Where in the US should I live (cheaply)?
March 27, 2019 6:48 PM   Subscribe

As I am wrapping up my graduate program, I find myself with relative freedom to choose where I might want to live next. I currently live in SoCal, which I love, but which is very expensive. Where else might I go that has a lower cost of living?

I am in my early 30s, single, no kids. Before moving to SoCal, I spent my entire life in and around New York City. I thought I would live and die in NYC, but I got into a good grad program in CA, and have fallen in love with a lot of the aspects of life here. What I like about it:

-The weather. OMG the weather. I had no idea how much of an impact this would make on my overall mood and happiness.
-The general physical beauty of the place. Mountains and beaches and desert oh my!
-People are friendly, and the general ethos seems to be "let's not worry about it." As a natural worrier, I find this soothing.

What I don't like about it:

-it's a little cheaper than NYC, but not by much
-car culture--anytime I want to go anywhere I'm looking at 45 min+ in the car
-sure, people are friendly, but they don't quite feel like "my people," if we define my people as queer nerdy artsy intellectual types.

My wish list for a new home:

-possible to live alone in a one bedroom or large studio apartment for $1000/month or less.
-warm weather, if not all year, most of the year, and lots of sunshine
-natural beauty--my favorite landscape here is the desert, but I can also get down with forests and beaches and lakes. I like to hike.
-in or near a city with a walkable downtown with cool stuff to do would be nice. Doesn't have to be a big city.
-a queer community/queer friendly culture
-an arts community
-it would be great if the state I live in has a relatively easy path to teacher certification. I do not have a teaching degree, but I will have a graduate degree in my field and lots and lots of teaching experience, both K-12 and college level.
-otherwise, assume career possibilities are not really an issue--I will hopefully be getting a job that will allow me to work remotely.

Some places on my radar: Phoenix (spent a nice day there on a layover), Albuquerque, Humboldt County (I have family up there, but not sure I can afford it). My parents are getting on in years and are in Florida, but my impression of Florida hasn't been great on visits--but maybe I've been going to the wrong place? They are in the Naples area.

Thanks in advance for reading all of this, and for any ideas!
posted by nancynickerson to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like New Mexico fits your description pretty well. Albuquerque and Santa Fe would both suit.
posted by Gneisskate at 6:51 PM on March 27, 2019 [9 favorites]

Santa Fe is also what popped into my head while reading your post. The caveat there is that's just an impression, I've only visited the place and don't really know how precisely it meets your requirements.
posted by traveler_ at 7:23 PM on March 27, 2019

I really liked visiting Phoenix, but keep in mind it can get really, really hot-when I was there it was 113 degrees!
posted by clarinet at 7:33 PM on March 27, 2019

I'd look at Tucson over Phoenix for slightly more left-leaning values.
posted by hydra77 at 7:44 PM on March 27, 2019 [9 favorites]

I've lived in Florida (Orlando), Texas (Austin), New Mexico (Albuquerque) Cali (LA) and AZ (Tucson). I think the closest thing to SoCal is AZ, either Phoenix or Tucson. But you do have to be prepared for the incredible heat in the summer. I would guess that you would be happiest in AZ. I don't think New Mexico would suit you, especially not Santa Fe. I loved living in New Mexico, but it has an isolated feel to it, that I think would be very difficult to get used to after such a long time in more connected areas like N.Y. or SoCal.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:22 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you would like Bisbee, AZ!
posted by Agave at 8:23 PM on March 27, 2019

Albuquerque and Tucson both came to mind for me. Some other places you might want to add to your list although they will require some compromise based on your list:

Grand Junction, Colorado
Reno, Nevada
New Orleans
posted by MoonOrb at 8:25 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Bakersfield, California. My family and their associates work with a project called "Be In Bakersfield." it is affordable here, the beachesnaremrelatively close, Sequoia National Park is fifteen minutes from my f4ont door. There is an arts community, gay community, latino community, music community, lots of community spirit. I kid you not. The thirty something professional community is working on keeping talent here. There is a lot of poverty here, but there is also a lot of money, and employment opportunities.
posted by Oyéah at 8:42 PM on March 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Northampton, MA would make you very happy except for winter in New England.
posted by vrakatar at 8:52 PM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

How about durham or chapel hill NC ? I recently spent time there due to a relative's illness (great hospitals!) and really liked it. Still east coast, not too crazy far from ny compared to the west coast, a little bit of winter but it's short. Great arts community, lots of music, lots of people moving to the area thanks to research triangle and tech campuses. Plus an abundance of fun North Carolina shaped rainbow stickers that say "ya'll means everyone".. Its definitely getting pricier but compared to nyc or san diego, very reasonable.

