City Life vs Country Life: Pros and Cons (From Living Both)

I reviewed 12 key differences between city life vs country life. See the pros and cons after living both to help you decide what’s best for you.

Jenni and I currently live the city life. But, we both spent some of our younger years living the country life. With our experiences living in both types of places, we’re going to offer our personal take of city life vs country life.

I dove deep into the living experience between both to uncover the benefits of each.

So make sure to read this comparison until the end. You’ll be armed with the knowledge to decide whether country life or city life is best for you.

What were the 12 categories I evaluated city life vs country life pros and cons?

City vs Country

Walkability

And what that means in the context of services vs nature

Business

Competition and the balance of change vs reliability

Education

Access to schools, certifications, and learning opportunities

Population

Density and its psychological effects

Career

Advancement opportunities and specialization

Responsibility

What you have to worry about

Community

The communal experience

Environment

The effects on the environment; air quality, sound pollution, etc.

Services

Municipal services

Individuality

Strength of your individual voice

Transportation

Transit systems and access to transportation networks

Cost of Living

Average costs associated with living in the place

From Country Life to City Life

Before I get to the point-by-point city life vs country life comparison, I wanted to quickly give you a little background on our jump from country life to city life.

I also want to define what we mean by “city life” by comparing urban vs city.

Today’s realities has caused people to reconsider city living.

Cities experiencing large scale protests in the US are feeding into it.

Prepping and bunker interest seem to be hitting highs. YouTube has been feeding me unsolicited videos on modern-day in-ground bunkers.

A recent post from Mrs. Frugalwoods elicited a little envy from me, thinking about the advantages of rural life.

She did a great job of being balanced and honest about the different positive experiences they’ve had as a family in a rural area as well as the pitfalls.

While Jenni grew up in Virginia, I’ve lived across the country.

My entire childhood was in traditional middle-class American suburbia; total ticky-tacky.

I didn’t have much of city life vs country life experiences as a kid to draw comparisons. That changed pretty quickly when I wound up in the hills of Appalachia for undergrad.

Country life vs city life: Looking out across the hills of Appalachia. Country life gives you space to enjoy in nature!
Country life vs city life: Looking out across the hills of Appalachia. Country life gives you space to enjoy in nature!

The college had a student population smaller than the high school Jenni and I attended. I lived on campus for the first few years.

By the end of my sophomore year, I moved off campus into a small house a few miles away with three other friends.

That’s right, that made four of us, who divided a $600/month rent.

Add in the occasional romantic interest and a Saturday night would routinely have eight of us sleeping there. Cramped quarters for sure! There were countless nights of bonfires, outdoor parties, and work on cars in the grassy “driveway”.

I’ll never forget the first time my parents visited that place. Even as a pair of old hippies—I think they were mortified by the living conditions.

But, I had a blast!

The old ramshackle house I lived in during undergrad with three other guys out in Appalachia.
The old house I lived in during undergrad with three other guys out in Appalachia. Note: I had to do a little editing to cut people out of the photo.

We had space to have a good time, and generally no one to bother you. It was a stark contrast to campus living or the suburbia I grew up in.

Jenni and I made the jump to our current city in 2013.

What would seven years of experience in urban Virginia offer as a counterpoint to the Frugalwoods’ rural Vermont love?

Defining City Life: Urban vs City

There’s a big difference between a dense city center with skyscrapers where everyone takes public transit and the urban life we lead. We don’t live in Tokyo, London, or NYC. Our city has an improving bus system, but aside from Amtrak, there’s no local train system.

We own an attached townhouse-style home. We have a little porch and back patio. There’s parking for Jenni and a garage for my toy. But, we don’t have a yard to speak of.

Within our neighborhood, yards are small enough that many people just turn them into rock gardens or brick them over for a larger patio. There’s a five-story apartment building every block or two.

It’s not “downtown”.

I’m not suggesting that a high-density downtown experience is better or worse. It’s different.

