queen bed and a couch for the basement suite and a coffee table and a few side tables.

Overall we’re spending about 20% less each month than we did in the city. As listed above, some of that is a lower cost for items here, some is lifestyle change. There simply isn’t the same opportunity to spend here as there was in the city. I know many people live in an urban centre and aren’t tempted or don’t partake in cafe culture or the occasional green juice. But I did! So far we aren’t missing it. We take coffee from home to the sledding hill and go for ‘just a walk’ not a ‘walk and maybe drop by that French bakery.’ We have picked up a new activity – skiing – but even that hasn’t impacted our budget that much as we only go occasionally and our local hill is really, really, really inexpensive. The cash outlay for our minivan was considerable but if I threw a car payment into our monthly spend we would still have a cheaper lifestyle than in the city. And the other costs from moving here were from one time expenses. We’ve been pretty pleased with the change in our budget as we hope to be financially independent/retired earlier than the usual 65.

Cheaper does not automatically mean better of course. We’re spending less and we’re really enjoying it here but I still think fondly of city life. Living downtown with kids was awesome. I don’t regret any of our years as a condo family. And because we chose to be a condo family, and bought into Vancouver real estate, we were lucky to be able to sell in a hot market and buy a home in a small town for much less than we sold for. This financial windfall has pushed us far closer to retirement. Thank you city living! *I’ll speak to housing costs in another post.

I’d love to hear from those of you that have moved out of/into city, suburb or rural living. Did costs go up or down? What surprised you the most? 

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