Follow me as I investigate the rural bargain

Everyone lines to bargain shop online. What if I told you, there’s a bargain to be had right under your nose? It’s not available on Amazon.com

Bargain opportunity

A bargain is found on the US map. It’s in the wide-open spaces between the major cities. The areas are called rural America.

Rural America offers a huge opportunity. Will we consider it?

You probably avoid these places. There’s not much going on there, you say. And yet, there’s a rural bargain waiting to be claimed. Rural America offers many of us a huge opportunity. Will we consider it?

No, I’m not suggesting a cheap vacation. I’m talking about living there. Moving to a small town.

I left the city

In the fall of 2015, I left the second-largest city in America for the #1,697th.

… I left the second-largest city in America for the #1,697th.

Naming America’s #2 city is easy, Los Angeles. Can you guess the #1,697th?

Klamath Falls, Oregon is located in south-central Oregon. It’s 20 miles north of the California border. South of there is a town called Weeds, CA. North of Klamath Falls 140 miles is Bend, Oregon, which is pretty well-known.

Bend, Oregon is seen as a desirable place to live. In fact, Bend-Redmond was America’s third fastest-growing economy from 2015 to 2016. Best was #2 on the Ten Best Emerging Places to live in 2017.

Klamath Falls, OR? It’s loved by many who live here. Also, it’s on some not-so-good lists (for health and economy). Why am I here? The town’s affordable. It’s the way the rural bargain works.

Exploring the rural bargain

Interested in hearing more about Bend, Oregon? You’re missing the point, friend. Bend isn’t a bargain.

On this blog, I’m exploring a way out. A way out of modern problems. We live with them every day. We probably believe they’re not problems anymore. We’ve accepted them. Gotten used to them.

Here, I’ll be telling you about an alternative to city life. Specifically, the overlooked rural community. It’s an experiment. I’m drinking the potion first. I left the city for an unheard-of rural town.

I’m here to give you a long-shot alternative to your city woes:

  • the crowds
  • the chaos
  • the crowds
  • the competition
  • the compromises

I’ll tell you if rural life improves any of these areas. I’ll relate rural with a city point of view.

Cities are great (or they’re not)

You’ve probably noticed this. There’s. tale of two city-realities going on in America. Cities are great. Cities suck. You may think of one today, and the other tomorrow. It’s what makes us crazy. Here are both arguments.

Reality #1: the city is more popular than ever

For a lot of people, city life and life are the same thing.

For a lot of people, city life and life are the same thing.

City life is civilization. Careers. Restaurants. Culture. Money. It’s all there. The city has it. Offers you a chance at it.

People want what cities have. The population is higher than ever. Four out of five Americans live in a city. Currently, that’s over 260 million people.

Did you know there are 10 American cities with over a million people? Half of them have double-digit population growth.

Leaving city life is kind of like leaving your own body. Good luck getting along without it. And yet, it’s what many are doing, because …

Reality #2: the city’s shaky foundation

Is everyone happy in the city? No. Cities are popular but people are restless. They’re looking for alternatives. There’s a trend within the numbers. It says people are leaving cities. Or at least, trying to.

When you look at net domestic migration, you see an exodus. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. Each has recorded negative domestic migration. Other cities, like Boston, have as well.

Some negative city trends:

  • 40% of Bay Area residents want to leave
  • almost a million US citizens have left metro New York City since 2010
  • millennials are predicted to leave cities over wages and prospects

What keeps city numbers so high? International arrivals. The first stop for a new citizen is still a city. It keeps cities looking popular. But these people are just as liable to want to move on from city chaos, later.

My city résumé

I’m no urban pretender. No small-city guy, either. I’ve lived in the top US cities:

  • New York (#1) — 10 years
  • Los Angeles (#2) — 12 years
  • San Francisco (#13) — 1 year
  • Portland, Oregon (#26) — 4 years

One aspect of a major city is its large population. Even greater is a city’s effect on the country. I’ve lived in our most culturally-relevant cities. These cities set the tone. (For better or worse, your opinion may vary.) I’ve lived in the cities that inform cities how to be cities.

I’ve lived in the cities that inform cities how to be cities

My urban life was driven by a media career. I worked with shapers of culture. It’s possible to say, I got an authoritative city experience. Cities are all about their cultures. I worked inside of the culture industry.

With a history like this, moving away from a city was a big change. I went from insider to outsider, overnight. This means I can describe rural life to you, fast and clear. In a way that you’d experience it.

Do you need a bargain?

Some of you do well in the city. You can pay your way out of city hassles. Many of us can’t.

We started businesses. Had families. Went freelance. Downsized careers to follow our dreams, or to restore our sanity. Money wasn’t the most important thing, anymore. Soon, the city became optional. Right before our eyes.

