Finding The Good Life
The good life. It’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot. We all want to have a “good life”, but have you ever really thought about what it takes to live “the good life”?
Is “the good life” about traveling to sun soaked locations in private jets, eating lobster, and sipping drinks by the beach?
If your tastes tend toward the simpler, perhaps “the good life” is a simple homestead in Alaska… miles from the nearest town. On that homestead you might raise all your own food, powered only by solar panels. A completely low-impact “green” life.
Maybe “the good life” is a mansion in that upper class neighborhood, a country club membership, and a shiny car to go along with the rest of your status symbols.
If you follow the advice of mainstream media, the formula for a good life means incorporating as much luxury as possible into your life.
Luxury Doesn’t Last
Many people envision “the good life” like this — a luxury filled life. Frankly I don’t blame people for thinking that. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
It sounds pretty awesome — Restaurants to cook for you, maids to clean for you, nannies to care for the kids, gardeners to do the gardening, and so on. It sounds like a easy life. All that’s left for you to do … is shop.
Luxury can lead to some happiness — at least in the short term. But eventually hedonic adaptation works its dark magic. All that caviar and champagne eventually gets boring. Shopping gets boring. Even your shiny car starts to get old.
Then, it’s time to find new luxuries to spend on! And the cycle repeats itself.
Modern lives are already filled with incredible amounts of luxury — Running water, indoor toilets, pizza delivery, central heating, dishwashers and washing machines, online shopping with 2-day delivery, the internet, and the ability to travel to anywhere on the planet in a mere 24 hours.
All of this is now considered completely “normal”. Do we really need more luxury to be happy?
Frankly, I believe happiness by way of luxury isn’t something that lasts very long.
An Alternative View
Financial Independence really changed how I look at “the good life”. Fancy restaurants, expensive cars, and luxury accommodations no longer have the same draw that they used to.
Sure, those things are still nice, but I’ve learned to find happiness without them.
A whole new life emerges after Financial Independence — One about learning, creating, spending time with family and friends, contributing to our local community, good food, good health, stable finances, and the freedom to fill our remaining time with desirable pursuits not dictated by money.
That’s a pretty good life to me. All those things have become far more important than another fancy meal in another fancy restaurant, that I’ll eventually forget.
Of course, anybody can get bored if life lacks enough variety. For me, living “the good life” also means having enough variety to keep life interesting.
Travel and access to that “variety” is definitely something I’m looking for. The problem is, I’m not sure where to find it…
Where Should We Move?
Most humans end-up living in big cities with expensive housing costs, and high taxes — mainly because that’s where the jobs are.
However, once you reach financial independence you can literally move anywhere. Life finally becomes uncoupled from its income source! So why would you stay in a high cost of living area?
I’m certainly not planning on it.
Mrs. Tako and I have been discussing moving to give our family a better life, and we’re serious about it.
Our long-term plan is to eventually sell our expensive home, and find a smaller/cheaper town. That will mean a smaller mortgage, which leaves more dividend income available for things like travel.
The biggest issue with small towns is they lack that variety I was talking about. Cities constantly have different events, cultural diversity, restaurant choices, easy access to major airports, and a constant sense of “busy” that makes cities exciting places to live.
Big cities also have big problems — crime, traffic congestion, “bad” schools, high-prices, drugs, expensive paid parking, vandalism, homelessness, and overcrowding to name just a few. I wouldn’t consider these problems part of “the good life” by any stretch of the imagination.
I suppose we could avoid those problems by living in a nice gated community, sending the kids to private school, and only attending to the fanciest cultural events (the opera, the ballet, or perhaps the symphony).
Basically living in an expensive bubble… which really isn’t our style.
Instead, Mrs. Tako and I believe a “Three Bears” approach to designing our life could be the right solution. We’d like to find a sleepy little town with just enough variety. It has to be just far enough away, and just small enough to avoid most of the big city problems. Not too small, and not too big.
Got any suggestions?
Many of the towns that fit this bill seem to be college towns, which are frequently recommended for retirees. Maybe those towns actually work for early retirees too!
We intent to find out.
