City Shopping: Finding Your New Frugal Home

by Kentin Waits on 22 May 2012 1 comment
Photo: numberjuan2

Living frugally means more than paying attention to the small details of our financial lives. Sometimes the broad brushstrokes we make can affect our lifestyles more than anything else. People seldom talk about how the place we choose to live can add to — or detract from — our frugal goals. Besides the obvious factors like job opportunities, proximity to family, and property prices, what are some other things we should consider when exploring cities and deciding where to make a new frugal home? (See also: Live Where It's Cheap)

Cost of Living

Typically, when we think of cost of living, we look at things like the prices of property, food, and education. But some other costs have a way of sneaking up on you.

Property Tax/County Tax

When I moved from Chicago to Portland, Oregon I didn’t realize there was a temporary county tax in place. Though it only lasted a few years, I hadn’t budgeted for it, and it was an unpleasant surprise. Research property tax rates and special taxes imposed by the country that might affect your bottom-line.

Climate/Weather

Harsh winters and brutal summers can add up to high energy bills. Consider how typical weather patterns year-round will affect your budget — especially if you’re moving from a temperate climate to one with bigger seasonal extremes.

Transit Options

Transportation costs can be a budget-buster. Communities without bike lanes, a well-organized mass transit system, or pedestrian-friendly streets mean you’ll be depending on your car almost exclusively. Don’t forget to look at airport options for longer trips too. Is there a regional hub nearby? The size of the airport often dictates what airlines service the area, how often flights leave, and how expensive tickets will be.

Community

A lively and engaged community can be a boon to savers. Strong communities mean neighbors help neighbors and interact with each other through a wide range of social and commercial activities.

Like-Minded Neighbors

Every town is different. Though it might be hard at first, try to get a read on the local vibe. Do neighbors seem to congregate together or go solo? Are there clubs, coffee shops, or organizations where people connect with each other to explore interests or network professionally? A strong community can help frugal folks meet, encourage each other, and exchange ideas.

Resale Environment

Thrift stores, charities, yard sales, and farmers markets help make up the fabric of a local community. Do a bit of exploring and find out if your new town has any thrift stores, encourages yard sales, or hosts farmers markets. All are great venues for finding bargains or making a few bucks on the side.

Entertainment/Activities

Well-designed communities don't forget about play. Opportunities to enjoy nature, explore, meet your neighbors, and be engaged culturally are important parts of a well-rounded frugal life.

Colleges and Universities

The presence of colleges or universities may be the single biggest clue about what frugal resources can be found in a community. Colleges host symposiums, lectures, plays, debates, concerts, and authors from around the world. These cultural events are often free for students and open to the broader community for a nominal fee. Besides these formal events, college campuses bring energy and liveliness to a town that’s hard to match in any other way.

Parks and Natural Attractions

Sure, sometimes it’s great to splurge on a movie. But communities that lack public spaces, parks, hiking trails, or natural attractions make movies the only option. Explore what destinations or activities you can find that are nearby and free.

Choosing a new place to call home is a big decision. How a city or town is designed to support a thrifty lifestyle is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. But many of the qualities outlined above go far beyond simple frugality; they’re also important parts of rich civic life — and that’s hard to put price on.

Have you made a major move recently? How has your new town helped or hurt your frugal pursuits? Were there any pleasant surprises that ended up saving you some serious cash?

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Meg Favreau's picture

When I moved to Philadelphia after college, one of my biggest surprises was the city tax, which I had incorrectly assumed was only for people who worked in the city (my job was in the suburbs). Nope -- turned out you got taxed if you lived in Philly and worked elsewhere.

Prior to moving to California, I had only lived in New England or Mid-Atlantic states. I am LOVING my utility bills out here. I didn't turn my heater on once this winter, and only used the AC a few times last summer.