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Can You Really Move Back to Your Hometown?

Thomas Wolfe wrote: You can't go home again. Here's the truth.

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

When a friend told my husband about a job opening near our hometown of Kansas City, we were thrilled at the prospect of being able to move back. What we ultimately learned is a cautionary tale if you, too, would like to go home again.

We’re in our mid-50s and had relocated to our small lake home in Arkansas eight years before hearing about the job possibility. Although we love our home and the outdoor life, we never felt as if we fit in to our rural southern surroundings.

Kansas City, Here We Come?

A longing for our friends and family and the familiar wasn’t the only reason we wanted to move, however.

My husband was also laid off during the recession from the job he took when we moved here. He was later called back, but those 18 months of unemployment depleted our savings, increased our credit card debt and set us far behind in contributing to our eventual retirement.

The job near our hometown looked appealing, particularly because it paid much more. However, investigating whether the money would be enough to finance two households (we hoped to return to our lake home in retirement) while paying off debt and saving for retirement had us reeling.

People Long for a Sense of Home

We’re far from the only ones in their 50s and 60s dreaming about going back to their hometowns. People fondly contemplate the possibility for a myriad of reasons, said Larry Jacobson, a retirement navigator with Buoy Coaching in San Francisco.

“Nostalgia is one big reason. It’s like a comfort food. For people who left when they’re young, it may be a strong draw to recapture something,” said Jacobson. He added: “I have a client whose eyes almost glass over when he talks about the tiny town he grew up in in Connecticut.”

Before uprooting yourself and heading back, though, you need to be certain the move would make good financial sense or present a worthy new opportunity, Jacobson said. “The town or city won’t be the same [as when you were young], so it should be viewed as a new place,” said Jacobson.

The Cost of Living May Be an Eye Opener

One potential key difference from your youth: the cost of living.

Trevor Ewen, a personal finance and investment writer in New York City, said that if you’re considering relocating, it’s essential to do a total cost of living analysis, which includes transportation (moving from a public-transportation rich large city to a smaller town may require you get a car), insurance (homeowner’s or rental and auto), taxes, utility costs, real estate costs and even the cost of groceries. Any or all can vary greatly from what you pay today.

CNN Money and have helpful calculators that’ll let you compare the cost of living in various cities.

Pre-Retirement Planning

If you’re a few years from retirement, Ewen said, you should also assess whether the prospective job in your hometown will be fulfilling and put you where they want to be at the end of your career. “You don’t want to move into a job that will force you to be unemployed or underemployed in time,” noted Ewen, who recommends reading employer reviews on Glass Door.

“I recommend plotting several cities around your focal point, or hometown, and ranking those cities using all of the factors to help you come to your conclusion of whether you should go home again,” said Ewen.


San Francisco Vs. Portland

That’s exactly what Beth Everett, 47, and her husband Glenn, 51, did when they decided they had to move closer to her aging, ailing parents in her hometown of San Francisco.

After boarding planes for multiple flights across the country from their home in Glen Rock, N.J., the couple ultimately realized the relocation was not sustainable. “We looked into moving to San Francisco, but it couldn’t be done,” said Everett. “The cost of housing just doesn’t match the salaries.”

Instead, the couple made a list of West Coast cities and finally opted to move to Portland, Ore. “We’re closer to family and get to spend the holidays with them,” said Everett.

Now, she can fly to San Francisco in two hours (or take a 10-hour drive) and the cost of a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home in Portland is much cheaper than what the couple had in New Jersey. “The property taxes here are $3,600 a year, we were paying $14,000 a year there [in New Jersey],” said Everett.

But she’s a bit bummed about not being able to return to her hometown.

“I was sad I couldn’t go home again. I miss the funk of San Francisco. But we couldn’t do it without continuing to work 14-hour days and we just didn’t want to live like that anymore,” Everett said.

On the plus said, she noted that they love their slower-paced life and don’t miss the long commute to New York City. Her husband’s commute is now much shorter and Everett has been able to transition into a novel-writing career.

Where We Wound Up

As for us? My husband did end up accepting the job in Kansas City, but after five months of trying to find affordable housing that will allow us to bring our pack of rescued dogs, I wish we had done even more investigation.

The real estate market is currently hot in the K.C. metro area for homes priced below $150,000. If you’re not prepared to jump on a good house immediately, it could be gone within a matter of hours of hitting the market. My husband is a thinker and likes to mull over such large decisions — a trait that didn’t helped us yield a house in a jurisdiction that will allow four dogs.

My husband stayed with relatives in the city for two months during the week and commuted the 300 miles home on the weekends. It actually gave us both the opportunity to test drive how we really felt about going back to the city and leaving the house we love in the country, even for a few years. In the end, we decided the stress of rush hour highway traffic and the increased cost of living in the city was too much to lure us back to that life. My husband was offered his old job back here in the country and although Kansas City will always be our hometown, we do indeed now feel like we are truly home.

Photograph of Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a full time freelance writer and author living in the Ozark Mountains. She is the founder and administrator for the public Facebook page, Years of Light: Living Large in Widowhood and a private Facebook group, Finding Myself After Losing My Spouse, dedicated to helping widows/widowers move forward. Read More
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