This summer, our family road trip plans include visiting several of these small towns. Maybe we can find the “good life” in one of them.
So tell me, what does “the good life” look like for you? Is it big city living, or small town life?
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69 thoughts on “Finding The Good Life”
I think “the good life” still needs to have a touch of adversity. It’s easy to feel a lack of meaning if everything is perfect and you’re never challenged. That’s why I tend to prefer living in the country. Life is slower, but there’s still plenty to do. You stay fit and active without even thinking about it and there’s no shortage of fresh air. 🙂
I’ll throw my vote in for college towns. If you want to move half way across the country to Kalamazoo, MI (yes there really is a Kalamazoo). WMU and K College anchor the city, is becoming more bike friendly, theater, symphony, sports. Lake Michigan is a 45 minute drive away, or a 5 hour bike ride on the Kal-Haven trail. We have more moderate seasons than PNW. We are half way between Chicago and Detroit for major air hubs. Sales pitch over.
Great sales pitch! I’ll check Kalamazoo out!
Oh, and I forgot to mention The Kalamazoo Promise. Where in your children attend K-12 and the Promise will pay four years tuition for in state public college. Some of the Uni’s will even chip in and cover room and board ie WMU
Kalamazoo is an excellent suggestion. You’ll also find many very nice smaller towns nearby like Stevensville. Larger towns like Grand Rapids (the beer city) when you want some low-falutin culture, and a convenient train ride to Chicago when you want some high-falutin culture. Tulip festival in Holland in the spring. Lake Michigan beaches at Holland and Grand Haven in summer. ArtPrize in GR in the fall. Forget winter.
We’re having those same discussions in my house at the moment Mr Tako.
London is the usual litany of big cities… crazy expensive, polluted, crowded, etc. It has lots of culture: theatres we don’t frequent, concerts we no longer get to, shopping streets made redundant by Amazon Prime, etc… life with little kids is certainly very different to the life we led as humble backpackers when we first ended up here!
FI is great because it provides the luxury of choice, as you rightly say the source and location of income become divorced from one another.
With choice comes some big questions, often without easy answers. It is a nice problem to have (better than worrying about how to may next month’s grocery bill!), but a challenge nonetheless.
Throw in some Brexit uncertainty to instill a sense of urgency, and it does make for some lively/scary/exciting discussions.
One I suggestion I would make is try before you buy. Rent where you are evaluating first, before committing financially. It might be great in the summer and suck in the winter. It might be you’ve become institutionalised to big city living. It might be your kids are allergic to the great outdoors. Whatever, you have the luxury of time as well as the luxury of choice.
Good luck with it!
Thanks Slow Dad! Once we’ve narrowed down the candidates we’ll definitely rent for awhile.
“Small town” is such a relative term. Some people think Portland Oregon is a small town, and then there are people in rural Oregon who would rather die than go to “that big city”. (Yes, they truly hate Portland.) And Oregonians often refer to their college towns as “economic Islands” in that the college towns diversify and stabilize what had otherwise traditionally been agriculturally based economies of logging, fishing, and farming.
I’m decidedly a rural person, but “rural” too is relative – I’ve lived on the back side of a road-less island in Alaska where a six hour boat ride to town was the monthly “experience” – and I didn’t like it. I watched the Frugalwoods move to the country in Vermont, and laughed because I was so sure they would miss their good internet… and it turned out they have fiber! So rural is very subjective in that respect too.
We used to own a log cabin on a lake in the Cascades. No TV, no phone service, (and power some of the time). Just think of how “rural” itself has changed in 40 years with satellites and cell service. So, my octo-tentacled friend, you say “small town?” and I say what does that mean to you?
A fine point Bob. I’ve lived in tiny little Alaskan villages too, so I get your point. A small town for us is probably somewhere around 10k people to about 100k. Any more than that, and things start getting a little too “big city”.
Kalamazoo is your huckleberry. (But I enjoyed Ann Arbor when my daughter attended that state school located therein. Go MSU.)