There are key differences between downtown and urban city life as I see it:

  • While the roads have a low speed limit here, traffic isn’t much of an issue
  • There’s plenty of trees and greenery in the right-of-way or sidewalk medians—it’s very green
  • Parking can be a pain to find, but it’s typically free, and usually just on the street shoulder
  • Typical middle-class career workers can afford a multi-bedroom row house, townhouse, or condo
  • While lawns are very small, they’re big enough for many people to have lovely front and/or rear gardens—it’s not a concrete jungle
  • The air remains reasonably clean and breathable
  • While you routinely bump into people (edit: in the days of a pandemic, avoid people by walking in the right-of-way), sidewalks aren’t so packed that you’d have any trouble going for a jog
  • Noise isn’t so bad that you have trouble sleeping due to traffic, neighbors, or industry

Having access to your heart’s desire within a short distance is easily one of the greatest benefits of city life vs country life.

Whether you’re looking at the true urban core of a city or the outskirts of that urban core like where we are, you won’t have any trouble finding all the things you could possibly need.

Of course one of the biggest components of city life vs country life comparison is cost. While we can’t get quite the value for our money in terms of square footage and land as a suburban or rural person could, we think we’ve managed to keep our housing costs relatively low.

We bought our current place which has 1,250 square feet plus a 300 square foot finished attic for about $230,000 in 2013. That’s not something we could find in two miles down the road in the heart of the city.

We’ll talk more about cost of living between city life and country life in point twelve below.

City Life vs Country Life (Pros and Cons)

Alright, let’s get to the point-by-point comparison of city life vs country life!

I’m going to break this down into a dozen categories and comparison points between both.

  1. Walkability
  2. Business
  3. Education
  4. Population
  5. Career
  6. Responsibility
  7. Community
  8. Environment
  9. Services
  10. Individuality
  11. Transportation
  12. Cost of Living

1) Walkability

With city life, all your needs can be just a short walk away.

We have access to an incredible diversity of entertainment, culture, and shopping within a half-mile walk of our place. A high walkability score (91 at the time of writing!) was a key component of our decision making to live where we are.

City life vs country life: The walk score where we live, out of 100: 91 for walking, 46 for transit, and 82 for bikes. City living makes it easier to travel locally.
The walk score where we live, out of 100: 91 for walking, 46 for transit, and 82 for bikes.

Within that 10-15 minute walk, we can find all sorts of ways to spend our money:

  • Arts museum with a huge free collection, award-winning restaurant and pub, rotating bi-annual international exhibits, educational opportunities for kids and adults, and a stunning sculpture garden
  • History museum sprawling Virginia’s long and storied past, keeping up with the dramatic changes our city is seeing, featuring bi-annual special exhibits and educational opportunities
  • A historic commercial area with:
    • Dozens of local sellers with everything from a dingy record shop to high-end fashion
    • Every personal service you could imagine: barber, salon, nails, dentist, doctor, vet, massage, physical therapy
    • A second-run movie theater with cheap films, showcases, and performances
  • Scattered around the neighborhood there are plenty of restaurants, fast food joints, coffee shops, bars—Yelp suggests there’s about 40
  • Three major grocery stores with a fourth being rebuilt, making it easy to save money on groceries
  • About half a dozen bodegas or small markets plus a couple of 7-11s
City life vs country life: An historic shopping area loaded with everything you could possibly want to purchase, mostly from local small businesses! An advantage of city life.
A historic shopping area loaded with everything you could possibly want to purchase, mostly from local small businesses!

We also wanted to have easy access to public services in this same half-mile radius. Our city offers a wealth of community safety, education, and care services.

  • Fire Station
  • Community Center
  • Community Garden
  • Tennis Courts, Basketball Courts, Soccer Fields
  • K-12 Schools
  • Library

Of course, there’s also plenty of specialty services, religious buildings, banks, urgent care, and random small businesses thrown in there, too. This is all within roughly a 10-15 minute half-mile walk!

Having access to a wide variety of public services, culture, education, and entertainment within a short distance has helped take steps toward our financial freedom. We don’t have to closely evaluate the cost of transportation or the time it takes to get what we need or want.

We could quite reasonably—even happily—never drive a car and access everything we need within this small radius of our home.

Country life trades a lot of this walkability to services and entertainment for more direct access to nature. You can often walk right out your front door to acres of woodlands and quiet retreat.

What’s more important to you in the city life vs country life walkability equation? Nature or services?

City Life

  • Walking access to services
  • Transit service dependent

Country Life

  • More direct access to nature
  • Car dependent

2) Business

Business competition creates change and variety.

