My wife and I are raising our three kids in a small town, about 40 minutes drive from my work in the city. We chose small town life many years ago for several reasons; family supports, proximity to schools & church, general peace and quiet, that kind of thing.
The lower cost of living, town vs. city, was also a big factor.
For example, I would estimate that housing is 25% cheaper where we live, and property taxes up to 30-40% lower, depending on the neighbourhood.
Considering the many advantages of small town life, (studies show that we are far happier than our city dwelling peers, after all), it would make sense that living outside of a large city is a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
That’s because people who live in small towns, myself included, tend to adopt one particular habit that can reduce the low-cost-of-living advantage.
That is, they don’t think twice about driving long distances for just about everything.
Commuting To And From Work
This one is obvious. People living in small towns often commute to work in a larger centre. I, for example, drive 70 miles to and from work every day. I know, ouch! (this is changing somewhat, more details further down).
It’s no secret that commuting will increase fuel costs. It may also require owning a second vehicle. And the more miles you drive, the more frequently you need to pay for things like oil changes and new tires.
That said, because commuting to work is a consistent activity, the expense is relatively easy to predict.
For example, you know precisely how many miles you need to drive on a weekly or monthly basis, and with a high level of accuracy, should be able to calculate the cost of fuel and routine maintenance.
You can then decide if small town living makes financial sense, when you offset transportation costs with the savings of cheaper housing.
All The Other Stuff
What small town dwellers don’t account for nearly as well, is all the other stuff that they drive long distances for.
People in small towns will drive for just about everything. In fact, mention to a city dweller that you drove 40 miles to get your haircut, and they’ll look at you like your nuts.
Because it is kind of nuts.
Shopping for clothes or groceries, various appointments, kids activities, picking up last minute items, not to mention entertainment (restaurants, movies, concerts, sporting events). All of these are more accessible in a large city, and are things people will drive for.
Driving for Kids Sports
If you live in a small town, driving kids to and from sports can be downright painful, from a cost standpoint.
Unlike large cities, small towns don’t have the population base to form multiple teams within similar age groups. Instead, parents must shuttle their kids to neighbouring towns spread across hell’s half acre.
I remember one particular year when we had to drive my son over 100 miles for some of his hockey games. He played over 50 games that year, 25 on the road.
Driving For Last Minute Items
Parents are all too familiar with those moments when you realize you’re missing an item that you rarely need, but has suddenly become very important. Whether it’s medicine for your child’s fever, or food for lunches in the morning, these minor emergencies arise from time to time.
When you live in a small town, there is a good chance nothing is open after 8 or 9 PM, and if it is, the store may not carry exactly what you need.
Cue the late night run to the city.
What Is A Small Town Dweller To Do?
To me, breaking the habit of ‘driving everywhere for everything’ comes down to two things; awareness, and planning.
This is something my wife and I have had to get better at, in order to save time and money.
In fact, I can’t tell you the number of days I’ve arrived home from work, only to turn around and drive back to the city to run an errand.
Thankfully, we’ve become more strategic with planning our to-do list, and reducing the number of miles we drive.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of some things that work for us.
How To Avoid Driving Everywhere For Everything
Start by keeping track of just how much driving you do on a monthly basis, and how much money you’re spending.
Once you’ve figured that part out, there are a number of ways to save time and money, and regain that small town cost-of-living advantage.
Make a list of the services that exist in your local community. Small town dwellers often overlook their local businesses. For example, after years of driving to the city to have our vehicles serviced, I’ve begun taking them to a garage a couple of blocks from my house. The service is great, and the price is competitive.
If you have errands to run, combine trips. Instead of making extra trips to run errands on the weekend, try to knock some items off the list on your way home from work, or on your lunch hour, saving the additional trip.
Plan ahead for the minor emergency. As I mentioned earlier, most stores are closed by 8 or 9 PM in a small town. Making sure that you have key items on hand will remove the need for a midnight medicine run, or to grab supplies for school lunches.
Don’t overindulge on entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with splurging for dinner or a movie every once in a while, but the resulting drain on your pocketbook can be significant, when you factor in how much it costs to travel to and from. Try to limit the number of times you travel to take in entertainment each month. Substitute nights on the town with activities in your neighbourhood, or at home.
Invite friends over to your place. Often, people end up driving for a night out with friends at their behest, for fear of either missing out, or because they feel pressured to participate. Instead, invite friends for a games night or dinner at your place. They’ll probably be very receptive, and it will cut back on transportation costs.
Shop online. There can be a danger to all that online shopping, but it can also save a lot of time and money, especially if you have to drive an hour to get to the nearest mall. Because almost anything can be delivered to your door these days, you can be forgiven for scouring Amazon every once in a while.
Take advantage of carpooling opportunities. Often, people who live in the ‘burbs, or even further out, carpool with co-workers who live nearby. But carpooling doesn’t have to be limited to driving to and from work. Next time you’re making that Costco run, invite a friend along. They’ll likely return the favour at a later date.
Work closer to home. People work in cities because it’s where the jobs are, not to mention the higher incomes. But if you have the ability to work and live in a small town, or even from home, the financial rewards can be significant.
Just this past week, I left my job in the city, and transferred (to the same job) in a neighbouring town. It’s a move that will cut my annual commuting costs by hundreds of dollars, not to mention almost 10,000 fewer miles of driving.
Steer your child towards school sports programs. It’s important for kids to be active, and participate in minor sports programs, but when you live in a small town, this can mean a lot of driving.
Recently, our youngest daughter mentioned that she prefers participating in school-based sports. Not only is it great for her development, but it requires far less driving, as most of the transportation to and from games is via school bus.
It’s something I hadn’t given much thought to in the past. For parents with active kids, school sports are a cost effective way to save on transportation costs.
Do you prefer living in a big city, or small town? Why is that?
Do you have your own tips to prevent small town dwellers from driving everywhere for everything?
Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments below!
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