Ok then. From coastal Florence, to the home of OSU, Corvallis, in the Willamette Valley, on further east to Silverton, and across the Cascades to Sisters would be my Oregon picks for most people. Throw in Ashland (Southern Oregon State) in southern Oregon and McMinnville (Linfield College) and I’d say you about have the very best of small towns for my home state.
As a fellow Seattle area resident, we’re thinking the same thing about moving once we reach FI and are planning a road trip this summer to explore eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana college towns.
Great minds think alike — we’ll be heading to eastern Washington this summer too!
We moved down to Gig Harbor three years ago after seven in North Seattle. It is so much more amazing that we anticipated! We rarely cross the Narrows, no traffic, amazing and frequent free activities and festivals, small town charm, great parks, and incredible views of the harbor and Ranier!
Our town is 17K people. 10mins away is a town of about 100K. We are right off a highway though. If we didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t mind being more remote, but kids have friends and school activities. They will be out of school in a few years so we shall see then.
We could downsize the home maybe too, but we do want to make sure we have adequate room for family gatherings later in life. We are currently a family of 5 at home. 3 of our older kids are out of the house.
Denver! Not too big and close to plenty of free outdoor activity – hiking and cycling in the mountains and parks that surround the city.
We LOVE Denver and small towns around it. As I mentioned below, Denver area is the most “idea” place for us so far.
You’re the second person to mention it. I’ll have to take a closer look at Denver!
Lots of people love Denver, but I’ll have to admit I haven’t spent much time there.
We’re definitely more the small town or even rural location type of folks. We’d probably move to an even smaller area post retirement and travel to cities and other locales on travel for months at a time when we wanted a change. We’ve considered either west or south. Less people and better weather are the motivation.
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Mrs FR and I have discussed the same topic recently and for us living the good life is a combination of a small and quite town with a big enough city or center where we can enjoy cultural and sport events, different activities.
For me personally, I would live in a small town in the mountains, I don’t care about social life or being actively involved in musical and other activities. I like to spend my time in quite environment 🙂 But my wife is opposite, she like going to ballets or theaters, etc.
We’ve been looking for this “ideal” place and I have to tell you, there’s no one. In every case you have to sacrifice something. The closest to ideal place so far (at least for us) is Longmont, CO. It’s a small town, close to Boulder and Denver and my wife’s company has an office there.
We even had setup a date for moving, but my employer gave me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. And we deiced to stay for 1-2 more years in CA
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Yep, there probably is no “perfect” place, but I’m willing to weigh the different tradeoffs.
Comparing property tax levels on a house of roughly similar sizes, we’ll be saving almost $7k per year moving to a small town. For $7k I can put up with a lot.
I’ve been thinking about moving too. Previously, my dream was to move to the Big Island, but you’re right about not having a lot of variety. We’ll have to try it out for a few months and see if we like it. There are problems there too. Moving to a more rural area sounds good, but I might not be able to adjust.
Also, our area has good school so we’re reluctant to move right now. Maybe after our kid is done with high school, but that’s a long time.
Keep us updated. I’m curious to see if you find a nice area to move.
Wow, if you can afford the Big Island, I say move right away! I love Hawaii, but the costs just seem out of control. It’s truly a rich man’s playground!
As a former resident of the Big Island it was wonderful. If you have a humble heart you will fit in completely. People who move there that have arrogance will eventually not enjoy it.
The people are absolutely wonderful! I still have a ton of friends from there, many I didn’t know long but we still keep in touch.
The weather is perfect. Once you live there you learn where to shop, get discounts on activities(I could golf at most course for $25).
The downside, if you have kids, you are looking at private school.
Very different lifestyle than the PNW. My kids are working on basketball scholarships, when they are grown, we will move someplace warmer. This winter about killed me…lol
Originally from Oahu, and having friends and family on all the major islands, even I would have second thoughts about living in Hawaii. As a worker, job opportunities are limited and the high cost of living isn’t necessarily offset by higher salaries. Working/living in Hawaii and the daily grind is drastically different than visiting. However, retiring there may be another story, but there still could be a valid argument for hedonic adaptation. Over time those things that were exciting as a visitor or upon initial experience become normal. The beaches become the same, the hikes the same, food the same, etc. It can become boring, it’s called island fever. Many people have this experience, including myself and other locals. Whenever I visit the islands, everything is wonderful and I romanticize living there long term, but remember how normal things can become over time.
