By Allison Tait, ninemsn Finance
When you're sitting in traffic, surrounded by people, submerged in noise, an escape to the country can seem a very attractive proposition. You imagine wide, open spaces, easy car parking, peace and quiet.
But while it's easy to dream about, is it easy to do? Yes, there's plenty of space but what about jobs? Yes, the housing is cheaper but the incomes are also generally lower. And yes, it's easier to live more simply now but will you miss out down the track because you've spent your best earning years in a lower-paid job?
"There's no doubt that finances can put people off a move to the country," says Jason Cunningham, accountant, financial planner and author of Where's My Money? (John Wiley). "The property is cheaper, but incomes can be a lot lower."
To get the best of both worlds, he points out the number of people who move within commuting distance of major cities. But the commute can be a hefty price to pay. Yes, you have a larger backyard, but are you ever home to enjoy it?
For James Treloar, spokesman for the Evocities campaign, the key is to change your perception of regional centres. Once you begin to see a move out of the capital as being a move to another city (albeit smaller), rather than a move to the country, perhaps you'll be happy to leave the commute behind.
"Evocities is a campaign to highlight seven alternative cities in NSW," he says. "We want to show that these cities have performing arts, hospitals, thriving cultures. They're an alternative city."
The cities in question are Orange, Tamworth, Bathurst, Armidale, Albury, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga. And each has seen large jumps in the numbers of people relocating to them over the past five years.
"People are finding it's not affordable to live in Sydney," Treloar says. "Once upon a time, they would have moved to the coast but now coastal properties are almost as expensive as the capital cities. So they're looking for an alternative. Affordability and lifestyle are driving their moves to regional centres."
Finding a job
Solicitor Lindsay Hall moved to Bathurst, NSW, with his family in 2010, from Noosa, Queensland. "The reality of living in a tourist resort became wearing," he says, "plus I was looking for a change in career."
Originally from Sydney, Hall looked further afield in choosing the family's new home. "I love regional practice," he says. "There's a greater opportunity to work with your clients across a broader number of areas it's more holistic, and I like that."
Financially, he agrees that moving to rural or regional areas mean that you won't receive the same salary as you might make in the city. "But if your priority is a balanced life, your family and quality of life, there's no comparison," he says.
He believes that professionals planning such a move do need to keep one eye on where they're going in their career, but equally believes that you can plan an immensely rewarding career outside of the city.
Margie Sheedy, author of The Small Business Success Guide, agrees that quality of life is the main advantage for moving outside a capital city. But she also warns that employment can be the most difficult piece of the puzzle, as she and her husband discovered when they moved to Cowra, NSW.
"As a writer, I am able to work from anywhere," she says, "but it was more difficult for my husband, who was a corporate banker and project manager in the IT sector. He was looking for a change of lifestyle but, equally, a stimulating role."
After an initial business partnership fell through, Sheedy's husband set up his own corporate training company. "He still travels to the major cities, but most of his job he can do from here," Sheedy says. "Why don't we move back? Because we love the lifestyle we have here and it's allowed us to set ourselves up financially more quickly."
Without the stress of paying off a city mortgage, Sheedy is able to work fewer hours. "We're also not spending as much money as we would in the city," she says. "No tolls, no parking, cheaper coffee, fewer restaurants."
Take your time
Cunningham agrees that country living can have its financial benefits but warns that most people will need to plan their move carefully.
"If you can set yourself up by either selling the city property you currently own and buying something cheaper, that's great," he says. "Invest the difference to make up for the difference in salary."
If you're looking to buy your first property in a regional area, Cunningham suggests that you get your finances and pre-approved loans in order before you leave. "Get it organised while you're still earning good money," he says. "I'd even buy the property a year or two in advance and rent it out. Set yourself up before you go."
Evocities has created an employment board for each of the cities to help prospective citizens find work, with around 700 jobs available at this time. And, as Treloar points out, if you're a state employee on a fixed wage, it will go a lot further outside the capital cities. "Nurses, police officers, teachers they're all in demand in regional cities and the wages are the same no matter where you live," he says.