Monday, February 24, 2014

We're Moving! Iowa.

We're packing our things and moving to Iowa!

If you are like most of our friends and family, you're squinting your eyes at the screen and thinking, "What?! Iowa? Why Iowa? What's in Iowa? Corn?"

We have had this conversation countless times over the past year. Let me tell you, this isn't just on a whim. This is a thoroughly researched and calculated decision that Andrew and I have worked on for years now. All of our research and work has led us to the next chapter of our family's life... in Des Moines, Iowa.

If you've never spent time in Iowa, you probably are picturing silos and corn. Lots of corn.

In reality, there are a lot of amazing things about Iowa and, specifically, Des Moines. For example, did you know Des Moines, Iowa is the wealthiest metropolitan area in the entire country? It's true. When you compare cost of living to the average salary in cities across the United States, Des Moines is numero uno. This has played out true for us. For tens of thousands of dollars less that what we paid for our town home, we can get a single family home in Des Moines. Yet, Andrew's position in tech support actually pays more in Iowa. Make more, spend less!

Of course, Des Moines isn't the only city with lower cost of living, and that was one of the main factors we took into account when making our decision to move. We actually created a list of about 30 cities with lower cost of living in places we would be open to moving to. The cities we included were in states like North Carolina, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. We based our information off of a cost of living index. If you've never used a cost of living index before, 100 is the national average. If a city's score is over 100, then it's over the national average. If it's under 100, then it costs less than the national average. You can find a city's score based on housing costs, health care costs, food costs, and more.

After creating our list of affordable cities, we started to look into other information that mattered to us. Colorado, as you might imagine, has some of the highest rates of drug use in the country. Even when marijuana is not included in the statistic, drug use rates in Colorado are near the top. If it was just Andrew and me, that wouldn't matter. The prevailing attitude in Colorado is that the government should have a small role to play and not police what people do to their bodies. Well, I suppose that's fine & dandy for some, but the lax drug laws and attitude are not the environment we want our kids raised in. Sure, there are drugs everywhere. We get that. Yet, there's a difference between a place where only 3% of the people use drugs regularly and a place where over 15% of people do. And guess what? Iowa is tied for the lowest rates of drug use in the entire country.

So, we started to think about Iowa fairly seriously. Des Moines is the wealthiest city in the country (income vs cost of living), and Iowa has the lowest rates of drug use. We had pages and pages of data we sorted through. We looked at firearms death rates. I know many people don't share the same attitude as me in regards to guns. I don't like them. I grew up in Chicago and never even had to see a gun until I moved to Colorado. Here, people we know keep an arsenal of weapons in their homes. Friends have conceal carry permits and weapons, and some sleep with loaded guns under their pillows. I'm afraid of what it will be like as our kids get older and start going to homes like those. We researched the firearms death rate in each state. You can see a list of death rates per 100,000 people at this link. The national average is 10.1 firearms deaths per 100,000 people. Colorado is over the national average (11.5). So is Texas (11.1) and North Carolina (11.7). States we had on our list with lower firearms deaths were Iowa (6.3), Nebraska (7.3), Minnesota (6.2), and Wisconsin (7.9). Iowa was looking pretty good, once again.

I actually started to rank each city on our list according to each criteria. Over and over again, Iowa had the best or close to the best numbers of the criteria that mattered to us. It wasn't even close. Des Moines, Iowa outranked every other city on our list.

People from Iowa have a lot of pride in their state. When we started to be more open about the possible decision to move to Iowa, we had two basic reactions from the people we told. People who never spent time in Iowa thought we were crazy. However, people who live in Iowa had nothing but glowing reviews. I have an aunt and uncle who have lived in the same house in western Iowa for decades. I told them we were starting to seriously think about moving to Iowa. My uncle told me there are a lot of jobs available in Des Moines. It's the number one insurance city in the country (third in the world). He also told me the tech industry is booming there, and everyone is in need of people trained in the IT field. In fact, billions of dollars are currently being invested in Iowa from companies like Facebook and Google. My uncle added, "And did you know that Des Moines was chosen by Forbes Magazine as the best city to raise children?"

I researched it, and it's true. In 2010, Forbes Magazine created a top 10 list of cities to raise a family. Starting from number 10, the list is: Buffalo, NY; Albany, NY; Knoxville, TN; Pittsburgh, PA; Ogden, UT; Provo, UT; Syracuse, NY; Rochester, NY; Harrisburg, PA; and Des Moines, IA as number one.

We visit Des Moines every so often because my brother lives in Des Moines. My sister lives in Nebraska, so we often just meet there instead of driving the extra few hours to Iowa. Still, we love visiting Des Moines. Yes, Iowa is known for farming, but that's because they have fertile land. Now imagine what that means for neighborhoods. Everything is so green and lush. My brother almost never waters his lawn. There's thick, moist grass that you can walk on barefoot. The trees are dense, and ivy grows over everything. The nights have the sound of my childhood: crickets and frogs. Everything is so alive! When we were there last time, we went to the large farmer's market the city hosts every Saturday morning the late spring, summer, and early fall. The Huffington Post has a list of nine can't-miss farmer's markets, and the Des Moines Farmer's Market is on the list. We also went to the Des Moines Arts Festival, which is consistently ranked in the top 10 art festivals in the country. Basically, the city hosts events and festivals that are worth seeing! Iowa is far from being a hick state. Remember that they were the fourth state to allow gay marriage, and they are very active politically (Iowa is a swing state, and they are usually the first state to vote in a caucus to determine Presidential candidates). When we were last there, Andrew and I sat out on the patio together. We listened to the nighttime and watched the lightning bugs. He said, "Becky, I could definitely move here."

Months and months later, we were still nailing down our decision. We are planners and wanted to cover every angle. We were still considering other cities, even Green Bay, Wisconsin! In the end, Andrew said he wanted to be a 1 day's drive from Denver so we can easily go back to visit friends and family. I agreed. It really helped make our final decision: We were going to move to Des Moines, Iowa!

We've been pretty hush-hush about our decision and progress made toward the move. We spoke to my brother first--about a year ago now--to make sure it would be OK with him. A few months later, there was a housing boom in Colorado. We decided to take advantage of the seller's market to sell our town home, and, so, we broke the news to the rest of our friends and family. We weren't yet ready to make the move, but we thought it was best to sell our house when the timing was good. That's why we've been staying with family for the last few months! Now, Andrew has a really great job offer, and we've worked at getting a single family house lined up. We should be settled in before too long!

We expect many aspects of the move to be difficult. We will have to make new friends, get used to new routines, and not have our parents nearby. That will be hard, but we hope to be happy with our decision in time. We're very excited about the increase in quality of life--being able to afford and live in a single family home, being able to walk to school & businesses, and enjoying a short commute to work. Wish us luck on this next big adventure!