We’re in the suburbs of a “big town” (DFW area) but are counting the days until our youngest graduates high school – we’re in a good school district and the cost of living is low, so we’ll likely stay until they finish. But 5 minutes after that we’re free agents to downsize and move – definitely smaller and preferably cooler. I’ll keep an eye on your homework to see if you unearth a dream destination.
We’re also seriously considering a permanent semi-nomadic lifestyle, at least for the first few years of the kids in college. It sounds great in theory, but I’m not as sure of the reality.
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Our kids are just about ready to start school, so we’re looking to find a place we can stay until they graduate. Have fun being free agents! 😀
Sugar Land, TX. In the fastest growing county in the U.S. (Fort Bend). Incredibly diverse mix of Asians, Indians, Whites, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.
99 Ranch Marts to Costcos.
10 minutes from massive viet/chinese chinatown.
Sugar Land/Richmond/Rosenberg has it all. Weather, no state income tax, etc.
Thanks AJR, I’ll check it out. It’s funny, some people mention Texas weather as a positive thing, but others mention it like a negative thing. As someone who hasn’t been to Texas, it leaves me confused!
I’ve lived in Texas for 48 years and raised my kids here. It’s a GREAT place to raise kids. But the summer weather is unbearable. Every summer, I long for a lifestyle where I can relocate for few months. Property taxes are high, but that’s probably the only real financial negative of living here. But please don’t move here. Everyone else already has moved here, and I can barely get around on the highways as it is!
I heard that property tax is pretty high in Texas?
Move to Santa Rosa. An hour north of San Fran with a regional airport, good public schools, and lots of wine. It has some crime but little traffic. Diversity is not great but you can always go to San Fran for that and fine culture!
Homes are not cheap, but if you live a little further out (like Windsor) then it is relatively affordable for California living.
California might just be a little too expensive for our blood. Couple the high real estate prices with income tax, and a high sales tax and it begins to look like a state you visit, not live.
That said, it’s a great State! Been there many times and loved it every time! 😀
I live in the Fargo, ND area. If you are looking for something that is a bit north of normal(the cities unofficial slogan) it may fit your bill! If I remember correctly you also have family in Minneapolis which is just a few hours away. It is cold here but that doesn’t stop a whole lot. We do have 3 colleges which means that there is always tons to do if you look for it! Yes you can also visit the wood chipper if you want!
Thanks Emily, I’ll check it out! (FYI: We don’t have family in Minneapolis)
Ah I must have been thinking of something else! Either way its a great small city!
I firmly believe that college towns are a great mix. They draw great diversity and events, but have a small town safe feel. We’ve considered this quite a bit actually. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s definitely come up more than it’s fair share at the dinner table. Just beware of your list link… I don’t know that I would consider Vegas a college town?! HA
It’s funny, the closer we get to hitting our number, the more we enjoy doing things for ourselves. I don’t know if it’s the idea that we’re saving money doing it, or there is just some innate pleasure in being self sufficient. I enjoy cooking most nights, we still have date nights on Friday where we go out, cheap tacos usually. We’ve even gone as far as starting to brew our own beer, and make our own laundry detergent. More for fun, than for cost savings. It’s kind of a challenge.
I think I’m going to draw the line at any city the size of Vegas. Something under 100k might be ideal.
I think I found this site from MMM’s blog, it is amazing for finding places with the amenities you wish, sorted by estimated cost of living:
Thanks Jason D! I’ll have a look!
We just talked about moving last weekend. We plan to move to Denmark in a number of years so the kids can get some Danish education. Plan to move to Taiwan and live there for a few years for the same reasons too.
Great plan Tawcan! Are you able to move to those locations without a work visa?
This article is so on point! The way you feel about big cities and your desire to find a city “with enough to do but not too big” is EACTLY how I feel. I’m actually a HUGE fan of college towns. Extremely good value, enough to do, and not too crowded. We’ve traveled to over 30 countries and the places we always gravitate towards are college towns. Good food and good weather tends to be pretty high on my list too. And also walkability and safety.