Alternatively, if you're willing to go super remote, you might dig Fort Bragg, CA (north of mendocino by 20 min).. it ticks *many* of your boxes. especially bc you mentioned humboldt county, which isnt too far off. I am an east coaster thru and thru but enjoyed my time there. For being so small and remote the area attracts folks from all over. Well, i could go on but .. if you end up considering the mendo coast area a contender feel free to memail me.
posted by elgee at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2019

Palm Springs/ Joshua Tree / Coachella valley would suit you a lot better than Phoenix I think. It's too hot but pretty much ticks all your other boxes. Well, other than the beach.
posted by fshgrl at 11:05 PM on March 27, 2019

Grand Junction is beautiful but I would not recommend moving there. I visit fairly often and it is red, red, red. It may be queer friendly but that’s not the impression I get. It is affordable, it is a working class town, and the people are friendly. They are also billboards with Jesus on them and people who think abortion is murder and they seem to be in the the majority. There is a fair amount of poverty and it is not very close to any other place. I am going to mention Salt Lake City because it has excellent healthcare, is considerably more affordable than many major cities, and supposedly has a surprisingly vibrant queer community. I can’t vouch for it personally, but it may be worth considering.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:46 AM on March 28, 2019

Sacramento! Affordable, easy access to Tahoe and the bay area, and Midtown is cute, walkable, and affordable (comparatively). I was working remotely when we lived there and was quite happy. We did have a car for my husband's job and grocery store visits and stuff.

Nth New Mexico + Tuscon. I love New Mexico - didn't feel cut off but I was only visiting and ymmv etc.

Santa Rosa is nice too, but I'm not sure what rent is like.

California's central and North Coast get increasingly cool, damp, and foggy. If SAD and the like is an issue...then maybe no.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:15 AM on March 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh Naples is definitely the wrong part of Florida. St Petersburg is amazing. (it's my answer in a ton of askmes!!) left leaning. Awesome dowtown.2 of the top 10 beaches in the USA. hiking is meh as far as mountains but lots of physical activity for sure though and there is a trail that runs all over the county. And your rent will go far here. You could buy said home/condo for less than your monthly budget. Come on down!!
posted by chasles at 4:31 AM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the next time you visit your parents, take an extra day or two to rent a car and drive up to Saint Petersburg.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:06 AM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thirding St. Petersburg! I don't know about teacher certification in Florida, but it checks all your other boxes. No desert of course, but the Gulf beaches of Florida are *stunning* -- much nicer than the Atlantic beaches, I admit I'm biased.

Close enough to Naples that you can see your parents when you need to, but not so close that they'll be dropping by unannounced. +10

You'll have more humidity that you're used to in SoCal, but after the first summer your body will acclimate. There's a good-sized airport for when you need to travel, and the people are very friendly and laid-back. And yes, your housing dollar will go sooooo much farther. And your queer nerdy artsy intellectuals are definitely there!
posted by mccxxiii at 5:20 AM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

N-thing St. Pete, especially Gulfport, which is a sort semi-independent town. Downside: it's in the most densely populated county in Florida, lots of traffic! Definitely car culture unless you live right in downtown St. Pete or Gulfport. Pluses: close enough to your parents but not too close, great beaches, beautiful state parks within 2 or 3 hours; affordable housing, huge Pride parade every year.

But also check out Savannah. It's closer to mountains, has beaches and salt marshes, interesting assortment of people, art, music, etc. And your NY friends may be more inclined to visit you there, at least that's been my (native New Yorker) experience and I've lived in both St. Pete and Savannah. I've been in Savannah for 10 years, it's snowed once, yay.
posted by mareli at 6:31 AM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

St. Pete area, including Gulfport, is nice (visit often as my sister lives there). Not very walkable and sub-optimal public transport; a car is needed. But, if you’re considering Florida, I prefer the East coast.

My sister-in-law lives in Ashland, OR. Really nice but not very cheap. I would also suggest San Antonio or El Paso as possible considerations.
posted by sudogeek at 9:06 AM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's landlocked and I've never actually been there to vouch for it, but your mention of looking into remote work reminded me of this program called Tulsa Remote, where the city of Tulsa, OK would basically pay YOU to go live and work there for a year. It looks like applications are closed for now, but just looking at the website had me thinking, "Hey, Tulsa seems kind of neat."
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:42 AM on March 28, 2019

Phoenix is very very hot and very very car culture oriented. During a good chunk of the year, you will need to spend nearly all your time indoors because of the heat.

Albuquerque does tick your boxes - although we also have a moderately cold winter for 2-3 months. Lots of queer and art community. Walkable sections of town, and ok public transportation if you are thoughtful about where you live.

Path to teacher certification is incredibly and insanely easy. You already have more than enough schooling to be a long-term substitute, which you could start essentially next week. Being a full time teacher has slightly higher requirements, but you could still be teaching in the fall (if not sooner). We have a fairly dire teacher shortage, and it’s because of high turnover. The teachers I know that haven’t burned out are at schools with good administration.

Lots of natural beauty here, and a very manageable cost of living. Your target studio apartment cost would get you a casita or full apartment pretty easily.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:22 AM on March 28, 2019

Thank you all so much! A lot of great options to consider here. Good to know re: New Mexico teaching certification, and I am intrigued by St. Petersburg, as Florida also has an easy certification process and being close but not too close to my folks would be nice. And I'm excited to plan a long road trip to check some of these places out in person!
posted by nancynickerson at 12:10 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

In addition to St Pete, check out Gainesville. Because it's a college town, it's progressive, but I have several friends who are full-grown adults who love living there - it seems like a really cool, creative community with a lot going on. And super cheap. None of the people I know who live there are queer, so you'd want to look into what it's like for queer folks.
posted by lunasol at 12:25 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

You've checked out Long Beach, and the Hillcrest district in San Diego, yes? Those neighborhoods definitely have the vibe you're looking for. Rent may still be an issue.
posted by vignettist at 8:51 PM on March 28, 2019

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