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Hidden Costs of Small-Town Living

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

There are so many wonderful reasons to move to a small town. The lower cost of housing is often a primary motivation for those doing so. It was for my family. I can’t speak for all small towns, but in relation to Julian, homes on the higher end of the market (over $600,000) are much cheaper per square foot compared to homes in San Diego City. Currently, homes listed on the lower to middle end of the Julian real estate market are moving fast. Rentals are also a hot commodity. While the cost of housing is significantly more affordable the farther away you are from the city, there are hidden costs you need to consider before making the move.


A large percentage of the working population commutes off the hill for work. My dad has commuted over an hour each way for 22 years. If you will be joining the commuters, expect to spend $250+ a month on gas and additional costs for car maintenance. Owning a Prius never sounded better! Oh, snows in Julian.


You can't always just run to the store when you need something. You’ve got four options:

1. Ask your neighbor (if you have one near).

2. Hope one of the local markets has what you need.

3. Drive a half-hour or more to a chain grocery store.

4. Live without it until you go down the hill for something else.

Oh, did I mention there’s no fast food and the town closes down by 6 p.m. every night? Don't worry though, you'll get the hang of it. And, at some point, you will come to hate shopping like the rest of us for good reason.


Do you have kids? Are they involved in sports? JHS sports teams travel all over San Diego County to play other small schools. As a parent, be ready to drive your student and their team around. Of course, you’ll want to cheer them on!


I tell people this all the time and no one believes me—in places like Julian, you can’t depend on shipping times, internet, cell service, power, and sometimes water.

When you check out on Amazon, it may say you get Prime two-day shipping...yeah that's a lie. The pony express delivers our mail! It's really 5-day shipping. Make sure to list your physical address AND your P. O. Box or you risk your package being sent back by the USPS. Most websites refuse to ship to a P.O. Box even though some residents only get mail at the Post Office. On top of that, if it does come through a company other than the USPS, you had better hope they know how to get to your house otherwise your package will get returned.

Want fast internet? LOL! Unless you’re willing to go to the library for high-speed internet needs, you probably won’t be getting decent internet at your house.

Good cell service in the neighborhood is a total gamble. One house may have bad service and another may have great service. It can also depend on your provider, but make sure to check your cell service quality before you finalize the move to a small town.

SDG&E turns the power off when strong winds are predicted. Translation: the power is turned off when it is breezy and on when there are hurricane-force winds.

If you are on a private well system with a pump that relies on electricity, you will lose your water when the power is shut off.


Compared to most San Diego neighborhoods, Julian has decently maintained paved roads. However, there are still many private and county maintained roads that are not paved. In addition, when it snows it can take time for all the snowplows to get to each road.


For those of us locals that lived in Julian in the late 90s up until 2007, wildfire is always on the front of our minds. This town has a long history of wildfires and many visible scars from them. Take some time to learn how you can prepare for them and where to get information in an emergency. Also, be prepared to pay higher than average fire insurance premiums.


For all the reasons listed above, neighborly interdependence is a real thing. You will never know when you need a helping hand. So get to know your neighbors and treat them with respect (and maybe some homemade sweets).


For a major portion of Julian’s history, the town has relied on tourism to keep the economy running. On weekends and holidays, the amount of visitor traffic dramatically increases. If living in a tourist town is not for you, Julian isn’t the place for you to call home.

Side note: If you are planning to get a local job, you will more than likely be expected to work weekends.


Small towns are not self-sustaining. It takes a dedicated community willing to donate time and money to grass-roots operations.


Small-town (mountain/rural/country) living is an amazing lifestyle. I hope you take from this that you have to be real with yourself before you make the move. I have watched so many people move to Julian and move away shortly after because this lifestyle wasn't what they thought it would be. Deciding, where to move, can be tough. Do you have what it takes to live in a small town? If this is the life for you, reach out to me! I'd love to be one of the first to welcome you to town.


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