When Jenni and I go for a walk around our neighborhood, and especially through the historic shopping area I mentioned, we constantly see new places to visit. There’s significant competition for retail space so new businesses are popping up to replace ones that have gone under as trends or fashion change.

We’re not stuck with having only one plumber in town who you have to work with even if you don’t like them or they’re no good at their job.

There’s enough population density to support multiple people working in the same specialty that wind up competing with each other. That’s good for us as consumers as businesses innovate and bring the latest improvements to their niches quickly to market.

Meanwhile, country living often means less change and variety of businesses. But, this can be a positive. Stores often become anchors for the town, core to society and direct supports of the inhabitants.

The relationships between customer and business typically run deeper in country life as they tend to operate longer.

When making the city life vs country life comparison, what’s more important to you: reliability or variety in surrounding businesses?

City Life

  • Competition forces change
  • Business variety offers options

Country Life

  • Businesses integrate with the community
  • Lack of business options

3) Education

Within 5 miles of our place, there are three universities with 4-year programs. One is close enough that I frequently jog through the campus on my running route.

The universities keep fresh ideas coming into the city along with money. The university nearest us has rehabbed countless buildings downtown as their campus expands, reinvigorating blighted areas. They claim to have brought multiple billions of dollars of economic impact and nearly 50,000 jobs to the city. Aside from the macro benefits a large school brings, the university also funds or manages:

  • A theater with student performances of historic stories and new modern works at a low cost
  • Health and dental clinics that are partly operated by students still learning their specialties at a low cost
  • A massive contemporary art building with rotating student exhibits open to the public
  • Well-maintained green spaces and public squares
  • Sports centers for college athletic programs bringing entertaining game days
Mythbusters: Behind the Myths Tour on the nearby university campus
Mythbusters: Behind the Myths Tour on the nearby university campus

Personally, I think one of my favorite benefits of living in an urban college town is simply that the population skews younger.

There’s a vibrancy and energy that college students bring.

It supports turnover and change. It stands as a contrast to the nature of Virginia, building upon centuries of American history with new interpretations of the past.

Of course, the opposite side of that is that things change frequently. Your favorite spot can get replaced pretty quickly!

Historical icons end up seen with a new lens that might just turn the tide against them.

The flip side of this is that education may be less consistent for those living the city life vs country life. School zoning may change from one year to the next as population changes or bus routes are altered.

Education for country dwellers tends to be more stable, predictable and personal. Parents are much more likely to have a direct relationship with the teachers when the community is smaller and they’re likely to run into each other outside of school.

City Life

  • Better access to higher education
  • More funding for high cost educational opportunities

Country Life

  • Parents and teachers tend to have more direct relationships
  • Education is more consistent and predictable

4) Population

Are you OK with a lot of people?

Even though we happen to live in a city that has a large park system, we’d have to travel a good 30-45 minutes by car until we could reliably be in a wide-open space where we wouldn’t see or hear another human.

Working from home, one of my favorite mid-day breaks has been to go our largest city park system. It’s a stunning wooded area along a body of water with long run, hike, or bike routes.

While the park system has some 550 acres and 22 miles of primary trails, it’s still somehow right in the middle of the city.

Hiking along a densely wooded trail on a random Tuesday at 2 PM, I usually see a handful of people in passing. The din of the city is still audible: traffic and trains pass closer in certain areas.

A section of the 22+ miles of trails maintained by the city alongside a city park.

We’d have to get in a car to really escape to solitude.

If you love your peace and quiet, population density is probably a negative aspect for you when thinking about city life vs country life.

You should also consider how you feel about your interpersonal relationships. With higher population density, city life will offer you greater access to varied interpersonal relationships.

Country life is perhaps more supportive for those in stable interpersonal relationships and healthy family and friend connections.

City Life

  • High population density
  • More access to varied personal relationships

Country Life

  • Low population density
  • More dependent on existing relationships

5) Career

Having access to a wide variety of services and other experts nearby in an urban area means you should really consider embracing becoming a specialist.

While living out in the sticks means you have to know how to handle the basics of fixing everything that could go wrong, it’s really the opposite in the city. There’s someone else nearby who knows how to fix everything better than you could if you tried to be a generalist and do it all.

