The Cost of Moving: The Happiness Factor

Photo credit: Caleb Roenigk, CC BY 2.0.

Yesterday, after I published my first post in what what will no doubt be a “cost of moving” series, Billfolder emilydoesthings asked me if I had a similar list of calculations regarding quality of life. Am I just moving to get out of the third-most expensive city in the country, or is there a happiness factor here as well?

There is—though I’m going to have to explain it in a particularly Nicole way.

I’m happy when I’m working towards my goals. So, for example, a bigger apartment—which I could certainly get, if I wanted one—might improve my quality of life but it wouldn’t necessarily make me happy. (A bigger apartment would very likely make me unhappy because the cost of maintaining it would actually be moving me away from my goals.)

My current goals are as follows:

  1. To continue growing my career along three axes: freelancing, novel-writing, and teaching.
  2. To get back into music and theater at the community arts level.
  3. To build stronger relationships with a community and with family.
  4. To minimize spending and maximize saving and investing.

Let’s break ’em down.


In 2018, I want to continue my work with The Billfold, maintain a few additional freelance clients, publish The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2, draft the new novel I am currently outlining, and start teaching both online and in-person classes.

The freelance work will make money. The self-publishing and online teaching will cost money before they start making money, which means it is to my advantage to keep my expenses as low as possible so I can invest as much as I can into these projects’ success. (This is what I mean when I say that renting a bigger apartment is likely to move me further away from my goals.)

The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1 is still earning me roughly $200 per month (pre-tax), six months after publication. I know that income will slowly decrease over time, though there is likely to be another boost when I publish Volume 2 in May 2018—and then I can expect Volume 2 to bring in another $200 per month. If I self-publish Untitled Novel Currently Being Outlined in 2019, then that sets up another opportunity to earn money while also boosting sales of the first two Biographies volumes.

(If you wonder why I’m so focused on the money, keep in mind that the more money you earn from a thing, the more time you can invest back into that thing. If I want to be a novelist long-term, it makes sense to work on my writing, readership, and earnings simultaneously.)

Like self-publishing, online teaching is one of those deals where the more quality classes you put out there, the more money you can bring in—and I already have a bunch of courses put together, thanks to my work at Hugo House. I’d need to invest in a decent video setup and in marketing, but online teaching would be another good way to earn money doing something I enjoy and am good at. I’d also get to own my IP and drive my own growth.

The “drive my own growth” factor is an important one, because I’ve been watching the freelance writing world and I’m curious how much growth is still out there. (I see a lot more consolidation, these days.) I’d love to get another five good years doing this type of freelancing, but I’m also thinking about additional ways I could earn money. Maybe I’ll add more corporate writing to my freelance portfolio while writing a novel every year. Maybe I’ll pick up more teaching/consulting work. (I want to keep running my own business regardless; being self-employed has given me more opportunities than being an employee ever did.)

All of this work is better done in a community, since these jobs inevitably come from the people you know. The online community used to be a good place for those kinds of connections; that’s no longer the case. I tried putting down roots in Seattle and they remained stubbornly shallow.

So it’s time to find a new community.

Music and Theater

I used to sing in choirs and act in community theater—neither of which are options in Seattle—and at one point I asked myself: “Nicole, do you really want to spend your life never singing in a choir again? Never being part of the community’s big summer musical?” and the answer was no, this is not acceptable, I get one chance at life so I want to fill it with as many opportunities to sing as possible.

I wrote this paper in high school explaining that no matter what I did for a living, “I will always write stories, I will always sing, and I will always act in plays.” I’ve done a little bit of singing and acting in Seattle—most notably in Molly Lewis’s Thanksgiving vs. Christmas—but it’s not enough. Time to figure out how to get more of that in my life.

(Also, my mom thinks I could pick up some extra cash playing the piano at churches, which I used to do in high school and would absolutely do again if I had the chance.)

Community and Family

I’ve used the word “community” nine times so far, which means it’s very important to me. I grew up in a town where I knew everybody and then spent ten years living in cities where I knew nobody and… I miss being part of a community. I miss knowing people and I miss being known.

Everything I’ve listed above could probably be found in any number of small cities across the country. But my parents live 30 minutes away from Cedar Rapids. It has a choir and a community theater and is another 30 minute drive from the Iowa Writers House. My parents have already started introducing me to people. My sister and her family could visit both my parents and me at once, instead of all of us having to make twice the visits. (My li’l nephew is adorable.)

Spending and Saving

As I noted yesterday, Cedar Rapids is 48 percent cheaper than Seattle in terms of cost of living. This opens up several possibilities:

  1. I could take a hit to my freelance income and still earn enough to pay my basic expenses.
  2. I could deliberately pull back on the freelancing in order to spend more time on the fiction/teaching.
  3. I could spend even more time freelancing, maybe over a short sprint, and bank a bunch of money.
  4. I could invest more money into the fiction/teaching.
  5. I could invest more money into low-cost index funds.
  6. I could save up a bunch of money and buy a home.
  7. I could donate more money, especially to local organizations and arts groups.

You get the idea.

If you look back over that list, you see a handful of “head” reasons and a handful of “heart” reasons and a few “big dream” reasons, but every one of the items on that list points towards increased opportunity.

Or increased possibility, if you prefer the heart word to the head word.

There’s more I could explain about Iowa’s Creative Corridor and its low unemployment rate and the fact that I won’t have to spend an hour on a bus every time I want to go somewhere; I also wrote a long, not-very-Billfoldy post on Nicole Dieker Dot Com about big life changes and intuition.

But here’s what it comes down to:

If I stay in Seattle, my life will at best stay the same and would very likely get smaller.

If I move, my life will change—and, I hope, grow.

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