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How to Get PAID to Live in an Affordable City & Fast-Track Financial Freedom

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Moving is hard. But could relocating to a low-cost-of-living area help you lead a more fulfilling life and achieve financial freedom? As today’s guest came to find out, the benefits of living in an affordable area often outweigh the glitz and glamor of a big city!

Welcome back to the BiggerPockets Money podcast! Today, we’re chatting with Allison Irby Vu, a financial planner who made a huge cross-country move in pursuit of a better financial future. With roots planted in Washington, D.C., Allison hadn’t considered moving until she stumbled across a program that offered her $10,000 to relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma! Little did she know that this MAJOR life change would not only improve her financial situation but also allow her to spend more time with her son and tight-knit community.

In this episode, you’ll hear all about Allison’s journey from her hometown to Tulsa. She shares how she went from living paycheck to paycheck (despite earning close to six figures!) to having an abundance of time and money for the things she values most. Allison also highlights the pros and cons of living in an area like Tulsa and how remote workers can plan their next big move!

Mindy:
Today we’re talking about a question that we know has been on a lot of your minds. How would my financial situation change if I moved from a high cost of living area to a medium or low cost of living area? What would the trade-offs be? Would they be worth it or would my social life and quality of life take too much of a hit? On today’s episode, we bring in Allison Irby Vu to talk about her experience from moving from Washington DC to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Allison made her move using the Tulsa remote program, which offers money to incentivize people to move to the city and help revitalize it. And while there’s many programs like that out there, this episode is not to encourage you to specifically think about one of them, but more we want you to consider whether or not your city is holding you back financially and whether making a move like Allison’s can help alleviate your financial stress and further you down the path to financial independence.
Hello? Hello, hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and I am flying solo today because Scott is out gallivanting around town. Just kidding. He’s taking a well-deserved day off and will join me again soon. As always, I am here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else to introduce you to every money story because I truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you are. Starting. Without further ado, let’s bring in Alison. Alison Irby Vu. Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today.

Alison:
Thanks for having me. It’s really great to be with you as well. Mindy

Mindy:
Alison, right around the beginning of the pandemic, we started to hear about people who were leaving big city life and moving to smaller towns. During that time, you hopped on board that bandwagon and you moved from Washington DC to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Do you remember the moment you started really considering making the move?

Alison:
I do actually. I was going on a walk with my son. We found this trail near our house and while I was there it was just the two of us and I thought I could do this anywhere. We were just in the middle of nature, just kind of exploring and yeah, it was just kind of why do I want to spend a crazy amount on rent to stay in a place where I work remotely? So I’m working at home and then other than that, I’m out in nature with my son every day and I thought we could really be exploring places that we normally wouldn’t and the pandemic really opened up this way of thinking it’s something that I wanted to do, but being in that environment where it’s like it’s just the two of us, we could do anything and go anywhere is when it really started to click for me.

Mindy:
I love the idea that you can go anywhere. It seems like our jobs keep us really geographically cemented, but during the pandemic everybody was working from home or most people were working from home, so being able to go someplace else is awesome. Let’s backtrack a little bit. You grew up in dc. Can you tell us about your relationship with money growing up?

Alison:
Sure. So I will be very clear. I as a native Washingtonian, you have to state clearly if you grow up in the suburbs of DC or in the city, it’s a real thing. So my parents both grew up in DC proper and then I lived both in DC and in Maryland in the suburbs of dc but it’s all still kind of one ecosystem and I grew up with my mom, who’s a single mom who worked for the federal government her entire career and provided a really solid, stable life for me. I always felt like I had everything I needed, but it’s an area where you think a lot about who you’re going to be and what you’re going to be and where you sit politically and academically. I spent a lot of time thinking about doing future planning and that I think was sparked by my mom always insisting that I needed to go to the best universities and I needed to get a great government job. That’s like in DC you want to be a contractor or government worker. So that’s the direction that I thought growing up.

Mindy:
The government benefits are unparalleled. My husband used to work for the VA hospital and just the amount of basically everything you get minus salary, of course the salary is okay, but the benefits are huge. So I can see why your mom wanted you to have a government job. What did you settle on? What is your job?

Alison:
So I’d like to say I haven’t settled. I try not to ever settle.

Mindy:
That’s a great answer.

