After spending most of my life in the Northeast, we moved to Fort Collins, CO in December 2018. Now that we’ve been on the ground here for a year, I’m dying to tell you about our new home! Plus, advice for anyone considering a big, life-changing move — here or anywhere.
Why We Moved
We moved for the reasons you might expect: Cost of living, quality of life, weather, the appeal of something new. We had to make some very difficult decisions about not being close to family and friends, uprooting the kids, Marie Kondoing our entire house, etc. It seems unimaginable to many, but 14% of the US population – 40 million people – pull it off every year.*
As a business owner, there was also the consideration of how my clients would respond. I’ve put that in the footnote. It’s important, just not the focus of this post. Nadexa Group continues to work with East coast companies, with an eye toward expansion.
If you are toying with a move, you’ve most likely done your homework about the where and why. We had a spreadsheet of our favorite locations and what they had to offer in terms of weather, housing costs, schools, job market, etc. But there’s only so far a spreadsheet can take you. My intent with this post is to tell you what daily life here is like, from the big picture stuff to the little routines that make a place feel like home. And to address the usual trepidations people have about making a big move.
So you know where we’re headed: Yes, we love it here. It was a pivotal life decision and I’m glad we went for it!
Change of Pace
One of the first things people assume is that we moved from NJ to CO to escape the rat race. I suppose there’s a kernel of truth to that. But as an astute boss of mine once pointed out: busy people are busy anywhere. My life hasn’t slowed down, but Fort Collins does feel different than NYC, or even Basking Ridge.
For example, as far as I can tell, only New Yorkers cross the street if no cars are coming, regardless of what the blinking hand says. (I embrace this.) Everywhere else in the country, people obey traffic signals. Nobody is rushing here. Unless they’re late to school pick-up. That’s the same everywhere.
This doesn’t manifest itself in a bothersome way. True, things do take longer since people are friendlier and more apt to chat. But there’s also a pervasive culture of fairness here… of conscientiousness. So unless you’re tone deaf, small talk winds down within a polite amount of time, because you know, places to go and people to see.
In that vein, one of the things I find most endearing about Fort Collins is that every single service person — from your waiter to the checkout guy at the grocery store — wants to know: “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” And they’re genuinely curious. Not in a creepy way, but more like they’re looking for cool stuff to do. “Oh wow, you’re tubing down the Poudre? Then you’ve got to stop at The Mish for a cold beer and live music after.” I always embellish my answer a little.
It is a fact that my husband and I did occasionally have to count to ten when dealing with the more laid-back attitude here. Particularly when you need to get important sh*t done. Like closing on your mortgage. During those moments I wished we were dealing with a Northeast bank where someone would take ownership instead of talking cheerfully about the trail conditions and suggesting we just “see where we are after the weekend.”
What’s There To Do Besides Ski?
If you love NYC for its restaurants or art scene or access to the best of everything, then you’re probably not looking to move to Fort Collins, or even Denver or Boulder. People move here for the outdoors, specifically, what the mountains have to offer. Skiing, camping, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, rafting. That’s what people do here on the weekends. That’s what they talk about. It is not one bit strange to take a conference call from your bike or go for hikes instead of status meetings. My daughter’s initiation to fifth grade was a 2-night camping trip and 11-mile hike with her classmates and teachers.
Yes, people are fit here. (And living at higher altitudes where there’s less oxygen helps with conditioning). Yes, they are hard core and things can go sideways real fast. As in: avalanche, bear attack, wind storm, or just plain getting lost in the woods. You need 4-wheel drive. Your kids’ trampoline and Halloween decorations will blow down the street. On the plus side, we have 300 days of sunshine. Sunshine. Not balmy temps. Just like San Francisco isn’t conducive to sunbathing even though it has a beach, Colorado wouldn’t be at the top of my warm weather destinations. Mornings start out chilly, and it’s not unusual to have a 30-degree shift from 6AM to noon.
Living in a state where adventure reigns supreme means that your neighbors have an RV. It means people road trip a lot. We are at the doorstep of so many National Parks. And as a consequence, people think nothing of driving 12 hours to see cool stuff. Everything is way more spread out here than on the East coast. Hence the RV. City-folk will delight in the inevitable brushes with Mother Nature. Or not. Moose mating calls sound exactly like scraping metal.