I’m not as familiar with the States but I’ve heard great things from other retirees about Raleigh, NC, Austin, Texas, and Ashville, NC.
Good luck with your search for a smaller city! Excited to see which you end up picking.
We have been to Asheville and Raleigh. Enjoyed them both, but Asheville had an amazing vibe and is a great beer town. I’m also going to throw Fort Collins, CO into the mix. College town, beer town, and an amazing biking culture. Very walkable, but biking is where it’s at in Fort Collins… and we love to bike! We would love to find a town like fort Collins, but slightly warmer climate.
I’ve heard good things about all three towns. I definitely would prefer a town that’s very walkable or bikeable. I spent my college years in a town like that, and it was fantastic! I never needed a car, and my expenses were extremely minimal. I only needed a car when I wanted to visit another city.
I wish there were more places like this in the States!
Exactly FIRECracker! College towns seem to be something of a sweet spot. There usually isn’t enough employment to make the city really grow, but the local University tends to keep the economy quite stable. Combine that with the walkability, safety, unpretentious good food, and good value — I’m practically ready to move right now! 😉
I am planning to have a base here just outside Sendai (medium city, 1.3m, pretty bikeable) and take slow trips to other places (rent an apartment for a few weeks). Should provide enough variety to keep things interesting while giving us a place to consider home.
That sounds pretty awesome Sendaiben! No matter how much I travel, it’s always nice to come back to the place called ‘home’.
One of my investment banker friends believes in “models and bottles”. I think it’s pretty funny.
I’m definitely a small town guy. I went to university in a big city, and I hated it. I’m not a fan of nightlife, don’t like crowds, and hate the hustle and bustle of downtown. I prefer nature much more.
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A lot if our travel has been focused around finding the right retirement spot. It’s hard! Everyplace has it’s own drawbacks.
Right now we like to travel so being near a major airport is important. Unfortunately that rules out a lot of cool little towns. We did like Asheville, but prices are going up.
Good luck on the search, I’ll be curious to see what you find 🙂
I truly unterstand your thinking about moving to a smaller town between 10…100k inhabitants.
Although I am German, I know two US-sites (though, one is currently undergoing some long-term maintenance) which could help you.
The one that is currently down is http://www.findyourspot.com
The other one ist http://www.best places.net
Maybe you would like to take a look at this site ;).
You had me at “pizza delivery”.
Regarding where to live, my wife and I are looking at similar things right now, although in Japan. The place we choose will have to have reasonably ok schools, be not too far from Tokyo and friends, while still having reasonable costs. She has a few ideas in mind. I don’t.
Good luck in your search, somehow I feel the US will give you more options in that regard than Japan for us 🙂
Thanks Stockbeard! We had considered moving to Japan, but after the local government raised taxes on capital gains and dividends, it no longer seems like a good idea. 20% in Japan at all income levels, vs 15% in the States over a certain income level ($74k for us I believe).
That makes the U.S. look far better from an early retiree’s perspective. Healthcare is definitely better there, and if things get too screwed up here we could always move.
I’m actually very curious where you guys are going to end up in Japan. We’re in Japan pretty often. Maybe we’ll come visit you guys.
We are literally moving this weekend across country (Houston to Portland OR) a big factor for us was being close to family now that we have FI. Neither myself or my wife have lived close to any family for 20+ years so felt it was important.
Also Portland fits our family lifestyle much more than Texas.
How so? What does Portland have that the Texas lifestyle was missing?
For us, better weather (South Texas is unbearable May through September because of heat and humidity) and some topography as our family is into mountains and forests. The rain and cooler weather doesn’t bother us.
My wife and I will probably live in SE Asia for a period of time to take advantage of geo-arbitrage, if we don’t have children or just very young children at the time when we are completely financially independent, which hopefully will happen when I am in my mid-40’s and she in her mid-30’s.
Thailand in particular has a low cost of living and excellent health care facilities.
Thailand holds a certain fascination for me too. Maybe we’ll take the kids and live there a year or two.
