How to Make Money » Career

Does where you live matter?

You’ll probably all make fun of me for this, but that’s okay. I live exactly 3 blocks from the house I grew up in.
Hmm… no Momma’s boy jokes yet? I’m sure there will be some by the end of the post. Or, at least in the comment section.
Anyway, you can probably imagine the reasons why I live so close to my parents. My family is important to me, so I wanted to be close to them. I think the neighborhood I live in is wonderful – there are all sorts of mature trees, it’s quiet, it’s flanked by all sorts of nature and the yards are ample, which isn’t a priority for developers these days. We live in a small town, which means housing costs are reasonable. And although now place will ever be entirely crime-free, it sure does seem like my small town is.

Meanwhile, I can see the appeal of a larger center. Opportunities are definitely more plentiful, especially if you’re in a more specialized field. There’s always something to do in the evenings, and seemingly countless single members of the opposite sex – assuming you’re looking. Everything from medical facilities to libraries is generally better in larger centers than smaller ones. There are all sorts of advantages to living in a big city.
But, is it all worth it? Does it matter where you live? In many instances, I’d argue you’re better off living in a small town. Here’s why:

Cost of living

The 2 large centers closest to me are Calgary and Edmonton. The house I live in would be worth approximately $150-200k more than the house I live in here.
Assuming I take out a 25-year mortgage at 4%, I’m looking at $800-$1000 more each month just in the costs of my mortgage alone. Add to that higher property taxes (since the property is worth more) and we’re looking at some serious extra cash going out the door each month from the increased cost of living.
Yes, there are admittedly jobs that you can only find in big cities. If your job is the starting goaltender for the Calgary Flames, I’m pretty sure you’re stuck in Calgary. (You’re probably not too worried about the cost of living though) But what about if you’re a nurse, or a teacher, or any other job that pays pretty much the same across your province? Is the increased housing costs really worth the extra benefits of living in the city?


Here’s something you probably don’t know about small towns: they attract all sorts of people on fixed budgets. Why exactly?
Well, it’s simple. One, you have lower housing costs, and lots of smaller, older houses that rent cheaply. Two, small towns tend to not be so spread out, meaning you can easily find a place to live that’s central enough you don’t need a car. When you’re on a limited budget, those two things are very appealing. Sure, there’s little in public transportation, but the occasional cab trip solves that.
Even if you’re one of those people who likes bicycling everywhere, small towns have less traffic to deal with, making your commute both faster and safer.
Most of us in small towns do own cars. Imagine how nice it is to be able to get anywhere in town in less than 5 minutes. We barely know what rush hour is. Whenever I’m late for something, I always joke it’s because of traffic. Do you see? If you live in a small town, traffic jams are just a punchline.

Less competition

In many of the professional fields in my town, there’s very little competition. There’s a shortage of doctors, mostly because doctors aren’t usually too interested in going to small towns. It’s the same thing with lawyers, accountants, dentists, and probably another half dozen professions I can’t think of.
Even if you’re just some guy who works in the oil field, less competition means more opportunity for you. If any of your co-workers are just itching to leave for a more exciting place, that increases your chances of succeeding in the place you already are.

One horse towns

One caveat about living in a small town. You have to make sure the town is big and diversified enough to not be dependent on one industry or one company.

My Dad grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan. In the mid-1980s, the lumber mill which employed a quarter of the town closed down. Not surprisingly, real estate values sunk close to 50% over the next few years. Unemployment was everywhere, and you had a workforce that was good at working at a lumber mill. Over the past few years, the town has finally begun to boom again, thanks to the natural resource boom. In the meantime, it was a bad time to live in that town.

Be careful when picking a small town to settle down in. If you find a good one though, there are all sorts of advantages over a big city. Hey, you can even move into my neighborhood. Just be quiet after dark.


  1. Glenn Cooke

    I’ve seen studies in the actuarial field (an insurance profession) that indicates where they live does not affect income levels. Company A pays the same salary for the same job if they’re living in Manhattan as someone in Nebraska. For that profession, incomes are not directly related to cost of living area.

    But I don’t think that’s normally the case. I have some friends on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and it seems to be very common to work in Manhattan/NYC to earn the big 6 figure incomes and then commute way the heck out of town to live in the burbs. This is feasible in that area of the U.S. because their rail system is fabulous and inexpensive. An hour by train in that area is cheap and can take you from downtown to farmland – not a difficult commute at all.

  2. passiveincome

    I personally live 1.5 to 2 hours away from work one way! At one point, I was thinking about moving to Barrie and take the GO train to work. Where you live does not define who you are. You define yourself. I think if you live in a small town, probably the car insurance is going to be much cheaper. which is a plus.

  3. Usiere

    Where you live matters a lot – where your children go to school, the type of upbringing they have, the type of people you hang out with etc. If you live in a poor neighborhood, you think to develop a lack mentality. If you live among the affluent, you tend to aim higher. Your environment matters a lot.

  4. Joe

    I work in downtown Toronto. Living in the actual core would be egregiously expensive. Anywhere outside the core requires either some use of public transit. Living far enough outside of Toronto to enjoy cheap rents would require an extraordinary commute. Living in Scarborough is my optimal of rental cost, commute time, and transit commute. Your calculation will depend very much on your housing needs and how you value your own time.

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