The city bargain is about finding potential in the undervalued. Urban people aren’t flocking to live in unknown rural areas. Therein lies an opportunity.

The rural bargain is about finding potential in the undervalued.

According to census data, 14% of the US population lives in rural towns. That’s around 60 million people—spread out over three million square miles. When looking for the most life for your money, rural is available.

Real rural only

The rural bargain works on a certain condition. The town you pick must be seriously rural. City people who plan to move to trendy resort towns, like Bend, will find their dollars going no further than where they left.

Real rural offers you a big difference in your quality of life. While saving money.

The life that real rural gets you:

  • cheaper
  • quieter
  • family-friendlier
  • close to outdoors

And, the real rural issues that come with it:

  • poorer town
  • remote location
  • sluggish local economy
  • healthcare scarcity
  • people-differences/culture shock

You can’t have one without the other. Why it’s a rural bargain. Bargains are full of surprises. Maybe a bargain is worth it. Maybe not. I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m recently rural. The gamble is definitely there. If you’re willing to bargain hunt with your lifestyle, you can win big.

Is the rural bargain worth it?

I’ve laid out what I believe to be the rural opportunity. Has potential, but needs examining, It’s why I’m here in a small town.

Have you heard of middle-class families moving to inner cities? It’s happening. People seek a lower cost of living. They buy and renovate a house. Make friends with the community. Going rural is a similar idea. For some—nature lovers, gardeners, those who desire land—it might be a better idea. It needs to be tested.

I don’t know of anyone else testing rural life from an urban perspective. I can’t recommend that someone else move. I’d say, check out this blog if you’re interested. We’ll find out together.

Case study: my rural town

You can’t write about rural America generally. It’s a huge area. You can write about one town. Especially if it’s a great example of rural living.

It turns out, I moved to such a town. I believe it defines what we think of as rural. The benefits and the tradeoffs.

Klamath Falls, Oregon

Klamath Falls meets the general definition of a rural community:

  1. Small population — just over 21,000 people (more on this below)
  2. Removed from big city influence — 300 miles from Portland, Oregon
  3. Off the beaten path — the town is on the far side of the Oregon Cascades
  4. Economically weak — agriculture and healthcare are the top two industries
  5. Low cost of living — 3.9% lower than the national average

Put these things together, you get an affordable rural environment. You’re buying as low as possible.

Klamath Falls also meets the general criteria for livable:

  1. Mild high desert climate — 300 days of sun per year
  2. Outdoor recreation — minutes to hiking, fishing; an hour to Crater Lake
  3. Centrally-located — a 5/12 drive to Portland or San Francisco
  4. Close-knit culture — town is unique, not a stop on an Interstate
  5. Varied population — an educated workforce at the local college

*Klamath Falls has a metro area that goes up to 50,000. However the 20,000 city number is used officially, suppressing development, so it’s relevant

And then, the rural issues

Many locals believe their town is the best value in Oregon. Costs are low and there’s a reason for it. Klamath Falls has the usual rural problems. Not to overstate. But for someone moving to a rural town, it bears a mention.

Where my town/country falls short vs. other Oregon counties

  • Last in county health rankings in 2016
  • Higher unemployment
  • Lower-income
  • Lower spending on teachers
  • Lower graduation rates
  • More children in poverty
  • Higher homicide deaths

As I said, an affordable rural town will have rural issues.

Weighing the bargain

There’s also a lot to consider with rural life. Cheaper. Close to nature. Family-friendly. Rural blight is real. It’s a part of it. Can you be a pioneer? If rural gets you the big house you always wanted? Or, a house at all?

If rural gets you the big house you always wanted? Or, a house at all?

The hard-hitting stats above look scary. And yet, if you’re healthy now, you’ll continue to be healthy. If you have a job skill, you’ll work and make a living. You’ll rise above abstract statistics. This much I know so far.

A lot of what you see in rural statistics is a local lifestyle, not yours. Even the crime is largely part of an unfortunate subculture that keeps to its own. And you can help. One benefit of moving to an underdog community is giving back to that community. That’s my mentality right now, anyway.

Come back and see

I moved to a rural community from the big city. I wanted to see the rural bargain. To see if city problems can be traded for a better life. This blog will tell you ant I see about rural life. Whether I think it’s possible.

Should you go rural? Very few of you are asking that question, I’m sure. Check back. You don’t new to plan a radical transition to a rural community to read about it. It should be interesting to compare apples and oranges.

And if you are interested? You don’t have to tell anyone. I’ll let you know.

This blog post first appeared at Recently Rural.

Eugene Havens

Eugene is a writer working on books and websites. Check out Eugene's novel here.

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