Always close to water and culture
I didn’t read all the comments, but have a few thoughts:
1. NOT Michigan. I love the people there. We have many friends still there. Grand Rapids is awesome. (near Kalamazoo). But the winters are LONG and BRUTAL. Just sayin’.
2. I think Denver has a crowding problem (at least that’s my perspective being there once a month or so.) Traffic is terrible. But, smaller cities close to Denver are awesome (Colorado Springs, Boulder, Castle Rock, etc.). You get the great weather/mountains and mid-sized town life, plus you can visit Denver whenever you want for culture, sports, shopping, etc.
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Look into Salt Lake City. Perfect balance of nice suburban homes that are reasonably priced, amazing restaurants in the city, 15 minute drive from the city to the mountains (literally), easy day trips for hiking/boating/camping, good international airport, professional sports (jazz), music and entertainment (abravanel hall and others), incredible health care (university of utah), etc…
Having decided it is time to move on from NH, which we’ve loved, we are in the same process. The problem is there is no end of wonderful options.
One way we’ve narrowed the field is by focusing on low-tax states. The difference between how deeply state governments reach in to your pocket is a bit stunning.
Right now we are keen to visit Sioux Falls, SD
My mom retired to a college town in Florida. Last time I visited there was a food truck festival. They’ve got plays and museums & interesting things. But I could also sit on her back porch and chill most days.
I lived in a college town, a bit more hustle and bustle as its the county seat as well. Also a good theater, music nights, no reason to be bored. I moved just a bit away to be closer to work, it’s 20 min to downtown and I go about as often as when I lived closer.
I am still near a metro area, and my idea FIRE location would be more rural to decrease cost of living and commute traffic. We’ll see what the future holds.
I live in Southern Pines, NC. It is a town of about 12,000 people. We border Pinehurst which is known for its golf/tennis (US OPEN) and equestrian trails. It is close enough to the research triangle (Duke, Raleigh, Cary), but not overcrowded. This town has a charming downtown area where AMTRACK runs through it and they have farmers markets, local creperies, coffee shops, free downtown festivals and live music. We have a reservoir park which is a lake with many hiking/biking trails. We are about 2 hours to the beach and 3 hours to the mountains but cost of living is very manageable. We are also about 45 min from Fort Bragg which drives a lot of the economy. Most of all the people are friendly. 🙂
Great post and some good suggestions by the readers. Please write a follow-up article on this one! My wife and I are struggling with the “ideal location” discussion to find somewhere we would both be excited to move to.
A mid-sized city with good weather and access to outdoor recreation (mountains for me) has me thinking Colorado or something similar and I agree a college town has a lot of benefits. But nothing is perfect so we’re still struggling with the open freedom of being able to choose from so many options!
Please let us know what and how you decide!
For me, “the good life” means we’re free in everything: finance, time, relationship… We can do what we want and go to everywhere without worry about money. Some people tend to live a life without a plan, everyday is the same. Seeking the good life is hard, but everything has a price. Big efforts deserve big things in life.
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we live in buffalo but are not from here originally. been here about 15 years now and it used to be kind of attractive for really cheap housing, but getting to be less so. for about the 1st 10 years i kinda wanted to leave but something funny happened: the local economy picked up and our neighborhood got nice. one thing that has really grown on me is the walkability and bikability. they put bike lanes in all over the place which these nutbags use about 11 month of the year. one other thing that struck me is that we don’t need to go to the suburbs for nearly anything. in fact, i rarely use my car when i’m not going to or from work on my 13 minute commute. there are lots of green spaces for goofing off or exercise or dog walking. the best thing we have which i will require wherever we live next is a mixed use neighborhood. we had a friend in town last night on business and he came to our house. we had a choice of about 5 bars and restaurants within a 5 minute walk to have a bite or a drink (including a sushi option). if or when we move i don’t want to need to get into the car to pick up a quart of milk or to sit in a cafe and people watch.
now, our particular city is still a little provincial but being married to an artist there is plenty of that in a supportive community for her work. i’m not trying to sell anybody on it or the opposite, just point out my experience. oh, and it snows a shit-ton, so there’s that.