Alison:
I do have the great pleasure of working in financial planning. I get to work every day with really amazing, amazing human beings who are just navigating, getting financially liberated, and I love it.

Mindy:
That sounds like I can work from anywhere job. So before you move to Tulsa, you had documented your journey online of paying off a large sum of debt. I’d love to go off on a little bit of a tangent here and talk about that. How much debt did you have? How long did it take you to pay off, and how did you acquire that debt? What was that debt comprised of?

Alison:
Yeah, so I’ll say I never thought I would work in personal finance at all. It was not something I was aspiring to. I got a lot of student loans because I have two master’s degrees and three bachelor’s degrees, so I definitely love to learn and explore all of the opportunities that are out there, but that landed me in a lot of student loan debt and it was really paralyzing for a really long time in ways that I didn’t notice or fully understand. I eight years ago almost had a baby and that changed everything and knowing that I was going to have my son, I wanted to get into the best financial place that I could, knowing that the student loans weren’t going anywhere super fast, there were other things I could take care of, and so I got lots of jobs.
I worked a full-time job that I really enjoyed. I got a second job that was really wild. I got to listen to jail conversations and get paid to do it. It was really cool though. I speak Spanish as well, so I got to listen to Spanish calls in Spanish and then transcribe the calls and I sold a bunch of stuff. I read the Marie Kondo book around just the idea of getting rid of things that don’t serve you, and so I paid off somewhere over $30,000 in debt. But yeah, it was just kind of working really hard knowing that the goal was to get at least credit card debt free before he arrived. He was coming and I needed to be ready, so I even shifted away from living in DC and moved back to Maryland, which changed things as well.

Mindy:
We are speaking with Allison Irby Vu, who left her life in DC and got money to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma. You just heard Allison tell us about her financial situation before her move. Next up you’ll hear about how living in a smaller city changed her financial situation. But first we’re taking a quick ad break. Welcome back to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. Let’s get back on topic and talk about Tulsa. You moved from Washington DC to Tulsa, Oklahoma and I have actually been to both of those cities and Washington DC is a little more big than Tulsa. Not that Tulsa is bad. Please don’t email me that you think I’m doing Tulsa hate, but it’s a big difference. Why Tulsa?

Alison:
Well, it was community and honestly, I want to say it was New Year’s Day, new Year’s Eve, something like that, that I got an email from some travel blog, I don’t even know which one it is, honestly. But I followed some bloggers and they posted about this opportunity to move to Tulsa for this experience of community and to make $10,000 doing it. And I thought, huh, I really want community and I’ve lived in the DC area. If I didn’t live internationally somewhere, I lived in DC or the surrounding areas and I know a lot of people, but I still felt like I wasn’t in community with people and that I felt that before the pandemic, but even more so during the pandemic. And so this opportunity to go to a new place where I didn’t know people but could be in an environment where people were seeking community, where other like-minded people and completely different people were seeking to build something, I just thought it would be really powerful to go and see what it was about, especially knowing it was only a year commitment. What did we have to lose in the midst of a pandemic where all we’re doing is sitting at home doing art and wandering around in nature?

Mindy:
I love that. So you got $10,000 to move from Washington DC to Tulsa, Oklahoma and live there for a year?

Alison:
Yes,

Mindy:
I have moved cross country, not for free. It came out of my pocket. That’s awesome. And like you said, it’s a one year commitment. Are you still there? I’m

Alison:
Still here. It will be three years in two weeks.

Mindy:
Something else that you said, you said in DC I knew a lot of people, but I didn’t feel community with them, and I think that’s a really important distinction to make just because a lot of people doesn’t mean that’s your community. Community is the people that get what you’re talking about that understand where you’re coming from, that you don’t have to explain the concepts of the community, whatever the community is and did find community in Tulsa. I

Alison:
Am still finding community. It’s very cool. I would say just the idea that these are people who were willing to do this crazy thing I was willing to do says a lot about us collectively in that there are people from all over the country, people who moved here from other countries even that are seeking the same. And so it’s really helpful to be around such openness. I’ve met friends that I’ll have forever, people that feel like family and if it hasn’t done anything else, it’s helped me to create a more clear sense of what I want community to feel like.

