This country is full of gorgeous old houses in places where the cost of living is negligible. For $149,000, you can have a five-bedroom brick center-hall colonial house on the North Side of Youngstown, Ohio.
I’ll bet they’d cut the price if you offered cash. And note the taxes: $1685 per year!
Now, the reason that the taxes are so low is that you’ll be in the worst school district in the state of Ohio. You’ll need to include Catholic school tuition in your budget. Crime is a bit of an issue, too, so you’ll need to pay for an alarm service. And — it probably won’t be easy to sell the house when you are ready to sell, so figure on this is a place to live rather than an investment.
You can find similar deals all over the country. They all have a catch: you’ll probably need to bring your work with you. There simply aren’t a lot of jobs in these places with low costs of living, so if you can telecommute or run your own business, you’re in great shape. But keep in mind that some big-city clients will think less of you for living way off the beaten track, unless you are in Aspen or Santa Fe or someplace where the wealthy drop out. (There are people in this country who are genuinely surprised to learn that people in the Midwest can speak in complete sentences. Regional prejudice is alive and well.)
If it were easy to turn a troubled city around, people would have already done it. Time Magazine had an article about an entrepreneur in Cairo, Illinois (pronounced like the corn syrup, not the city in Egypt) . Chris Johnston runs a coffee shop called Ace of Cups and a punk record label, Plan-it-X. It’s more affordable to operate in Cairo than in St. Louis or Chicago, but can he make a go of it in such a small market?
I hope Johnston succeeds, and I’ve always been tempted to try something similar myself. It’s low-risk entrepreneurism, you know?
If you are inspired by his story, if you are interested in moving somewhere charming and cheap, and if you can bring your own source of revenue along with you, there are several towns that welcome outsiders with a little money and a lot of ideas. Paducah, Kentucky; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; and Racine, Wisconsin are three of the many. Some target their programs to visual artists willing to work from street-level studios that are open to visitors, others define art more broadly and would accommodate almost anyone doing something vaguely creative and willing to make a commitment to the community.
Eventually, we’re going to pull out of the current economic mess, and it will be small businesses and the self-employed who step in to create jobs where big employers are afraid to. And the mess of foreclosures has left acres of empty buildings. Will we have to move to Youngstown or Paducah to get things going? And will we mind?