A jack of all trades, a master of none.

Find the masters

Living in the city lets you leverage all the masters around you. Of course, hiring them can cost a pretty penny.

If you don’t particularly like the activity and enjoy your work, why not “trade” your time in that way?

It’ll let you focus on your own strengths and advance in your career.

I can handle basic handyman activities. But when it came to replacing a second story downspout, repairing the gutter connection, and installing gutter guards, I’d be in for a lot of learning and tool buying to do it myself.

I imagine that’d take me a few days of labor and traveling store-to-store to buy the appropriate hardware and tools. My work would presumably be a bit lower quality than that of a pro, too.

Instead, I hired the work out to a known contractor with good reviews. I came around to learn a bit about what he was doing and made an observation here and there to understand it, but generally stayed out of the way.

Instead, I worked on a few paying projects while he was out there doing the hard work.

After visiting to do an initial review and identify the materials he would need, he had the work done in an afternoon.

He had a pickup truck to haul off the old material—something my little sports car wouldn’t have liked—and all the other tools he needed to get the job done quickly.

Be free to do what you do best

Instead of multiple days of hard work on my part with a questionable outcome, I spent a day earning enough money to pay him for his work in the comfort of my own home doing what I specialize in.

That’s economically more efficient for both of us: we’re doing what we each do best!

By having access to educational opportunities to specialize and lots of people to network with, city life can help you quickly advance your career.

Country life is more likely to expose you, personally, to a wider variety of problems that’ll lead you to become a generalist. You need to be resourceful and able to solve things yourself.

City Life

  • Access to specialists, and support to become one
  • A wider network will let you advance in your career

Country Life

  • Need to be a generalist
  • Encourages creative problem solving

6) Responsibility

As resources are more scarce in a city, they tend to be more costly. The effect is that we learn to live with less. We have a smaller house and less land than we could afford in the country.

But, the upshot is that we have less to worry about.

One full bathroom instead of multiple means having to caulk only one tub every couple of years (it’s humid here!). It means having to redesign and maintain fewer rooms. We don’t have a barn full of tools because we don’t have to maintain a big plot of land.

Less space means lower heating and cooling costs, too!

There’s no septic system to worry about. In fact, in our personal situation, we don’t even have a boiler or heating system to worry about. Hot water (which drives the radiant heat as well) is provided by the community we live in from a commercial-grade boiler.

Of course, we indirectly pay for that through high HOA fees. More on that in the next point.

City Life

  • Friendly to minimalism through shared resources
  • Smaller living footprint

Country Life

  • More to maintain with individual responsibility
  • Larger living footprint

7) Community

Our HOA fee, a frequent source of questions in our monthly expense reports, is $350. It’s a lot of money, especially considering our actual mortgage payment is under $900.

HOAs are often a point of contention for folks that favor country life vs city life.

The HOA is handled by our neighborhood’s volunteer, owner-run association. It’s used to pay for utility and maintenance expenses as well as upkeep of common areas. That means we don’t have a separate fee for water, heating, landscaping, pest prevention, gutter cleaning, trash removal, and a few other maintenance tasks.

Our community just finished installing in-ground, connected LED lighting along all the footpaths to the homes. That was paid for by our monthly fees, built-up over time. A few years ago, an automated in-ground sprinkler system was installed.

We’re fortunate to get along well with our neighbors, but there’s a downside to these shared expenses that is exemplified throughout the urban environment. It’s the downside of a shared community.

The tragedy of the commons

Because our flat HOA fee covers our utility expenses for heating and water, there’s no financial incentive for us or our neighbors to efficiently use the related resources. I’ll share a related anecdote as to why this is a problem.

Leaking bathroom shower faucet from valve.
You’d think if I made it through pulling apart the valve pin from this shower faucet and replacing it due to a leak, I could fix a toilet flapper pretty easily, right?

Typically, I’m pretty quick to respond to maintenance issues that cause a rising longterm expense. Our main bathroom’s toilet started running a few times per day months ago. After a week or two, I finally remembered to order a new flapper, assuming that was the problem. I replaced it, no dice. It still ran. It kept running for months, I’m sad to admit.