Mindy:
I love that. I love that so much because your community doesn’t have to be somebody else’s community. You can create your own community. And I live in Longmont, Colorado, which is the kind of mecca for phi, and I have community and it’s so awesome to be in a place where there are so many people just like you or similar to you and you don’t have to explain anything. You can get together and you don’t have to worry about small talk, just if you have this in common, you have other things in common too, and it kind of gets over the hump of awkwardness when you meet somebody new within the community. So I’m so happy that you found your community within Tulsa and that’s really awesome. Can you paint us a picture of your financial situation around the time that you decided to move to Tulsa?

Alison:
Yeah, I, I don’t know. I was earning a little under six figures, which didn’t feel like anything in dc. My rent had just increased and it was going up again, all to not move and really do anything. And I was really grateful that I had some time in the pandemic to pause childcare because childcare in DC is $2,000 a month on top of a rent that’s at least $2,000 a month. So that’s kind of where I was just kind of managing that and living pretty paycheck to paycheck, having things paid off just meant, especially becoming a mom and then not working five jobs to try to make the extra money. Just being more grounded and being at home meant that I had one job. And so pretty month to month just kind of keeping up with trying to keep up. I’ll say that. Just trying to keep up with everything going on around me and not feeling like there was much progress to be made and that I moved to the suburbs of Maryland, DC suburbs two weeks before my son was born and moved to this community. It was super nice community and I moved within that community to try to save money. I just kind of kept rotating through different housing options within the community. They’d have a deal and so I’d moved to a new building that they built, but I never felt like, I felt like, oh, I can keep moving to slightly larger units within this apartment community, but I can’t buy a house here.

Mindy:
That is one of the trade-offs with these big cities, typically coastal cities is that it is. They’ve got the nightlife, they’ve got the population, they’ve got all of these amazing things, but it comes with a trade-off and that is very expensive housing, expensive food, expensive transportation, expensive everything. Getting back to the Tulsa remote program specifically, what were the qualifications for being accepted into this program?

Alison:
That’s a great question. You have to have a remote job that kind of cover your expenses. So I’m not sure what the income requirement is, but there is one for you to get into the program, you have to have an interview, you go through an interview process to share a bit about yourself and how you’ll benefit the community and what your interests are. I’m not sure what all of the specifics are, but I knew that I had the income requirements met and met with folks and interviewed and they took me,

Mindy:
Yay. And what is your housing situation? Did you get a place to rent? Is everybody in this program in kind of the same area or did you buy a house? Are you all spread out?

Alison:
So required. So this is one of the requirements is that you must live in within the Tulsa limits. So you can’t move here and then say, oh, I actually want to buy a farm that’s an hour away from Tulsa. So there is an expectation of participation in community, and so there are lots of ways to do it. There are folks who live in apartments downtown. There are people who live in single family homes out in more of a suburbia kind of suburban feel. When I first moved here, I rented a house and that’s something that was really important to me. I love the apartment community we were in, but with the pandemic, I knew that I needed to be able to get outside easily and quickly and have room to run for both of us. And so I was able to find a cute home to rent with a ginormous backyard. I thought, we’ll see how the first year goes and then I can make some decisions about buying a home and six in, I bought a home.

Mindy:
That’s awesome.

Alison:
So yeah, so now we live just about a 10 to 12 minute walk to downtown bordering a historic neighborhood here in a brand new single family home.

Mindy:
Were there any stipends for moving or housing or anything like that?

Alison:
So they provide a reimbursement for visiting. There is, when I joined the program, the $10,000, they give you the $10,000 over the course of the year that you live here unless you purchase a home. So if you purchase a home and you can share the deed that you have in fact purchased it, they will give you the remaining amount of the $10,000 because then it shows that you are in fact sticking around. So that is an incentive. And they also, we use Slack to connect and they share lots of resources and things like that with the community. But other than that, no. I mean it’s a huge incentive to know that if you make it here and it feels right that you could get that money a lot sooner. That’s really helpful than waiting that entire year to just get a small chunk every month either way is actually great because now I experienced both. I experienced the monthly allocation of the funds as well as the larger sum, and it was really helpful for me that once I bought the house that all the extra stuff, wanting to buy new furniture for the patio or wanting to get the kitchen just right, I had extra money to navigate that.

Mindy:
How much would you estimate your entire move cost you from Washington DC to Tulsa?

Alison:
I want to say about 6,000, and that’s paying for pods or those types of things to ship.