As with other cities high on our list (Austin, Asheville), there is a big live music/craft brewery culture here, which translates to lots of fun festivals and events: Bourbon, Bacon & Blues, for example. Coloradoans don’t take themselves too seriously. Every May, Boulder has a Tube to Work Day, and in August, New Belgium Brewery holds a costumed bike parade called the Tour de Fat.
All this fun-loving, adventure-seeking outdoorsy-ness means there’s little pretense. Practicality rules. My high heels are collecting dust. Scott never wears collared shirts anymore. I do miss dressing up.
Cost of Living
The people that move here from the coasts consider Fort Collins affordable. Everyone else thinks it’s expensive. Housing costs increased 33% since 2016 (compared to 9% national average). The median home sale price in Fort Collins peaked at the exact time we closed at $417,500 (June 2019) and there are plenty of neighborhoods that are untouchable under $1 million.
We were able to get more house and less property for a bit less than we paid in NJ. The difference is that we bought new construction here, so no remodeling costs. Property taxes are 2/3 lower. Net, our mortgage payment is significantly less and our house isn’t falling apart.
Other costs are running either the same (groceries, insurance) or lower (going out). I used one of the online cost calculators to compare costs between Morristown, NJ and Fort Collins. Fort Collins is about 13% cheaper and I found that to be accurate. Getting the tab at restaurants and bars here is much nicer.
Will I Be Lonely?
It’s a legitimate question to ask when you’re leaving behind friends and family. Are you prone to loneliness? That could be a good predictor. I’m an extroverted introvert that that needs lots of alone time, so the prospect of hiding out somewhere until I made friends was alluring. I imagine it might be different if you’ve never moved before or come from a big, tight-knit family.
There are instances, of course, when you question your judgment. Like when my younger daughter would sob in the shower because she missed her friends, or when all the Colorado schools shut down because of shooting threats. Stay the course. Give yourself ample time to feel settled. It’s takes a while to find your people and establish routines.
I like living in a college town. Colorado State University is here, and with 34,000 undergrad, the average age of the city is around 27. We have theatre and sports, cheap pizza and open-mindedness that are the hallmarks of youthful towns. You can find open mike, stand-up, poetry readings, writing workshops, plus some killer happy hours. You can eat late compared to Basking Ridge, NJ, but not as late at NYC, of course. The city has terrific sports and summer camp programming.
I’ve resisted saying anything about red states vs. blue states. Colorado voted Democrat in the last 3 elections, but was more red than blue before that. There are diverse POVs for sure. You’ve got military, oil & gas, farmers, wildlife conservationists all sharing the same space. People that grew up with very different inputs. Fort Collins feels like a progressive town. Boulder is definitely liberal, but others parts of Colorado are much different. Something to be aware of if you’re evaluating between several cities.
Weather varies dramatically too, depending on elevation. Since Fort Collins is in the foothills, we get less snow than Denver and Boulder. South doesn’t always equal warmer — and some mountain towns never get warm. For example, Grand Lake in the Never Summer Wilderness area (that should tell you something) hosts its annual polar plunge in June. June! Water temp is around 44 degrees. Also: There’s not really a fall here.
Should I Move?
For six years we had aupairs — young women from other countries that moved here to live with us and take care of our daughters. In most cases, it was the first time they traveled abroad or lived outside their parents’ house. So as you can imagine, sometimes it took and other times it didn’t. The ones that thrived were curious about their surroundings and eager to make friends and establish routines. Those that assumed it would be just like home never overcame their homesickness.
The best advice I can give you if you’re considering a move is to be curious and open-minded. Be prepared to part with your easy and familiar ways. You will get lost driving to the grocery store, but ultimately you’ll love your grocery store. You’ll have to kiss a few frogs to find your people, but your new tribe will be awesome. There will be surprises like wind and cold mornings, but also amazing views and activities. I try to preserve the feeling of “stranger in a stranger land” because it encourages me to be more inquisitive and observant and open, which is an excellent way to go through life.
*The Work Thing
I’m fortunate that I have mobility as an independent recruiter, although I was worried how my clients would react. I launched Nadexa Group in NY/NJ in 2010 and our network and success is predicated on knowing local markets and industry talent. But once those connections are established, they can be transferred. All my clients were very supportive, and in fact, my 2019 placements were higher than the year before. I proved to myself that I could be effective working from a different time zone, which gave my husband and I the freedom to move.
That’s often the first consideration driving people’s ability to relocate: Can I find work there? (Admittedly, the Advertising/PR/digital marketing scene is much thinner here. I haven’t started working with local firms.)