I don’t like to waste water (or at least the energy required to repump it). I certainly don’t want to waste money on the water bill itself, but, hey my neighbors all paid for the minor increase. There was no direct financial incentive for us to fix the problem. And I knew it’d be a pain to figure out what the problem was.

Eventually, I got off my butt and figured out that the flapper wasn’t making quite the perfect seal against the outlet pipe in the tank. I bought a two-dollar gasket that fits around the pipe, making a larger surface area for the flapper to seat against and…boom.

Fixed.

I’m certain I would have repaired this more quickly had I seen a rising water bill. And this is coming from someone acutely aware of and sensitive to cost increases! That’s the problem with shared costs where individual users can’t see their impact.

Incentivizing individuals

As another example, I know our attic is poorly insulated. But I’m assuming it’d cost thousands of dollars to have that insulation repaired, replaced, and improved. We’d reap a minor improvement from our cooling costs since we pay the electric bill directly, but the bulk of the improvement would be for heating. Our community pays the heating bill through our HOA fee.

Jenni and I aren’t incentivized to fix this insulation issue in an economically efficient way. Judging by how the snow melts off the roofs around our community in dramatically different ways, I’d guess we’re not the only ones with poor insulation.

I’ve talked with our HOA about simply having the community pay to improve the insulation for all the homes. I suggested we could just share the cost, too. Either way, it makes economic sense to do so as a whole community.

Naturally, at an individual level, people don’t want to end up paying to have this insulation installed for only certain homes though.

The inefficient insulation problem remains unsolved.

When you live in a rural home, totally dependent on yourself, and able to directly reap the benefits of your improvements, you’re more motivated to complete them.

The tragedy of the commons in action!

Divvying up resources

Of course, a similar problem occurs with loads of shared resources around a city. Infrastructure is underinvested in and funds are argued over.

  • Why should my taxes go to pay for your bike route when I drive a car?
  • Why should I have to pay for an increased property tax which mostly goes to schools when I have no kids?
  • The new building project should go to MY neighborhood for those sweet investment dollars!

We often don’t see the forest for the trees. We look at our individual situations and want what’s best for us rather than the community.

That’s pretty natural for a human.

But, it does create a problem in a city where we organize like a collective. Rural life is much more independent. The balance between collectivism and independence should be considered when you evaluate city life vs country life.

Ignoring the financial side, it’s even a problem at a moral level. It’s why there’s a “pick up after your pet” sign on nearly every block. People don’t think their individual actions matter (they generally don’t), but they sure do when enough people think they don’t.

Your dog couldn’t crap enough on 66 acres in Vermont for it ever to become a real problem.

Transient nature of a city

While Jenni and I don’t have much trouble making friends and keeping enough relationships to create a socially healthy atmosphere, cities, in general, are quite transient. They’re also packed with entertainment and things to do.

Our local connections change as people leave the city to settle more permanently as they age. Frequently, other couples wanting to have kids will move out of the city in search of more space and better (or at least, less expensive) schools.

Businesses grow and change hands, sending some connections off to new cities for new opportunities.

All the entertainment and things to do around the city mean that people’s schedules tend to be pretty full. Sometimes that makes it a little harder to set aside time for friends as we’re less dependent on each other for amusement.

Country life can build stronger bonds as interactions seem to be more necessary.

City Life

  • Transient communities
  • Suffers from “tragedy of the commons”
  • Friends tend to have busier schedules

Country Life

  • Stable community
  • More dependent on active leaders
  • Entertainment tends to be more dependent on personal interaction

8) Environment

It’s simply more resource-efficient for people to live in a city due to the distance between places people travel and their physical footprint. From a collectivist point of view, it’s way more resource-intensive to live in a rural area, all else being equal (spoiler: it’s often not—keep reading).

The primary drivers of your carbon footprint as an individual are energy usage and transportation. Both of these factors are driven higher by rural living.

You have to travel much larger distances to get routine tasks done like grocery shopping or visiting a doctor. That’s usually done with a car where, in urban environments, you can often walk, bike, or use public transportation.

Energy use

Dollar for dollar, you can buy more house in rural areas than urban typically. That’s more to heat and cool, more energy used.

Speaking of heating: what about heating with firewood?