Mindy:
What factors did you take into consideration before the move?

Alison:
January 1st, 2021, my son and I got in my car and we drove from the DC area to Tulsa because I wanted to feel what it was like to be here, not just read things. For me, it was important to see what the political climate felt like, the warmth of people or the lack thereof. Very importantly, I wanted to know that there was a Trader Joe’s, and I know that sounds really silly, but it actually was something that was on my list. I wanted to know that there were museums and cultural things to explore and that even if the diversity didn’t look like the diversity where I’m from, which I knew it couldn’t, that it would feel welcoming and an open enough place for us to share our diversity and to explore others and other cultures.

Mindy:
I don’t think that it’s fair to compare Washington DC diversity to,

Alison:
It’s not fair and I wouldn’t dare because I’ve traveled this country pretty extensively and there’s nowhere that I’ve ever been that is the same level of diverse, socioeconomically diverse culturally, ethnically we, we’ve got it all in the DC area. So I had zero expectation of that. But there is a great deal of diversity here and there’s a huge native population here. There are just people from different backgrounds that live here and I wanted to make sure that we could at least experience that cowboy culture. I’d never spent any time indulging in. So just something different that we could continue learning about other people and learning about ourselves through the experience. So

Mindy:
What’s your favorite part about Tulsa?

Alison:
The life that I want to give my son where he has friends he can run around with in the neighborhood and everything doesn’t have to be a scheduled play date. He gets to have a little bit of the freedoms that I had being an eighties, nineties kid, kind free range roaming around. It’s really important for me and I know that we’re able to travel the state and the world in a way that we couldn’t do as freely if we stayed where we were. My son is super active in sports. Sports are expensive, these kids, why are these kids so expensive? With sports? Sports, it costs a lot. And to keep up with all of that, I think the pace here, it’s so much slower that I can get everywhere and anywhere within 15 minutes is huge. It just gives me time back to be present to my son in a way that living in the DC area, you just don’t get my time is worth so much and time together is so important to me. So having that is worth everything

Mindy:
Time back to be present with your son. That is, I cannot highlight that enough. I cannot underline that and circle it and point arrows to it because that is so, so important. What is the point of having a kid if you’re not going to spend any time with them, if you can’t spend any time with them because you’re always in the car commuting to your job and not able to be present with them. I mean, when I worked in Chicago, I lived in several cities around the Chicago area and the commute is just awful and I didn’t have kids at the time, but you wake up at five o’clock in the morning to get to work by eight, you are back home at the crack of seven and then you go to bed and do it all over again

Alison:
A hundred percent. And I shared earlier that my mom provided so much for me and so much stability and financial safety and all of that, but she also worked in Washington DC and we lived in the DC suburbs and she had to leave before I was even out the door for school. She didn’t come home until it was time for her to make dinner. And I knew that I wanted something different. I get to drop my son off at school every morning. I pick him up from school every day. We get to go on nature, walks around our neighborhood after dinner, there’s time for play even to be able to participate as a homeroom parent and leave work after a call, jump off a call and run to his class, help out and then come back and jump back in and have that still take under an hour or two.
That’s the amount of time it would take just to get to work. So there just is so much flexibility in that and there’s just also room to create what’s next. And I think that’s a big draw for a lot of folks in Tulsa remote. There are a lot of creatives here. There are a lot of people who are just looking to launch into their next thing who aren’t fixed on. There being one narrative like this is my job, I’ve chosen this one thing, these are the various things I’m exploring and there’s room here to think about it and to actually build. And there’s a lot of reception. There’s a lot of really receptive people and businesses here. If you have an idea and you want to start something, there are only 20 different incubators you can engage in and be a part in growing, whatever that next thing is for you.

Mindy:
We’re going on a quick break. You’ve heard Allison talk all about the positives that came from her move from DC to Tulsa. When we’re back, Allison will discuss some of the drawbacks. Welcome back to the show. Well, now that we’ve established that Tulsa is literally heaven on earth, are there any drawbacks to Tulsa? Anything you miss about Washington dc?

