The many benefits of small cheap cities

I complain about my city a lot. A lot. But then sometimes I read a collection of trend pieces which focus on how expensive and unsocial life is in “these modern times” and I notice that they don’t describe my life at all. Maybe they describe the lives of people in NYC or San Francisco or D.C., but life here in eastern Washington just isn’t as overwhelming.

And so, in the interest of gratitude, a few things that I love about living in a small (population ~200,000) city that is one of the least expensive in the country.

  • Transportation is cheap. My commute takes six minutes. All of my friends live within ten minutes of both my apartment and my job. I’m doing a play right now – the theatre is between my home and my office. All that means I fill up my gas tank about once a month (and that’s just because I’m too lazy to bike up the hill I live on).
  • Short distances beget spontaneity. If I had to take an hour-long subway ride each way to go to my friend’s place, there’s no way I’d be popping over at 10 pm on a Tuesday to paint my toenails and catch up for 45 minutes. Turning around to meet your friends for a drink downtown after getting home is an easy decision to make when downtown is five minutes away.
  • Rent is cheap. If you’re spending 50 percent of your salary or something crazy like that on rent, you’re living in too fancy of a city. I pay less than $600 and have friends with roommates who pay closer to $300. That’s insane. It opens up a lot of room to both save and do fun things.
  • The idea that you might not have a kitchen is bonkers. Cooking for yourself is one of the best ways to both save money and be healthier. Sometimes I look at micro-apartments and tiny homes on real estate websites, because I am a dork, and notice that they don’t even have an oven or a burner. You don’t have to make those kinds of trade-offs in a LCOL city.
  • Another side effect of cheap rent – you have enough space to host. I love hosting parties, and finding an apartment where I could do so was high on my priority list. Being able to comfortably fit 15+ people in your living room is pretty fantastic. I also love having a guest bed.
  • The ease of socializing puts less pressure on it. This is anecdotal evidence, but I think that the fact that it’s so easy for my friends to get together makes it much more low-key. We don’t need to plan big nights out to entice everyone to put in the effort to get together, because the effort is so minimal. That means you can sit around drinking tea on someone’s couch and no one’s going to feel like it wasn’t worth the time/money they put into getting there. That also makes it way cheaper.
  • Literally everything is cheaper. Again, anecdotal, but a beer at a bar here is about $4. In Seattle, it’s more like $6. When I visited New York, it was $9! Yikes.
  • It’s super walkable. I often leave my car parked all weekend and just walk everywhere, unless I know I’ll be out late.

Sure, I get annoyed that you can’t get a direct flight anywhere, making new friends is hard, live shows (like for the podcasts I fan girl about) never come here, the swing dancing community is a disappointment, dating is nigh impossible, there isn’t the wide variety of events you’d find in a bigger city, and every time my friend says she wants to go “somewhere loungey” we have to remind her she actually means “the same bar we went to the last three times.” But hey! There are great things too!

What do you love about your city? (Or town, or suburb, or acreage that’s 50 miles from the nearest grocery store and completely off the grid)


11 thoughts on “The many benefits of small cheap cities

  1. frugalmilitarywife says:

    I live in a nice neighborhood in a military town. It’s too bad we don’t have good public transportation. I would take it more often than driving. Our car has good mileage and only requires 40$ per month for a full tank every month, so we don’t complain about that.

    We however pay way too much for our studio apartment. It’s super tiny for us 2 + our pup, but my husband likes it because it’s close to where he works and it’s very safe. I never knew how much he was right until I moved here and saw the shady neighborhoods with cheaper rent.

    I’m originally from Montreal Canada — the city in Canada where everything can be accessible via the subway and is pretty much walkable. It’s a big city, but it’s pretty affordable in terms of rent and there’s a lot of jobs for new graduates.


  2. Anonymous says:

    I live in Anacortes (pop ~16,000). Rent is $695 for my little apartment, but that’s because it is only a block off of the main street, so I can walk to anywhere in downtown, and not too far to anywhere else (groceries, library, the park, etc.).

    I love that it is on the water, and that I can wake up, walk outside and smell the sea and hear seagulls.

    The downside is that it’s a quiet town, socially. Most everyone is either retired, or works lots of hours at the local oil refinery at other 10 hour shift places. So it’s been difficult to make friends outside of work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ms. MyCountdown says:

    I live in a suburb right outside of a big city in the midwest, and I grew up on the east coast in a suburb about forty minutes away from NYC. So I don’t really know the perks of a small city living, but you’re right on about how it is different from a major city. The expense is so great for day-to-day living in major cities, it’s a wonder so many stay; I guess it’s the plethora of stuff to do and more employment opportunities


    • Stacking Twenties says:

      When I lived in a bigger city (Minneapolis) I really appreciated the social and cultural opportunities – some of that is missing here. I’m more of a city person (not somewhere crazy like New York though!) and definitely looking forward to being somewhere larger again, but there are some nice things about a smaller city too!

      Liked by 1 person

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