I can’t claim to be an expert here, and there seems to be some reasonable debate over this topic. On the one hand, if at an individual level, you were to replant all felled trees used for heating, and you transported those trees in a low carbon footprint way (i.e. they’re on your property), it’s reasonable to assume that the net emissions would be less than that of using natural gas.

However, this doesn’t account for one key component: where those emissions are going. If you’re heating with wood, those emissions are likely being output through a chimney from your home. The particulates are going to hang around locally, and as much improved as modern wood stoves have become, they’re far from perfect per the EPA.

I think there’s room to argue that transporting energy consumption and the resultant emissions from a city to the suburbs or rural areas where power plants are is a bit immoral, though.

A nearby coal power plant supplying much of our metro region though it's in a rural area surrounded by parks.
A nearby coal power plant supplying much of our metro region though it’s in a rural area surrounded by parks.

All else is not equal

I opened this section under the guise that rural resource consumption is higher than urban “all else being equal”. In practice, “all else” doesn’t tend to be equal.

Rural living tends to have more self-reliant, DIY folks. They also tend to follow trends less and have less disposable income. City dwellers, on the other hand, keep up with the latest and greatest while having more money to spend. That results in greater electronic and fashion waste.

While the robot version of humanity may be more environmentally efficient in cities, the real humanity somehow manages to outwit the inherent advantages to urban life all too often.

Owning large amounts of land

Ultimately, it’s infeasible for all 330 million Americans to live on 66 acres like the Frugalwoods. If the US average household size is 2.6 people, that’d require about 8.4 billion acres of land for each household to have 66 acres.

The total land area of the United States is 2.4 billion acres.

The numbers look even worse from a global perspective as the US has a below-average population density.

City Life

  • Theoretically more energy efficient
  • Trends reduce efficiency
  • Greater density results in less land use

Country Life

  • Green potential through individual resource management
  • Higher goods transportation cost
  • Impractical use of land for large populations

9) Services

I can count on one hand how many times the power, water, or other utilities have been out since we’ve lived here.

As the city provides us with the means to heat our homes, power our gadgets, and keep us watered, we don’t have to worry about manually transporting or maintaining these fueling systems.

  • There’s no oil tank to refill, we have ready access to a gas line for cooking
  • Water is shuffled away via massive sewer and wastewater systems
  • Electricity is delivered directly via the city grid
  • City services pick up the trash and recycling for us, frequently

We could hook up a solar array to the grid if we wanted. We don’t have to worry about trips to the dump. There are even routine heavy materials and electronic waste removal days.

Biking infrastructure

As I mentioned before, we’ve got a great park system nearby that the city maintains. They’ve also been expanding the bike routes. We live on a bike route with great access (a Bike Score of 82 at the time of writing). It’s an easy ride around our neighborhood and about 2 miles along a residential route with sharrows to reach downtown.

One of the newer, separated sections of bike paths in the city - it's great to be able to blast through downtown without worry as much about traffic!
One of the newer, separated sections of bike paths in the city – it’s great to be able to blast through downtown without worry as much about traffic!

Bike routes run from downtown to other cities. We could make a trek a solid 55 miles on a single bike route, mostly separated from traffic, passing through different neighboring cities.

Telecommunication infrastructure

We have multiple high-speed internet providers to choose from. They compete with each other, which is one way we manage to get 100mbps for just $40/month. Our ISP even provides access to its mesh wireless network that blankets the city. Staying on WiFi makes it much easier to use cheap cell phone MNVO providers to keep my cell bill at under $4/month. It also means we can more easily take a laptop or tablet out on a walk and continue to have internet access for work or fun.

I like to play the occasional video game, and while I’d argue some video games are good for you, it’s mostly just to have fun these days. I play online with some old buddies and I’m sure glad I’m not trying to do that on a satellite dish internet connection or over a cell signal.

Speaking of connectivity, all the major cell providers have a presence here as they do in most urban environments. Using Google Voice to host our primary cell numbers, we can easily swap to different SIM cards as new promos come around and just forward our calls to the new SIM’s number. It makes it easy to try different technologies as they come about (like when LTE was becoming prevalent).

Infrastructure is typically a positive point for city life vs country life.

Having communication service options lets us be picky and competition yields improvement while keeping cost low.