Alison:
Oh, a hundred percent. Again, the diversity piece is really important to me and that’s a big struggle for me personally because I grew up with walking down the street in DC you hear five different languages in a 10 minute timeframe, and I miss the diversity of food every time I go back. I have to go get Thai food, I have to get Ethiopian food or dig into really specific things. Crabs, I’ve talked about getting crabs flown in for Maryland because it’s a real thing. When you’re from the area, you need your crab fix. And I love my family and my friends at home and I miss them, but it’s there. I go back and visit often still the same old stuff and so I can pick back up. I miss it because I lived there my whole life and so much a part of it will always be home. And there’s an identity piece that connects me there when people ask. Oh, so you’re from Oklahoma? I’m definitely not an Oklahoman. I’m definitely still a native Washingtonian. I’m a Maryland girl. I am not. My son, however, is full on Tulsa. He embraces it. But there is that part of me that will always be a DC girl,

Mindy:
And that’s valid. I have lived everywhere and being in Chicago is the place that I lived the most of my life. But I don’t necessarily consider myself from anywhere in particular. I’ve been everywhere. I’ve lived everywhere. I’m from everywhere. But the hustle and bustle is not at all something I miss about Chicago. Yeah, they’ve got great food and Longmont Colorado does not have the diversity of food options that a larger city in Chicago would have, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t find something to eat here. I’m sure that’s the same with Tulsa. Oh

Alison:
Yeah. I mean, we have found so many hidden gems, not just in Tulsa, but we’ve explored this region a ton. I mean, my son I think has now been to over 30 states and I only have three left to go before I’ve hit all 50. And so much of it has happened because we’ve lived here. I didn’t know if we’d live here for just a year. And so we’ve explored every corner of Oklahoma and really try to make it count. So yeah, there are lots of little special unique things about Tulsa. I don’t know that if this program had been anywhere else in Oklahoma that I would’ve considered it, but Tulsa specifically has an energy that drew me in and keeps us here.

Mindy:
Yeah, that’s awesome. I’m so glad that you went there and it discovered that it is something that you would like to do. Do you think you’re going to live there forever?

Alison:
Forever is a really long time. Mindy, for

Mindy:
The foreseeable future,

Alison:
Don’t think I can say that. I think remain invested in Tulsa for the foreseeable future. And I don’t mean invested financially invested, I mean emotionally invested and financially invested. I think just deep community investment. I think we’ve established roots here that are not likely to be broken. I’m not the kind of person that likes to lock myself into things. I keep an open heart and open mind to whatever’s out there, but for now, this is a place that is meeting our current needs. That’s

Mindy:
Awesome. Yeah. I have moved a lot, like I said, but I finally found the place that I’m never going to leave from. And finding a place that you can connect with is so, so important. So is this program still going on? Can people still apply and get the $10,000 housing or $10,000 stipend and all of that?

Alison:
Yes. The community continues to grow. To my understanding, it’s the most successful program out there of its kind. And I can totally understand why. Even now that I’m three years in, I’m an alum at this point, OG Tulsa Motor, I still benefit greatly from the community when I’m exploring new options for camps for my son or just want to know what new restaurants have popped up. Everyone is really, really welcoming and really helpful in sharing all their resources. It’s such a great tool to have when you are new to a place, having a built-in community. I think past college, unless you work at some really big company that’s like some really cool company, you’re just destined to be kind of around the same people all the time. So Tulsa Remote has been a really great way to keep evolving friendships, to keep learning about new things and keep digging in deeper to community and parts of community that you might not otherwise explore.
They create weekly opportunities for members to connect and to connect with each other and learn more about the city itself. So yeah, I encourage people all the time to apply. I’ve gotten folks to move here and yeah, even one of my best friends when I said we were moving here, she bought a house in Tulsa because she said, well, if you’re moving there, I know it’s somewhere to be because you wouldn’t just be moving to Oklahoma for no reason. So community, I want to grow community with the people that are already here, but also continue to bring in those who are looking for a similar feeling. Yeah.

Mindy:
I love it. Allison, this was so much fun. Thank you so much for your time today. Is there any place that people can connect with you online?

Alison:
Yes. My website is allison ibi vu.com and my Insta handle is the same.

Mindy:
Awesome. This was so much fun to listen to. Thank you so much for your time today. And that wraps up this of the BiggerPockets Money podcast. She is Allison Irby Vu, and we will link to her website and Instagram in our show notes. And I am Mindy Jensen saying, got to go. Buffalo BiggerPockets money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Hija Aldos, edited by Exodus Media Copywriting by Nate Weintraub. And lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.

 

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