The Best Small Cities to Move to (If You Love Your Non-Work Life)

published Oct 31, 2018
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(Image credit: Tomasz Szymanski)

In cities with a remarkably high cost of living, it’s likely that life requires you to work 45-plus hours a week and pull a side hustle. While some people love to practically live at work, most strive for that elusive perfect work-life balance. And then there are even some who strive for less work and more life. While this seems like a unicorn lifestyle to those living in a city like New York, there are many who seek out places to live where your 9-to-5 might actually be more like a 9:30-to-4:30. If you are one of these people looking for this, remarkably there are places with work cultures like this—and no, you won’t have to live in Europe.

As part of this year edition of WalletHub’s Best Small Cities in America survey, the personal finance education site looked at 1,268 cities in the U.S. and plucked out the ones with the lowest average weekly work hours. They found that, as a general rule, if you want to work less, you should head to the Midwest. Four of the five cities with the lowest time spent at work were found there, with Michigan being home to two cities.

Interested in seeing what life could look like outside the office in these cities? Here, some of the highlights:

5. Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Median home value: $159,000
Median monthly rent: $965

If want to spend more time on the putting green, Mount Pleasant is the place for you—it’s home to Michigan’s “Central Swing,” or 11 golf courses within a 30 minute drive. However, if you think that means the city is home to a glut of retirees, know that Mount Pleasant is also home to Central Michigan University—one of the nation’s largest public universities. Arts and culture lovers will love heading to Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort to watch the comedians and musicians passing through town. If you’d rather spend your time away from your desk in the great outdoors, there are more than 14 local parks, with many along the Chippewa River. And for those who want food and brews, check out Mountain Town Station, a local favorite that serves traditional American food and house-brewed beer.

4. College Park, Maryland

(Image credit: Sharad Kambale)

Median home value: $318,000
Median monthly rent: $2,047

If you want a small city that’s not too far from a major urban center, College Park is just a 15-minute train ride from Washington D.C.’s Union Station. Home to the University of Maryland, this small city packs a punch. Spend your numerous non-working hours exploring the Aviation Museum (College Park is home to one of the oldest airports in the world), or wandering around the oh-so-picturesque Lake Artemesia Natural Area. The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center hosts many free cultural events each month, too!

3. Carbondale, Illinois

Median home price: $114,900
Median rent price: $1,121

Just under two hours from Jon Hamm’s hometown of St. Louis lies Carbondale, Illinois. Though it may be overshadowed by its big brother Chicago to the north, this small southern city packs a punch. Home to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale has a wealth of cultural events to partake in. Its esteemed MFA poetry program has earned the town the nickname of “Town of Poets.” For the past 41 years, students from the university have produced the Big Muddy Film Festival—the longest-running festival of its kind. And though most people probably don’t think of the Midwest as a wine-producing region, the Shawnee National Forest is home to 12 award-winning vineyards, making up the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

2. West Lafayette, Indiana

(Image credit: Jim Packett)

Median home price: $208,000
Median rent price: $1,294

Though you may only think of the Boilermakers, when you hear West Lafayette—this small city has a life outside Purdue University. From architectural touchstones like Frank Lloyd Wright’s SAMARA, The John and Catherine Christian House, to the beloved orange and black burger and root beer joint Triple XXX, there’s more than enough to do after work and on weekends. And for those who love the outdoors, the city’s home to acres of parks and former farms to explore for hours upon hours.

1. East Lansing, Michigan

(Image credit: EQRoy)

Median home price: $193,000
Median rent price: $1,399

The home of Michigan State University is also home to the small city that works the least hours—which makes sense because there’s so much to take in. For one, there’s everything on campus: the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden—the oldest in the country, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, and the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. And don’t forget all the town’s sporting events as well as the East Lansing Film Festival—the state’s biggest. With a mix of delicious multicultural cuisine and midwestern pubs, any foodie will enjoy spending their free time exploring the city’s restaurant scene.