City Life

  • Municipal electric, sewer, trash services
  • Large transportation infrastructure
  • Modern telecommunications networks

Country Life

  • Flexibility to provide your own services
  • More car dependent
  • Slower telecommunications

10) Individuality

As opposed to being a big fish in a pond, it’s hard to have much of an impact on a city. You become just a number, one of many members of the community. If you’re thinking about volunteering in the city, you’re not going to be the only one.

In fact, you may find there’s a volunteer list for the food pantry or shelter. There are loads of people already ahead of you wanting to help.

The flip side of this is that, when you can have a direct impact, it can be on a much larger population. You may not develop quite the same one-on-one relationship you would when starting a food pantry in a rural place with a low population, but you could be turning the tide of an entire neighborhood for generations.

If you’re happier about making quantitive change across an environment versus qualitative change for the individual, an urban environment may be the place to focus your energies.

For better or worse, city living will expose you to more problems in the world—expanding your circle of concern. It makes it harder to wrangle your circle of control as more concerns press in.

City Life

  • Easy to become lost as “just another number”
  • Possible to have an outsize effect on larger numbers of people

Country Life

  • Easier to have a personal impact
  • Personal experiences provide direct, noticeable results

11) Transportation

While I’ve worked remotely since 2012, Jenni has a commute. Since 2013, her commute has been 2.5 miles each way. That’s short enough, and mostly through residential neighborhoods, that she’s made the commute by bike many times.

The commute takes about the same amount of time by car as by bike.

Many friends and family commute an hour or more from the suburbs into the city. It’s always boggled my mind that people can become accustomed to, even accepting, of losing two or more hours of their day to commuting. Not to mention the tremendous financial cost to maintaining and replacing a vehicle to keep pace with that commute.

Of course, this issue is greatly reduced once that daily commute for work is gone. That alone can be a big motivation for financial independence, retire early (FIRE)!

City Life

  • Traffic
  • Potential alternative commute methods (bike, walk, transit)

Country Life

  • Long distances
  • Car dependent

12) Cost of Living

Of course, coming from a blog about retiring early and personal finance topics—cost of living is one of the most important differences between city life and country life.

The BLS, fortunately, keeps some great data about the cost of living between urban and rural areas.

This table reveals some key cost of living and income data for city vs country living. Data is from a 2015 analysis.

CityCountry
Pre-tax income ($)71,57849,841
Annual spending, total ($)57,05945,031
Homeownership61%79%

How does that break down into actual categorical spending?

City life vs country life spending, cost of living for households in the US. 2015. Source: BLS.
City life vs country life spending, cost of living for households in the US. 2015. Source: BLS.

Whether city or country, you have to keep your cost of living under your control. By choosing to live below your means, you’ll keep your options open and further your financial security.

The city as your living room

I think an under-appreciated aspect of living in a city is just what you’re paying for. NYC gets a bad rep for its housing cost, but I think it’s reasonable to make an argument that they’re not paying $4k/month for just a 700 square foot apartment.

They’re paying to be in that city.

You’ve got to love that city because what you’re buying is access to it.

I shared my experience with costly lifestyle creep in one of the most expensive metro areas of the US. You have to be very cognizant of what you’re paying for when you look into the high cost-of-living cities.

The local bar is where you get together to watch TV and chill out with friends.

The bodega is your pantry.

Your living room is the city.

You can’t be a homebody, otherwise, why not live somewhere else if you’re just going to stay inside anyway?

City Life

  • Small living space
  • The city becomes your living room

Country Life

  • Large square footage
  • Nature is your place for solace

Give City Life a Chance

Recently, Jenni and I have had multiple friends and family members move to the metro region of our city. It was all a bit of a coincidence, but it has been an opportunity to see how different folks approach making that jump.

Some went all-in from afar, deciding to purchase land from a distance after making a short visit and then building their own place. Others decided to rent a place within the metro area for a year, get a feel for the region, and then decided to buy a home. Still, others simply made their decision based on where existing friends lived and moved into the same community, mostly ignoring other aspects.

People take very different approaches to deciding where to live and what’s important.

My strongest piece of advice would be to simply try-before-you-buy.

We’ve long thought about moving to different areas of the US and internationally, even as happy as we are with our current home. We’d do see by visiting for a few weeks first.

