The Geography of Frugal Living: North Dakota

The simple life is a very personal thing. You can live your version of a simple lifestyle just about anyplace. Anyplace you can afford, that is.

The rich can live simply anywhere they want. Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie even tried to live simply on a television reality show, "The Simple Life."

The rich can live simply anywhere they want. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie tried it in a rural setting on the TV reality show, "The Simple Life." Far as I know, this photo from the show was NOT taken in North Dakota.

For many of us, the simple life implies a frugal lifestyle, by choice or by necessity. That’s where geography comes in.

Only the wealthy can choose to live simply in an area with a high cost of living. For the rest of us, our ability to simplify our lives is greatly enhanced in a place where housing and other essentials are less expensive. 

Unfortunately, places with low costs of housing are often economically depressed areas, with few job opportunities. For most of us, no matter how much we simplify our lifestyle, we will still need a source of income to support our simple needs.

North Dakota made it onto the front page of  The Washington Post (08-14-09) by being one of those magical places where the cost of living is low and jobs are relatively abundant. Under the headline, “Road to Recovery: Woman’s Path to Work Ends in Rural, and Job-Rich, North Dakota,” reporter Eli Saslow tells the story of a woman who moved more than 1,000 miles, from Ohio to North Dakota, to find a job. And the woman, Janet Morgan, 63, found that things cost less — a lot less — in wide-open North Dakota.

Everything from mobile homes to lawyer’s fees are available at prices that would be impossible in New York City or San Francisco. Janet Morgan bought a mobile home for $7,500 in Glenfield, ND, with a $100 down payment, according to The Post.

Of course the opportunity to live simply and frugally requires some sacrifices.  Glenfield, ND, has a population of 75 and sits in the middle of nowhere, the Great Plains, USA. It sounds like Glenfield is at the very edge of “The Grid” of modern services that most of us take for granted. Ms. Morgan cannot get a cell phone signal, and has to commute 150 miles each way to her job in Bismarck, ND.  The job doesn’t pay all that well. The winters can be long, cold and lonely. Welcome to the frugal version of a simple lifestyle! The change that Janet Morgan is making is not for the faint-hearted.

The Post capsulizes the economic situation in North Dakota:

“Open space and open jobs, which is why Morgan and thousands of others have moved to North Dakota during the past year. The state, once known primarily for its remoteness, is enjoying a new reputation as a haven amid economic collapse. It has the country’s lowest unemployment rate at 4.2 percent, a budget surplus of $1.2 billion, and more than 9,000 unfilled jobs.”

With the attention generated in the blogosphere by The Post’s story, those 9,000 jobs may not go wanting for long. Then again, how many people are willing to uproot themselves and move to a cold, flat, mostly empty state? 

I will give you something that The Post didn’t: a link to the North Dakota Web site. A couple of other job-hunting sites for North Dakota: NorthDakotaJobs.com and www.jobsND.com. Good luck.

But please, think three times before you move 1,000 miles for a job.

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