Foreword by Jay Bastien on Living like a Rockstar in a Small Town
Two of my closest friends have been living in small towns for many years. They are always exploring the areas around these small towns and venturing some cool events in town. I hear too often, since I reside in a small town, that there is “nothing to do” however that is far from reality, as we will soon see. My friends are living like a rockstar in a small town.
Living like a Rockstar in a Small Town
So you’re moving to a small town – congratulations! Smaller communities have lots of inherent benefits over living in the big city, including lower cost of living, shorter commute, inexpensive/free parking, and friendly, down-to-earth people who are experts in making the most out of what they’ve got.
However, there are certainly some aspects of small-town life which can make it a difficult adjustment for those who are coming from a larger centre. Public transit is often limited, or sometimes even absent, making the use of a car more practical for most daily travel. The distance from major hubs, possibility of less robust multiculturalism, and the prospect of fewer employment opportunities for your partner or family members can also be daunting. (Keep in mind, though, that going off the beaten path can actually increase job availability in many professions, especially if you’re willing to branch out within your field).
Here are some ways we’ve found to thrive, not just survive, in a small town.
Tip #1: Feeding yourself
Eat in more often. Smaller places may have a more limited variety of restaurants, but who cares? Buying groceries and making your own food is almost always cheaper and healthier, and it can be a lot of fun. Don’t know how to cook? Go online. Anyone can follow a recipe, and you can make delicious dishes that may even last multiple meals. The health bonus is that you are in complete control of what ingredients you use, and how big your portions are.
Discount it up
If you can, shop at discount grocery stores (e.g. Food Basics, No Frills). Some small towns only have one store, in which case, you can still save money by prioritizing store brands. Be sure to check the labels as occasionally the off-brand items have more salt or other less than ideal components, but often they are comparable and are in fact made in the same manufacturing plant as the more expensive brand name options. In general, the “no name” version is usually worth trying at least once; if you hate it, you’ll know to get the brand name version of that spaghetti sauce from now on, for example, but shopping off-brand can save you a bundle.
If you really want to get to the next level of savings, you can look into apps like Flipp which scan local flyers and compare prices at various grocery stores; this saves you the legwork and allows you to plan your trip so you can ensure you’re getting the most competitive prices.
Your best resource for finding good food and ingredients, though, is your new neighbours. Talk to the locals and find out where the good food is to be found! Some communities are fans of mail-ordering spices from catalogues while others have a semi-secret stock of Indian food in the back of a gas station. You never know what you’ll find if you ask around!
Tip #2: Getting Around
If you’re in the process of moving to a new town, try to choose a home in a neighbourhood with great walkability. This can be challenging in rural towns when compared to the city, but it’s rarely impossible! Find a neighbourhood that has something accessible by foot, be it a grocery store, a fun restaurant or pub, or a park; this will encourage you to do some purposeful walking, which is a great way to connect with and get to know your new environment. For destinations that are a little further, get a bike! The reduced traffic makes small towns a very safe place to cycle, and you can enjoy the benefits of increased exercise, reducing your carbon footprint, and saving money!
Outside of your walking range, you’d be surprised at what some communities have to offer in terms of transit. Be sure to research your local bus options, affordable taxis, or designated drivers for hire (e.g. Driver’s Seat, Keys To Us). Uber has yet to reach many of the smaller communities on the map, but similar options are cropping up every day in various places.
Finally, if your new town is far from family, be conscious about saving money for those long weekend trips home. Many towns have nearby commuter airports, and if you plan it right, you can save money by flying with small airlines who have frequent sales (e.g. Porter, Air Canada Jazz). Consider signing up to get emails from airlines so you can pounce on those seat sales. There are also apps (e.g. Hopper) which allow you to compare and track flight prices, and even send you notifications when seats are cheapest. If flying isn’t an option, look into local carpooling groups via social media. You’ll likely find that you’re not the only one in your town looking to head to the big city for the holidays, so split the gas money!
Tip #3: Shopping
Shop secondhand! There are endless reasons to do this. It’s better for the environment, it’s much cheaper, and it’s a lot of fun. This is one of our favourite ways to get to know a new place – browsing through old trinkets, clothes, and furniture that have history in your new community. It can involve a bit more legwork, but furnishing an entire apartment with secondhand furniture is completely possible and will save you hundreds of dollars. Habitat for Humanity, Value Village, Kijiji, and of course all the local family-owned vintage joints are brimming with possibilities. Ask around to find the flea market dates and lesser-known shopping gems as well.
Tip #4: Entertainment
Locals are friendlier than you think
Who says there’s nothing to do in a small town? Not us, but I guess we’re biased. While smaller places may not have the bright lights and big events of the city, you may find that having fun out here can be a lot more cost-effective. First of all, if you’re not sure where to start, talk to people! There’s a cliché that people in smaller towns are especially friendly, but there is some amount of truth to this. People will chat with you in line at the grocery store or while you’re sitting in a waiting room, and this may take you off guard at first, but generally people are just genuinely happy to spend some time chatting with someone new. Embrace it. You never know when you’ll make a new friend, as corny as it sounds. We all know it’s not as easy meeting new people as an adult, and it can open up a new part of the community you never knew existed.
Look where no one else is looking
Also, read the posters! You know those colourful (or sometimes not colourful) pages plastered all over telephone poles, bulletin boards, and shop windows that you usually ignore? Read them – you’re bound to discover all the cool events happening in your area that everyone complains has “nothing going on.” There are a ton of groups in almost every small town putting on cheap, interesting events that will either be something you’re already interested in or will allow you to broaden your horizons and make new connections in town. Pro tip: Make a bucket list (yes, an actual written down list) of all the interesting places you want to check out, and follow through with it!
Another great cost-saving measure is to entertain in, instead of going out. Hitting up the local pubs and events is loads of fun, but can get expensive if done too often. Save on food, drinks and fun by having your friends over instead. Looking for a good Saturday night? Invite people over for board games, dinner, or movies. Is the weather nice? Time to bust out the barbeque or have a backyard campfire. You can make these nights even cheaper by organizing them potluck-style.
Get back to nature
Last but not least – get on board with getting back to nature. One of the best features of small towns is that they’re often close to wonderful natural attractions like parks, forests, and beaches. Going for a hike or a bike ride is one of the cheapest forms of recreation, a great way to spend time alone or with friends, and of course an unbeatable form of exercise. In our opinion, looking up to treetops and stars beats skyscrapers any day. Check out the free admission to all of Canada’s federal parks!
What you can do today to start:
Open up Google Maps. Look around your neighbourhood. Where’s the nearest grocery store? How long is the walk? Hey, there’s a park nearby, I should check that out! Start making that bucket list from day one.
Definitely don’t forget to seek out the local community centre. Regardless of size, just about every town has one, and they can be an indispensable resource for help with housing, employment, recreation, and a wide variety of services.
What you can do tomorrow to continue:
Now that you’ve seen where nearby things are online and via your community representatives, put your shoes on and go check them out! See how long the walk takes you. Be sure to read those posters along the way, and say hello or smile at the people passing by.
Welcome your new small-town life with open arms, and you can’t go wrong. You’re sure to be welcomed in return.
About the authors of Living like a Rockstar in a Small Town
Dr Sean Robinson and Dr Jamileh Shaffaf are a newly engaged couple who both grew up in small towns. Sean is from Amherstburg, Ontario and Jamileh is from Bowmanville, Ontario. They have been residing in Sault Ste Marie for the past 10 months, where they are completing their Family Medicine Residency with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Sean and Jami love exploring the outdoors, making new friends, and Bulk Barn’s Reusable Container Program.