After that, we’d envision living there for a handful of months via a short-term rental to see what it’s like on a normal day-to-day basis once the novelty has worn off. Not until then would we consider making a permanent move and possibly purchasing real estate.

If you’re thinking about making the jump from rural to urban or the reverse, look into at least spending some significant time there.

You may think you know an area, but it could be pretty different at night or around certain holidays.

Look into a longer-term AirBNB rental and really get a feel for local life. Even if that’s more expensive on a daily basis, it’ll be a lot cheaper than turning your life upside down and realizing you’re not happy in your new home after moving.

City or Country (Just Be Happy)

Parades and big public celebrations are a point for cities in the urban vs rural debate!
Remember when we could gather in large groups like in a parade? It’s what cities do best!

Since leaving undergrad, aside from the exceptionally remote experience living in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps, I’ve mostly lived in pretty urban circumstances. Jenni and I been very happy about that. With both of us working, it’s made a lot of sense to have easy access to shopping and entertainment for when we have time available.

While I’ve taken The Frugalwood’s recent post about living in the country as an opportunity to compare it to our city life, the purpose wasn’t to declare one better than the other. Really, they’re just different options and suit certain people better depending on their circumstances and preferences.

As Jenni has changed from full-time to part-time and I’ve reduced my work to a handful of hours per week, a new world of living possibilities is opening to us. As we continue the march into early retirement, we might just end up with a very different idea of home.

Whether country life or city life, don’t let comparison be the thief of joy in your life. Our goal is to be happy with where we are.


What’s your neighborhood like, more country life or city life?
What are some of the pros and cons you’ve noticed?

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By Chris

Chris began his financial independence pursuit in 2007 as he learned basic personal finance from Get Rich Slowly as an aspiring web designer and novice investor. After several missteps, he learned the secrets of financial independence and began his pursuit of freedom.

He reached financial independence in 2018 with $1.2M and two businesses. He began the process of transitioning to early retirement in 2020.

Learn more: Meet Chris.

10 replies on “City Life vs Country Life: Pros and Cons (From Living Both)”

Wow, congratulations on all your success! I haven’t met many 35 year olds who was invested during the great recession. Man, do I wish I found these blogs much earlier than I did, but it’s never too late to get started!

I currently favor the big city life. Always walking distance from everything, easy transport, entertainment at your fingertips, easy social life, etc. However, I am planning on moving within a decade or so to a rural area in the desert. It will be a big change but I think at some stage in life this is what I would want.

A more quiet and simple life. I’ll be sure to write a post about it in 10 years 🙂

I think that’s understandable. The desert life has its appeal: snow and the cold get less and less fun as we age.

I’ll be looking forward to your Backpack Finance: Leathery Life post in 10 years! 😀

We had lunch yesterday while we watched five deer browsing in our backyard, the young ones playing and prancing about. Then we drove six minutes into town for a few hours of tennis with friends. Back when I worked my commute was eight minutes. It’s all in how you value things, a bar or museum in walking distance has zero value to me. My backyard with 800 acres of wooded wetlands has massive value to me. I’m glad most people prefer city life, it keeps this place uncrowded. I agree it isn’t that one choice is right and one is wrong. It’s what matters to you.

Being deeply connected to nature, where possible in a rural environment, really does have it’s appeal! We’re lucky to have such options. Much of the world doesn’t get to choose between 800 acres of woodlands or top tier museums.

They both have their trade offs. I would think that at least 1 hour outside the city with a major airport is the mutual grounds depending on your situation, having kids, work commute, close to groceries, amenities, etc. I have learned that at the end of the day, its not where you are, its who you are with. Would you be willing to do a post on giving advice for structuring the stock market account setup? It doesnt have to reveal your numbers, just a simple format for getting everything going. I’m having trouble getting started and the information is overwhelming, and there are vultures everywhere in the industry. Kind regards, Mike

Haha, sadly, both the red one in an image on this post and the white one in our how to become a millionaire story (2015 section) are mine. I sold the red one after having two Z32s, niether of which I drove, for a few years while working in the DC area riding the Metro back around 2012.

It’s a stunning design that has aged in a beautiful way, but it’s not exactly a smart financial choice! But, at least it’s a step down the financial cost ladder from an NSX ;-).

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